"Paul Goodman, the brilliant author of Growing Up Absurd, was recently asked his view of premarital sex by a college student. 'In sex, anything you get pleasure from is good,' he said peremptorily. 'And that's all there is to it.'"
But the ostriches remain. The Realist, Paul Krassner's impudent periodical of parody and social commentary, honored psychologist James E. Bender as "Unrealist of the Month" for his comment: "Anything more intense than a goodnight kiss, which should be nothing more than a gentle brushing together of the lips, should be reserved until marriage or, at least, until there is a definite engagement."
And advice columnist Ann Landers, counselor of millions, still honors and promotes what she calls "white-flower girls" (virgins). What is more, in a recent syndicated column, she agreed with a reader that chaste girls should insist on chaste men for husbands. That such chastity before marriage is likely to promote sexual incompatibility after marriage is apparently less important than upholding the sex standards passed down from previous centuries, noted for their superstition, repression and perversion.
A horrified mother wrote to Miss Landers, because she had read a letter addressed to her son from his girlfriend and learned that the pair had been sexually intimate: "I am so shocked at the contents of the letter," said the mother, "that I've been half sick ever since I read it. Both my son and the girl are 19. They have been intimate on several occasions. I can't understand how two young people who were reared in respectable, Christian homes could have gone over the line of moral decency."
Ann offered no word of wisdom to the suffering mother that might suggest that it was not abnormal for a 19-year-old boy and his 19-year-old girl to be sexually intimate; that this experience might be expected to heighten their chances of marital happiness, whether with one another or someone else; and that a majority of both men and women have similar sex experiences before they marry. Miss Landers counseled: "He [the son] should be told in plain language that the dangerous game he's playing can wreck the girl's life—and his as well. Countless teenagers have paid a devastating price for premarital experimenting. And they all thought it couldn't happen to them."
Never mind the "devastating price" that such prudery extracts from our marriages—the frigidity, the heartbreak, the frustration and divorce—that's another problem, perhaps to be answered in one of next year's columns.
This letter and response remind us of a story in Life that we read many years ago, when we, ourself, were an impressionable teenager. It told about a hapless young couple, who were in love, and whose parents would have been as deeply shocked as Miss Landers' correspondent if they had known that their children were being sexually intimate. The girl became pregnant, but they were both afraid to face the parental wrath that would follow either an admission of what had happened or a hasty wedding. And so, being a pair of foolish romantics, they decided to kill themselves. The girl read passages from Romeo and Juliet aloud to her boyfriend on the day they chose to carry out the suicide pact. The boy shot and killed her—and then lost his nerve and called the police. Both sets of parents stood by the boy during the trial and he was acquitted; the parents blamed themselves, but it was too late to make any difference. How long, we wonder, will it take for us to learn the devastating toll that such prudery produces?
Ann Landers expresses a point of view toward sex and chastity that is still common in America—and the heartache and havoc that it causes are incalculable. In an informative little booklet titled Necking and Petting—and How Far to Go, Ann tells us: "Civilized people are expected to curb their 'natural instincts.'... Teenagers should realize that their sexual attitudes have a direct bearing on other people. It is not just a 'private' affair.... Teenagers who get into trouble injure not only themselves but their families.... If necking is the evening's entertainment, something to do instead of going bowling or going to the movies, it is WRONG.... the basic rules for necking [are] ... All hands should be on deck and accounted for. Four feet should be on the floor at all times. Count 'em.
"And now, what is petting? Petting is necking that has gone out of control. It is kissing and hugging, plus wandering hands, with one or both parties reclining, and getting altogether too comfortable for anyone's good. Petting is the forerunner of going all the way. THIS can lead to heartbreak, pregnancy, disgrace and a sudden, unenthusiastic marriage at an early age."
Is it any wonder America has spawned generations that are frigid, impotent and sexually maladjusted? Dr. Kinsey stated, in Sexual Behavior in the Human Female: "A great deal has been written about the damage that may be done by premarital sexual activities, and particularly by petting; but relatively little has been said about the psychologic disturbances and subsequent marital difficulties which may develop when there is such condemnation and constant belaboring of any type of behavior which has become so nearly universal, and which is as likely to remain as universal, as petting is among American females and males."
The Reader's Digest is the most widely read magazine in the English language; with a monthly circulation of some 15 million, it is far and away the most influential in the entire world. This is all the more true, because it is so highly regarded by America's impressionable middle class and the magazine is given wide distribution in U.S. schools.
In the July 1962 issue, the Digest reprinted an article which they first published in 1937 titled "The Case for Chastity" by Margaret Culkin Banning. The article was reprinted, the Digest said, because of the large number of requests for it from readers. In a brief introduction, the editors stated: "The problem it discusses is as acute as it was 25 years ago, and the sound advice contained in the article is, if anything, more pertinent."
We'll restrain the temptation to comment on a magazine that apparently believes sex has stood still in America over the last 25 years, and that any article written on sex attitudes in 1937 is as "pertinent" today as it was then, but because the article itself has reached such a very large audience and because it is filled with what we consider to be a great number of inaccurate and illogical statements, we feel a rather extended response is in order. Dr. Roger W. Wescott, of the African Language and Area Center in East Lansing, Michigan, former Associate Professor of Social Science at Michigan State University and a Fellow of the American Anthropological Association, expressed a similar criticism of the article in a recent issue of The Realist and we'll refer to his comment at some points along the way.
In her opening paragraph, Miss Banning takes exception to "the frequent denial that any moral issue is involved in sex conduct." But the sexually liberal deny no such thing. They argue, rather, that chastity is just another word for repression; that repression is harmful; that anyone who knowingly inflicts harm on another—including himself—is cruel; and that cruelty is immoral. In other words, as Dr. Wescott expresses it, "What the sexual liberals advocate is not the abolition of sexual standards, but the substitution of humane and reasonable standards for inhumane and unreasonable ones."
Miss Banning next deplores the fact that young people "make up their minds with insufficient knowledge" about sex. This statement is misleading, in that it implies that those holding to the more traditional ideas about sex generally have more knowledge on the subject than do the sexually liberal and that they are more willing to impart this knowledge to the younger generation. Just the opposite is the case. This is, in fact, one of the major issues between the sexual liberals and traditionalists—with the liberals favoring more sex education for the young and the traditionalists generally opposing it. And as Dr. Wescott observes, "What little sexual education the traditionalists do dispense—whether it be formal or informal—is usually calculated more to intimidate than inform the young."
Miss Banning then states, "We must remember that unchastity, common though it may be, is not the norm." Since Kinsey found that upward of 85 percent of the male and 60 percent of the female population have premarital intercourse, we wonder what this writer means by "norm."
In place of sex, Miss Banning suggests such "wholesome social activities" as "study, sports and domestic tasks," implying, of course, that sexual activity is not "wholesome." This suggests that the basic sex drive can be sublimated into more "worthwhile," socially acceptable activities—a point of view that, as we commented earlier, Dr. Theodor Reik has taken great pains to label fallacious. Dr. Wescott comments: "...insofar as 'wholesome' means 'healthy,' there is something paradoxical about the inference [that sexual activity is not wholesome]. For most psychologists and physiologists would define a healthy capacity or organ as one which has full and free scope for the exercise of its appropriate function. Miss Banning would presumably not deny that it is, before all else, walking which keeps the legs healthy. Yet she denies the implicit corollary that sexual inactivity can hardly lead to sexual health."
Miss Banning next claims that the sexually liberal are too "casual" about sex and announces: "But it is revealing that no reputable physician is equally casual. No psychologist who has seriously investigated the problems of sexual relations outside of marriage treats them as trivial." She thus suggests that the bulk of knowledgeable scientific opinion is on her side in this matter, when precisely the opposite is the case. And if, by "casual," she means that the sexually liberal wish to see people less nervous and more relaxed about sex, she is certainly correct in that and most knowing psychologists certainly favor such a "casual" attitude.