And then, as we might expect, Miss Banning reaches down into her bag of tricks and produces that old scare pair—venereal disease and abortion. (Which rather confirms Dr. Wescott's earlier comment about traditional sex instruction being intended more to frighten than enlighten.) As Dr. Wescott points out, Margaret Banning neglects to mention that venereal disease and abortion are equally real dangers within marriage as without (over half of all illegal abortions are performed on married women) and thus hardly valid arguments against a lack of chastity outside marriage any more than inside of it. The only real answer to venereal disease is, of course, not chastity, but a greater public awareness about the diseases (since both syphilis and gonorrhea are easily recognized and cured—which was not true in 1937)—and we must again remind ourselves that it is the sexual traditionalists, for whom Miss Banning speaks, who traditionally thwart attempts at broader sex education.
Abortion, the second specter revealed to our already presumably cowering youth by the lovable Miss Banning, with its potential aftermath of trauma, sterility or death, is again no argument against extramarital sex, but what Dr. Wescott calls an "indictment of a heartless and joyless social justice system." For it is the illegality of abortion that forces it to be performed under circumstances that are often less than ideal and sometimes dangerous.
Miss Banning also condemns petting (Can she be a distant relative of Miss Landers?) on the grounds that "Early and casual sex experience often inhibits and spoils mature experience...." and, because it "is apt to create habits which...unsuit a girl emotionally for marriage." ("The dean of a women's college" is the source of this second psychophysical observation.) The writer is too delicate to specify what these evil "habits" might be, but the reader can only infer that they are the techniques for achieving orgasm. And with this reasoning, of course, we are taken out of the 20th century altogether and implicitly urged to revert to the Victorian view that women should regard sexual activity, not as their natural and joyously fulfilling birthright, but only as an unavoidable duty. Miss Banning's statements regarding the harm in petting, whether before or after marriage, are wholly false—though it is certainly preferable to continue such intimacy through to coitus.
Miss Banning then warns against the influence of drinking (we had a feeling she would): "Alcohol inflames the senses, is an acknowledged aphrodisiac...." In this, of course, the dear lady is scientifically incorrect. Alcohol, as Dr. Wescott explains, is an intoxicant, not an aphrodisiac (Dr. Wescott adds: "In the strict sense of the word, no aphrodisiac has yet been discovered") and is incapable of inflaming the senses. What it does do, the doctor goes on to explain, is dull the inhibitions and "permit more natural impulses to express themselves. There being few impulses more natural than the erotic, it is hardly surprising that alcohol therefore appears to sex-negators magically to magnify the sex urge."
Miss Banning next comments that a girl may carry "into early sexual experience a sense of sin," ignoring the obvious fact that it is those who would repress the natural sex urge who are responsible for promoting this notion of "sin"; and then: "The effect of unchastity on the nervous system is also serious." Exactly the opposite is the case in those fortunate enough to be free from the stultifying, unnatural taboos which imbue the young with sensations of guilt and fear concerning the expression of their natural impulses.
Miss Banning then wags a warning finger at young lovers with the admonition that the circumstances surrounding premarital sex are almost always secretive, ill-housed and uncomfortable. "Think," she says, "of the motels, the cheap hotels, the back seats of cars as an environment for 'love.' Hurried, watchful, fearful...." Once again her observation amounts to an indictment of a society too uncharitable to grant proper privacy, comfort and understanding to its youth.
"The promiscuous woman is usually in doubt of her attractiveness," writes Miss Banning (who we are obliged to assume is chaste, but who we simply cannot picture as being very attractive), "and is seeking reassurance by repeated and varied experience with men. The fact of inferiority is also true of promiscuous men, who in such ways prove a virility which they secretly doubt.... Promiscuity makes people lose the greatest experience in life—love."
As Dr. Wescott points out, this statement is difficult to discuss until we know what is meant by all the terms in it, especially "promiscuity" and "love." "If 'promiscuity' is defined as 'wholly indiscriminate mating,'" notes the doctor, "we can safely dismiss it as a pseudo-problem, since even [lower] animals show at least minimal discretion in mating. If, on the other hand, it is simply a slur-word for extramarital love, we may dismiss it as an antinomy since what it amounts to is a statement that love destroys love."
Any implication that extramarital sexual activity on the part of either the male or female, with one or a number of partners, presupposes a neurotic motivation is simply untrue. There is a little item called the basic sex drive that explains such behavior far more accurately. Miss Banning's banning pronouncements remind us of the Playboy cartoon by Phil Interlandi in last January's issue, with two women marooned together on a desert island—one, young and voluptuous, exclaims to the other, who is elderly: "Look, do me a favor and stop saying, 'Who needs it?!'"
To Miss Margaret Culkin Banning, apparently, all sexual liberalism seems little more than a pose. "It is all very well," she writes, "to say, 'People look at these things differently today.' They may look at them differently, but they feel about the same." If this were true in the absolute way in which Miss Banning expresses it, then one could aver with equal validity that since people once worshipped the sun, the rain, fire, trees and rocks, they must feel the same reverence for them. Such religious beliefs were undoubtedly of the utmost importance to our early ancestors, who fervently believed that society simply could not exist without them. Yet today most people not only feel no need to worship rocks, and rain, and fire, they seem to be free from even nostalgia for such worship. Civilization moves onward and upward—the ostriches notwithstanding—and people do progress, and learn to look upon and feel about things in new ways—given time, experience and the opportunity for enlightenment.
Miss Banning warns us that, "We cannot ignore man's preference for a virgin as a bride." To which Dr. Wescott replies, "True enough. But to acknowledge need not be to encourage. And the sexual liberal tries to show the determined virgin-hunter that his insistence on the magical virtue of the unruptured hymen is due to his implicit conception of women as property, and that it is far from flattering to 'the fair sex' to treat its members as salable commodities with only two possible labels—'used' or 'unused.'"
"It is," Miss Banning says, "as true now as ever that in sacrificing chastity a girl may be gambling away her later chances of lifelong married happiness." And Doctor Wescott responds: "Although happiness is, at best, an elusive and subjective concept, what few statistics there are on the subject of marital bliss are extremely melancholy. Even in the days of the pioneer German erotologist Iwan Bloch, prospects for betrothed virgins were bleak; and they seem to have declined since then. Virginity, in other words, seems to be a very poor passport to happiness.
"In fact, about the only prediction one can fairly make about the girl who is a physiological virgin before marriage is that she is more likely than her unchaste sister to remain an emotional virgin after marriage. In this case as in that of premarital petting, it seems that practice makes perfect. The sexual 'rules' are much the same as those for other vital functions: We must learn to walk before we can expect to run. And if we are not permitted to use, or even to mention, our legs, how can we learn to do either?"
Kinsey makes this strong point in his studies. It is especially true for upper-class males, who are far more "heterosexually restrained" in their early years than are lower-class males. Kinsey notes that after being thus repressed for 10 or 15 years, getting married does not transform them overnight into Don Juans. And the sexual adjustment with their new mates is, at best, quite often a difficult matter.
Summarizing Miss Banning's "case for chastity," we find that she attempts to threaten and frighten more than persuade with any reason and that she also creates or perpetuates several myths that science rejects as untrue or unsound: Among these is the notion that romantic love is more natural and wholesome than sexual arousal; that work is intrinsically healthier than play; that petting makes a girl unsuitable for marriage; that the problems of venereal disease and abortion are caused more by lack of chastity than society's prudery, and the resultant suppression of knowledge in the case of VD and the legal use of that knowledge in the case of abortion; that alcohol is an aphrodisiac; that promiscuity robs one of the ability to love or be loved; that attitudes and feelings do not change with time and experience; that premarital chastity is more conducive to a successful marriage than unchastity; that chastity is the norm; and that exalting virginity is really healthful and good for society. Most experts in the field of sexual behavior would reject all of the foregoing assumptions or conclusions as fallacious.
For the future, we share with Dr. Wescott the hope that the general reading public will be offered "more substantial fare than these venerable clichés and that it will have ever-increasing opportunity to escape from those sex-Banning attitudes that have hitherto robbed its life and its love of so much joy."
Dr. Wescott also recognizes clearly the underlying significance of sexual freedom in a free society, as he states in the conclusion: "Ultimately, of course, the case for sexual freedom is the same as the case for any other kind of freedom—political, social or religious: liberty releases and fulfills human potentialities, while restriction cramps and distorts them. Let us therefore no longer refuse free rein to that immense potential for good which resides, too often mute and unrealized [within each of us]."
We think it an apt conclusion, also, for this installment of The Playboy Philosophy.