In response to:
Sex in the Head from the May 13, 1976 issue
To the Editors:
Professor Cameron, in his review essay, “Sex in the Head,” is urbane, learned, and concerned—all admirable traits. They conceal, however, his use of a rather shabby journalistic device: the setting up of a straw man. He puts forth six “notes” as to the content of the sexual revolution, the first (and most important of which) enables him thereafter to criticize that revolution scathingly. That first “note” states that the basic precept of the sexual revolution is that “in sexual practice virtually everything is interesting and nothing is grave…pretty well anything goes as long as it doesn’t harm other people…. Whatever gives sexual pleasure is all right; the burden of proving that it isn’t rests upon the objector.” And later: “A culture without guilt, in which all conceivable sexual practices are innocent, such is the happy arrangement many believe to be already practicable.”
With this established as the supposed ethical position of those favoring sexual liberation, Professor Cameron is enabled to make sexual liberationists seem simple-minded, reactionary, and essentially anti-social, if not destructive of the very web of culture.
I do not much like Professor Cameron’s characterizing my own treatment of the moral and philosophic questions involved in sexual behavior as “confused,” but I cannot quarrel with his right to have that opinion of it. What I do quarrel with is his assertions that those who look favorably upon sexual liberation take a permissive attitude toward practically everything, and that they regard whatever gives sexual pleasure as acceptable. My own book very clearly shows that the great changes brought about by the so-called sexual revolution have come about within a framework of fundamental traditional values—particularly the linkage between sex and love, and the ascription of greater emotional and social value to sex acts within loving relationships than to those which are casual, impersonal, and mechanical. Not only is this the reality, within the American psyche today, but I, and most other sex researchers, think of this as a valuable and socially functional aspect of sexually liberated behavior.
I do not—nor does any serious sex researcher I know of—regard virtually all sexual behavior as interesting and none as grave. Interesting means “fun,” grave means “important”—and surely nothing in my book could be taken to show that I perceive no moral and emotional differences among the kinds of sexual behavior now being practiced in America. And like nearly all serious students of the subject, I regard many forms of sexual activity as distinctly harmful either to the individuals involved, or to society, or both; these include parent-child incest, pedophilia, rape, some kinds of prostitution, and much of sadomasochism. I deny ever making any assertion that could be taken, as implied by Professor Cameron, to mean that “moral questions are not too troublesome within the realm of sexuality.” Sexual liberation has not made the moral questions simple; it has, however, made possible solutions that do not involve inevitable frustration, suffering, guilt, and the contamination of loving relationships.
Tertullian once reassured his wife as to the nature of their relationship after resurrection: “There will at that day,” he wrote her, “be no resumption of voluptuous disgrace between us. No such frivolities, no such impurities, does God promise to His servants.” To mislabel the ethical basis of sexual liberation as Professor Cameron does is to hark back longingly to a time when sex, interesting or not, was surely grave in the most depressing sense of that word.
East Hampton, New York