Sex in the Head

From Machismo to Mutuality: Essays on Sexism and Woman-Man Liberation

by Eugene C. Bianchi and Rosemary Radford Ruether
Paulist Press, 142 pp., $5.95

My Secret Garden: Women's Sexual Fantasies

compiled by Nancy Friday
Pocket Books, 336 pp., $1.95 (paper)

Binding with Briars: Sex and Sin in the Catholic Church

by Richard Ginder
Prentice-Hall, 251 pp., $8.95

Sexual Behavior in the 1970s

by Morton Hunt
Dell, 395 pp., $1.95 (paper)

Noble Lovers

by D.D.R. Owen
Phaidon, 191 pp., £8.50

The Homosexual Matrix

by C. A. Tripp
McGraw-Hill, 314 pp., $10.00

“Revolution,” like “tragedy,” is a bit overused; but there can’t be any doubt that we are in the course of, perhaps at the end of, a revolution in sexual mores. From Sweden there has just come a report that a government committee has recommended that children be legally free to make their hetero- or homosexual debuts at fourteen, that all legal prohibitions of incest be lifted, and that the word “homosexual” be dropped from the terminology of the law. As to what goes on, it is easy to say what has happened in our society, and I will attempt a short account presently, but it isn’t and can’t be clear how far behavior that is in one sense characteristic represents how most people conduct their lives.

Other questions even harder to answer are: how far the revolution has added to human happiness or misery, and if to both how the proportions are distributed; what the effects on civilization and culture will be; what the connections are between the revolution and other things that go on in the opulent societies of the West, things both good and bad. Finally, we must surely ask what we are now to think of what has been, in the matter of sexual morality, the central tradition of our culture; this comes from Deuteronomy and was given a circulation outside the Jewish tradition by the first Christians. It forbids fornication, adultery, incest, homosexuality, sexual connection with the brutes, and sacred prostitution (in our own day this last could perhaps be understood as sex as theater).

The content of the sexual revolution seems as follows.

In sexual practice virtually everything is interesting and nothing is grave. It is still thought wrong to force people, especially the young, to engage in sexual practices against their will, though there is sometimes to be heard a Pecksniffian voice claiming that rape is really a protest against a repressive social order. Apart from this, pretty well anything goes so long as it doesn’t harm other people. What is to count as harm isn’t easy to determine, for sadism and masochism are interesting too. It is supposed, strangely, that what is harmful is immediately evident. Whatever gives sexual pleasure is all right; the burden of proving that it isn’t rests upon the objector.

Masturbation is the prototype of all sexual activity, the most harmless, even the “best.” Proficiency in masturbation was a necessary condition of fitness for taking part in the Masters and Johnson experiments. Paul Robinson observes in The Modernization of Sex that “from its pathogenic status among the Victorians, masturbation has risen to the position of final sexual arbiter”; its rewards are held by some to be superior to those of any other sexual activity. In particular, female masturbation is the badge of sexual independence. Virtually all the sexual fantasies in Nancy Friday’s compilation are used in masturbation as well as in other activities. It is now commonly known that the nineteenth-century belief that (male) masturbation causes a variety…

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