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Morals: The Second Sexual Revolution

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The Orgone Box is a half-forgotten invention of the late Dr. Wilhelm Reich, one of Sigmund Freud’s more brilliant disciples, who in his middle years turned into an almost classic specimen of the mad scientist. The device was supposed to gather, in physical form, that life force which Freud called libido and which Reich called orgone, a coinage derived from “orgasm.” The narrow box, simply constructed of wood and lined with sheet metal, offered cures for almost all the ills of civilization and of the body; it was also widely believed to act, for the person sitting inside it, as a powerful sex stimulant. Hundreds of people hopefully bought it before the U.S. Government declared the device a fraud in 1954 and jailed its inventor. And yet, in a special sense, Dr. Reich may have been a prophet. For now it sometimes seems that all America is one big Orgone Box.

With today’s model, it is no longer necessary to sit in cramped quarters for a specific time. Improved and enlarged to encompass the continent, the big machine works on its subjects continuously, day and night. From innumerable screens and stages, posters and pages, it flashes the larger-than-life-sized images of sex. From countless racks and shelves, it pushes the books which a few years ago were considered pornography. From myriad loudspeakers, it broadcasts the words and rhythms of pop-music erotica. And constantly, over the intellectual Muzak, comes the message that sex will save you and libido make you free.

The U.S. is still a long way from the rugged debaucheries of Restoration England or the perfumed corruption of the Gallant Century in France. But Greeks who have grown up with the memory of Aphrodite can only gape at the American goddesses, silken and seminude, in a million advertisements. Indians who have seen the temple sculptures of Konarak can only marvel at some of the illustrated matter sold in American drugstores; and Frenchmen who consider themselves the world’s arbiters on the subject, can only smile at the urgency attached to it by Americans. The U.S. seems to be undergoing a revolution of mores and an erosion of morals that is turning it into what Reich called a “sex-affirming culture.”

Two Generations. Men with memories ask, “What, again?” The first sexual revolution followed World War I, when flaming youth buried the Victorian era and anointed itself as the Jazz Age. In many ways it was an innocent revolution. In This Side of Paradise, F. Scott Fitzgerald alarmed mothers by telling them “how casually their daughters were accustomed to being kissed”; today mothers thank their stars if kissing is all their daughters are accustomed to. It was, nevertheless, a revolution that took nerve, and it was led by the daring few; today’s is far more broadly based. In the 1920s, to praise sexual freedom was still outrageous; today sex is simply no longer shocking, in life or literature.

The difference between the ’20s and ’60s comes down, in part, to a difference between people. The rebels of the ’20s had Victorian parents who laid down a Victorian law; it was something concrete and fairly well-defined to rise up against. The rebels of the ’60s have parents with only the tattered remnants of a code, expressed for many of them in Ernest Hemingway’s one-sentence manifesto: “What is moral is what you feel good after, and what is immoral is what you feel bad after.” Adrift in a sea of permissiveness, they have little to rebel against. Parents, educators and the guardians of morality at large do pull themselves together to say “don’t,” but they usually sound halfhearted. Closed minds have not disappeared, but as a society, the U.S. seems to be dominated by what Congregationalist Minister and Educator Robert Elliot Fitch calls an “orgy of open-mindedness.” Faith and principle are far from dead—but what stands out is an often desperate search for “new standards for a new age.”

Wide-open Atmosphere. Thus everybody talks about the current sexual situation; but does everyone know what he’s talking about? No new Kinsey report or Gallup poll can chart the most private—and most universal—of subjects. What people say does not necessarily reflect what they do, and what they do does not necessarily show how they feel about it. Yet out of an aggregate of words and actions, every society makes a statement about itself. Methodist Bishop Gerald Kennedy of Los Angeles sums it up: “The atmosphere is wide open. There is more promiscuity, and it is taken as a matter of course now by people. In my day they did it, but they knew it was wrong.”

Publicly and dramatically, the change is evident in Spectator Sex—what may be seen and read. Thirty-five years ago, Elmer Gantry and All Quiet on the Western Front were banned in Boston; today Supreme Court decisions have had the net effect of allowing everything to be published except “hardcore pornography.” It is hard to remember that as recently as 1948, in The Naked and the Dead, Norman Mailer felt compelled to reduce his favorite four letters to three (“fug”), or that there was ever any fuss about poor old Lady Chatterley’s Lover and his worshipful deification of sexual organs. John O’Hara, whose writing until recently was criticized as “sex-obsessed,” appears positively Platonic alongside Calder Willingham and John Updike, who describe lyrically and in detail matters that used to be mentioned even in scientific works only in Latin.

Then there is Henry Miller with his scabrous Tropics, and William Burroughs’ Naked Lunch, an incredible piece of hallucinatory homosexual depravity. And if these are classed as literature and are democratically available at the neighborhood drugstore, who is going to stop the cheap pornographer from putting out Lust Hop, Lust Jungle, Lust Kicks, Lust Lover, Lust Lease, Lust Moll, Lust Team, Lust Girls, and Call Boy? In girlie magazines, nudity stops only at the mons Veneris—et quandoque ne ibiquidem. Asks Dr. Paul Gebhard, the late Alfred Kinsey’s successor at Indiana University’s Institute for Sex Research: “What do you do after you show it all? I’ve talked to some of the publishers, and they are a little worried.”

The Next Step. The cult of pop hedonism and phony sexual sophistication grows apace. It produces such books as Sex and the Single Man, in which Dr. Albert Ellis, a supposedly reputable psychologist, offers crude but obvious instructions on how to seduce a girl, and the Playboy Clubs, which are designed to look wicked except that no one is supposed even to touch the “Bunnies”—creating the teasing impression of brothels without a second story. But by no means all of Spectator Sex is unpleasant. American clothes nowadays manage to be both free and attractive —necklines are down, skirts are up, ski pants are tight, girdles are out, and figures are better than ever, to which there can be very few objections.

Hollywood, of course, suggests more of morals and immorals to more people than any other single force. Gone with Marilyn Monroe is the last, and perhaps the greatest, of the sex symbols. Lesser girls in ever crasser if no more honest stories now symbolize very little except Hollywood’s desire to outshock TV (easy because the living room still imposes some restraints) and outsex foreign movies (impossible). European films have the best-looking girls; they also have a natural, if sometimes amoral, attitude toward sex, somewhere between a shrug and a prayer, between desire and fatigue, which makes Hollywood eroticism seem coyly fraudulent.

As for Broadway, quite a few plays lately have opened with a couple in bed —to show right away, as Critic Walter Kerr says, that the male is not a homosexual. As another critic has seriously suggested, the next step in the theater will be to represent sexual intercourse onstage. Meanwhile, the forthcoming musical, What Makes Sammy Run?, at least represents how to feel about it. In a pleasant but unmistakable song, one of Sammy’s girls croons, without reference to love or even to passion:

Drinks are okay, they break the ice,

Dancing this way is also nice.

But why delay the friendliest thing two people can do?

When it can be the sweetest and,

Let’s face it, the completest and friendliest thing

Two people can do!*

The Unique Conflict. It remains for each man and woman to walk through this sexual bombardment and determine for themselves what to them seems tasteless or objectionable, entertaining or merely dull. A healthy society must assume a certain degree of immunity on the part of its people. But no one can really calculate the effect this exposure is having on individual lives and minds. Above all, it is not an isolated phenomenon. It is part and symptom of an era in which morals are widely held to be both private and relative, in which pleasure is increasingly considered an almost constitutional right rather than a privilege, in which self-denial is increasingly seen as foolishness rather than virtue. While science has reduced fear of long-dreaded earthly dangers, such as pregnancy and VD, skepticism has diminished fear of divine punishment. In short, the Puritan ethic, so long the dominant moral force in the U.S., is widely considered to be dying, if not dead, and there are few mourners.

The demise of Puritanism—whether permanent or not remains to be seen—is the latest phase in a conflict, as old as Christianity itself, between Eros and agape, between passionate love named for a pagan god and spiritual love through which man imitates God. It is a conflict unique to the Christian West. The religions of many other civilizations provide a clearly defined and positive place for sex. In the West, the tension between the two, and the general confusion about the many facets of love, leads to a kind of self-torment that, says Italian Author Leo Ferrero, “might well appear to a Chinese psychiatrist as symptomatic of insanity.”

The Decline of Puritanism. Yet that “insanity” is among the great mysteries and challenges of the Christian tradition—the belief that sex is not only the force by which man perpetuates himself on God’s earth but also the symbol of his fall, and that it can be sanctified only in the sacrament of marriage.

The original American Puritans understood passion as well as human frailty: in Plymouth in the 1670s, while ordinary fornicators were fined £10, those who were engaged had to pay only half the fine. But a fatal fact about Puritanism, which led to its ever-increasing narrowness and decline, was its conviction that virtue could be legislated by the community, that human perfection could be organized on earth.

What the first sexual revolution in the U.S. attacked was not original Puritanism so much as its Victorian version—which had become a matter of prudery more than of purity, propriety more than of grace. The 19th century frantically insisted on propriety precisely because it felt its real faith and ethics disappearing. While it feared nudity like a plague, Victorian Puritanism had the effect of an all-covering gown that only inflames the imagination. By insisting on suppressing the sex instinct in everything, the age betrayed the fact that it really saw that instinct in everything. So, too, with Sigmund Freud, Victorianism’s most perfect rebel.

Romantic Revolt. Freudian psychology, or its popularized version, became one of the chief forces that combined against Puritanism. Gradually, the belief spread that repression, not license, was the great evil, and that sexual matters belonged in the realm of science, not morals. A second force was the New Woman, who swept aside the Victorian double standard, which was partly based on the almost universally held notion that women—or at any rate, ladies—did not enjoy sex. One eminent doctor said it was a “foul aspersion” on women to say they did. The celebrated 2nd century Physician Galen was (and is) often incompletely quoted to the effect that “every animal is sad after coitus.” Actually, as Kinsey pointed out, he had added the qualification, “except the human female and the rooster.” Siding with Galen, women claimed not only the right to work and to vote, but the even more important right to pleasure.

These two allies against Puritanism seemed to be joined by Eros in person. The cult of romantic passion, with its assertion that true love could exist only outside marriage, had first challenged Christianity in the 12th century; some consider it an uprising of the old paganism long ago driven underground by the church. From Tristan on, romance shaped the great literary myths of the West and became a kind of secular religion. Christianity learned to coexist with it.

But in the early 20th century, the religion of romance appeared in a new form, and its troubadour was D. H. Lawrence. Until then, it had been tinged by the polite and melancholy suggestion that desire, not fulfillment, was the best part of love. Lawrence countered vehemently that fulfillment is everything, that sex is the one great, true thing in life. More explicitly than anyone before him, he sentimentalized the orgasm, in whose “final massive and dark collision of the blood” he saw man’s apotheosis and fusion with the divine.

Beyond Prohibition. Christianity does not share this mystique of sex, insisting that the primary purpose of the sexual act as ordained by God is procreation. It never considered the flesh to be in trinsically evil. But for a thousand years, the Church was deeply influenced by the views of St. Augustine, a profligate in his youth and a moralist in middle age, who held that even within marriage, sex and its pleasures were dangerous—a necessary evil for the begetting of children. Gradually, partly under the influence of the Reformation, which denied the “higher value” of celibacy, Christianity began to move away from this austere Augustinian view, and toward an acceptance of pleasure in sex as a positive good.

In 1951, Pope Pius XII still warned against un-Christian hedonism, but reaffirmed it was right that “husband and wife shall find pleasure and happiness of mind and body.” Today, says Father John Thomas, noted Roman Catholic sociologist, “what is needed is a whole new attitude by the church toward sexuality. There is in both Catholicism and Protestantism a relatively well-developed theology of sex on the negative side. Now more than prohibition is needed.”

The Protestant churches have indeed gone far beyond prohibition through their wide approval of birth control not only as an aid in sensible family planning but, in the words of the Anglican bishops at the 1958 Lambeth conference, as a “gate to a new depth and joy in personal relationships between husband and wife.” Ironically, it is Communism, having long ago silenced all its bold talk about “free love,” which may be the most puritanical force in the world today. In 1984, George Orwell attributed the old Victorian code to his fictional dictatorship: “goodsex” was marital intercourse without pleasure on the part of the woman, “sexcrime” was everything else.

Search for Codes. A great many Americans—probably the majority—live by the old religious morality. Or at least they try to; they may practice what Max Lerner describes as “patterned evasion,” a heavy but charitable way of saying that to keep society going people must be free, up to a point, not to practice what they profess.

Many others now live by what State University of Iowa Sociologist Ira Reiss calls “permissiveness with affection.” What this means to most people is that: 1) morals are a private affair; 2) being in love justifies premarital sex, and by implication perhaps extramarital sex; 3) nothing really is wrong as long as nobody else “gets hurt.”

This happens to be reminiscent of the moral code expressed in Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, otherwise known as Fanny Hill, the celebrated 18th century pornographic novel now freely available in the U.S. One of the principals “considered pleasure, of one sort or another, as the universal port of destination, and every wind that blew thither a good one, provided it blew nobody any harm.”

No Absolutes. One trouble with this very humane-sounding principle is that it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to know what, in the long run, will hurt others and what won’t. Thus, in spite of what may often appear to be a sincere concern for others, it remains an essentially self-centered code. In his categorical imperative, Kant set down the opposite standard, a variation of the Golden Rule: Judge your every action as if it were to become a universal principle applicable to all.

Undoubtedly, that is a difficult code to live by, and lew try to. But living by a lesser code can be difficult too, as is shown by tne almost frantic attempt of sociologists and psychologists to give people something to hold on to without falling back on traditional rules. Typical of many is the effort of Lester A. Kirkendall of Oregon State University, in his recent book, Premarital Intercourse and Interpersonal Relationships: “The moral decision will be the one which works toward the creation of trust, confidence and integrity in relationships.” What such well-intentioned but tautologous and empty advice may mean in practice is suggested by one earnest teacher who praises the Kirkendall code: “Now I have an answer. I just tell the girls and boys that they have to consider both sides of the question—will sexual intercourse strengthen or weaken their relationship?”

The “relationship” ethic is well expressed by Miami Psychologist Granville Fisher, who speaks for countless colleagues when he says: “Sex is not a moral question. For answers you don’t turn to a body of absolutes. The criterion should not be, ‘Is it morally right or wrong,’ but, ‘Is it socially feasible, is it personally healthy and rewarding, will it enrich human life?’ ” Dr. Fisher adds, correctly, that many Protestant churchmen are beginning to feel the same way. “They are no longer shaking their finger because the boys and girls give in to natural biological urges and experiment a bit. They don’t say, ‘Stop, you’re wrong,’ but, ‘Is it meaningful?’ ”

Methodist Bishop Kennedy condemns premarital sex “in general” but adds, “I wouldn’t stand in judgment. There would be exceptions.” Recently, Wally Toevs, Presbyterian pastor at the University of Colorado, more or less condoned premarital sex when there is a “covenant of intimacy.” A distinguished Protestant theologian privately recommends—he doesn’t believe the U.S. is ready for him to say it publicly—the idea of a trial affair for some people, a “little marriage” in preparation for the “great marriage” which is to last.

Too Much, Too Soon. From current reports on youth, “meaningful relationships” and “covenants of intimacy” are rampant. Teen-agers put great stock in staying cool. But even discounting the blasé talk, the notion is widely accepted today, on the basis of Kinsey and a few smaller, more recent studies, that the vast majority of American men and at least half the women now have sexual intercourse before marriage. Dr. Graham B. Blaine Jr., psychiatrist to the Harvard and Radcliffe Health Service, estimates that within the past 15 years the number of college boys who had intercourse before graduation rose from 50% to 60%, the number of college girls from 25% to 40%. A Purdue sociologist estimates that one out of six .brides is pregnant.

These figures may be flawed, and they certainly do not apply to all parts of the U.S. or to all schools. But there is almost universal agreement that youngsters are pushed toward adult behavior too soon, often by ambitious mothers who want them to be “well adjusted” and popular; hence champagne parties for teenagers, padded brassieres for twelve-year-olds, and “going steady” at ever younger ages. American youngsters tend to live as if adolescence were a last fling at life, rather than a preparation for it. Historian Arnold Toynbee, for one, considers this no laughing matter, for part of the modern West’s creative energy, he believes, has sprung from the ability to postpone adolescents’ “sexual awakening” to let them concentrate on the acquisition of knowledge.

Most significant of all, the age-old moral injunctions are less readily accepted by the young—partly because they sense that so many parents don’t really believe in them either.

Crisis of Virginity. “Nice girls don’t” is undoubtedly still the majority view, but definitely weakening, as is “No nice boy will respect you if you go to bed with him.” A generation ago, college boys strayed off campus to seek out professionals; today they are generally looked down on if they can’t succeed with a coed.

In a way, the situation is the logical consequence of U.S. attitudes toward youth. In other societies, the young are chaperoned and restricted because it is assumed, human nature being what it is, that if they are exposed to temptation they will give in. The U.S., on the other hand, has set the young free, given them cars, given them prosperity —and yet still expects them to follow the rules. The compromise solution to this dilemma has long been petting, or “making out,” as it is now known, which the U.S. did not invent but has carried to extreme lengths.

Now there are signs of resentment against a practice that overstimulates but blocks fulfillment. The resentment, however, is taking forms that alarm many parents. In a sweeping generalization, Dr. Blaine reports that “Radcliffe girls think petting is dirty because it is teasing. They feel if you are going to do that, it is better just to have intercourse.” This may apply to some, but, as Harvard’s President Pusey reported in a speech last week, 80% of Radcliffe girls get degrees with honors, “so they can’t do all that running around they’re supposed to.”

Many girls are still sincere and even lyrical about saving themselves for marriage, but it is becoming a lot harder to hold the line. There is strong pressure not only from the boys but from other girls, many of whom consider a virgin downright square. The loss of virginity, even resulting in pregnancy, is simply no longer considered an American Tragedy. Says one student of the American vernacular: “The word virgin is taking on a slightly new meaning. It seems acceptable to consider a girl a virgin if she has had experience with only her husband before marriage, or with only one or two steadies.” At a girls’ college in Connecticut, one coed recently wrote a poem about the typical Yale man which concluded:

And so I yield myself completely to him.

Society says I should.

Damn society!

Talk of the Pill. Some girls are bothered to the point of consulting analysts when they find that having an affair makes them uneasy; since everyone is telling them that sex is healthy, they feel guilty about feeling guilty. Some girls, says an Atlanta analyst, “are disturbed because they are no longer able to use fear of pregnancy as an excuse for chastity.” In many parts of the country, physicians report the use of Saran Wrap as a male contraceptive, but such improvisation seems hardly necessary, since birth control devices of all kinds are sold freely, often at supermarkets. Parents have been known to buy diaphragms for their daughters (although in Cleveland recently, a woman was arrested for giving birth control information to her delinquent daughter).

The big new development is the oral contraceptive pill, widely used and even more widely discussed both at college and at home. A considerate boy asks a girl politely, “Are you on pills?” If not, he takes the precautions himself. Current joke definition of a good sport: A wife who keeps taking the Pill even when her husband is away.

In spite of all this, the number of illegitimate children born to teen-age mothers rose from 8.4 per thousand in 1940 to 16 in 1961, in the 20-to-25 age group from 11.2 per thousand to 41.2. Some girls neglect to use contraceptives, psychologists report, because they consciously or unconsciously want a child, others resent the planned, deliberate aspect; they think it “nicer” to get carried away on the spur of the moment. College girls have been known to take up collections for a classmate who needed an abortion, and some have had one without skipping a class.

Girls Aren’t Things. Still, by and large, campus sex is not casual. Boys look down on a “community chest,” meaning a promiscuous girl. Sociologist David Riesman believes that, far more so than in the ’20s, boys treat girls as persons rather than objects: “They sit down and really talk with them.”

Not that talk is universally appreciated. When New York girls speak of a date as N.A.T.O., they mean contemptuously, “No Action, Talk Only.” Some find the steady affair on the dull side. One Hunter girl told Writer Gael Greene: “Sex is so casual and taken for granted—I mean we go to dinner, we go home, get undressed like old married people, you know—and just go to bed. I mean I’m not saying I’d like to be raped on the living-room floor exactly. But I would love to just sit around on the sofa and neck.”

The young seem to be earnestly trying to construct their own code, and are even rediscovering for themselves some of the older verities. “They are piecing together lives which are at least as whole as their parents,” says Lutheran Minister Martin Marty. They marry early—probably too early—and they give the impression of escaping into marriage almost with a sense of relief. Often they are disappointed by what marriage brings.

Serial Polygamy. For the dominant fact about sexual mores in the U.S. remains the fragility of American marriage. The institution has never been easily sustained; “forsaking all others,” in human terms, represents a belief that in an average life, loneliness is a greater threat than boredom. But the U.S. has a special concept of marriage, both Puritan and romantic. In most Eastern societies, marriages are arranged by families; the same is true in many parts of Europe, and there, even where young people are free to choose, they often choose for purely practical reasons. In arranged marriage, it is expected that love may or may not come later—and remarkably often it does. If not, it may be found outside marriage. The church, of course, does not sanction this system, but in European countries it has managed to live with it.

In the U.S., this notion is repugnant. St. Paul said that it is better to marry than to burn; except for Roman Catholics, Americans tend to believe that it is better to divorce than to burn. The European aim is to keep the family under one roof; the American aim is to provide personal happiness. Partly as a result, the U.S. has developed what sociologists call “serial polygamy,” often consisting of little more than a succes sion of love affairs with slight legal trimmings. Cynics point out that serial polygamy was a fact even in Puritan times, when men had three or four wives because women were apt to die young; nowadays, divorce rather than death provides variety.

There is some sympathy for the European system. Says Psychiatrist Joseph Satten of the Menninger Foundation: “Fewer people feel now that infidelity demands a divorce. There is some value to this increased tolerance, because it may help keep our families together. But our society will suffer terribly if we equate freedom in sex with irresponsibility.” Most Americans still feel that if the family is to be kept together, it cannot be through infidelity. There are, in fact, signs of stability in the divorce statistics, which have remained steady over the past four years.

Oh Men, Oh Women. Those marriages which do survive seem to be richer and more fun. Part of the reason may be that Americans are becoming more sophisticated and less inhibited in bed—as just about everyone is urging them to be. As respectable an authority as Robert C. Dodds, a minister in the United Church of Christ, and General Director of Planning for the National Council of Churches, appends a chapter on sex practices to a marriage handbook, in which a physician urges couples to explore and “conjure up various positions and actions of sexual intercourse.” Old taboos are slowly beginning to disappear, and while the upper and educated classes were always more adventurous in their techniques, sexual class lines show signs of fading. Reportedly declining are such prudish practices as making love with one’s clothes on or in total darkness.

The long-standing cold war between men and women in the U.S. may be heading for a détente. While American women often still seem too strong and American men too weak, the U.S. has learned that men have the kind of women they deserve. The image of the all-devouring, all-demanding but never-giving American Bitch is virtually gone, both in life and in literature (except possibly on Broadway, where so many plays are written by homosexuals). With the new legitimation of pleasure, the American woman increasingly tries to combine the roles of wife and mistress —with the same man, that is. It may be an unattainable goal, but the attempt is fascinating and often successful.

Perhaps American men have yet to discover that in her new and complicated role, woman must be wooed more than ever—and that wooing women is not a part-time occupation but a full-time attitude. But almost all American men have begun to accept the fact that women nowadays have to be competent and managing types—without giving up their femininity. As for the often-heard charge that American men really want mothers, Henry Miller, of all people, recently replied: “I have often wondered what is so objectionable about being mothered by the woman one loves.”

Sexual Democracy. In extramarital sex, one of the chief trends is toward sexual democracy. Today’s sexual adventuring seems to be among social equals, even if it means the best friend’s wife or husband. The old double stand ard involved a reservoir of socially inferior women, some of them prostitutes, others “nice” girls but not really quite nice. The prostitutes’ ranks are thinning more than ever. As for the little seamstress or shopgirl type, she hardly exists any longer; heaven and union wages protect the working girl.

Today’s catalyst for sex, at least in urban communities, is the office girl, from head buyer to perky file clerk. To many men, the office remains a refuge from home, and to many girls a refuge from the eligible but sometimes dull young men they meet in the outside world. One of the difficulties of the office affair, except for those who relish intrigue for its own sake, is the problem of sheer logistics and security. Semipublic, semipermanent affairs are still not readily condoned—or perhaps even really enjoyed—in the U.S. American men seem to have decided that if there is love, only marriage will suffice in the long run, and if there is no love, only boredom can result; thus does life forever reinvent morality.

The New Sin. Some sociologists believe that the U.S. is moving toward a more Mediterranean attitude toward sex and life in general. But the U.S. still cannot relax about it the way Europe does, which accepts sex without much discussion, as it accepts bread and wine, earth and sin.

In contrast, the U.S. is forever trying to banish sin from the universe—and finding new sins to worry about. The new sex freedom in the U.S. does not necessarily set people free. Psychoanalyst Rollo May believes that it has minimized external social anxiety but increased internal tension. The great new sin today is no longer giving in to desire, he thinks, but not giving in to it fully or successfully enough. While enjoyment of sex has increased for many, the “competitive compulsion to prove oneself an acceptable sexual machine” makes many others feel neurotically guilty, hence impotent or frigid. As a fellow analyst puts it bluntly: “We are always anticipating the 21-gun salute, and worried if it doesn’t happen.” This preoccupation with the frequency and technique of orgasm, says May, leads to a new kind of inverted Puritanism.

If there is indeed a new Puritanism, it has its own Cotton Mather. Man, says Norman Mailer, “knows at the seed of his being that good orgasm opens his possibilities and bad orgasm imprisons him.” Many people take this issue very seriously: next month, the American Association of Marriage Counselors will hold a three-day conference on the nature of orgasm.

There is also a tendency to see in sex not only personal but social salvation—the last area of freedom in an industrialized society, the last frontier. In one of the really “in” books of recent years, Life Against Death, Norman O. Brown has even suggested a kind of sexual Utopia. In his vision, all repressions would be eliminated, along with civilization itself; the future would belong to sexuality, not just of the present “genital” variety, which Brown considers a form of tyranny, but the all-round, innocent sexuality a child enjoys.

Such notions mean burdening sex with too much deadly importance, suggesting an absurd vision of all those college kids making out, the clerks trying to learn the art of seduction from Dr. Albert Ellis, the young married couples in their hopeful conjugal beds—all only serving the great cause of some sociosexual revolution.

The Supreme Act. Contemplating the situation from the vantage point of his 79 years, Historian Will Durant recently decided it was time to speak out, not only on sexual morality but on morals generally. Said he: “Most of our literature and social philosophy after 1850 was the voice of freedom against authority, of the child against the parent, of the pupil against the teacher. Through many years I shared in that individualistic revolt. I do not regret it; it is the function of youth to defend liberty and innovation, of the old to defend order and tradition, and of middle age to find a middle way. But now that I too am old, I wonder whether the battle I fought was not too completely won. Let us say humbly but publicly that we resent corruption in politics, dishonesty in business, faithlessness in marriage, pornography in literature, coarseness in language, chaos in music, meaninglessness in art.”

Many Americans will share Durant’s broad indignation, many will dissent from it. But one of the remarkable facts is that there is much less indignation in the churches today—at least as far as sexual morality goes. The watchword is to be positive, to stress the New Testament’s values of faith, hope and charity rather than the prohibitions of the Commandments.

Many sermons, if they deal with sexual transgressions at all, prefer to treat them simply as one kind of difficulty among many others. The meaning of sin in the U.S. today is no longer predominantly sexual.

Few will regret that. But many do feel the need for a reaffirmation of the spiritual meaning of sex. For the act of sex is above all the supreme act of communion between two people, as sanctified by God and celebrated by poets. “Love’s mysteries in souls do grow, but yet the body is his book,” wrote John Donne. And out of this connection and commitment come children, who should be a responsibility—and a joy.

When sex is pursued only for pleasure, or only for gain, or even only to fill a void in society or in the soul, it becomes elusive, impersonal, ultimately disappointing. That is what Protestant Theologian Helmut Thielicke has in mind when he warns that “a dethroned god seems to be staging his comeback in a secularized world.” Eros is accorded high rank today, “a rank that comes close to the deity it once had.” The spiritual danger is that Eros may leave “no room for agape, which lives not by making claims but by giving.”

The Victorians, who talked a great deal about love, knew little about sex. Perhaps it is time that modern Americans, who know a great deal about sex, once again start talking about love.

* Copyright 1963 by Ervin Drake. Reprinted by permission of Harms, Inc.

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