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Psychiatry: Trouble Between the Sexes

4 minute read

Sexual behavior in the U.S. has changed markedly in the past 25 years, says U.C.L.A. Psychiatrist Ralph R. Greenson—and not for the better. “It is my definite impression,” Dr. Greenson told the American Medical Association last week, “that women are becoming sexually more assertive and demanding, and men are more indifferent and lethargic.” His observations, he added, are as valid for the youth of the current “cool” generation as they are for the middleaged.

One important source of trouble, said Dr. Greenson, is an increase in hostility between the sexes. “As women in our society have become more assertive and daring,” he explained, “men seem to have become more passive and timid.” Women, he added, are far more certain of their femininity than men of their masculinity. “A woman is at her most feminine in the company of men. A man in our society feels most manly in the company of men.”

Puny Love & Pot. It is true enough, said the psychiatrist, that today’s youth are remarkably ostentatious about some of their more intimate activities. “They get to know each other sexually before they become close emotionally or intellectually. In the past, it was the unpopular girl who used sexuality for a bait as a means of competing with her more attractive rivals. Today, even the most attractive and popular girls indulge in a variety of sexual practices with little emotional involvement.”

But their free and easy public behavior, said Greenson, does not lead to private satisfaction. And the blame, he said, should be placed largely on the parents. They are overanxious for their children to be popular; they urge them to date early, at a time when they are emotionally unprepared for the experience.

“I believe one of the reasons young males and females wear their hair alike and dress alike,” said Dr. Greenson, ‘stems from their fear of the opposite sex.” Though the long-hair cult remains a minority beyond such hangouts as Greenwich Village and Sunset Strip, the doctor concluded that boys and girls now “seek a twin, not a sweetheart or over. They are only secure with someone who resembles themselves.”

Today’s youths, said Dr. Greenson, lave been spoiled; they have grown up accustomed to swift satisfactions with a relative absence of frustration. “The great lovers in real life and in literature,” he noted, “were willing to suffer great misery and pain for their loved ones—to wait, to struggle and to endure, all of which went to make the loved one more precious. The ‘cool’ set is used to quick and easy gratifications, Instant warmth and instant sex make puny love, cool sex, and a turning to LSD and ‘pot.'”

Equal Rights. For the sexual apathy that he found in the middle-aged male, Dr. Greenson suggested, there are several reasons: “After 25 years of marriage, his sexual practices tend to become stereotyped and routinized. There are no more surprises. As a consequence of his insecurity about his masculinity, the American male is inhibited in giving full rein to his sexual fantasies. Another complicating circumstance is the typical middle-aged man’s notion that at his time of life his body has to be preserved from any undue stress and strain. He may play 36 holes of golf and cards afterward, but at night, in bed with his wife, he is apt to feel that sex is too strenuous and depleting. He is more interested in preserving his body than his marriage”—although even the doctor would agree that a reasonable concern for the physical is vital to both the man and his marriage.

In the past, said Dr. Greenson, women used to submit passively to a passionless sex that was little more than a service for their husbands. Not today. And a generation ago, women seemed much more dependent upon being loved as a prerequisite for sex, whereas today they seem just as able as men to enjoy it without romantic love. “Apparently, as they have gained greater freedom, they feel entitled to equal sexual satisfaction along with their other equal rights.”

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