Ideas, influences, and facts about sexual behavior

(Written in 1970)

The strictures of so many of my contemporaries on the young people of today, particularly that they have moral standards that leave much to be desired, especially in the area of sexual ethics, have been irritating me for some time.

I have an enthusiastic admiration for the young adults of the 1970s, in whom I see many of the characteristics which I had at their age, and which, when I look back with the experience of forty years of adulthood, I find made me something of a rebel in my time.

Those with whom I come into contact are, without exception, far more responsible in their attitudes than we ever were. They take the trouble to interest themselves in social problems, in politics and in fundamental ethics, and have a far greater capacity for understanding them than we did. Nowadays we are much more sophisticated at getting what we want.

In comparison with us at their age, I find them better equipped to cope with the many responsibilities of full adult life, and blessed with the ability to cope with them more effectively. And I admire them most for their lack of hypocrisy.

Since I am sincerely convinced that this is so, in a general sense, I cannot believe that the young are not approaching the serious subject of sexual experience in the same way.

Indeed, I have in my files many indications that though many of the fundamental sexual problems which confronted my contemporaries, still confront the young - guilt feelings, worries about sexual capacity, and the specifically male apprehension about premature ejaculation, to name only a few - they are not suppressing them, but are anxiously prepared to seek advice, whereas we worried in silence because we were unable to talk about sex.

The 'permissive society', when one comes to examine it closely, is without much substance.

If our society were really permissive, we would not seek to interfere with those who try to escape from life's realities through drugs and frame abortion laws that are based on sheer hypocrisy.

We should not burn books that deal with the ultimate in long term human relationships, and we should allow those who wish to give themselves the dubious stimulation of pornography to have the means of doing so.

Those who take drugs and those who desire to titillate their flagging sexual powers with pornography are only a tiny minority of the total population.

In my view it is arguing from an entirely false premise to seek to stigmatize a whole society, or even a large portion of a society, on account of the activities of a tiny section of it.

On the other hand it is true that a much more open and frank attitude towards sex has gradually been achieved in the quarter of a century since the end of World War II, so that we can now see words printed in popular newspapers and journals, and hear them on radio and television and in the sitting-room, which have been taboo for a century and more.

It would be difficult for anyone but the most bigotted reactionary to argue that this is not an entirely good development.

At the present time, we, here in the United Kingdom, are passing through a transition which, I think, may be unique in our history.

I do not wish to become deeply imbedded either in the historical aspects of what is going on or in the ethics of what is happening, but in order to set the information I have acquired against a background that will throw it into relief, I must set down the socio-sexual context in which the views of the young men and women who have collaborated with me are set. This I will try to do as briefly as I can.

Our society, at least for my purposes, is divided into four main groups:

1. The seventies and over.

2. The middle-aged - the 45s to 65s.

3. The mature adults -the 30s to 45s.

4. The young adults - the 22s to 30s.

The sexual experience of the 50-year-olds and over who were born at or prior to the turn of the century (group 3 - the mature adults - in the 1930s): by the time they married and began to raise families they had passed through the sexual revolution that had followed in the wake of the movement for the emancipation of women and World War I.

As a break with the Victorian past, this revolution was a considerable one. Its chief features were the woman's claim that outside marriage the same double-standard of sexual behavior that operated for men, should operate for her; the publicizing by Dr Marie Stopes, Van Der Velde and others of the woman's orgasmic potential, with emphasis on the need for foreplay as a very important bye-product; and the onus placed on the man to see that his partner achieved sexual satisfaction, at the risk of being branded a poor lover if he did not develop sexual techniques that brought her off every time they made love.

The dictum of the double-standard for women, whereby it was claimed that unmarried women should be permitted to indulge in intercourse without losing intrinsic value as a sexual woman with the loss of her virginity, did not catch-on. The men soon made it clear that they still expected their brides to come to them as virgins.

On the other hand, the stigma of being rated a poor lover - which hit the man in his most tender spot, his virility - forced men to accept the fact of the woman's ability to achieve orgasm, a fact denied by the Victorians.

This was a good thing, for it raised the status of sex in marriage from being merely a means by which the man relieved his sexual tensions with an entirely passive agent, to a partnership.

What was not such a good thing, was that though the woman's claim to orgasmic experience was rightly acknowledged, the onus that she had it being placed on the man, still made her more or less a passive partner.

By this I mean that she continued to expect the man to know all about sex and its practical application, and did not trouble to educate herself sexually. She still went to her first lover - whether boy-friend or bridegroom more or less totally ignorant of her own sexual potential, and totally ignorant of his. The partnership was not therefore an equal one; the man retained his dominant role, was still the sexual aggressor.

One other good thing to come out of this first sexual revolution was the recognition of the need for sex-education of adolescents. in the previous era children had been left to discover the 'facts of life' for themselves in whatever way they could.

While this silence between adults and children was part and parcel of the Victorian view that sex even inside marriage was an evil, though perhaps a necessary one, the underlying reason for it was the fear that if you told an adolescent how a couple made love, he would straightaway go and put what he had learned into practice.

Breaking the silence had the good effect of unshrouding the mystery of sex for future generations, even if it did not bring it out of its sanctum.

Unfortunately, this praiseworthy breakthrough in thinking was not widely put into practice.

Parents, who were the natural instructors, shied away from their duty and left it to the more enlightened schoolteachers and others. Even worse, when the facts of life were taught and the rudiments of conception and copulation were expounded to the privileged few, great emphasis was placed on the harmfulness and sinfulness of masturbation.

When I was prepared for confirmation in 1924, the Anglican priest who instructed me gave me a private talk about sex. I remember the occasion very well, because of its consequences.

After spending ten minutes describing the male and female sexual anatomies, conception and various new sex positions, he held forth for twenty minutes on masturbation in the following terms, which were repeated over and over again so that they could not fail to make a deep impression. 'Masturbation is sinful because it wastes the most precious gift that God has bestowed upon Man, that of creating new life.

It is physically harmful because semen contains health-giving properties which, if the semen is not expelled, are absorbed into the blood-stream to the benefit of the general health of the individual.

On the other hand, if it is lost frequently, these properties will be denied to the body, the natural energy of the boy will be sapped and his brain especially will suffer, with the result that the boy will be unable to concentrate on his lessons, he will fail his examinations and ruin his career before he has embarked on it. If masturbation is practiced over a long time, it will eventually send the boy mad.'

As if this awful warning were not enough, my instructor then said "When a boy masturbates it leaves tell signs on his face. Grown-ups can read those signs, and no decent man will have anything to do with him.

So don't ever masturbate! I and all your masters and your father will know if you do, and the headmaster would not be able to allow you to remain at school in case you should contaminate other innocent boys with your filthy practices."

At this time I was going through an intensely religious phase. I was also highly-sexed - I had become pubescent at twelve, which was very early in those days - and had a daily need of relief from tension. As a result, the next six to nine months were the most terrifying and fearful that I have ever experienced in my whole life. I struggled, with little effect, to keep myself pure.

I prayed fervently for help, but God seemed deliberately to be turning a deaf-ear, for He did not help me one little bit. I went in daily fear that the tell-tale signs my face must surely carry - though I could not see them myself - would betray me and I would be expelled from school. if I did succeed in not masturbating, I had a wet dream. This phenomenon had not been explained to me and it worried me as much as masturbation, for it brought about the same 'waste of God's precious gift to man'.

I ought to have grown up into a highly guilt-ridden adult, as thousands did who were instructed as I was; but I was saved from this by the arguments of an older and more sophisticated friend and my own logic after some months of intense psychological torment.

The basis of my release from fear was the realization that when married men copulate either with contraceptives - I knew about condoms letters - or during the pregnancy of their wives - which I knew my father did - they ought logically to be just as great sinners as we boys; and I knew my father was not a sinner.

I knew, though now I cannot say how, that the majority of married couples made love many many times without intending to produce a baby and yet it was never suggested that they were doing something sinful and harmful; indeed, the Church of England openly approved of birth control.

Ergo, what was the difference between them, and the masturbator? Answer: logically nothing. I must confess that so great was my need for relief from sexual tension that I was perhaps over-eager to rationalize my masturbatory tendencies. However, whether I was justified or not in resuming my sexual activities, at least it allowed me to develop sexually into an uninhibited adult, able to come to terms with my own sexuality.

One thing this first sexual revolution of the twentieth century did not do, was to encourage a couple to discuss sex between themselves. This one might have hoped for, even though public discussion of sex was still too avant garde.

The more I see of the sexual problems of couples at the present time, the more I become convinced that the lack of communication between husbands and wives in their sexual lives is as much a basic cause of the breakdown of marital relationships as sexual incompatibility.

Unless a couple can tell each other of their sexual desires and dislikes, I do not see how they can possibly hope to satisfy one another; or at least derive from their sexual contact the most intense experience of which their bodies are capable - in my view, the goal of all love-making that is an expression of the mutual emotional love they have for one another.

So the sexual experience of the 70 year-olds and over amounts to this: They could draw upon the advantages of the sexual revolution if they wished. For many of them it came just too late, because they were already set in their sexual ways when Marie Stopes let fall her bombshell about the female orgasm and blackmailed men into accepting responsibility for their partners' achieving it by insisting that they were not 'proper men' - as my mother-in-law would describe them - if they failed.

(Several elderly women with whom I have discussed their own reactions to the new doctrine - and it will be understood, from the fact that they were able to discuss their sex-lives with me at all, that they were among the more advanced - have told me, that while the more rigidly puritan turned a stone-deaf ear to it, even those who were more enlightened found it quite unnecessary, since they acquired all the satisfaction they needed from the knowledge that their men's sexual use of their bodies satisfied them, the husbands.)

But whether they adopted the new concept of love-making or not they never talked about sex with one another. They seldom made love at any time but at night, or anywhere but in bed; they did not make love naked, and only the most advanced saw one another naked.

All sex activity stopped for very many at the wife's menopause, because it was undignified for a woman in late middle-age to make love. They could never throw off entirely the sense of sin and guilt attaching to sex which the mystery surrounding childhood had inculcated in them.

Though fathers might talk about sex to their sons, though few did, mothers did not do so as a rule, and if the fathers did overcome their embarrassment sufficiently to say anything, they stressed the harmfulness and sinfulness of masturbation. Nowadays, these problems may be much less pronounced, and the internet has made sexual issues much more open and accessible.

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