This book offers a critical summary of current sexual knowledge. It is written for readers of any age who are interested in human sexuality and who want to know more about its history and social implications.
It can, of course, hardly be said that there is a lack of printed material on the subject, The list of pertinent publications already seems endless and is still growing. There are now so many studies, surveys, reports, guides, manuals, journals, newsletters, and magazine articles devoted to "sex" in all of its aspects that only a few full-time specialists can hope to keep track of them. Indeed, even these specialists have to specialize further if they want to remain up-to-date. Thus, most of them concentrate on selected areas of research, such as sexual anatomy, the physiology of sexual responses, reproduction and contraception, sex therapy, sex education, gender identity problems, sexual minorities, the history of sexual customs, sex legislation, erotic art, sexual ethics, etc. This special research is being conducted in many countries by countless individuals with a variety of goals and methods working from very different assumptions. The results are therefore often uncertain, contradictory, and confusing. Moreover, they are constantly being revised. Under the circumstances, many ordinary citizens may find it as hard as ever to be well informed and to reach any firm conclusions that could help them in their own lives. In the end they may come to feel that the more they read about sex, the less they know.
However, there is no need to give up and to leave the matter entirely to the "experts." We may still be very far from understanding human sexuality, but there are a few basic insights which are no longer disputed and which deserve to be shared as widely as possible. Especially in the United States recent research has produced a certain professional consensus on many formerly obscure and disputed issues, and this is already reflected in some of the newer textbooks, college courses, and educational television programs. In other words, while many areas of sex research remain controversial, it has now become possible to offer the general public a first integrated, if still somewhat limited view.
The Sex Atlas represents another attempt in this direction. It does not contain any fresh speculations or sensational findings. Nor does it want to scandalize, radicalize, or otherwise upset anyone. It deliberately refrains from presenting any research of its own. Instead, it merely repeats what has been said many times by the best contemporary scholars and scientists. In short, it is nothing more and nothing less than a piece of popularization. It is not trying to say anything new, but rather to state the well-known as clearly as possible in a coherent and methodical fashion.
This does not mean that the text is entirely factual and free of value judgments. On the contrary, even the casual reader will quickly discover that value judgments are openly expressed or at least implied in many parts of the book. After all, the very concept of research itself implies an attack on conventional wisdom and, if necessary, a breaking of taboos. No responsible sex researcher has ever pretended complete neutrality. A moral commitment is unavoidable whenever one deals with social issues, and, as everyone knows, sex can be and often is a source of intense human conflicts. To the extent, therefore, that sex research deals with these conflicts, it has always been forced to "take sides" and to plead for some social change. From Havelock Ellis and Freud to Kinsey and Masters and Johnson, sex researchers have never hesitated to ask for new sexual values and attitudes. Any summary of their work would be incomplete if it did not reflect this concern.
On the other hand, TheSex Atlas does not try to record every interest or belief of every scientist who has ever studied sexual problems. Instead, the text is rather discriminating and selective. It gives preference to the most widely accepted current views and does not dwell on certain traditional arguments that have long proved to be unproductive. It further examines, wherever possible, the underlying assumptions of past and present research and tries to simplify the professional language. Thus, in many instances, the theories, theses, claims, and conclusions of a particular writer have been rephrased or translated from scientific jargon into plain English. Where esoteric or foreign expressions had to be retained, short definitions have been provided in brackets.
A special effort has also been made to be systematic, i.e. to organize the various bits of information into a unified whole and to present the reader with a practical frame of reference. The Sex Atlas therefore emphasizes certain important facts over and over again and repeatedly mentions the same historical personalities and historical dates. For the same reason, it also refers to the same classical authors and even the same great books in different chapters.
The text itself does not assume any prior knowledge on the reader's part, but begins "from scratch" as it were, building its case in successive stages and explaining every new piece of information as it is introduced. Therefore the book will be best appreciated by those who read it straight through from beginning to end. This procedure also recommends itself to teachers and students who use the work as a textbook.
However, the individual parts, chapters, sections, and paragraphs can also be studied separately, since they are firmly embedded in a larger framework. Frequent cross-references and the very structure of the book itself will quickly establish the appropriate context, and thus there is little danger of getting lost in meaningless details. The overall picture always remains clear. Again for the purpose of greater clarity, corresponding sections (such as those dealing with male and female anatomy or heterosexual and homosexual intercourse, for example) follow the same basic pattern and, where appropriate, even use identical language. This again makes for a certain amount of repetition, but it can also help in pointing out parallels that might otherwise be overlooked.
The fact that the discussion of the male here always precedes that of the female also reflects a didactic purpose. From a strictly biological point of view, it would perhaps make more sense to put the female sex first, but when it comes to practical problems, such as contraception, infertility, and sexual dysfunction, it is more useful to go against the current habits of thought and to begin with the male. In any case, it is hoped that the text will give many people a new appreciation of their sexual capacities and thus also help them to be more tolerant toward their fellow human beings. Accurate information can alleviate or even eliminate much of our present needless sexual misery.