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Sexual Discourses
Recreational Use of Sexual Language
Pathological Use of Sexual Language
Male versus Female Use of Sexual Language
Sexual Lexicography

Sexual terminology is a rich and fascinating component of language. One should probably refer to "terminologies," however, since many sexual discourses exist and in all languages. This article focuses on English.

Sexual Discourses

Medico-scientific Discourse
Standard Discourse
Informal Discourse and Slang
Intimate Language

Medico-scientific Discourse

At the most formal level, there is medical and technical terminology, the language of physicians, psychologists, and other professionals: "Mr. Smith has an erectile dysfunction, and Mrs. Smith has a desire disorder, but our tests show that she lubricates appropriately when presented with a target stimulus." Or, in typical Masters and Johnson prose:

Clitoral stimulation during coitus in the female supine position develops indirectly from penile-shaft distention of the minor labia at the vaginal vestibule.... [T]his same type of secondary coital stimulation occurs in every coital position when there is a full penetration of the vaginal barrel by the erect penis, (p. 59)
Laypeople undoubtedly wonder about this discourse. The discussion seems to be about sex; however, not only can they barely understand it, but it also sounds terribly dull.

Such language is supposed to sound dull and incomprehensible to the layperson. All sexual discourses are highly specific to particular contexts, which simultaneously implies what these discourses are not in other contexts. Thus, medico-scientific discourse about sex is by nature not any of the discourses described in subsequent sections of this article. It is not boasting or complaining about one's sexual experiences, or commenting to a friend about the sexual appeal of a nearby individual, or sharing one's sexual fantasies with a partner. The words used are not those that appear in insults, jokes, limericks, dirty songs, erotica, or love talk.

Medico-scientific language about sex is a highly precise technical discourse, readily understandable to its speakers, that conveys potentially strong emotional content by means of a completely neutral medium. It is no accident that much controversial sex research has been couched in this discourse, since the authors seek to avoid public exposure, sensationalism, emotional reaction, and, probably above all, the slightest hint of sexual stimulation. Terms from medico-scientific sexual discourse are defined in medical and similar dictionaries.

Standard Discourse

Less technical than medico-scientific sex terminology are the standard words and phrases used to discuss sex by educated people in formal contexts, including radio and television broadcasts, newspapers, books by professionals for the public, and instructional settings: "Mr. Smith cannot usually achieve an erection, and Mrs. Smith has trouble becoming aroused." Most people understand this discourse, although not all speak it themselves, and it has become the style of choice for communication among diverse audiences and groups. Terms in this discourse are found in all standard dictionaries, although often in the past definitions tended to be uselessly euphemistic or circular. Like medico-scientific language, the standard discourse of sexuality is also quite precise, with few synonyms.

Informal Discourse and Slang

Slang offers one of the richest lodes of sexual language. Now, Mr. Smith "can't get it up"—or, as Archie Bunker, the television character popular in the 1970s put it, "he's stuck in neutral." Similarly, Mrs. Smith "just can't get turned on" or is "an iceberg" or a "cold fish." In this category as well belong the classic taboo words when used in their literal meanings: "fuck," "cunt," "cock," "tits," "shit," "piss."

All languages have sexual slang, and the journal Maledicta has published examples from dozens of languages, from Japanese to Macedonian. In English alone, the imagery is highly varied and colorful, including allusions to war, animals, games, machinery and equipment, and food, among others:


She yielded to him (agreed to a sexual encounter).
His smile pierced her heart (attracted her romantically or sexually).


Stallion (virile man)
Foxy lady (sexually attractive woman)
Mount (commence sexual intercourse)
"An old black ram is tupping your white ewe" (Othello, I, i).


He won her (succeeded in attracting affection or sexual interest).

Machinery and Equipment:

Screw, nail (have sexual intercourse).


Eat (fellatio, cunnilingus)
Honeypot (vulva, vagina)
Best your meat (masturbate)
Tube steak (penis, sexual inercourse)
Melons (breasts).

Synonyms and near synonyms abound in sexual slang. Tim Healey in 1980 reported collecting 1,000 terms for penis, 1,200 for vulva, 800 for sexual intercourse, and 2,000 for prostitute. Food in particular is a major source of imagery. Use of sexual slang and sexual language can begin well before adolescence, as early as between five and seven years of age.


Much sexual slang is described as euphemistic, and perhaps some of it is. The major impetus, however, seems to be creativity and language play rather than simply the for avoidance of either taboos or frankness. Still some sexual speech seems influenced largely by a need for avoidance. In euphemistic discourse, our poor Mr. Smith "can't do his husbandly (or marital) duty," while in his wife "that spark of attraction has died."

Bathroom functions have spawned as much euphemism as slang—"widdle," "number one" and "number two," "take care of (do one's) business," "go to the little girl's room," and so on. Most of these expressions are used with children, but they also carry over into adulthood. As invective, "shit" has given birth to "shoot," "shucks," and "sugar."

The key elements of sex—penis, vulva and vagina, and sexual intercourse, together with their slang labels "cock," "cunt," and "fuck"—have likewise generated numerous euphemisms, of which perhaps the most common are "thing" (genitals of either sex), "down there" (vulva, vagina), and "do it" (have sexual intercourse). In this vein, "fuck" has given birth to "frig," "futz" (as in "futz around with"), and "fug," as used both by the musical group the Fugs in the 1960s and by Norman Mailer in his novel The Naked and the Dead (1948), written and published at a time when the word "fuck" could not be used in commercially published books. Mailer's use of the term reportedly led Marlene Dietrich to remark when she met Mailer, "So you're the boy who can't spell 'fuck.'"

Particularly striking and amusing are two relatively new slang euphemisms for "in deep shit" (in bad trouble): "in deep yogurt" and "in deep kimchee," both of which were reported to have been used in such "stuffy" situations as corporate board meetings. An interesting reversal of euphemism has occurred with the phrase "give good head" (be skilled at oral sex), since the same construction has been generalized to produce such phrases as "give good meeting" and "give good telephone." The result has been to imbue nonsexual activities with sexual implications as well as to get a laugh for inventive wordplay.

Graphically, euphemisms, particularly in cartoons, often appear as dashes, asterisks, or dingbats, such as "F***, you dirty @#&%*)!" or simply a stream of symbols that can be glossed only generally as "cursing." Reinhold Aman, the editor of Maledicta, proposed, probably tongue in cheek, a systematic approach to coining "genteel profanity" by retaining the initial letter of the offensive word and then adding "ex" (for "expletive"). Thus we might use "shex" for "shit," "fex" for "fuck," and so on.

Intimate Language

The least studied sexual discourse is the language of those who are sexually or socially intimate. Like sexual slang, no two of these languages are alike; they make heavy use of metaphor and allusion, but usually the allusion is to jokes or circumstances known only to the speakers.

Such languages often incorporate private nicknames for the two (or more) individuals: Bunchcrackles, Toadface, Uptown Toots, Angel Buns, Carrot Top, Rubberface, and Balloonbutt have all been reported. Usage also includes special expressions for sexual body parts and acts: "Let's go home and watch TV" means "let's have sex" for one couple and "I want to go back and get a sweater" has been reported to have the same meaning for another couple. "Sucking your thumb" can mean fellatio. William Betcher described one couple who had a numbers game in which each number referred to a sexual act or body part: penis was 7, after James Bond, who was Agent 007, and the convenience store 7-Eleven, which stays open all night; 8 was for manual caressing of the vulva because this was the pattern traced by the fingers.

Particularly fascinating are genital pet names—proper names are given to genitals and other body parts. Among names reportedly paired for the penis and the vulva-vagina are Wilbur/Wileen, Fred/Freda, Little Willy/Little Joanie, Alice/Wonderland, and Gruesome/Twosome. Breasts have been called Myra/Myrtle and Jackie/Jill, while testicles are Ping/Pong or John/Henry. A penis has been called an Owl because it stays up all night, or Alexander the Great, or Winston (from the advertising jingle "tastes good like a cigarette should"). In such intimate discourse, Mr. Smith might chuckle ruefully that "Junior" (his penis) "is taking a nap," while Mrs. Smith might say that "Cynthia is bored and cranky" or "the garden is a bit too dry tonight." Intimate sexual language within couples allows the lovers to create something unique and to share it in an enjoyable and playful way. It also facilitates sexual arousal, since many people find talking about sex a powerful sexual stimulant; a private sexual language with a lover makes this process easier and even more enjoyable.

Certainly, "bedroom talk" is a very important part of sexual communication, even when no private slang or special terms are used. Some men and women are aroused by using and hearing common sexual slang, especially taboo words. This use of language is coloquially referred to as "talking dirty" and is sometimes practiced uninhibitedly by those who, out of bed, might say nothing more shocking than "damn." It is the shock value that releases and stimulates.

Although intimate language about sexual body parts and acts is typically individual or couple-specific, sometimes whole families have idiosyncratic terms and phrases for various sexual, bathroom, and related concepts. Farting in particular seems to inspire numerous family slang terms and euphemisms, from "the raccoons were here" to "barking spider," "painting the elevator," and "stepping on a frog."

It is not unknown for whole communities to adopt special jargon. One of the best examples, reported by Charles Adams, involved some 500 people living in the Anderson Valley of Mendocino County, California, between 1881 and 1920. They developed a coined jargon, Boontling, about 15 percent of which was "nonch harpin" or "objectionable talk" used among males, between spouses and lovers, and to insult outsiders without their catching on.


Better documented than intimate sexual language is the language of sexual insult, which includes at least three types: (1) references to body parts, body functions, sex, or secretions; (2) what might be called blasphemy, since it emphasizes God, saints, or similar references to normative religious beliefs; (3) derogatory sexual references to relatives (e.g., father, mother, siblings). An Italian insult is testa di cazzo, or "cock head," while a sample Japanese expression is asamara no tatanu otoko ni kane kasuna, literally "never lend money to a man who doesn't have a hard-on in the morning," implying that he must be so sick he is about to die; in the United States, the term "motherfucker" is a typical example. Such imagery is hardly recent: an Egyptian legal document of 950 B.C.E. has the most impressive curse, "May a donkey copulate with you! May a donkey copulate with your wife! May your child copulate with your wife!"


Erotica and pornography refer to similiar kinds of discourse. "Erotica" is the term often applied to descriptions or evocations of sexual feelings or behavior that result in sexual arousal and are aesthetically and socially acceptable to the speaker. "Pornography," in contrast, is used for sexual evocations or descriptions that a particular speaker finds unaesthetic, deviant, disgusting, immoral, or harmful. No one particular sexual discourse is common to all erotica. There are, however, two major types of erode discourse that sometimes occur singly, sometimes overlap, and sometimes do not seem to appear at all in sexually evocative writing.

The first type of discourse is often called softcore. It is inventive, discursive, metaphoric, and usually indirect. The classic example is Fanny Hill, a novel written in 1749, which uses what might be called chaste language to describe erotic scenes. Such language was a standard of the Victorian past, and it is still used effectively in today's romance novels. It has also been a staple of love poetry from the Song of Songs through the work of John Donne and the contemporary poets.

Opposite to this is hard-core: direct, almost brutal, with liberal use of taboo sexual slang. Valerie Kelly distinguished between the two discourses, describing hard-core as using lots of sex words, while soft-core beats around the bush. In hard-core, it cannot be a man at the door; it has to be a hunk who's packing a ten-inch cock in his trousers. "The woman who answers the door is not a housewife who was watching television but a horny wench who has spent her morning jacking herself off for lack of a big prick to tickle her pussy." There is also hard-core poetry, which dates back at least to John Wilmot in the 17th century.

In practice, much material designed to be sexually evocative or arousing tends to fall somewhere between these extremes, sometimes making use of both. These two poles of erotica—the poetic and the taboo—mirror aspects of the talk of real lovers in bed. Poetic erotica attempts to capture the warmth and closeness of a shared intimate language, while the taboo element attempts to capture the urgency and heat of "talking dirty."

Recreational Use of Sexual Language

Sexual slang and insult figure prominently in a number of recreational forms of verbal folklore such as "dirty jokes" and stories, bawdy songs, limericks, and graffiti. Verbal folklore about sex is widespread among all age groups and all periods of history, as evidenced by the sex jokes of children and the graffiti of Pompei. The major collections of dirty jokes and limericks are those of Gershon Legman. Alien Walker Read has collected graffiti. No comprehensive collection of bawdy songs exists although numerous smaller collections have been published.

Pathological Use of Sexual Language

While reading or writing erotica is deemed pathological by some individuals, it is currently neither illegal nor statistically abnormal (with the exception of child pornography). However, two other aspects of sexual language have been deemed pathological by present society—obscene telephone calls and coprolalia in connection with neurological disorders.

Obscene telephone calls, also called telephone scatologia by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders and telephone scatophilia by John Money, represent a caricature or perversion of the normal use of sexual talk to facilitate sexual arousal. It involves the act of calling a stranger and attempting either to entice her (most callers are male and victims female) into a sexual conversation or to provoke in her a reaction of anger, shock, or horror. The caller may masturbate during the call or afterwards.

Coprolalia is the abnormal, compulsive, and often inappropriate uttering of socially unacceptable language. It can be a symptom of several central nervous system disorders and also can occur after cerebrovascular accidents. The condition with which it is perhaps most frequently associated is the Gilles de la Tourette syndrome, now called Tourette's disorder.

Tourette's disorder is defined by the presence of highly variable involuntary tics, both physical and vocal. In about a third of the patients, the vocal tics take the form of uttering socially unacceptable words or phrases, with "fuck" and "shit" most frequent but many others used as well. Tourette's disorder patients with coprolalia commonly experience ostracism or punishment on account of their constant and largely uncontrollable obscenities and cursing. Many patients are able to suppress the symptom for a period or to substitute other words, but then they may feel compelled to go somewhere private to release the coprolalia explosively. Symptoms tend to decrease during absorption in a task and cease completely during orgasm.

Researchers have not yet uncovered the cause of Tourette's disorder but postulate the existence of a functional neurological system that stores taboo or socially unacceptable language; somehow abnormal stimulation or short-circuiting of this system may produce coprolalia. At present, some drugs have been found helpful, notably haloperidol.

Male versus Female Use of Sexual Language

Males have long had a reputation as the principal users of sexual language, while it is claimed that women use more "innocent" and euphemistic words and paraphrases. Numerous recent studies affirm this generalization by demonstrating that in public, in private, and on film, men not only use sexual language more frequently than do women but also seem to be more linguistically inventive with sexual discourse, generating more unusual and idiosyncratic terms.

How much of this is due to the stigmatization of women who use inventive language, as compared to the acceptance of such language in men, is unclear. Helen Brown Norden as long ago as 1936 reported that most of her contemporaries described their amorous episodes to each other in the frankest language and with relentless accuracy of detail to the extent that any male who overheard them would have been practically paralyzed into permanent impotence. Norden herself did not write explicitly about sex in her earlier years, but in 1977, writing as Helen Lawrenson, she authored a pointed piece for Esquire entitled "How Now, Fellatio! Why Dost Thou Tarry?"

Women may eventually achieve greater parity with men in this respect. In terms of sexual slang women at least occasionally now match men with street insults in working-class neighborhoods and x-rated stand-up comedy. Likewise, some mostly female professions, such as nursing, have had a reputation for verbal directness about sexual matters, particularly in jokes and stories. There is also evidence that lesbians employ sexual terminology differently than females in general, using fewer euphemisms and formal terms and more slang and so-called obscene words.

Today, a growing number of women writers and other professionals have clearly become comfortable with taboo and sexual terminology. Hundreds of popular and scholarly books about sex by women authors have appeared in the last few decades, ranging from Nancy Friday's My Secret Garden to Shere Hite's sex surveys, from Helen Singer Kaplan's classics on sex therapy to Betty Dodson's hymns to masturbation. Women writers and consumers of erotica are growing in numbers, and sex periodicals edited or coedited by women range from the polymorphous Libido to the genteel Yellow Silk, the half-humorous On Our Backs, and the underground sex 'zines published for women such as the British Girl Frenzy.

Feminists and others have pointed out that patterns of insult directed at males differ from those directed at females—specifically that insults about females attribute (usually indiscriminate) sexuality to the target, whereas insults directed at males do not. There are no male equivalents of "whore" or "slut," for example, and though "lecher" and "skirt chaser" applied to men have insulting connotations, they are used more to refer to specific behavior than to insult the overall person.

Even the genital-based insults are quite different for men and women. "Cunt" does not imply simple sexual looseness but rather a mix of profound sexual and moral stupidity and miserly nastiness. "Prick," on the other hand, implies a milder form of stupid nastiness, with no hint of sexuality. Only "bitch," strictly speaking no more sexual a word than "cow," lacks sexual connotations, conveying only extreme nastiness; however, when it is applied to males, as in "he was feeling bitchy," it implies homosexuality.

Sexual Lexicography

A good summary of what has been taking place in the area of sexual language becomes evident in a brief overview of sexual lexicography, or how words relating to sex have been treated in dictionaries over the centuries. Vernacular dictionaries (i.e., for nonclassical languages) first appeared in the 15th and 16th centuries. A benchmark in sexual lexicography was Florio's Italian-English dictionary, published in 1598, which contains one of the earliest recorded instances of "fuck," used to define the Italian fottere: "to jape, to fucke, to sard, to suive [swive], to occupy." The first English dictionary, Cawdry's A Table Alphabeticall... of Hard Usual English Words, appeared in 1604, and though "fuck" did not appear, "buggerie" and "sodomitrie" did.

By the 1700s, dictionaries began to cover the common words, and the first English dictionary to include "fuck" was Henshaw's Etymologicon Linguae Anglicanae (1671). Few lexicographers followed his lead, since there was a growing hesitation to use certain "indecent" expressions publicly. Shakespeare, for example, does not use so-called four-letter words, although he does joke about the "focative" case, a deliberate mangling of the grammatical term "vocative" case, and uses numerous bawdy puns and sexual allusions.

Bailey's Universelle Etymological English Dictionary, published in 1721, did contain "shite" and "fuck," although the latter was defined only in Latin. The landmark dictionary of Samuel Johnson in 1755 deliberately excluded such terms in the interest of decency. When Johnson did include words such as "libidinous," he used circular definitions, that is, he defined "libidinous" as "lewd and lustful," and "lustful" as "libidinous"; similarly, "lecherous" is defined as "lewd and lustful." With only a few exceptions, those of John Ash (1775) and Francis Grose (1785), the British lexicographers followed Johnson's example until well into the 20th century. The early Americans were even more cautious in dealing with sexual language, particularly Noah Webster, whose dictionaries and their successors left out most sexual and scatological terms until 1973.

The major achievement of English lexicography, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED)— totaling 15,487 pages, published in fascicles between 1882 and 1928, and largely the work of James A. Murray—excluded most "obscene" sexual words. Only in the "Wh-Wo" section, published in 1926 after Murray's death, did "windfucker" appear, a name for a kestrel hawk but also an insult. However, when the OED did deal with terms such as "fornication," it gave much more complete definitions than had been the custom before, although even here circuitous and euphemistic definitions were often used, as in the case of the term "sexual intercourse," which referred the reader to "copulation" or "a union of the sexes and the act of generation."

Partridge's A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English, published originally in 1937, was the first 20th century dictionary to include "fuck" and other colloquial sexual words. The American Heritage Dictionary published in 1969 was the first general, college-sized dictionary to follow suit. Others followed soon after and with the 1989 edition of the OED, the full range of sexual language was covered.

Recent years have seen a small but eclectic surge of work in sexual lexicography, much of it both scholarly and interesting. The journal Maledicta, beginning in 1977, has presented a unique mixture of scholarly and popular work on negatively valued words and expressions. Specialist dictionaries have also appeared, as well as general works on sexual language.


Despite these fascinating and varied aspects, sexual language has been relatively little studied, especially by sexuality professionals. Only a handful of language and literature scholars, as well as a few scholars from other disciplines, have attempted to unravel the complexities of sexual words and their usage. Probably the numbers will gradually grow since it has become harder and harder to avoid sex—both in terms of social issues and in linguistic terms. Not only has the American language become more open, but it has also become more explicit, more technical, and more available to all speakers of English. Sex, here to stay, has become an open part of modern spoken and written English.


The best sources for those wishing to keep up to date on developments in sexual language are such journals as Maledicta, Journal of American Folklore, Journal of Sex Research, and Sex Roles. For more general works, see the following bibliography.

Adams, C.C. Boontling: An American Lingo. Austin: Univ. of Texas Press, 1971.

Betcher, W. Intimate Play. New York: Viking, 1987.

Cornog, M. Naming Sexual Body Parts: Preliminary Patterns and Implications. Journal of Sex Research, Vol. 22 (1986), pp. 393-98.

Dickson, P. Family Words. Reading, Mass.: Addison Wesley, 1988.

Goldman, R., and J. Goldman. Children's Sexual Thinking. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1982.

Jay, T. Cursing in America. Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 1992.

Jespersen, 0. Language: Its Nature, Development and Origin. London: Alien & Unwin, 1922.

Kelly, V. How to Write Erotica. New York: Harmony, 1986.

Landau, S. Dictionaries. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1989.

Lawrenson, H. How Now, Fellatio! Why Dost Thou Tarry? Esquire, May 1977, pp. 128, 131.

Legman, G. The Horn Book. New Hyde Park, N.Y.: University Books, 1964.

Legman, G. The Limerick. Paris: Les Hautes Études, 1953.

Legman, G. Rationale of the Dirty Joke: An Analysis of Sexual Humor. 1st series, New York: Grove Press, 1968; 2nd series, New York: Breaking Point, 1975.

Masters, W., and V. Johnson. Human Sexual Response. Boston: Little, Brown, 1966.

Read, A.W. Classic American Graffiti. 1935. Reprint, Waukesha, Wis.: Maledicta Press, 1977.

Shapiro, A.K., E.S. Shapiro, J.G. Young, and T.E. Feinberg. Gilles de la Tourette Syndrome. 2nd ed. New York: Raven Press, 1988.

Martha Cornog


Enforcement-of-Morals Debate and Its Lessons
Four Major Areas of Change
Sex Research and Sex Therapy
Child Sexual Abuse
Teenage Sexual Behavior and the Law

This article focuses chiefly on the legal situation in the United States pertinent to sexuality during the period December 1941 through November 1991, the half century following the nation's entry into World War II. Priority is given to selective commentary concerning change. Developments abroad (e.g., in the United Kingdom) are not considered here except when they in some clear way had an influence in the United States. Legal changes in two areas contributed most to social change concerning sex: constitutionally protected increases in freedom of expression and in reproductive freedom. Change in the area of freedom of expression has to do with what is treated as obscenity. Legal restrictions on access to technical sex information, erotic works of literature and art, and erotic entertainment in print, pictures, and live performance have been drastically reduced. The second area of change, that of reproductive freedom, concerns contraception and abortion. It also includes the legal licensing of oral contraceptives. The effects of this technological development, which was not blocked by the U.S. legal system, have been truly extraordinary.

The distinctive feature of the U.S. legal system with respect to sexuality in the last 50 years has been the interpretations of the Constitution by the Supreme Court. Constitutional interpretation is taken here to encompass the written Constitution, especially the Bill of Rights (Amendments I through X) and the Fourteenth Amendment; the process of federal judicial review of both state and federal cases; and the activities of a Supreme Court strongly inclined (during much of the period in question) to protect and even significantly enlarge the freedom of individuals from the restrictive actions of government. A result of this system was implementation of the core idea of protection of individuals (in certain instances) against the tyranny of either the legislative majority or elected or appointed officials. It is precisely because of the legitimacy and effect given to the U.S. Constitution's antimajoritarian principles that the Supreme Court has been able to act in ways protective of sexual and reproductive freedoms. At the moment, because of substantial changes in the composition of the federal courts, including the Supreme Court, we may see considerable retreat from constitutional protection of sexual and reproductive freedoms during the next decade or more. Constitutional doctrine in the area of sex law has been so important and powerful a tool that it has overshadowed legislative analysis. The changing composition of the Supreme Court may shift the emphasis to state legislatures.

The due-process revolutions in criminal law, juvenile law, and mental hospital commitment law in the 1960s and 1970s had important effects in restraining the wide-ranging use of coercive public power to control sexual behavior of youths and adults. These effects included a more careful, rational reexamination of some laws in these areas. There was also a withdrawal of previously broad grants of power to police, juvenile court judges, and psychiatrists to exercise wide and largely unsupervised discretion. As a result, it was no longer easy to label unpopular sexual behavior as vagrancy, disorderly conduct, delinquency, or psychiatric illness and to freely employ the coercive powers of the state to suppress it through arrest, incarceration, commitment to a juvenile institution, or even commitment to a mental hospital.

Sex and the law offers a very rich area for analysis. There are eight features to keep in mind:

1. Importance of law. In part, perhaps, because for 200 years U.S. society has been heterogeneous and rapidly changing, people in the United States rely on laws, courts, and lawyers much more than do those in many other countries. U.S. law touches a great many matters concerning sexuality. There is the written federal Constitution and system of federal law on the national level, 50 systems of state law plus that of the District of Columbia, and the laws of the U.S. territories, among them Puerto Rico and Guam. In the Anglo-American tradition, the rule of law and notions of due process have been historically important, especially in protecting the rights of the individual.

2. Legal doctrine, or law in the books. Details about legal rules, principles, and interpretations based on statutes, cases, and the federal Constitution can be found in works in court-houses and some public libraries (see also the References at the end of this article).

3. Law in action. In addition to law in the books, we have what actually happens in the legal system. Some sex laws (e.g., those concerning adultery) are not enforced. Other sex laws (e.g., laws concerning homosexuality or prostitution) are only sporadically or selectively enforced, depending on a wide range of personal and political factors affecting police discretion. Police may use vague and overbroad provisions with regard to vagrancy or disorderly conduct or may even "arrest on suspicion" as a way of harassing persons whom they regard as sexual undesirables (e.g., transvestites). Sex laws may be used merely as one of the weapons in the prosecutor's armory, as when a reputed mobster sought for his organized crime activities is prosecuted for bringing his female companion with him across state Unes for sexual purposes. The attorney general's office may let convenience stores that sell magazines know that it takes a dim view of certain men's publications that feature pictures of unclothed women. Bureaucratic regulations concerning fire codes and building inspections may be used to close down the nightclub act of a comedian who is blasphemous and uses foul language. A federal agency can cancel grants to performance artists criticized by a senator for offending middle-class morality.

4. Law as both cause and effect of change. The great example of this dual aspect of the law is increased freedom of expression, including liberalization of the law concerning obscenity. Changing social conditions led to liberalization of the law. Greater freedom to disseminate legally information, artistic work, films, and items of popular culture about sexuality in turn facilitated further social change.

5. Expectation of change in the law itself. "Law must be stable and yet it cannot stand still." This statement by Roscoe Pound and Benjamin Cardozo, two major figures in American law, probably would be endorsed by most of us. In matters apart from sex law, Americans tend to believe that the law should change with the times, be up to date, and be practical and realistic. In the case of sex law, however, personal and social ambivalence about sex, as well as a strong moralistic streak in American culture even to this day, tends to complicate the usually pragmatic American legal approach.

6. Organized movements for change. Since the 1950s the United States has seen a number of powerful movements for social change that have had important legal ramifications, including effects on sex law. These organized efforts have included the civil rights movement for legal and social equality for black Americans; the women's liberation movement, which mounted an unsuccessful campaign to add an Equal Rights Amendment in the U.S. Constitution; and the gay liberation movement on behalf of legal and social acceptance for gay men and lesbians. Since the 1940s and especially in the 1960s, there was a sexual revolution, not so much a single organized movement as a multiplicity of social and legal changes. Finally, in the 1980s, there were organized efforts by many religious groups such as the Moral Majority and Right to Life, to restore what they called traditional family values, expand legal controls on obscenity, and criminalize abortion.

7. Ambivalence. Sex law exists amid personal and social ambivalence. By ambivalence is meant both contradictory feelings (of the individual) and contradictory social norms (of the community and society).

8. Taboo. Sex laws deal with taboo areas. "Taboo" refers to a forbidden object or forbidden act that calls forth learned feelings of fear, dread, shame, and guilt. Taboos maybe part of a religion, but they can be found in secular society as well. Pictures of sexual acts or of genitalia have in the past been taboo. Same-sex sexual intimacy, as in the case of gay men and lesbians, has for many been a taboo. Controversy about what law and social policy should be concerning taboo subjects can produce powerful reactions of rage or shame. We do not unlearn a sexual taboo all at once. Substantial nonrational responses are likely to remain; they feed personal and social ambivalence. Lingering versions of past taboos make truly effective legal and social changes with regard to sexuality more difficult to achieve.

Enforcement-of-Morals Debate and Its Lessons

More than 150 years ago, Jeremy Bentham, the English philosopher and legal critic, spoke against including in the criminal law what he called imaginary offenses and crimes unsuitable for punishment. Using a similar analysis, American critics of the 1960s spoke of victimless crimes. Included in this category were crimes involving consenting adults (e.g., homosexuality, prostitution) and crimes for which legal prohibitions were substantially ineffective (e.g., abortion).

In Britain, the Wolfenden Report made important recommendations concerning the removal from the criminal law of prohibitions against homosexual conduct in private between consenting adults. Similar recommendations were made with regard to decriminalizing prostitution. Criminal law should not punish private adult consensual conduct that does no harm. According to the Wolfenden Report, "There must remain a realm of private morality and immorality which is, in brief and crude terms, not the law's business."

In a debate that had important effects on law-reform discussions in the United States, Lord Devlin argued against the Wolfenden recommendations, saying that the law should protect society's moral code. Offenses against that moral code should be viewed in the same way as treason against one's country. Judge John Parker in the United States in the mid-1950s said that the American Law Institute's Model Penal Code should define homosexual conduct as criminal. He argued that this conduct should be made criminal to show that the law thinks it is wrong, even if such a law cannot be enforced. Hart refuted Lord Devlin's views, and by implication those of Judge Parker, and supported the position taken by the Wolfenden Report. He argued that the proper role of law is different from, and in general much more limited than, the proper role of morality and various private moral systems of belief.

The American Law Institute's Model Penal Code adopted the view argued by Wolfenden and Hart and recommended decriminalization of adult consensual homosexual conduct. Although that recommendation was accepted as part of a statutory revision in Illinois in 1961, it was rejected by the New York legislature in 1965. Recommended decriminalization of adultery was also rejected in New York. Religious pressure groups successfully threatened to block the entire process of criminal-law reform in New York if the criminal law did not condemn what they regarded as immoral behavior. Adultery remains a crime in New York, but except in a very rare case, such as one involving a highly vengeful spouse, there are no prosecutions. What appears to matter most in this instance is the symbolic victory of keeping adultery on the list of officially condemned behaviors. Actual enforcement of the prohibition, impossible under modern conditions, is not the objective.

Consensual homosexual conduct was eventually stricken from the New York criminal law in the 1980s by court decisions under the New York State (not federal) constitution. The contrast between legal efforts in New York in the areas of homosexuality and adultery is instructive. Law reform was successfully achieved for homosexuality by the use of constitutional test cases in court after the legislative route had failed. Law reform was unsuccessful for adultery, for which only the legislative route seemed to be available. In the legislative process, groups advocating traditional morality can still rather easily manipulate social and political taboos regarding sexual matters and block change.

Some U.S. lawmakers and members of the public, even if they have never heard of Lord Devlin, probably continue to accept the position he espoused that the criminal law should be patterned after traditional moral rules, including rules about sexuality. The penal law, for them, resembles an official code of morality that must be legally defended. According to a different view, "Private morality and immorality... [are]... not the law's business." So said the Wolfenden Committee, with Hart in agreement. Generally speaking, the movement of American law during the past 50 years has been strongly in the direction of this latter position, but with some important exceptions or even countercurrents.

It may be that to an increasing extent Americans see sexuality as part of life, a part that one should be free to live according to one's own preferences as long as others are not harmed. Nevertheless, one must keep in mind the powerful fact of social ambivalence (self-contradiction) about sex and the role it plays in the behavior of legislators, district attorneys, mayors, and chiefs of police. Too often on the American political scene government officials privately agree that conflicting beliefs about sexual morality are not the law's business, but in public they still righteously proclaim a legal enforcement-of-morals position.

Four Major Areas of Change

Freedom of Expression: Obscenity
Contraception and Abortion
Marriage and Divorce
Law Concerning Homosexuality

There have been at least four major areas of change in sex law during the past 50 years: (1) freedom of expression and liberalization of the law concerning obscenity; (2) reproductive rights, including contraception and abortion; (3) marriage and divorce law; and (4) the law concerning homosexuality.

Freedom of Expression: Obscenity

The U.S. legal system has been outstanding for its protection of freedom of speech and the press, under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution as applied to the federal government and under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which applies the First Amendment to the states. Nevertheless, sexual material classified as obscene has been placed in a separate legal category, outside the protection ordinarily associated with freedom of expression. A series of legal tests has been articulated by the courts, including the Supreme Court, for deciding what is obscene, and thus not protected from legal prosecution or suppression, and what is not obscene and thus protected under the Constitution. It seems fair to say that changing social views and changing politics, rather than legal logic, probably have caused these shifting decisions. Sexual expression contains ideas, even when courts deny that it does so. Sexual expression has value at least as entertainment, and America surely values entertainment. Finally, as with other forms of expression, the U.S. system says that there should be a free competition of ideas whereby people judge for themselves rather than having to trust to the judgment of others. The fact that the majority of people in a particular community are offended by a particular expression (including pictures) does not ordinarily justify its suppression. Unfortunately, however, under rulings by the Supreme Court, sexual expression continues to be an exception to this principle.

Under the current three-part legal test for obscenity, the trier of facts (the jury) must find that (1) '"the average person, applying contemporary community standards' would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest," (2) "the work depicts or describes in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law," and (3) "the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value," Miller v. California [413 U.S. 15 (1973) at 24]. The legal analysis of this test is quite complex. DeGrazia has recently made available an excellent social as well as legal chronicle of obscenity cases and other relevant government actions concerning obscenity.

Perhaps the highest level of emotion anywhere in the field of sex law currently centers on photographic depictions of nude or partially nude minors. Talk of the need for severe measures (e.g., making such photographs contraband and their possession or sale a crime) to protect an unclothed or partially clad child or youth from what is called exploitation is accepted uncritically. In the case of photographs depicting unclothed children or adolescents, the Supreme Court has made an exception to its constitutional protection of private possession of sexually explicit material in one's home.

In 1990, the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati, Ohio, was charged with obscenity and child pornography for displaying the photographic works of Robert Mapplethorpe. The exhibition included homoerotic photographs of adult males, photographs of flowers, and two photographs of children - a naked boy and a little girl wearing a dress but no underpants. The jury acquitted the gallery and its curator of all charges.

Great artists have painted nude children and youths, and both children and adults experience legitimate curiosity as well as delight concerning the unclothed body of the growing human. Nonetheless, photographic depictions of the naked minor have in recent years become highly dangerous from a legal standpoint. Excessive restrictiveness in the name of child protection, directed toward the depiction of child nakedness, constitutes one of the advancing fronts of a resurgent puritanism.

Contraception and Abortion

In no other area of sex law, with the possible exception of freedom of expression, has the role of law been so important in enabling individuals to have the practical freedom to choose their own course of action in sexual matters, free from the intrusions of the state and the strongly held views of other persons in their community. Contraception and abortion, medically safe and legally available, make it possible for people to choose to separate the reproductive functions of sexuality from the enormously important nonreproductive functions of sexual intimacy. The great story here is how the Supreme Court, finding a zone of privacy embedded in the Constitution though not specifically described there, developed a legally rich area of constitutionally protected rights to control one's own reproduction. One branch of this law involves contraception, initially for married couples in the precedent-setting case Griswold v. Connecticut [381 U.S. 479 (1965)], then for the unmarried, minors, and members of the public purchasing contraceptives in a drug store or supermarket without a doctor's prescription.

The other branch of constitutional doctrine, the right of women to control their own bodies and their own reproduction through abortion, involved the landmark case of Roe v. Wade [410 U.S. 113 (1973)] and the many cases that followed it. Legal and other commentary is abundant. Some states, including New York, had made abortion legal prior to Roe v. Wade, by legislative action or judicial decision. With the current Supreme Court inclined to abandon or drastically restrict the effects of the Roe decision, some have predicted that the abortion debate will move to state legislatures. Law in action in this area requires attention to the decreasing availability of legal abortion because of economic factors (e.g., exclusion from Medicaid coverage) and other restrictions.

Another source of legal and political controversy has been RU486/PG, a pill (RU486) that when taken in conjunction with the administration of prostaglandin (PG) produces abortion in early pregnancy. In use in France, RU486 was blocked from importation into the United States. The RU486/PG technology could have important practical effects in some cases as an alternative to abortion by more conventional surgical means.

Marriage and Divorce

In Griswold v. Connecticut, the Supreme Court said that marriage is a relationship "intimate to the degree of being sacred," that the statute barring physicians from prescribing birth control devices for married people is unconstitutional, and that there is a "zone of privacy" within marriage immune to legal regulation. The Court in Loving v. Virginia [388 U.S. 1 (1967)] called marriage "one of the 'basic civil rights of man,' fundamental to our very existence and survival" and held that a statute prohibiting miscegenation (interracial marriage) was unconstitutional. Yet another leading case in the area of marriage and divorce, Orr v. Orr [440 U.S. 268 (1979)] resulted in a Supreme Court ruling that alimony statutes must apply equally to women and men and that an Alabama law requiring only husbands to pay alimony upon divorce was unconstitutional.

Historically, the element of fault played a great role in the grounds for divorce. The defendant husband or wife had to be found guilty of wrongful conduct (e.g., adultery), and the plaintiff seeking divorce had to be seen as completely innocent. Divorce grounds were liberalized from the 1930s onward to include, in some states, cruelty and desertion. The role of fault in enabling one to obtain a divorce, and in determining property division and eligibility for alimony upon the dissolution of a marriage, has drastically decreased. Most states, but not all, now have some version of the "no-fault" divorce introduced in California in 1970. This type of divorce bases marital dissolution on a breakdown of the marriage because of irreconcilable differences, with fault irrelevant. Many states also have included living separately and apart for a specified period —for example, under the terms of a separation agreement (a private contract)—as grounds for divorce.

Broad changes in divorce and marital property law have been based on notions of equality between men and women. Such laws have sometimes reflected the idea of marriage as an economic partnership, with the assets of that partnership to be divided either equally (50-50) or equitably (shares apportioned to each depending on need and fairness) when the marriage is dissolved by divorce. Research has shown, however, that as actually administered by the courts, no-fault divorce has too often resulted in an economically poor outcome for women and children, rather than the fairer outcome that the formal terms of the law promised.

Law Concerning Homosexuality

This topic has been discussed previously in connection with the enforcement-of-morals debate and the legislative initiatives (successful in a number of states) to decriminalize same-sex sexual contacts. Likewise, gay male literature has been involved in the battles for freedom of expression concerning obscenity. On another front, coerced psychiatric hospitalization of gay youths is less likely now because of changes in both psychiatric views and mental health law.

Test cases in court as well as attempts at statutory change in the past decade have produced mixed results with respect to a wide range of legal matters involving homosexuals, among them child custody and visitation, guardianship, employment bias, and domestic partnership. In an innovative 1988 decision involving rent-controlled housing, New York's highest court developed a broadened definition of "family" to include a tenant's gay male life partner. The great disappointment for gay rights activists was the Supreme Court's refusal, in a 5-to-4 decision, in 1986, to strike down a Georgia statute criminalizing sodomy (i.e., oral-genital or anal-genital contact) as applied to consenting adult males acting in private. The complexities of legal doctrine relevant to homosexuality, including equal protection of the laws and the scope of a constitutional right to privacy, have received extensive commentary.

Many gay men, and a smaller number of lesbians, were pulled from their separate communities to serve together as draftees or volunteer recruits in the U.S. military forces during World War II, though the military had, and still has, official legal policies against homosexuality. A recent report, commissioned by the U.S. Department of Defense, states that social-science data fail to show any sound basis for excluding homosexuals from the military.

AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) in the United States has disproportionately affected gay men. The legal ramifications of this epidemic extend to confidentiality of medical records, communicable-disease reporting laws, employment discrimination, and many other is- sues. From a law-in-action perspective, a centrally important part of the picture has been the slow and reluctant action of government, especially at the federal level, to deal with AIDS as a problem of disease and public health rather than as a moral issue to be handled through condemnation and denial.

Sex Research and Sex Therapy

It is often forgotten today that the famous Kinsey research reports contained strong commentary on unrealistic and unenforceable sex laws. As Kinsey and his coauthors wrote in 1948, "On a specific calculation of our data, it may be stated that at least 85 percent of the younger male population could be convicted as sex offenders if law enforcement officials were as efficient as most people expect them to be." These reports also mentioned the lack of legal confidentiality of research records and said that the authors had decided to go to jail, if necessary, rather than reveal the private information contained in their carefully coded files. They spoke also of a scientist's right to investigate (akin to academic freedom) and the ordinary individual's right to know what it is that the researcher has learned about sex, as well as about any other matter. The Kinsey Reports had enormous consequences with respect to informing Americans about existing patterns and variations in sexual behavior. They showed also that population-based sex research can be a powerful lever not only for increased understanding but also for social change. In the late 1980s, federally sponsored studies of sexuality, which might have updated the Kinsey findings, were blocked on political grounds.

The fact that Masters and Johnson, the other famous American sex researchers, have successfully avoided legal obstacles to their research concerning human sexual response has in important part been a result of their careful cultivation of understanding and support among key individuals in their community. An issue relevant to the work of Masters and Johnson is that the legal status of surrogate partners in sex therapy remains unclear. In some metropolitan areas, sex surrogates have made efforts to educate law-enforcement officials about the difference between their work and activities that may be defined by law as prostitution. Some might say that the thing to do is immediately to seek to make the law clear, whether concerning sexual surrogacy (i.e., employment of a paid sex partner trained to assist in sex therapy) or observational studies of paid research subjects involved in sexual activities. The great problem is the complexity of social and legal ambivalence concerning sex. Key public officials may tolerate the unpublicized activities of a few sex surrogates whose work they see as connected with therapy and as arguably helpful. Many of those same officials, if required to take a public stance, would feel it politically necessary to view such activities with alarm.

Child Sexual Abuse

In the late 19th century, adult female patients reported to Sigmund Freud childhood sexual interactions with their fathers. Freud, the primary author of the psychoanalytic movement, eventually chose to interpret these reports as fantasies, not as accounts of real events. During the past 25 years, much attention has been paid to the topic of sexual acts with and sexual touching of children and adolescents by adults or older siblings. Part but not all of this problem area centers on incest, that is, sexual acts with children by a close blood relative, especially the father. Nevertheless, a small number of highly publicized cases have involved criminal prosecutions for sexual abuse of children in day-care or preschool facilities.

Legal responses to what has now become defined as an important social problem have included mandatory reporting laws, civil proceedings concerning child abuse or neglect, removal of the child from the home and placement in foster care, and criminal prosecutions. Other responses have included changes in the legal rules of procedure and evidence in both criminal and civil cases, changes aimed at better protecting the interests of the child and at aiding successful prosecution of these cases. In the area of legal arrangements for social services, specialized child-protection investigation units have been set up. Mandatory child-mistreatment reporting laws, which came into existence in the mid-1960s, have been broadened and strengthened. Congress in 1974 passed the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, which laid down important requirements that state laws and programs would have to meet to preserve eligibility for federal funds.

The subject of sexual exploitation of children enrages many members of the public as few, if any, other current issues do. If success in dealing with a social and legal problem were measured by the intensity of the emotion generated, sexual exploitation of children clearly would involve our society's most successful problem-solving effort. Concern about the well-being of children has led specialists to make broad assertions that "kids don't lie." Reporting laws, resulting in mandatory investigations by public authorities, are aimed at the level of mere suspicion, as in instances of "reasonable cause to suspect" child abuse or maltreatment.

The problem is highly complex. On the one hand, there are the privacy of the family and protection from undue intrusion by the state. These issues encompass respect for the rights of parents, as well as respect for the interest of the child in having his or her relationship with other family members be free from legal disruption. Society's interests in due process of law and the protection of the rights of accused persons, especially in criminal proceedings, are also highly important. On the other hand, there is great concern about protecting children or adolescents who may be helpless to protect themselves against parents or strangers unless public authorities intervene. Moreover, many realize that ordinary criminal and civil rules, generally aimed at protecting individual rights and family privacy, may not be enough to provide protection in what are suspected to be a large number of cases of child sexual abuse. A result is the great tendency to bend the rules and to close one's eyes to the fact that, especially with very young children, there is no truly dependable way to know what if anything has happened by way of sexual mistreatment.

It can be argued that the administration of well-meaning child sexual abuse laws has had important negative consequences. Child witnesses have been repeatedly interviewed, and then examined and cross-examined in court, about events that may or may not have happened months or years previously. Whatever happened before, trauma resulting from the interview process and the legal proceedings seems highly likely. Understandably, many youths are torn by what they see as the disruption of their family. Children removed from their homes have suffered emotional harm and even abuse when placed in foster care or institutional settings. False charges of sexual abuse made by a vindictive spouse are now thought to be a familiar feature of many custody proceedings. The vulnerability of adults to false or mistaken reports about "bad touching" has created a guardedness among many adult relatives and recreation workers that cannot be constructive for children.

We have relatively little dependable knowledge about the lasting effects of the sexual interactions of parents, other adults, or older siblings with children and adolescents, nor do we know much about the multiple effects of legal interventions. It has not been the custom to tolerate or encourage extensive population-based research on sexuality, leaving aside the landmark Kinsey Reports. The areas of childhood sexuality, intrafamilial sex, and adult-child sexual contact are especially taboo as research subjects. A prominent exception is the publication of wrenching stories of self-identified victims of incest or other sexual mistreatment. These accounts should spur more systematic research. Nevertheless, enough is already known to suggest certain legal changes. For example, statutes requiring that any pedophile or other child abuser who voluntarily seeks treatment must immediately be reported to the authorities probably defeats preventive aims.

Teenage Sexual Behavior and the Law

An extensive background exists of sociological and legal fascination with problems related to the sexually active adolescent girl. A main problem, as socially viewed, was preventing her from getting pregnant. The risk was seen to be her personal waywardness and maladjustment, and the remedy sometimes was confinement in an institution by order of a court such as the juvenile court or a special adolescent court. The legal characterization used was juvenile delinquent, wayward minor, person in need of supervision, and so on. The girl was unable to become pregnant, so the rationale went, while locked up, under court order, often in a facility operated under religious auspices. Over the past 25 years, changes in juvenile law, availability of oral contraceptives, and changing attitudes about sexuality seem to have substantially decreased enthusiasm for legal recourse to imprisonment as a means of birth control.

There have been due-process changes in mental health law, as well as changes in psychiatric thinking, that now make it unlikely that youths will be committed to a mental hospital by their parents because of either homosexuality or overt heterosexuality. Prior to the mid 1970s, psychiatric hospitalization on the basis of parental request was one of the devices available for controlling nonstandard teenage sexual behavior. Contraceptives and (in most states) abortions are now, in theory at least, legally available to teenagers without parental consent.


Relatively little law exists concerning transsexuals. Sex-reassignment surgery is regarded as being within the practice of medicine. Some laws provide for a change of sex on the birth certificate following a sex reassignment. In 1976, a New Jersey court, in a very well reasoned opinion, upheld the validity of a marriage involving a male-to-female postoperative transsexual.


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Louis H. Swartz


Learning theorists begin with the fundamental assumption that most human behavior is dramatically influenced by learning processes. Learning may occur directly through classical conditioning and instrumental or operant conditioning. Learning may also occur through observational learning and instruction.

Simply stated, classical conditioning is based on the foundation that certain responses (reflexes) occur naturally, without learning, in reaction to specific stimuli. These are labeled unconditioned responses and unconditioned stimuli, respectively. When another stimulus is paired with or linked to an unconditioned stimulus, it has the potential to become a conditioned stimulus, that is, a stimulus that can evoke the same (or similar) response as the unconditioned stimulus. When the response is elicited by the conditioned stimulus, rather than the unconditioned one, it is called a conditioned response. The classic example of classical conditioning is that provided by Pavlov, who demonstrated that by repeatedly pairing the onset of a buzzer with the onset of feeding, dogs learned to salivate in the presence of the buzzer alone. Food, the unconditioned stimulus, naturally elicits salivation. When food was paired with the buzzer, the buzzer became a conditioned stimulus, capable of eliciting salivation. Thus, salivation to the buzzer alone was the conditioned or learned response. Classical conditioning is based on this type of association.

Instrumental or operant conditioning is based on the principle that behavior is influenced by its consequences. Specifically, an action, or operation, followed by pleasant consequences (positive reinforcement) or the removal of aversive consequences (negative reinforcement) is more likely to reoccur. Conversely, action followed by aversive consequences or punishment is less likely to occur again.

Learning theorists emphasize that it is important to distinguish between learning and performance. That which has been learned may or may not be performed, depending on the expectation of the consequence: reward or punishment. Thus, to a degree, it can be argued that learning itself is largely a matter of associating or linking a stimulus with a response, whereas performance of a learned response is a function of its anticipated consequences.

Learning theorists also assert that learning may occur through instruction and by observing the actions of others, or modeling. Often these forms of learning are called social learning because they involve at least indirect interaction with others, but classical conditioning and operant conditioning may be social learning as well, in that in many instances the stimuli for these types of learning are other humans. Thus, the distinction between social learning and conditioning is not very useful today. People learn directly as a result of their own behavior and more indirectly by observing the behavior of others and by being instructed by others. Either may be social learning.

Historically, the more direct and behavioristic approaches to learning tended to view the learner as relatively passive in the process, more or less a pawn to the habits of conditioning, to be moved about the chessboard of life by the consequences of behavior. In contrast to the behaviorists were the phenomenologists or cognitive theorists, who argued that the learner was an active participant in learning through the processes of perception and cognition. Although some writers still distinguish between the learning and cognitive approaches, today there is widespread integration of the two approaches and nearly universal recognition of the role of social cognition in human behavior. Occasionally, however, the distinction is still made. Usually, it is made either for historical reasons or to emphasize the relevance of principles of learning, on the one hand, or principles of perception and cognition, on the other hand, to the specific behavior under discussion.

The work of Bandura has been particularly significant in this emergent integration. In the 1960s, he acknowledged the importance of classical and instrumental conditioning to social behavior, but he also asserted that the role of observational learning was critical to understanding a wide range of human behaviors. With colleagues, he conducted hundreds of investigations demonstrating the process of observational learning and illuminating the underlying mechanisms of it. Then, by the late 1970s, he began to expand his theory to encompass many more cognitive variables as well. With his concept of reciprocal determinism, he identifies the continuous interaction among personal, situational, and behavioral factors. It is not uncommon today for some theorists to refer to themselves as social-cognitive, developmental theorists. This self-reference reflects their belief that understanding human behavior requires understanding the interactions among the biological, social or situational, and cognitive or personal factors.

In spite of the fact that early scholarly, albeit mostly pseudoscientific, efforts to understand sexuality were dominated by medical-biological models and emphasized the pathological or deviant aspects of sexuality, the role of experience/learning was acknowledged even in these earliest analyses. Writers such as Tissot and Krafft-Ebing, although assuming the existence of a natural, biologically predetermined "correct" sexuality, recognized that some of what they considered to be sexual deviations and diseases resulted from the experience of the individuals. This realization led to their strong prohibition of behaviors such as masturbation. Havelock Ellis, in his seven volumes about sexuality published at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, was strongly biological in his thinking about the causes of sexuality, including variations in sexuality, but also clearly recognized the importance of sexual experience in shaping sexuality. Perhaps Freud, as surprising as it may seem, really opened the door to the application of principles of learning to understanding sexuality. Although Freud believed that basic sexual motivation and the stages of psychosexual development were deemed innately determined, an individual's personality, including his or her sexuality, was significantly influenced by the interaction between these innate developmental forces and the socialization experiences of early childhood. Even though the emphasis was on what could go wrong and produce abnormality, as compared to the learning required for development to be normal, the concept represented, nonetheless, an integration of learning into the matrix in a very explicit way.

Few of the early learning theorists devoted attention to sexuality, but Watson, a key figure in early behaviorism, collected data early in the 20th century concerning physiological sexual responses. Although he did not apply learning theory to his analyses of sexual behavior in any systematic way, Kinsey and his colleagues certainly stressed the importance of learning and experience in understanding the many aspects of sexuality he described in the two volumes published in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Also, quite early in his work, Bandura wrote about the relevance of social learning to sexuality topics. Today, nearly all psychologists and sociologists apply principles of learning in their efforts to analyze the variations among individuals in their beliefs about, their attitudes toward, and their experiences of sexuality (i.e., their sexual behavior).

Perhaps the theorists who have made the most concerted effort to link learning theory directly to an explanation of human sexuality are Gagnon and Simon. Applying their script theory to sexuality, they assert that there is no biological sex drive or instinct; instead, even sexual motivation is learned. They argue that the domain of meaning and conduct called sexuality is accumulated through social learning. Although they acknowledge the importance of the biological foundations of sexuality in setting the capacities for and the limits to what is possible sexually, the role of the sociocultural influences is viewed as critical to understanding individual and group variations. A sexual script is a rough plan, or guideline, providing answers to the questions about what to do, with whom to do it, how often, when, where, and even why. They argue that the answers to these questions are learned through a continuous process of learning: learning that is both direct and indirect and includes classical and operant conditioning, observational learning, and instruction. It occurs in a specific cultural context. From this perspective, Simon and Gagnon, and other social-cognitive theorists, explain both the commonalities and the differences in the sexuality of individuals and groups, including issues of sex differences, sexual orientations, sexual variations, and sexual dysfunctions.

Inspection of the empirical literature concerning sexuality published over the past decade or so in the major sexuality journals, such as the Journal of Sex Research and Archives of Sexual Behavior, reveals that the dominant theoretical foundation for the hypotheses being tested is a social-cognitive, learning foundation. The work of Byrne and Fisher and their colleagues in the area of contraceptive behavior, and the work of Mosher and his colleagues concerning sex guilt and other personality dimensions of sexuality, are good illustrations.

Learning principles also have been widely applied in the treatment of sexual problems or dysfunctions. Although organic factors clearly are important in understanding sexual functioning and are at the root of many forms of sexual dysfunction, most authorities believe that the majority of sexual problems are primarily psychological in nature. Numerous forms of sexual counseling and therapy have evolved since Masters and Johnson first described their program in 1970. The Masters and Johnson program is behavioristic. That is, the focus is on extinguishing old behaviors that have caused or are the problem and learning new, desired, or successful behaviors. The focus is not on extensive or in-depth psychotherapy. Others, such as Kaplan, combine more intensive psychotherapy with behavioral methods. Virtually all treatment approaches except those that rely on surgery, hormone therapy, or the use of drugs apply principles of learning in their method of treatment.


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Masters, W.H., and V.E. Johnson. Human Sexual Inadequacy. Boston: Little, Brown, 1970.

Mosher, D.L. Revised Mosher Guilt Inventory. In C.M. Davis, W.L. Yarber, and S.L. Davis, eds. Sexuality-Related Measures: A Compendium. Lake Mills, Iowa: Graphic, 1988.

Mosher, D.L. A Three-Dimensional Theory of Depth of Involvement in Human Sexual Response. Journal of Sex Research, Vol. 16 (1980), pp. 1–42.

Mosher, D.L., and S.S. Tomkins. Scripting the Macho Man: Hypermasculine Socialization and Enculturation. Journal of Sex Research, Vol. 25 (1988), pp. 60–84.

Tissot, S.A. Onanism, or, A Treatise upon the Disorders Produced by Masturbation. Translated by A. Hume. London: J. Pridden, 1766.

Clive M. Davis
Sandra L. Davis
Tara Anthony
Suzanne L. Osman


Hans Lehfeldt was a link between the sexological movement in Germany and that in the United States. Born October 28, 1899, in Berlin, he was drafted into the German army shortly after he enrolled as a medical student in Berlin in 1917. Due to abdominal postoperative herniations (caused by a childhood perforated appendix, which had resulted in general peritonitis), he was found fit only for "garrison service" and assigned to a post near the university. This allowed him to gain early admission to the pre-medical test and enabled him to return to full-time study as soon as the war ended. After reading about Margaret Sanger and her struggle for birth control, he decided to specialize in obstetrics and gynecology.

This decision posed some problems, since it was difficult for a Jewish physician to enter this specialty, but Lehfeldt was finally accepted into the clinic of Erwin Kehrer, provided he took further training in surgery and pathology. Lehfeldt's training was briefly interrupted when Kehrer became involved in a political controversy with the leftist government of Saxony; Kehrer resigned and his assistants were dispersed. Ultimately, however, the controversy was resolved, and Lehfeldt finished his specialty training at Dresden in 1928. His interest in contraception led him to be introduced to Norman Haire, an Australian gynecologist who practiced in London, and he became a close friend of Haire's. In 1928, Lehfeldt, through his contacts with Haire, presented a paper at the Congress of the World League for Sexual Reform in Copenhagen, where he met the Americans Margaret Sanger, Hannah and Abraham Stone, Harry Benjamin, and William Robinson. The League was formally organized at this conference, with Magnus Hirschfeld, Havelock Ellis, and August Forel as copresidents. Later, when Sanger appeared in Berlin with Ernst Graefenberg, Hans Lehfeldt discussed Graefenberg's paper on the intrauterine device (IUD). One result of this discussion was the founding of a contraceptive clinic by Hans Lehfeldt, Franz Hirsch, and Felix A. Theilhaber in Berlin in 1928.

In 1935, Lehfeldt emigrated to the United States, where he began practicing obstetrics and gynecology. In 1958, he founded and directed the Family Planning Clinic of Bellevue Hospital, the first such clinic at a municipal hospital in the United States. He also began meeting with an informal group in the late 1950s, an activity that in 1960 led to the founding of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sex (SSSS), which he later served as president. He was a strong advocate of the cervical cap as a contraceptive device rather than the Mensinga diaphragm, which became standard in the Planned Parenthood clinics in the United States. He was also important in organizing a conference on the potentialities of lUDs and was an early advocate of abortion rights. Lehfeldt continued to do research and to lecture at New York University on contraception. There is an award established in his name by the SSSS. Lehfelt died June 18, 1993.

Connie Christine Wheeler
(interview with Hans Lehfeldt)


A dynamic sexual orientation, lesbianism is a preference a woman has for sex with women and a self-identification that goes beyond sex. The word "lesbian" (Webster's: of or relating to Lesbos) derives from the name of the Mediterranean island birthplace of Sappho, a lyrically intense poet of the sixth century B.C.E. Sappho ran a school for girls which included participating in worship of the goddess Aphrodite. From her surviving poetry it appears Sappho had sexuoerotic relationships with women. As a result, "Sapphic" sometimes is understood to refer to an erotic relationship between women. The 19th-century American transcendentalist Margaret Fuller thought Sappho's name had universally "threadbare celebrity." The contemporary lesbian-feminist poet Judy Grahn sees Sappho at the end of an ancient lineage of great female poets. As many poets, including H.D., have drawn inspiration from Sappho, her influence continues. In 1927, the woman's club activist Alice Ames Winter wrote that for many, Sappho symbolized uncontrolled womanhood and that any martyrdom came ex post facto.

At least as far back as the ancient Hebrews, commentators assumed two women together could do nothing sexually. For 2,000 years, jurists and ecclesiastics did not believe they would do anything. Medieval courts seldom had cases involving sex between women, and English common law did not forbid it. Words seemingly failed lawmakers in reference to lesbianism, a result of their presumptions about women's susceptibility to suggestions about lesbian "crimes." Vivien W. Ng found more mercy extended to lesbians than to homosexual men after the Chinese state made consensual sodomy a felony in 1740. Notwithstanding appearances of leniency in 16th-century England, France, and Spain toward "the silent sin," punishment for lesbianism—otherwise reserved for heresy and, later, treason—could be burning at the stake. In the English colonies in America, unchaste conduct between women largely went unobserved but might be inconsistently punished. In Virginia in 1776, Thomas Jefferson unsuccessfully recommended as punishment for sodomy piercing a woman's nasal cartilage instead of executing her. The Dutch republic, in the period 1792-1798 recorded five court cases in which 12 women were charged with "foul sodomical behavior." The evil of lesbianism was pronounced from France to the United States by late-19th- to mid-20th-century writers.

Lesbian sexuality is a legitimate analytical category, but it defies characterization in relation to heterosexuality as a central referent. Not only does lesbian sexuality relate women to women, but it may also function as a psychologism, that is, tending to rupture heterosexist constructions of reality and open a path to a different understanding of female existence. In his intellectual history of sexuality, Michel Foucault describes growth in 19th-century sexual discourse that created new categories of sexuality but Foucault had no value called "gender"; consequently, his work is of limited utility in reconstructing lesbianism's history. Lacking the category "gender," one might rest content with the description—for example, of certain early-19th-century physicians' notes that treated as abnormal reports by women patients of intense orgasms due to stimulation of what has become known as the Graefenberg spot. Lesbian self-reports of sexual practices prompted contemporary rediscovery of the spot.

To describe the demographics of lesbianism accurately would be difficult, as self-disclosure by a lesbian risks a socially stigmatized identity, and this imposes limits on the coming-out process. Existing research is biased in favor of Western, relatively high-income, educated white constituencies. One self-selected sample of readers of Out/Look (1990), offspring of left-wing American parents, suggests that although lesbian women come out later than homosexual men, 50 percent of the respondents recognized by age 14 their sexual feelings toward individuals of the same sex. A survey of 81 lesbians from a midwestern city has demonstrated a relationship between their feminism and their psychological health, as well as differing paths to identity development. A 1987 study found that for most respondents powerful affective or social connections with women elicited awareness of their sexual orientation. It now generally is agreed that unsatisfactory or harmful relationships with men are not a factor in the orientation.

Such findings may reflect on polygamous societies, which have a high incidence of lesbianism because the basis for women's social reality is other women. Women with hearing impairments or developmental disabilities, in segregated institutional settings, have a high probability of same-sex sexual relations, with high rates of precursor intimacy occurring in segregated residences. A holocaust survivor reports that such relationships developed by the hundreds among women in the camps. As a founder of the Lesbian Herstory Archives in New York City, Joan Nestle, has suggested, lesbianism is no accident.

Paula Gunn Alien describes lesbianism among aboriginal American women in a spiritual context, with these relations presenting a principle of right action for primary relationships in the tribe. Paradoxically, Mary Wollstonecraft in The Rights of Women (1790) looked disapprovingly on young women's "bad habits" in English boarding schools but approvingly on a celibate homoerotic friendship in Mary, A Fiction (1788). Romantic, sensual, virtuous friendships flowered openly among middle-class women in England, France, Germany, and the United States from the 16th to the 18th centuries. Faderman's view is that the early-19th-century feminist movement brought out women's sexual potential with women. A 1990 study shows friendship to be a significant factor in long-term relationships among U.S. lesbians.

Except on its own terms, lesbian behavior cannot be understood adequately. A Buffalo, New York-based study of lesbians in the 1950s found that the butch-femme roles to present the lesbian to the heterosexual community were relatively inflexible. There were other models however. Respondents to a 1960 survey in The Ladder emphasized choice, autonomy, and self-development as among the reasons they were lesbians. A 1990 study of 70 U.S. lesbian couples showed that they do not take traditional gender roles but espoused an egalitarian ideal, some 45 percent reported sharing power.

A 1987 lesbian parenting anthology finds that parenthood for women couples is nothing new, but increased visibility and opportunities to define it are. Pregnancy can be stressful for a lesbian couple; possible problems range from the lengthy period it may take to conceive to jealousy. Several observers have described lesbian communities as currently undergoing a baby boom. Some lesbians have turned to in vitro fertilization, others to adoption, but most lesbians who want children rely on artificial insemination. Jokes about turkey basters are in vogue. However, serious issues remain. Legally, the non-birth mother in general seems not to have enforceable claims to the child, although two-mother as well as single-mother households constitute a legitimate family structure. Disputing custody with a heterosexual person, a lesbian parent may prevail 50 percent or more of the time: outcomes are not predicted readily nor are they necessarily rational. Judges have awarded custody to grandparents rather than to a lesbian parent, and have justified denials with homophobic attitudes about AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome). Organizations such as the Lesbian Mothers National Defense Fund seek solutions to the many problems.

Lesbian sex therapist JoAnn Loulan has written that "lesbians are passionate people." Sixty percent or more of San Francisco - based lesbian respondents to a 1976 Institute for Sex Research survey saw themselves as wholly oriented toward lesbianism. Ethnicity made no difference. The women appeared to have fewer problems than men in accepting a homosexual orientation. Loulan's San Francisco-based study (1987) found 35 percent of lesbians having sex two to five times per month, with 12 percent of them never having sex and 14 percent having it eleven or more times. Over four-fifths of the respondents were orgasmic; 52 percent reported themselves fairly well or completely satisfied with their sex life. Lesbian couples apparently are less sexually active than heterosexual or gay male couples, with activity said to decline after two years. These couples may not be egalitarian when it comes to initiating or deciding how frequently they will have sex; however, Davis and Kennedy have argued that 40 years ago, leadership in initiation was "authentically lesbian interaction" and not imitative of heterosexuality.

Conflict emerged in the 1970s over whether to reconceptualize "lesbian" to describe women-identified women. Adrienne Rich found lesbianism to echo an experiential range, not confined to sex, that heterosexually constructed reality had made unspeakable; the array involves a choice of self and could include motivation toward political action. Recent research has validated the psychologically affirming aspects of an openly lesbian identification and the prepolitical implications of structuring lesbian community. Apropos of Rich's argument for the introduction of cross-cultural context across history, impulses toward organization have been present in diverse settings, such as early-20th-century settlement houses and 1950s Buffalo bar culture. Lesbians founded the Daughters of Bilitis in 1955 to create a secure structure for coming out, and women in the Mattachine Society felt compelled to address women's issues. Today there is a Lesbian Mothers Union.

Political action has extended into coalitions, peak associations, and other forums. The late Audre Lorde has characterized black lesbian and gay struggles as including bonds with Africans and people of African descent in America, Europe, and Asia; in a Signs interview in 1981, she spoke of "skills and joint defenses." In 1975, the National Organization for Women's national convention authorized spending 1 percent of a $1 million budget on behalf of lesbians. The National Women's Conference in Houston in 1977 took the problems society imposes on lesbians as fit matter for resolution.

Clearly, a lesbian continuum exists. A slide and tape presentation sponsored by the San Francisco Lesbian and Gay History Project in 1979, "She Even Chewed Tobacco," documented growth in lesbian identity among working-class women in the 20th century. A spring 1991 exhibition, "Keepin' On," based on photographs, assembled by the Lesbian Herstory Archives, of African-American lesbians primarily from Harlem in this century has helped establish continuity in these women's lives. Transhistorical documentation of lesbianism locates lesbians in relationship to lesbians, and establishes lesbians as self-defining people with an ethnography and a potential for developing explicitly pluralistic values.


Bernard, M. Sappho: A New Translation. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1958.

Blackwood, E. Breaking the Mirror: The Construction of "Lesbianism" and Anthropological Discourse on Homosexuality. Journal of Homosexuality, Vol. 11 (Summer 1985), pp. 1-17.

Brown, J.C. Lesbian Sexuality in Medieval and Early Modern Europe. In M.B. Duberman, M.Vicinus, and G. Chauncey, Jr., eds. Hidden from History: Reclaiming the Gay and Lesbian Past. New York: New American Library, 1989.

Bullough, V.L. Sexual Variance in Society and History. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1976.

Davis, M., and E.L. Kennedy. Oral History and the Study of Sexuality in the Lesbian Community: Buffalo, New York, 1940-1960. In M.B. Duberman, M. Vicinus, and G. Chauncey, Jr., eds. Hidden from History: Reclaiming the Gay and Lesbian Past. New York: New American Library, 1989.

Everard, M. Lesbian History: A History of Change and Disparity. Journal of Homosexuality, Vol. 12 (May 1986), pp. 123-37.

Faderman L. Surpassing the Love of Men: Romantic Friendship and Love Between Women from the Renaissance to the Present. New York: William Morrow, 1981.

Hitchens, D. Social Attitudes, Legal Standards, and Personal Trauma in Child Custody Cases. In D.C. Knutson, ed. Homosexuality and the Law. New York: Haworth Press, 1980.

Hoaglund, S.L. Lesbian Ethics: Towards New Value. Palo Alto, Calif.: Institute of Lesbian Studies, 1989.

McCandlisch, B.M. Therapeutic Issues with Lesbian Couples. Journal of Homosexuality, Vol. 16 (1988), pp. 263–307.

Reilly, M.E., and J.M. Lynch. Power-Sharing in Lesbian Relationships. Journal of Homosexuality, Vol. 19 (1990), pp. 1–30.

Rich, A. It is the Lesbian in Us.... On Lies, Secrets, and Silences: Selected Prose, 1966-1978. New York: W.W. Norton, 1979.

Sarah Slavin


Harold Lief (1917-2007) was an American psychiatrist and an eminent sex therapist. He received his M.D. from New York University in 1942. From 1948 through 1951, Lief was an assistant physician at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York City and a psychiatrist in private practice. In 1951, Lief started teaching psychiatry at Tulane University. He is currently professor emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania and a physician at die University of Pennsylvania Hospital.

Lief's greatest contribution was the introduction of sexuality education in medical schools. In 1960, only three U.S. medical schools offered formal sex-education programs, while in 1984 ninety percent of medical schools included them in their curriculum. From 1969 to 1981, Lief worked in the Center for Study of Sexuality Education in Medicine, was director of the Division of Family Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, and was director of the Marriage Council of Philadelphia.

During the same period, Lief developed important training programs in sex therapy and in sex education for health professionals, noteworthy among which was Lief s and Reed's 1972 Sex Knowledge and Attitude Test (SKAT), a scale used widely in universities and medical schools for gathering information on students' sexual attitudes, knowledge, and experiences. In 1990, Lief, Fullard, and Devlin expanded SKAT to create SKAT-A, which measures adolescent sexual knowledge, attitudes, and behavior, and SERT-A, which measures sexual risk-taking among adolescents.

Lief wrote and edited numerous papers and journals, including his well-known Sexual Medicine Series, the first volume of which (1984) consisted of research papers from the World Congress of Sexology. He was also on the editorial boards of Medical Aspects of Human Sexuality, Journal of Sex Education and Therapy, and Contemporary Sexuality.

Lief has been a dedicated member and officer of many professional organizations. He was president (1968) of the Sex Information and Education Council of the United States, vice president of the World Association of Sexology, and fellow of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sex (SSSS). He received the SSSS Award for Distinguished Scientific Achievement and the 1982 Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Field of Human Sexuality.


Lief, H., W. Fullard, and S. Devlin. A New Measure of Adolescent Sexuality: SKAT-A. Journal of Sex Education and Therapy, Vol. 16 (1990), pp. 79–91.

Lief, H., and Z. Hoch, eds. International Research on Sexology. New York: Praeger, 1984.

Lief, H., and D. Reed. Sexual Knowledge and Attitudes Test. Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 1972.

Leah Cahan Schaefer  (updated by Erwin J. Haeberle 2011)


This term, not yet found in most dictionaries, was coined by Tennov to refer to the unique and sometimes unpleasant combination of love, attraction, lust, anxiety, depression, and elation that often accompanies sexual erotic interest in another person. In short, it is what many people refer to as lovesickness. It is not sexual frustration but an all-encompassing emotional state in which one person is completely preoccupied by another person's every act and state and is oblivious to most other concerns.

In much of the Western world, limerence is often considered a normal and perhaps inevitable consequence of sexual attraction, but some individuals never experience it. There may well be individuals who are limerence prone. It is most likely to occur when there is a combination of sexual and erotic attraction plus unclear or paradoxical communication in which the desired partner sends messages that perhaps mean that interest might be reciprocated. It is the uncertainty of the response, not the sexual and erode attraction itself, that generates limerence. Limerence only rarely cures itself, although time may well help. Many therapists argue that it can and should be treated psychotherapeutically, because a limerent individual can otherwise be crippled emotionally by a pattern of repeated anxiety, preoccupation bordering on obsession, and depression alternating with elation. It sometimes turns out that the individual who has stimulated the limerence is aware of his or her effect and enjoys the power it gives over the other person. Often, the limerent individual may decide to withdraw from the afflicted individual entirely.

Full-scale limerence almost never develops if the two individuals are mutually attracted to each other, but only when the interest is one-sided and communication is opaque. It is not a new phenomenon: Hippocrates spoke of it as a disease of the young, and during the medieval period lovesickness was often defined as a disease. In English, it is often referred to as unrequited love. It may well have a physiological basis, and it certainly is a major component of love poetry and popular songs as well as fiction.


Money, J. Love and Love Sickness. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1980.

Tennov, D. Love and Limerence: The Experience of Being in Love. New York: Stein & Day, 1979.

Vern L. Bullough


The Ancient World: Eastern Culture
The Ancient World: Greece and Rome
The Ancient World: Hebrews and Christians
The Middle Ages
The Renaissance, the Reformation, the Restoration, and the 18th-Century Romantics
Victorians and the Late Romantics
Modern Literature

In describing literature historically and cross-culturally, the term is here used broadly to include fiction and nonfiction, essays, short stories, drama, and poetry. In short, addressed is a selection of writings that have stood the test of time and have maintained some distinction among scholars and the reading public.

The Ancient World: Eastern Culture

The novel form is thought by some Eurocentric writers to date to some four or five centuries ago, but it can be traced approximately 1,000 years back to a fictional work written by a Japanese courtesan. There is little doubt that similar works existed then or earlier, but they have not survived. Many different styles and attitudes are reflected in literature across cultures and through time - everything from the delicately subtle but quite candid descriptions of the erotic reflected in classic Chinese novels of the 15th century, to the straightforward yet artful sacred writings of India, notably in Kama Sutra, which represents a high sense of the aesthetic and a worshipful yet worldly view of sexuality. These works, and others across the Eastern world, including Japan, may have served a variety of purposes, but all had in common the educative role they played as sex manuals, or "pillow books" as they were called in Japan. Here we see the enmeshment of the sacred with the earthly noted by historians such as Bullough in his Sexual Variance in Society and History.

Lest one overemphasize the basically sex-positive view reflected in the writings of Eastern cultures, Foucault, in The Uses of Pleasure, draws attention to the anxiety about coitus occasioned not by prudery but by concern for the consequences of overindulgence both for physical health and for the spirit. This concern was shared by Chinese culture, in which relationships between men and women were viewed as a struggle between opposites. There was a special concern evoked by a perceived threat of depletion of energy, culminating in death without "honorable" descendants. Ancient Chinese and Japanese sexual themes in literature frequently addressed the dangers of unregulated sexual activity and its attendant destruction of potency. At the same time, the literature of these ancient cultures strongly endorsed moderation in sexual activity so that such dangers could be avoided and one's health and youthful vitality could be enhanced. Thus, there was also a strong emphasis on sexual pleasure, often through prolonged sexual activity and the postponement of orgasm.

The Ancient World: Greece and Rome

The Greeks and Romans were agrarian peoples. There was a sharp division between the roles of men and women. In ancient Greece, as in some isolated Greek rural areas of today, the woman's role was as wife, mother, and helpmate. Men, by contrast, were free to seek satisfaction outside the home, including homosexual pleasures. In ancient Greece, romantic love was viewed as interfering with reason and unsuitable as a basis for marriage. Still, sexual pleasure was seen in the context of other worldly satisfactions and as a sufficient goal unto itself. Sex did not necessarily have to be procreative, nor did it have to be heterosexual. Greek citizens were great admirers of beauty as an aesthetic value in all things. It was usual to be aesthetically attracted to those of either sex. Further, men customarily formed a mentor-protégé relationship with pubescent or postpubescent boys. These close associations frequently and normally included homosexual behavior. This practice was not customary among consenting adult males, however, unless there was no access to other sexual outlets. The relative availability of slaves of both sexes resulted in sexual exploitation of that group. Greek males were in essence frequently bisexual. Individuals were not categorized as to sexual preference, though unrestrained passions of whatever kind were discouraged, as were other worldly excesses. The ideal was to lead a self-disciplined life, albeit a sensually full one, within the confines of moderation. An aesthetically beautiful and ethically pleasing life was a commonly agreed-upon goal.

The Greek poet Sappho of Lesbos, born ca. 600 B.C.E., was a well-respected poet among the citizens of her time; she was not singled out as a "lesbian" poet, as so often is the case today. Greeks made no such distinctions. Plutarch and Lucian also speak of the existence of homoeroticism among Greek women of the time. Artistic representations of both male and female genitalia were prevalent; they were not, as is often the case today, a medium for titillation or an occasion for disgust, but were depicted with reverence. Greeks viewed their bodies as a whole, aesthetically diffuse as to beauty and sexuality. Their literature does not mention sadomasochism, and they appear not to have recognized as "perverseness" such practices as bestiality. Greek erotic life was generally uninhibited and free of many of the proscriptions of the later Western world. Themes of incest and homosexuality are represented in Greek mythology, for example in connection with the god Zeus, who is shown as having multiple partners and as bisexual. Representing an incestuous theme, Aphrodite was married to one half-brother while enamored of another; when the pair were discovered, they were a source of amusement for the other gods. It is noteworthy that while Greeks made sport of their gods' sexual antics, in a religious sense the same gods were treated with reverence. The duality of sexuality was reflected in the self-indulgent pleasures of the centaurs, associated with degradation and ultimately death, as contrasted to the playful, harmless satyrs. Ancient Greek literature treated the male sex organ as an object of worship, as part of religious life. Later, in Roman Pompeii, for example, phallic images were used as warnings of dire consequences to thieves or other intruders.

Greek drama is replete with erotic themes. Sophocles' tragedy Oedipus illustrates the dangers of incestuous love between parent and child. Reflective of the restraints placed on Greek women, comedies often had as their theme conflict between the sexes, notably in Lysistrata, in which the women withhold sex until their men agree to stop fighting.

Unlike the later Christian world, the world of the ancient Greeks did not separate physical from nonphysical love, the body from the spirit. The major prohibitive theme of that time was the admonition against unbridled appetites of all sorts, including sexual passions.

Roman culture, while it began as agrarian, grew to encompass a pluralistic empire spanning vast stretches of the known world and enduring for more than 400 years after Christ's birth. As in Greek culture, phallic symbolism continued to occupy a central role in religion and in other spheres of Roman culture. It was from Greek mythology and from Roman views of sex in opposition to death that Freud later was to refine many of his ideas concerning eros and thanatos and to take the name of King Oedipus to signify the sexual attraction between son and mother. In Roman literature, Ovid's Art of Love was a guide to those who wished to evoke the sexual passions of the objects of their desire. Ovid, along with other Roman writers such as Virgil, viewed sex and love with a cynical eye and saw women as seductive and manipulative. Roman literature later influenced the work of English writers, including the comedies of William Shakespeare. In the playful tone reflected in Ovid's Amores, one can see parallels to Shakespeare's sexual humor:

Your husband? Going to the same dinner as us?
I hope it chokes him.
So I'm only to gaze at you, darling? Play gooseberry
while another man enjoys your touch?
As was not the case in Greek custom, Roman women were granted a good bit of independence as history progressed. Though virginity was valued, it was prized not for its own sake but for the practical reason that monogamous behavior was expected of married women. Roman men, by contrast, were accorded considerable sexual freedom. Men did not have to be monogamous, but they were to avoid involvement with other men's wives. Prostitution was accepted among poorer Roman women. The sexual, including homosexuality, appears to have been accepted as natural in Roman life. A number of emperors were homosexual or bisexual in their life-styles. The excesses of Roman sexual life, especially of the later era, were decidedly at odds with the moderation and self-control so central to the values of earlier Greek culture.

The Ancient World: Hebrews and Christians

For the early Israelites, a nomadic people, sexual intercourse was highly valued. Though most forms of sex that could not lead to procreation were discouraged, the frequent Christian obsession equating sex with guilt and sin was absent. After the exile to Babylon, sexual mores reflected that more secular culture, resulting in an elevation of legal codes as an important influence. At the same time, women came to be blamed for leading men astray. The Fall in the Old Testament originally had been attributed to man's hubris. This view now became supplanted by the vision of "woman as temptress," as a potentially dangerous influence who must be confined to the home.

Despite signs of increased suppression in some areas of life, there was a celebration of the erotic, as in the Song of Solomon (Song of Songs) in the Old Testament of the Bible:

How beautiful are thy feet with shoes,
O prince's daughter! The joints of thy
thighs are like jewels, the work of the
hands of a cunning workman.

Thy navel is like a round goblet, which
wanteth not liquor: thy belly is like
an heap of wheat set about with lilies.
Thy two breasts are like two young roses
that are twins. (Song of Sol. 7: 1-3)

While a number of biblical scholars have insisted that these verses are mere metaphors for the love between humans and God, there seems to be little doubt about the earthy, unbridled celebration of fleshly erotic pleasure they describe. The Song of Songs, in its entirety, seems to culminate in joyous coitus.

Unlike much of Christianity, ancient Judaic writings reflect a society in which a man is obligated to pleasure his wife. It had strict laws describing a husband's conjugal obligation: at least once a month for camel drivers, once a week for donkey drivers, and every day for scholars and men of leisure.

The Qur'an similarly places great importance on sexuality in marriage, prescribing that men should approach their wives "when and how you will." In contrast to Hebrew culture, however, there appears to have been more same-sex coupling, perhaps because of the strict segregation of the sexes. Indeed, homosexuality appears to have been a source of some hilarity, as reflected in a number of Arabic writings.

While Jews had purification rites by law, exemplified by cleansing rituals after menstruation and childbirth, the ancient Hebrews were markedly positive about lawful sexual practices. There has been considerable misinterpretation of their prohibitions against sexual practices that could not lead to reproduction. Today's scholars generally agree that these prohibitions were not established as a response to prudery, but rather because of the vital importance of lawful marriage and reproduction for members of this ancient people.

Following the First Exile, some of the attendant pessimism of that time negatively influenced sexual attitudes among some Hebrews. This tendency was reflected in later Talmudic codes and in the sexual attitudes of early Christian converts from Judaism.

Foucault rejects the commonly held notion of a "Judaic-Christian" morality or of rigorously fixed laws governing sexual behavior. The apostle Paul was a major influence in shaping early Christian attitudes about sexual issues. Until the appearance of the New Testament, around 300 C.E., much of early Christianity was strongly affected by the Old Testament writings of the ancient Hebrews. Judaic law dominated Christianity until Roman law became the norm after Constantine.

Influenced by early Stoic philosophers who stressed asceticism, early Christians took up the concept of sex as sinful and to be tolerated, even in marriage, solely for the needs of procreation. This sex-negative asceticism pervaded much of Christianity for some centuries. Vestiges may still be found among some individuals of the Catholic faith today. Later, St. Augustine was to act as a negative influence on Catholic teachings about sexuality. His prohibitive influence was to extend to some branches of Protestantism as well. Echoing the Stoics, Christians highly prized virginity and abstinence. Contraception and nonreproductive sex were strongly prohibited. It was Augustine who firmly linked sexuality and Original Sin. The only "right" sex came to be married sex, with its goal of reproduction.

The Middle Ages

The Church remained the major force in a medieval Europe of widespread superstition, ignorance, and plague, where penitents roamed an increasingly unstable and unpredictable world. Monasteries were virtually the sole repositories of learned writings in the early Middle Ages, and they were generally unsympathetic to preserving materials of an erotic nature. Despite this, some wits among the monks saw fit to hide sexual imagery in the brilliant illuminations framing the manuscripts they so painstakingly copied.

Among the major secular writers somewhat later in the period were Dante Alighieri (1265–1321) and Boccaccio (1313–1375) in Italy and, in England, Geoffrey Chaucer (ca. 1342–1400). In Dante's work, the sadomasochistic imagery of remote and unattainable love objects is readily apparent. At the same time, by the late Middle Ages the troubadours' worship of the presumably untouchable noblewoman established an ideal of romantic love that has found an audience in Western culture to this day.

Existing side-by-side with the literature of courtly love, Chaucer's Canterbury Tales reveals another side of the period, an aspect of playfulness and cynicism not unlike that reflected in the poetry of Ovid and others much earlier. Chaucer gives a lighthearted treatment to cuckoldry in his "Prologue" to "The Miller's Tale." Pondering the question of whether one is a cuckold, the miller says:

I may myself, for ought I know, be one.
I'll certainly believe that I am none.
A husband mustn't be curious for his life,
About God's secrets or about his wife.
If she gives him plenty and he's in the clover,
No need to worry about what's left over.
This passage echoes the common medieval theme of the cuckolded husband, often getting what he deserves.

At the same time, the Church maintained its central role. In his vastly influential 13th-century writings, St. Thomas Aquinas attempted to address virtually all possible forms of proscribed sexual behavior. Given the repressiveness of Church teachings, medieval sexuality not infrequently evoked hysterical imaginings, sometimes thought to be special signs of grace. Some deeply religious females dreamed of Christ's visitation upon them in very worldly images of sexual ecstasy.

The Renaissance, the Reformation, the Restoration, and the 18th-Century Romantics

As the Western world moved from the Medieval world into the modern era, the celebration of the sexual emerged once more. At times, women fell victim to roving bands of young men. In Italy during the late Middle Ages and early modern periods, decadence not seen since later Roman times was not unheard of. One thinks of accounts of the noblemen of Florence and their consorts, or of cloaked and masked Venetian men and women in gondolas, slipping through the canals. The excitement of the era was heightened by the knowledge that rogues risked discovery and possible death at the hand of an outraged husband or father. The Italian lyric poet Petrarch (1304–1374), who lived for a time in Venice, speaks of the raptures of worldly love, as in the following passage from his poem "It Was the Morning":

I feel a captive, Lady, to the sway
Of your swift eyes: that seemed no time to stay
The strokes of Love: I stepped into the snare
Secure, with no suspicion: then and there
I found my cue in man's most tragic play.
Love caught me naked to his shaft, his sheaf,
The entrance for his ambush and surprise
Against the heart wide open through the eyes.
Typical of Renaissance imagery, Petrarch's references to the physical aspects of passion are not difficult to find.

Somewhat later, in France, the writings of François Rabelais (ca. 1483–1553) reflected an earthier view of sexual acts. Rabelais and others often dealt with comedie scatological references equally applicable to both sexes. An example can be found in Rabelais' account, in Gargantua and Pantagruel, of "How Ponacrates gave Gargantua such instruction that not an hour of the day was wasted":

Gargantua awoke at about four in the morning. While the servants massaged him, he would listen to some page of Holy Scripture, read aloud in clear tones and pronounced with fitting respect for the text....

Next, he would repair to secret places to make excretion of his natural digestions; here his tutor repeated what had been read, expanding on its more obscure and difficult features. (Bk. I, chap. 23)

In as natural a vein, though slightly later, Montaigne (1533–1592), in his Essays, would address his own sexual behavior as he did any other day-to-day matter. Pascal later remarked on Montaigne's propensity to speak altogether too much of himself.

In the Renaissance England of Edmund Spenser (1552–1599), we see a relaxing of sexual mores observed earlier in Chaucer. Here, as on the Continent, there was evidence enough of license even among members of the clergy. The Fairie Queene is an extensive work, in which sexuality is addressed. We see in this poem sexually assertive and sometimes dangerous women, under whose spell men's strength may be sapped. Describing the "Bower of Bliss," Spenser shows a dialectic view of nature and of women as both seductive and dangerous, as in the following passage from The Fairie Queene:

There, whence that musick seemèd heard to bee,
Was the faire witch her selfe now solacing,
With a new lover, whom through sorceree
And witchcraft, she from farre did thither bring;
There she had him now layd a slombering,
In secret shade, after long wanton joyes.
It is not surprising that at about the time of Spenser, the openness of the Renaissance was giving way to strong censure by the Church and by some of the general public. At this time, by papal order, some of the nude figures in Michelangelo's fresco "The Last Judgment" were painted over with makeshift swathes of cloth covering their genitals.

However, repression was not part of the imagery of the poems and plays created by William Shakespeare (1564–1616). Sex was never again to be censored completely. Derivative of Spenser's imagery of the dangers of unbridled passion, a painstakingly detailed account of a sexual assault on an innocent woman is given in Shakespeare's poem The Rape of Lucrece:

Her breasts like ivory globes circled with blue,
a pair of maiden world unconquered.
Elsewhere, for example in his comedies The Taming of the Shrew and The History of Troilus and Cressida, Shakespeare evokes the ribald, playful aspects of sex. This was an age in which sexuality could still serve as a cause for humor, in a worldly way not expressed since the Middle Ages.

The Reformation saw the advance of Puritanism both in England and in the colonies, particularly in Puritan New England. (Even so, there is some evidence of sexual themes in American Puritan poetry of the time.) No American writer has captured more eloquently the repression of that time than Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804–1864). The Scarlet Letter's Hester Prynne is held up to ridicule in her New England Puritan community because of her adulterous affair with a man who heretofore had been a "pillar" of the community; their liaison results in an illegitimate child. Hester, as much as the elaborately embroidered scarlet "A" on the breast of her garment, becomes the focal point for all the scorn and hysteria of a sexually repressed citizenry.

Puritan Calvinism conveyed a strong sense of sex as dangerous, as a procreative necessity that must not give way to unbridled passion even among married couples. It was not sex alone that received disapproval, but also unrestrained joy or playfulness in any sphere of daily life. Vestiges of this jaundiced view of human pleasure can still be found in pockets of New England and, indeed, in the "Bible Belt" of today's United States.

In the 18th century, the middle class served as the primary exemplar of prudery. This attitude was by no means pervasive among the well educated, however. Reflecting the emphasis on the "rational" at this time, John Dryden (1631–1700) wrote in a "Song" from Marriage à la Mode:

Why should a foolish marriage vow,
Which long ago was made,
Oblige us to each other now,
When passion is decayed?
The growing emphasis on reason is reflected to a degree also by Alexander Pope (1688–1744) in The Rape of the Lock, in which he counsels a philosophical view of life between men and women, with an acceptance of its inevitable tensions. In a much lighter vein, John Cleland's Fanny Hill: Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure (1748) is still widely regarded as the quintessence of unbridled, and perhaps coarse, sexuality in the English language. No doubt Cleland's novel served as an influence on later frankly bawdy writings.

All together, no period in the history of the written word seems more multifaceted or more widely diverse than the 18th century. This variety reflects the competing political, philosophical, and religious factions of that time of rapid social change.

The Romantic period was a time of upheaval, with the shift away from agrarian society in England and elsewhere, the independence of the American colonies, and the advent of the French Revolution. The term "Romanticism" is often used simplistically by those who are drawn to the literature of that period. In fact, it was a time of widely diverse views, political and otherwise. Writers of the time did not think of themselves as "Romantic." Political and industrial revolution was an abiding theme, and through it all there seems to have been a sense of high energy and great change.

Romande literature reflects a new interest in emotion and in the value of personal experience. This differed markedly from the elevation of the rational during the Enlightenment. Natural objects came to be viewed symbolically, especially in the writings of such poets as William Blake (1757–1827) and Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822). Despite the unsettled times, much of their writing and that of their counterparts has a sense of the breaking of boundaries. Some of the mood of the time is captured in William Wordsworth's (1770–1850) poem "The Tables Turned":

Enough of Science and of Art;
Close up those barren leaves;
Come forth, and bring with you a heart
That watches and receives.
France's Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778) was to depict nature as gentle, with none of the danger perceived by later French writers such as Sade (1740–1814). Some of Sade's writings were direct refutations of Rousseau's overly optimistic view both of nature and of man's relation to it. Sade's writings undoubtedly influenced Freud and others, but they are conspicuously absent in many university curricula today. It has been postulated that liberals are repulsed by his amorality and feminists by his explicit and violent sexuality.

In this period, another Romantic poet, George Gordon, Lord Byron (1788–1824), presented a quite different approach: he deals rather directly with the sexual, including themes of male feminization and incest, as in the case of the effeminate pageboy Kaled in Lara. In Don Juan he depicts the seductive protagonist as a "most beauteous boy," with Don Juan entering a harem in the guise of a young woman.

Exotic themes similar to those evoked by Byron are found later in the works of Edgar Allan Poe (1809–1849) in America and, more extremely, in the imagery of Sade. Balzac (1799–1850) too, echoed Byron in his androgynous female character (patterned after George Sand) in Lost Illusions. All the writers who drew on themes similar to Byron's paved the way for the fascination with the bizarre found later in the Gothic fiction of Poe, Hawthorne, and Emily Brontë. In Germany, Goethe (1749–1832), wrote of sexual ambiguity in the Sorrows of Young Werther (1774): Werther recoils from what he sees as the sordidness of male adulthood, retreating into adolescent emotionality and androgyny.

Victorians and the Late Romantics

While sexual repression and hypocrisy reached new heights at this time, particularly in England and the United States, it would be simplistic and historically incorrect to view all of 19th-century life and literature as falling within this dimension. Some writers, such as Robert Browning (1812–1889), resorted to symbolism to mask sexual themes. Rarely is this more evident than in the second verse of his poem "The Last Ride Together":

The blood replenished in me again;
My last thought was at least not in vain:
I and my mistress, side by side
Shall be together, breathe and ride
So, one day more am I deified.
Who knows but the world may end tonight?
Themes of adultery were also found in 19th-century writings, notably in France, in Flaubert's Madame Bovary (1857), and in Russia, in Tolstoy's Anna Karenina (1875–77). In the United States, Nathaniel Hawthorne echoed this theme in The Scarlet Letter (1850).

During this era, a cult emanating from Oxford flourished, one that involved perhaps not altogether platonic worship of prepubescent and pubescent girls. It was notably represented by Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (1832–1898), who wrote his Alice books under the nom de plume Lewis Carroll; and Ernest Dowson (1867–1900), author of the famous lines, "I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion."

The majority of Victorian culture was sexually repressed, and repressive, during much of this time, and legal censorship was a growing practice. Even the legs of pianos might be covered with scarves so as not to engender erotic thoughts. There was a concerted effort to protect the "purity" of women and children. In the Victorian period, in contrast to the Middle Ages or the Puritan era, repression was driven not so much by the established church as by the pressures of self-appointed "watchdog" groups. These pressure groups were not unlike the politically motivated censorship movements of the latter part of the 20th century, when fundamentalist reactionaries and factions of the women's movement (perhaps motivated to affect a facade of prudery because of their efforts to de-objectify women) found themselves as strikingly curious political bedfellows.

In the 19th century, a good number of the well-educated ruling classes ignored some of the stricter conventions of the time, as did the lower classes, who had more urgent battles to fight. One gifted upper-class, Irish-born writer of the time did not escape the censorious wrath of the public and the legal system. Oscar Wilde (1854–1900) unwisely brought a libel suit against the Marquis of Queensberry, who had publicly accused him of homosexuality. Despite his high educational and class status, he lost his case in the English courts and was sentenced to a brief but difficult prison term. He wrote the Ballad of Reading Gaol and De Profundis in response to his prison experience. Later, Wilde lived anonymously in Paris, where he died in poverty. To this day, Wilde's work evokes a homophobic response from some, and his writings are omitted from the curricula of certain universities and colleges with fundamentalist religious ties.

The Norwegian dramatist Henrik Ibsen (1828–1906), much ahead of his time, dealt with themes of women's struggles to break the oppressive bonds of male domination, as in the case of Nora in The Doll's House. American writers of the era also reflected the several themes of Victorian culture. Among these was the poet Emily Dickinson (1830–1886), given little notice while she lived and today often treated with sentimentality and oversimplicity. Her "sentimental" inclinations may more accurately be seen from the perspective of another, darker side: Paglia observes that "the brutality of this belle of Amherst would stop a truck."

Modern Literature

Among novelists writing at the beginning of the 20th century, themes of decadence, evoking Byronic Romanticism, reappeared. Turn-of-the-century German art and literature was increasingly inclined toward a view of the world as decadent. This outlook is clearly demonstrated in Thomas Mann's Death in Venice (1912), with its images of the longing of a German artist for a lovely Polish boy while languishing in Venice. The artist's passion for the boy, whom he simply wishes to watch from a distance, finally reduces the man to a dyed and rouged caricature. He stays far too long in plague-ridden Venice, a city of ruin that serves as a metaphor for the decadence and decay Mann saw in his time.

Meanwhile in the United States, there existed an increasingly urbanized and depersonalized working class, as in Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy (1925). Here, a young man of promise is destroyed not by the untouchable and beautiful, but by a shabby fling with a young working woman. Indeed, both are brought down in this overwritten but socially revealing novel. Dreiser's Sister Carrie with its central "fallen woman" theme is an even more compelling example and was suppressed by its publisher at the time for "immorality." Around this time and somewhat after, Henry James (1843–1916) and Edith Wharton (1862–1937) wrote of a different America, one of privilege and oppressive custom. Henry James addressed "social suffocation" in The Bostonians, in which two strikingly different suitors—one a somewhat older feminist lesbian, the other an attractive but dominant heterosexual young man—vie for the heart (and mind) of a young "lady."

By contrast with James, Wharton's writings are refreshingly free of tentative phrasing. Gore Vidal points out, in his introduction to The Edith Wharton Omnibus, that "spades got called spades" in Edith Wharton's novels; as a result, she saw herself as ever at war with "editorial timidity." Like James, she found life abroad more congenial. As an intelligent upper-class woman, she enjoyed a much freer life in Paris, where other intellectuals would not only acknowledge but also admire her gifts and where she had no need to worry about offending "a non-existent clergyman in the Mississippi valley." She writes quite openly, in her short story "New Year's Day," of a character recalling an adulterous affair in which upper-class lovers used to meet at an upper East Side hotel. An elderly man responds, "They might meet in the middle of Fifth Avenue nowadays, for all that anybody cares." Still, the dominant repression of middle-class Victorian England and America persisted well into the 20th century.

The agent provocateur and preeminent rebel against sexual prudery is Henry Miller (1891 - 1980), who quite deliberately used rawly explicit sexual description to provoke a response from a sexually repressed culture. He, too, left for Paris, an increasingly popular haven for exiles among the "angry young men" (and women) of the earlier 20th century. It was one of a number of European locales to which James Joyce (1882-1941), arguably the greatest writer of his time, was drawn after leaving his native Ireland.

Of English culture of the time after World War I, the French-born editor and publisher Girodias wrote:

England was so strongly prudish in those post war years. It seems hard to understand how a whole generation of men who had been through the toughest of wars—and won—could be reduced to the level of schoolchildren, and be told what to read and what not to read by a conglomerate of spinsters and bowler-hatted policemen. [My father was] revolted by the near-hysterical conformism of that society which covered with abuse a man like D.H. Lawrence, (author of Lady Chatterly's Lover) and let him be tormented and quartered by the hounds of decency. (pp. 13–14)
Despite the times, especially as experienced in England and America, the most outstanding work of literature containing vivid sexual imagery appeared in Paris in 1922: James Joyce's Ulysses. Even those who have never read the whole of this work are aware of the soliloquy Molly Bloom delivers as she drifts toward sleep. She reminisces about the men in her life, collectively referred to as "he" (which heightens the centrality of the sexual in this passage). She ends, as does the book, with the following words:
And I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then, he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.
Before the middle of the century, Ernest Hemingway (1899–1961) was to reflect the angst of the relatively privileged professional class. He wrote in a hypermasculine style, which reflected a threatened male identity. His themes were of the stereotypical primal male figure, whose identity and freedom are under siege by sexually aggressive women. His protagonists must struggle repeatedly to prove to themselves and to others that they have not been symbolically (or in one case, literally) emasculated. Hemingway's misogynist "man's world" imagery was to reappear later in the writings of Norman Mailer (1923–), as in The Deer Park. A more furtive struggle to meet the "ideal" definition of contemporary manhood is a repetitive theme in the novels of John Updike (1932–). In the final book of the Rabbit series, Harry Angstrom has become an aging male spending much of his later marital life in a Florida condominium. He struggles both to deny a failing body and to "keep up with" his increasingly self-confident and sexually vital wife. The ascendance of female sexuality and independence, albeit painfully purchased, is an increasingly apparent theme in the writings of both contemporary English and American woman authors, such as Margaret Drabble (1939–), Doris Lessing (1919–), and Joyce Carol Oates (1938–).

Echoes of a recurring theme of decadent Romanticism in 20th-century Anglo-American writers are found in the fiction and in the posthumously published journals of John Cheever (1912-1982). They illuminate his struggles to come to terms both with his feelings about his ambivalent sexual identity and with his alcoholism.

The upheaval of the Great War in the early 20th century accelerated changes in Europe and America, and these changes were reflected in the works of a number of writers of the time—for example, in their treatments of the 1920s. This was a period of gains in women's rights and, with the growing accessibility of the automobile, of relaxation of sexual mores both for the educated classes and, to an extent, for the working classes. The sexual availability and exploitation of working-class women were clearly addressed by Dreiser. By contrast, in F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby (1925), Daisy Buchanan, the privileged, narcissistic young woman with whom Gatsby is obsessed, is described as having a very "indiscreet" voice, one that is "filled" with the sound of money. While she, too, suffers psychologically, it is the maltreated wife of a gas station owner whose life is lost when she is run over by the careless Daisy. Later, writers such as Norman Mailer were to rail against the male's struggles with mothers or mother figures who would try to render males impotent.

Among Latino writers, despite the historical constraints posed by Catholicism in Latin-American countries, the literature of the later decades of the 20th century reflects richness and exuberance. This quality is not unlike the sensuality present in the love of color, ritual, and celebration that is so much a part of Latino life in general. The unrestrained approach to the sexual in some of the writings of Gabriel García Marquéz (1928–) and of the Nobel Prize-winning poet Octavio Paz (1914–) attests to the fullness with which the Latino culture embraces the many emotions of life, including sexual passion. Pablo Neruda (1904–1973) captures the moment with a sensuality, passion, and existential appreciation so untypical of the heritage of Anglo-Saxon writers. His poem "Love" (translated by Alastair Reid) contains a clear illustration of appreciation of the moment:

Of everything I have seen,
It's you I want to go on seeing;
Of everything I've touched,
It's your flesh I want to go on touching.
I love your orange laughter.
I am moved by the sight of you sleeping.
A similarly rich culture of frank and open treatment of sexual themes, both homo- and heteroerotic, has long been represented in the work of African-American men and women, among them such diverse writers as James Baldwin (1924–1987), Maya Angelou (1928–), and Alice Walker (1949–). Typical of the sensuality of African-American poetry is a passage from "Harlem Sweeties," by Langston Hughes (1902–1967):
Brown sugar lassie,
Caramel treat,
Honey-gold baby
Sweet enough to eat.


In recognition of the late-20th-century anxieties over individual, sexual, and political depersonalization, it seems appropriate to note George Orwell's anticipation of increasing political repression and the erosion of sexual and other individual rights as portrayed in his prescient novel 1984. This discussion of erotic themes in modern literature ends on a troubling note: the advent of the AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) epidemic, extending to every part of the world, underscores an already reactionary agenda. Reflecting an additional concern, the Canadian writer Margaret Atwood, in The Handmaid's Tale, describes a world in which the sexual is subverted to the will of a theocratic police state and its supporters. Procreation is depicted as an obligation on the part of fertile women, who are kept as virtual slaves to couple with men who are their masters in every sense of the word. Sexual behavior once again is shown as a furtive, mechanical business, to be conducted without disrobing and to be experienced without joy. Abortion is strictly forbidden. While far from the major theme of sexual imagery in literature at the current time, it reflects all too well a world in which self-appointed "others" admonish women, with force if necessary, to play out the role of procreative vessels. The welfare of offspring, once born, is of strikingly little interest to late-20th-century watchdogs of public (and where possible, private) morality. It is within this historical moment that Atwood created her not-altogether-futuristic novel.


Bullough, V.L. The Christian Inheritance. In V.L. Bullough and J. Brundage, eds. Sexual Practices and the Medieval Church. Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1982.

Bullough, V.L. Sexual Variance in Society and History. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1976.

Foucault, M. The Uses of Pleasure. New York: Random House, 1985.

Girodias, M., ed. The Olympia Reader. New York: Grove Press, 1965.

Kingdon, F. Literature and Sex. In A. Ellis and A. Abarbanel, eds. The Encyclopedia of Sexual Behavior. New York: Jason Aronson, 1973.

Paglia, C. Sexual Personae. New York: Vintage, 1991.

Veronica Diehl Elias


Love and sex occupy strangely separate but intermingled positions within the Western tradition of values. Following Plato, the early church drew a fine line between sacred love (agape) and profane love (eros), associating the former with the spirit and the latter with the flesh. The church enshrined and blessed agape as the vehicle by which the soul ascended to heaven, but consigned wanton eros to hell, along with the "vile" body that gave it life. The medieval tradition of courtly love considered it more noble if love were not debased by sexual consummation, and more sensible if sex were not complicated by love. The modern Playboy philosophy also separates love from sex, but pays more attention to the shudder of the loins than the flutter of the heart.

Although a happy concomitance is often observed, love and sex for the individual human being are certainly distinct phenomena that can, and often are, pursued independently. But the position taken here is that love is an evolutionary epiphenomenon of sex that evolved to serve the species, a position taken by Schopenhauer ("Love is a snare set by sex to ensure the survival of the species.") However, love is much more than a simple derivative of sex. Love springs from sex, and thus shares with it a certain oneness of essence, but love pursues an independent existence and, in doing so, elevates and ennobles that from which it sprang.

Our sexual appetites are more than sufficient to ensure plentiful pregnancies, but reproduction alone is not sufficient for the survival of a species whose young experience such a long dependency period. As we ascend the phylogenetic tree, offspring dependency periods become longer and longer, and increasing emotional attachment of mother and offspring is observed.

However, a similar increase in emotional attachment between nonhuman mammalian adult males and females is not observed as we go up the phylogenetic tree. No lovelike affinity is observed among stallions, bulls, or dogs for the last mare, cow, or bitch mated with, and the feeling is mutual. For species with short-lived dependency periods, the only necessary male role is the provision of stud service. Thus, the "love as derivative of sex" proposition is not a general biological principle throughout the entire mammalian kingdom.

An emotional attachment between men and women that is qualitatively different from the frenetic mating of lower species had to evolve, not to simply attract them to one another but also to keep them attached to one another sufficiently long to raise the vulnerable fruits of their passion. Human love in its ideal form is attraction plus attachment. Anthropological evidence suggests that infant and child mortality rates among Plio-Pleistocene hominids were very high, and would have risen to levels threatening the survival of the species had not some evolutionary mechanisms been selected into the human repertoire of traits to bond male and female together as a child-rearing team.

The evolution of love probably had a lot to do with the importance of intelligence for our species. Humans are a physically puny species with low fecundity. Such a combination of disabilities would have been disastrous for our hominid ancestors had they been as highly adapted to a particular ecological niche as many species are. The more a species is adapted to a particular niche, the more responses to environmental stimuli are fixed and invariable. In essence, this means that the genes of such a species code for brains with neurons that are "hard wired" (directly and permanently connected) to assure that species members will instinctively pay attention and respond appropriately to aspects of the environment that are vital and ubiquitous.

Because of the vulnerability of our hominid ancestors to predators, they had to depend on guile to survive encounters with them and had to migrate frequently to new environments to avoid them. Hard-wired, fixed responses to stimuli would be counterproductive to organisms inhabiting highly variable environments in which new responses were constantly required. This meant that the genes had to surrender much of their behavioral control of proto-humans to a less rigid and fixed system for determining responses to stimuli—the plastic human brain.

Human infants are developmentally about one year behind most other mammalian infants at birth, and their brain weight triples during the first year. If the human infant were as develop-mentally precocious as nonhuman mammals, its head would be too large to pass through the birth canal. To accommodate natural selection for increasing human brain size, evolution settled on the strategy of human infants being born at earlier and earlier stages of development.

The helpless infant needs someone to administer to its needs unconditionally. The selfless and unconditional care and regard for another human being is called love. It is during this period of maximum dependency that the infant's brain is quite literally being "wired" (the process of synaptogenesis) by its experiences. Whether or not the neuronal pathways to the pleasure centers are sufficiently strong to enable the organism to love (as opposed to simply copulating) as an adult depends to a great extent on this early experience.

Hormonal and neuronal substrates that cement mother-infant love have been identified. For instance, estradiol lowers the threshold for the firing of nerve fibers in the medial preoptic area of the female brain, an area associated with increased nurturing behavior in females. The male preoptic is insensitive to estradiol. It has been shown that progesterone and estradiol administered artificially to virgin rats will evoke maternal behavior and that oxytocin, released in response to suckling, "intensifies" maternal behavior.

A strong propensity to become emotionally attached to mother and to other care givers who provide food, protection, and a secure base from which to explore the environment has obvious survival value for the young of the species. As a child gets older, we may adequately account for its attachment behavior as a function of its history of operant reinforcement (well-loved children are strongly attached, neglected and maltreated children hardly at all, or maladaptively so). But something a lot more basic than a cognitive appreciation of rewards and punishments must provide the foundation for attachment. A biological system of internal rewards and punishments had to evolve.

The endorphin peptides, the brain's natural opiates, probably provide the chemical foundation of attachment. When an infant is snuggled in mother's arms, its endorphins keep it contented. Separate the infant from its mother and its endorphin levels fall, and levels of the stress hormone cortisol rise, triggering anxiety and crying. It has been shown that only the administration of exogenous endorphins will mollify separated infants in the same way that reunion with mother will.

The intimate link between love and sex has its origins in the primary love bond between mother and infant, which is a function of the long human dependency period, which is in turn the result of evolutionary pressures selecting for intelligence. Two other evolutionary processes—the human female's loss of estrus and the species' gradual development of upright bipedalism—probably also contributed. Females have a large investment in parenthood; males contribute a few pelvic thrusts, after which they can be on their way. Nature had to devise a system by which males could be persuaded to remain with females after copulation to provide food and protection for them and their offspring. Let us be aware that it was the male that nature had to capture in love. Strong evolutionary pressures had already awakened general feelings of attachment in the female by virtue of her motherhood role. These same nascent feelings were also present in the male by virtue of his early attachment to his mother, which he now had to transfer to other females, and sex was the vehicle by which this was accomplished.

We know that most nonhuman mammalian species are sexually receptive only during estrus and are of interest to males only at that time. There was certainly a time in the history of our species when our female ancestors also experienced estrus. Some hominid females must have enjoyed longer periods of sexual receptivity than others. Males would have naturally been more solicitous of such females, providing them with extra food and protection (it is often noted that other primate males are far more attentive and generous to females when they are in estrus). Females enjoying long periods of sexual receptivity would be more likely to survive, as would their offspring. Over time, natural selection would spread the genes for longer receptivity throughout the population, eventually leading to the disappearance of human estrus altogether.

Assuming that natural selection for upright bipedalism was taking place coterminously with the gradual loss of estrus, sight would have largely replaced smell as the impetus to mate. Upright posture in hominids, with genitals now moved more toward the front, led to the uniquely human practice of frontal intercourse. Frontal intercourse involves far more skin contact than the old method of seizing the female from behind and staring off into space. Because of the intimate connection between the skin and the brain, formed as they are in utero by the same layer of tissue, humans find tactile stimulation very pleasurable. Under such conditions, sexual intercourse began more and more to recall the pleasures lovers once found in their mother's arms. The sucking of the lover's breasts; the warmth of skin contact, eye gazing, and nose nuzzling; and the feeling that all is right with the world (the endorphins in action) evoke deep unconscious memories of the mother-infant bond. Frontal intercourse mimicked and capitalized on the primary mother-infant bond and thus elevated the sexual drive above simple genital pleasure.

Frontal intercourse involves more of the human senses than were involved in the impersonality of belly-buttocks coupling. The evolution of intelligence and language enabled lovers to "know" the individual by translating their physical and visual pleasures into words and by naming each other. He or she is no longer simply a set of genitals, but a unique individual who captures and holds the imagination. The imagination allowed our ancestors, as it allows us, to replay previous sexual encounters with their lovers, to anticipate future ones, and to come to value sexual intercourse as the ultimate celebration of love.

Just as there is a chemistry of attachment, there is a chemistry of attraction. When we meet someone with whom we are to fall in love, his or her unique characteristics have an anabolic effect on the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis. It may be his intellect, power, athletic prowess, accent, or any number of things that sets her axis in motion. For the male, more reactive to visual stimuli, it may be her smile, the silkiness of her skin, or the delightful way her buttocks undulate as she walks.

Our intellectual appreciation of the loved one, combined with information relayed from our senses of sight, hearing, and touch, is processed in the limbic system, the brain's emotional center. The pleasure centers of the limbic system process the flood of information and sends it on to the hypothalamus, the part of the limbic system that, among other things, synthesizes hormones and activates sexual behavior. The excited hypothalamus instructs the pituitary gland to release a peptide called adrenocorticotropin releasing hormone (ACTH). ACTH is then transported through the bloodstream to receptors on the adrenal gland, which then releases a stress-related substance called corticosterone. This substance increases the metabolism of glucose, which results in the classic symptoms of love—flushed skin, sweating, heavy breathing, genital lubrication, and a pounding heart. When this intensely exciting state strikes us, we become different people. Our perceptions are drastically altered, the loved one becomes the center of our universe, the whole world seems to be a better place. Nature has emotionally enriched the human reproductive impulses with love, and in doing so she has immensely increased our enjoyment of both.

If this all sounds very much like a drug-induced high, that's because it is. Stimulant drugs such as cocaine and amphetamine have much the same effect as love's natural high. Whether we fall in love or take a stimulant drug, the upshot is increased limbic system activity in the form of increased neurotransmitter activity and neuroreceptor sensitivity. Nature has chemically wired us to feel good when we do things that encourage species survival: the opiates keep us safely attached as youngsters, and the stimulants excite us when we experience sexual attraction as adults.

There are no known neuroreceptors specific to exogenous stimulants such as the amphetamines. The primary action of amphetamine is to prompt the release of the excitatory catecholamine neurotransmitters such as dopamine and norepinephrine and to block their re-uptake at synaptic terminals. There is evidence suggesting that the stimulant substance that probably mediates our experience of romantic love is a naturally occurring amphetamine-like (and also mildly hallucinogenic) substance called phenyl-ethylamine (PEA). Since amphetamine is the prototype drug of PEA, it is not at all surprising that certain people are at risk of becoming "love junkies." In fact, love addiction has been characterized as the most common form of addiction known. Love addicts flit from person to person, falling in love with love (or more correctly, perhaps, with PEA) rather than with the person. They fall for all kinds of people indiscriminately because the reward is not the attributes of the lover, for he or she simply functions as a PEA-releasing mechanism.

The human connection between sex (attraction) and love (attraction plus attachment) is woman. There is a lot of truth in the aphorism that women give sex to get love and men give love to get sex. There is abundant evidence that women are more deeply embedded in the emotional life than are men. A study by Balzs and Walsh found that love was about 2.8 times more important to women than men. Tarvis and Sadd's study of 100,000 American women found that the most important aspect of sexual activity for women was emotional and "other" oriented rather than physical and "me" oriented. When asked what they enjoyed most about sex, most answered "feeling of closeness to my partner"; followed by "satisfying my partner"; "orgasm" was a distant third. Men tend to view sex as an end in itself, the product of which is orgasm, while women tend to view it as a process by which emotional closeness is achieved.

Male-female love-sex bonds are to a large extent governed by female reproductive behavior, which is governed by female regard for the survival of her offspring. Mother-infant and male-female bonds are biological; the infant-father bond is a purely human cultural concept. The fusion of these basic bonds became a template for the evolution of ever more complex human relationships and bonds—kinship, family, tribe, and so on up to society itself.

The pivotal figure in the extension of basic biological bonds to cultural bonds is woman, for she is the only figure common to both biological bonds. Such a pivotal figure might be expected to possess some special biological features. It has been suggested that the lesser degree of brain lateralization among women allows them greater verbal access to their emotions than men have. Another neural mechanism that may be involved in female emotionality is the prefrontal cortex. According to MacLean, the prefrontal area evolved in close relationship to the part of the limbic system involved in maternal care. Through its connection with the limbic system, it helps us to empathize, to gain insight into the felt life of others, and to understand it as if it were our own. It is the mechanism that leavens our rationality with feeling and guides our emotions through thought. Chauchard calls the prefrontal brain "the brain of the heart, the organ of love."

Given the close relationship between the prefrontal cortex and those areas of the limbic system involved in maternal care, it is reasonable to assume that the emotional messages arriving from the limbic system will retain more of their power after cortical integration in women than they will in men. In fact, it has been shown experimentally that women enjoy a greater capability than men to integrate pleasurable experiences into the neocortex. This capability may well be a function of the female brain's lesser degree of laterality. Pearsall believes so, and sees the tendency of males to be generally more self-oriented as a function, at least in part, of their left-brain tendency. He views the "whole-brain" tendency of females as producing beings more "other" and "us" oriented, and he also claims that the female orientation to the world is more in tune with the principles of healthy living. The implication is that woman's greater capacity for love, rooted within the limbic system and its associated endocrine processes, is augmented and reinforced within her rational brain, and is thus more capable of wide diffusion.


There was certainly a time in our evolutionary history when love, the active concern for the well-being of another, did not exist. The mating of male and female was all that was necessary for species survival when our distant ancestors slithered around in the primordial mud. Proto-humans became increasingly intelligent as environments became more complicated, and the selection for human intelligence necessitated the selection for human love. The first human love bond was between mother and infant, and nature capitalized on this bond and on the sex drive to develop male-female love bonds.

Sex can be seen as an empirical manifestation of a more fundamental principle that points to, but by no mean exhausts, the "essence" of love. The design of this principle is nothing less than the survival of the human species. Viewed in this larger evolutionary context, love and sex are complementary parts of an inclusive whole. We can connect genitals, and enjoy doing so, without connecting our souls, and we can enjoy the connection of souls without connecting our genitals. But when we connect both we experience the ultimate pleasure that nature has designed for us. As far as we know, we are the only creatures in the universe who can grasp the meaning and joy of love: that love is what we give as well as what we get, and that it is the creative medium by which we and our lovers become more than we ever thought possible.


Chauchard, P. Our Need for Love. New York: P.J. Kennedy, 1968.

Kalil, R.E. Synapse Formation in the Developing Brain. Scientific American, Dec. 1989, pp. 76-85.

Konnor, M. The Tangled Wing. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1982.

Liebowitz, M.R. The Chemistry of Love. New York: Berkley, 1984.

Long, M. Visions of a New Faith. Science Digest, Vol. 89 (1981), pp. 36–42.

MacLean, P. A Triune Concept of Brain and Behavior. Toronto: Univ. of Toronto Press, 1980.

McEwen, B.S. Neural Gonadal Steroid Actions. Science, Vol. 211 (1981), pp. 1303–11.

McGuinness, D. Away from Unisex Psychology: Individual Differences in Visual, Sensory and Perceptual Processes. Perception, Vol. 5 (1976), pp. 279–94.

Mellen, S. The Evolution of Love. San Francisco: W.H. Freeman, 1981.

Montagu, A. Growing Young. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1981.

Peele, S., and A. Brodsky. Love and Addiction. New York: Signet, 1975.

Pearsall, P. Superimmunity. New York: Ballantine Books, 1987.

Rossi, A.S. Parenthood in Transition. In J. Lancaster, et al., eds. Parenting Across the Lifespan. New York: Aldine De Gruyter, 1986.

Shaver, P., C. Hazan, and D. Bradshaw. Love and Attachment: The Integration of Three Behavioral Systems. In R. Sternberg and M. Barns, eds. The Psychology of Love. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1988.

Tarvis, C., and S. Sadd. The Redbook Report on Female Sexuality. New York: Delacorte, 1977.

Walsh, A. Neurophysiology, Motherhood, and the Growth of Love. Human Mosiac, Vol. 17 (1983), pp. 51–62.

Walsh, A. The Science of Love: Understanding Love and its Effects on Mind and Body. Buffalo: Prometheus Press, 1991.

Walsh, A., and G.J. Balazs. Love, Sex, and Self-Esteem. Free Inquiry in Creative Sociology, Vol. 18 (1990), pp. 37–42.

Wilson, P. Man, the Promising Primate. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1980.

Anthony Walsh


Lovemaps is a new sexological term initially coined for classroom lectures in the late 1970s. It was first published in 1981 in an abstract for a conference in Sydney, Australia, and appeared more formally in an encyclopedia article tided "Pairbonding and Limerence," by John Money in 1983. The term was introduced as follows:

"Children who grow up together manifest remarkable conformity in the way they speak. There is less conformity in the features of their mental lovemaps. The explanation for nonconformity almost certainly lies in the fact that society forbids overt juvenile age - mate sharing of rehearsals of erotosexualism."

In these three sentences, it is predicated of lovemaps that, like native language, they are not inborn as a finished product; that their formation is contingent on social input in childhood; and that individual nonconformities in their formation are related to the sexology of child rearing. As functional entities, lovemaps exist synchronously in the brain and the mind (the brainmind). They are a product of neither nature nor nurture acting alone but of each in conjunction with the other at a critical developmental period. Then, once formed, lovemaps are typically tenacious and long lasting. The formal definition of lovemap is as follows: "A developmental representation or template in the brain or mind in which is depicted the idealized lover, the idealized love affair, and the idealized program of sexuoerotical activity with that lover, projected in imagery and ideation, or in actual performance."

With respect to sexuoerotical orientation toward a partner, a lovemap may develop so as to be ultimately heterosexual, bisexual, or homosexual. Very rarely, partner orientation is omitted from the lovemap, and it is said to be asexual or anerotic. For the majority of the population, the lovemap is heterosexual, for a minority homosexual, and for an unknown proportion bisexual. By definition, a minority in any population is not statistically average, typical, or normal. However, being statistically nonaverage, atypical, or abnormal does not mean that a minority is, therefore, ideologically abnormal in the stigmatized sense of being undesirable or deviant. It was in recognition of this principle that the American Psychiatric Association in the 1980 revision of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual removed the stigma of deviancy and mental illness from the minority of the population with a homosexual lovemap, and reclassified this minority simply as a minority—just as people with a mental map for left-handedness are a minority. People do not choose or prefer to have a homosexual lovemap, or a heterosexual or a bisexual one. Lovemaps are the outcome of their own combined prenatal and postnatal laws of development—laws that are still in the process of being discovered.

Irrespective of sexuoerotical orientation, if a lovemap forms so as to be other than normophilic, then it may be functionally hypophilic (insufficient), hyperphilic (excessive), or paraphilic (altered). Normophilic might be defined as conforming to the statistical norm. In the United States, however, sexological surveys from which to ascertain the statistical norm are interdicted by the federal government. By default, therefore, normophilic means conforming to an ideological norm. What is ideal in sex, and hence ideal in the lovemap, varies historically and transculturally; for the most part it is imposed by those with more power on those with less. Thus, there are no absolute dividing lines between normophilic and hypophilic or hyperphilic sexuoeroticality, or between normophilic and paraphilic.

Paraphilic sexuoeroticality is known on the street as kinky or deviant sex, and in psychoanalysis and the criminal justice system as perverted. Money's formal definition of paraphilia is as follows:

A condition occurring in men and women of being compulsively and obligatively fixated on an unusual and personally or socially unacceptable stimulus or scene, which may be experienced perceptually or ideationally and imagistically, as in fantasy or dream, and which is prerequisite to initiation and maintenance of sexuoerotical arousal and the facilitation or attainment of orgasm (from Greek, para-, altered,+ philia, love).
Paraphilic lovemaps and their manifestations in imagery, ideation, and behavior do not, of and by themselves alone, qualify as pathological. They may be playful (ludic), in which case they do not have the tenacious hold of fixation or addiction and are not obsessively and compulsively repetitious in defiance of consequences. In addition, they do not intrude on the inviolacy of the partner, and they are not brutally violent, injurious, or murderous toward the self or others. There are 40-odd lovemaps named for the 40-odd paraphilias listed by Money (1993). The exact number depends on how detailed are the criteria of classification.

In paraphilia, and likewise in hypophilia and hyperphilia, there is a cleavage between love and lust in the design of the lovemap. In hypophilia, the cleavage is such that lust is dysfunctional and infrequently activated, whereas love and lovebonding are intact. In hyperphilia, lust and lustbonding displace love and lovebonding, and the genitalia function in the service of lust alone, typically with a plurality of partners and with compulsive frequency. In paraphilia, love and lovebonding are compromised because the genitalia continue to function in the service of lust, but according to the specifications of a metamorphosed lovemap and often with compulsive frequency also. The redesigned lovemap manifests itself in ideation and fantasy, and in the staging of that fantasy in an actual performance with a partner in lust who is not the same as the partner in affectionate lovebonding.

In response to the neglect, suppression, or traumatization of its normophilic formation, a lovemap develops with paraphilic distortions—namely, omissions, displacements, and inclusions—that would otherwise have no place in it. A paraphilia permits sexuoerotical arousal, genital performance, and orgasm to take place, but only under the aegis, in fantasy or live performance, of the special substitute imagery and ideation of the paraphilia.

A paraphilia is a strategy for turning tragedy into triumph according to the flip-flop principle of opponent-process theory, whereby that which was negative flip-flops to positive. This strategy preserves sinful lust in the lovemap by dissociating it from saintly love.

Sexosophy, the philosophy of sex characteristic of each major religion, influences the childhood development of lovemaps and their paraphilias. The definitive characteristic of the sexosophy of Christendom is the doctrine of the split between saintly love and sinful lust. This doctrine is all-pervasive. It penetrates all the institutions of contemporary Christendom. One way or another, usually quite deviously, it penetrates all our child-rearing practices. Inevitably, therefore, it penetrates the formation of lovemaps in the early years of childhood. That is why the pathological lovemaps of the paraphilias are understandable, developmentally, in saint-and-sinner terms.

It has not hitherto been recognized that very ancient teachings or paleodigms, expressed as religious parables, strategies, or formulas, undergo transformation so as to be scarcely recognizable in their new guise, as in a paraphilia, for example. To understand the significance of religious paleodigms is to open a new universe of discourse in the etiology, treatment, and prevention of sexological as well as other disorders. Paleodigms have ready applicability in pastoral counseling and in designing sexual-learning programs for parents intent on rearing their children so as to maximize the developmental healthiness of their lovemaps.

Paraphilias are not generated at random. They belong to one of seven categories: sacrificial/expiatory; marauding/predatory; mercantile/venal; fetishistic/talismanic; stigmatic/eligibilic; solicitational/allurative, and subrogational/understudyship. The 40 or so paraphilias distributed among these six categories have not only an individual or ontogenetic history but also a species or phylogenetic history. There are specific phylogenetic components or phylisms, which may become ontogenetically entrained or recruited into the lovemap as a consequence of a sexologically negative childhood. If that happens, then the childhood development of the lovemap changes from normophilic into paraphilic.

The lovemaps of normophilic people are not identical but, like faces and fingerprints, individually variable in their details. Nonetheless, there are ten general principles, or constants, that lovemaps all over the world share in common:

1. Age: Lovemaps specify the ideal partner's age or age range, which may or may not be concordant with one's own age.

2. Physique: Lovemaps are typically very detailed in specifying the physical characteristics of the ideal partner, ranging from body build and facial features to eye and hair color, and lightness or darkness of the skin.

3. Gender: Lovemaps specify whether the ideal partner will be male or female, or either.

4. Kinship: Lovemaps specify whether the ideal partner will or will not be a close or distant member of the same kinship group, irrespective of whether kinship is societally defined according to the criterion of genetic or totemic relatedness or of relatedness through marriage.

5. Caste or class: From beginnings early in life, lovemaps incorporate ideals of partner eligibility and exclusion on the criteria (in addition to age, physique, and appearance) of tribe, race, nationality, language, religion, caste, social class, education, occupation, wealth, and health, as well as insignia of group membership, such as the right to wear a uniform.

6. Number: Lovemaps incorporate criteria as to whether the number of partners in the course of a lifetime will be none, one, or more.

7. Overlap: Lovemaps incorporate strategies for the realization of multiple partnerships as being ideally either concurrent or sequential.

8. Span: Lovemaps specify whether multiple partnerships, ideally, will be casual and transient, formal and long lasting, or a combination of both.

9. Privacy: Lovemaps specify the degree to which social, courtship, and sexuoerotical interaction with a partner will ideally be chaperoned or unrestricted, and whether it will ideally take place concealed and in private or exposed and in public.

10. Accessories: Lovemaps specify the degree to which romantic and sexuoerotical interaction will ideally be straitlaced and prudish or hedonic and emancipated both in scope and in the use of erotic or sexual accessories, including contraception.

The male-female difference in lovemaps has become enmeshed in the outmoded shibboleth of nature versus nurture. The dogma of the contemporary school of social constructionists is that the difference is attributable exclusively to nurture. Constructionism defines its adversary as essentialism and equates it with biology and the medical model.

It is indisputable that the formation of lovemaps in childhood is highly responsive to gender stereotypes and to other social input, both negative and positive. Nonetheless, it is similarly indisputable, notably on the basis of experimental animal evidence, that social input is superimposed on a species-derived (phylogenetic) male-female difference. In the human species, as in other primates, male lovemaps are, by phylogenetic design, more visual in their content, whereas female lovemaps are, also by phylogenetic design, more tactile or haptic. This difference is not absolute. There is a great deal of male-female overlap and also of individual difference.

One sign of the predominantly visual nature of male lovemaps is the explicit visual imagery of boys' wet dreams at puberty, for which there are no exact counterparts in girls. The visual imagery of wet dreams is the equivalent of pictorial pornography. In females, the counterpart of visual imagery and pornography is touchy-feely or haptic imagery and pornography. This difference is the source of age-old sexuoerotical misunderstanding between males and females —for example, between mothers and their adolescent sons, and fathers and their adolescent daughters.

Reciprocal matching of the lovemaps of two people brings intense and euphoric mutual satisfaction. Mismatching, the source of love unrequited, brings intense suffering and lovesickness. In a sex-negative society, disclosure of the intimate personal details of one's own lovemap allows one to be vulnerable to the misery of lovemap mismatching and the failure of mutual intimacy. In a budding romance, reciprocal disclosure of lovemaps reduces, but does not eliminate, the risk of mismatching.

It is not possible to borrow or copy another person's lovemap. Moreover, lovemaps are not caught by social contagion from role models, good or bad, nor are they caught by social contagion through contact with pornography, either normophilic or paraphilic. They have their own principles and timetable for growth in childhood. Lovemap biographies indicate, time and again, that the years around age eight are of crucial importance. After that, though finishing touches may be added, lovemaps are for the most part in place, ready to unfold in full, along with the hormones of puberty and adolescence.


Money, J. Gay, Straight, and In-Between: The Sexology of Erotic Orientation. New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1988.

Money, J. Lovemaps: Clinical Concepts of Sexual/Erotic Health and Pathology. Paraphilia, and Gender Transposition in Childhood, Adolescence, and Maturity. New York: Irvington, 1986; Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1993.

Money, J. Pairbonding and Limerence. In B.B. Wolman, ed. International Encyclopedia of Psychiatry, Psychology, Psychoanalysis and Neurology. Volume I. New York: Macmillan, 1983.

Money, J. Pedophilia: A Specific Instance of New Phylism Theory as Applied to Paraphilic Lovemaps. In J.R. Feierman, ed. Pedophilia: Biosocial Dimensions. New York: Springer-Verlag, 1990.

John Money

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