Human Rights and Sexual Rights

The Legacy of René Guyon

Erwin J. Haeberle

First published in: Medicine and Law, no. 2, 1983, pp. 159 - 172



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European Sexology and Sexual Reform
Rene Guyon - Legal Philosopher Between East and West
Guyon's Critique of the League of Nations
Guyon's Critique of the United Nations
The Writings of René Guyon

The history of Human Rights and the full range of the now existing relevant declarations, covenants, and treaties are not very widely known. Indeed, the average man and woman, even in the Western developed countries, may find this knowledge rather difficult to obtain. The available literature is both sparse and unsystematic [1]. Most people, therefore, probably cannot say whether, where, or to what extent sexual rights have been recognized as human rights. As a matter of fact, sexual freedom is not usually seen as a human rights issue.

However, there is a sound historical and practical basis for such a view. The idea of human rights itself, while traceable, in part, to the ancient Greek sophists, some stoic philosophers, and certain Christian reformers, is essentially a modern idea. Beginning in the Renaissance, it was developed by religious, political, and legal thinkers, who used a revived and refashioned Natural-Law doctrine to assert the sovereignty of "the people" against the abuses of power by absolute monarchs. Eventually, the Age of Enlightenment proceeded to claim additional "unalienable" rights even for the individual, protecting him against tyrannical majorities of his own peers. The American Declaration of Independence (1776), the French Déclaration des droits de l'homme et du citoyen (1789), and the "Bill of Rights" as part of the U.S. Constitution (1791) are the major milestones in this development. Of course, de facto slaves, women, and other groups remained disenfranchised at the time. Nevertheless, in principle, universal rights to liberty, property, freedom of religion and of the press, equality before the law, etc. had, for the first time in human history, been recognized. The traditional power of government, which now had to guarantee these rights, was thus not only limited, but also set on a course of increasing democratization, granting more and more human rights to ever larger segments of the population.

In any case, the industrial revolution soon made it clear that the original catalog of human rights had to be expanded, since a growing proletariat was unable to profit from them fully without first winning certain social and economic rights, such as a right to an education and to a healthy work place, a right to organize in labor unions and to strike, etc.. Thus, the 19th and early 20th centuries saw a considerable expansion of individual rights, answering the concerns of a formerly small and neglected, but now increasingly combative "underclass". The experience of the Great Depression finally prompted Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1941 to include a right to economic security in his declaration of the "Four Freedoms": the freedom of speech, the freedom of religion, the freedom from want, and the freedom from fear [2]. These demands then became part of the subsequent Atlantic Charter and inspired the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), which, in 1966, was followed by a Convenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights an a Convenant on Civil and Political Rights. In addition, U.N. declarations and conventions now try to protect refugees, the rights of women, children and prisoners, and they condemn racism, discrimination and genocide.

It is noteworthy, however, that these and other U.N. human rights documents say nothing at all about sexual rights in the more specific sense, such as the right to sex education, free choice of sexual partner or sexual activity, a right to contraception or abortion. This is all the more remarkable as the fight for some of these rights by now already has a long international history. For example, at least since the days of the 19th-century Neo-Malthusians, a woman's right to birth control has been linked to her ability to achieve economic security on her own. It was also recognized that she needed this basis in order to exercise many other human rights already granted in theory, but often denied in practice because of her economically dependent status. Many early feminists, therefore, saw sexual rights as being basically political in nature, i.e. as part and parcel of human rights. Moreover, this view was widely shared by male supporters, especially those who promoted a new, special "science of sex" or sexology and, through it, universal sexual reform.

European Sexology and Sexual Reform

Sexology, as a science in its own right, was first proposed in 1906 by the Berlin dermatologist Iwan Bloch, who, only six years later, also began to publish the first Comprehensive Handbook of Sexology in Monographs [3]. In his introduction to the first volume (on prostitution), Bloch points to an illustrious predecessor and to the first plan for a truly sexological study in Western literature: Wilhelm von Humboldt and his unrealized History of Dependency in the Human Race (1827/28). In the preliminary sketch for this work, which had grown out of a still earlier plan to write allistory of Whoring (1790's), the author had contrasted the "history of the female sex" and that of "human servitude" with the "history of dependency in male freedom". Thus, for the great educational reformer Humboldt, the social inequality of the sexes had, in fact, provided the impetus for an "englightened" investigation [4].

The fact that this investigation was not carried out at the time, made it all the more urgent for Bloch and his sexological colleagues, who now felt they had the necessary scientific means at their disposal. After discussing Humboldt's plan, Bloch therefore outlines his own and states quite clearly:

It will be the task of this first ... handbook to prepare the way for honest, free and independent research and to lay the foundation ... for a reorganization and an improvement of sexual relations on the basis of the changed cultural conditions. Sexual reform on the basis of sexual science (Sexualwissenschaft)! That is the task of the future [5].

Bloch also did not hesitate to lend sexual reformers his active support. Together with Max Marcuse, another sexological pioneer, he joined the Association for the Protection of Mothers (Bund für Mutterschutz), which, founded in 1905, soon became an important force for female emancipation under the leadership of Helene Stöcker. Indeed, the year 1911 saw the founding of an International Association for the Protection of Mothers and Sexual Reform in Dresden, with both Stöcker. and Bloch as members of the governing board. Just as its national German counterpart, this wider organization demanded full legal equality for "illegitimate" children, an end to discrimination against their mothers, marriage reform, and sex education in public schools. Again, the support of sexologists was emphatic. Indeed, at the very founding congress of 1911, Magnus Hirschfeld, the editor of the first Journal for Sexology (1908), gave a well-received lecture on "Sexology as the Basis for Sexual Reform".

Of course, by that time Hirschfeld himself had already been active for fourteen years as the founder and leader of the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee (1897), the world's first homosexual rights organization, which worked for the abolition of German sodomy laws. (This struggle was to continue for many more decades even after Hirschfeld's death and eventually met success only in the late 1960's - 1967 East Germany and 1969 West Germany.) In any case, the sexual reformers Hirschfeld and Stöcker. soon formed a close alliance, supporting each other's aims. For example, Hirschfeld pioneered marriage counseling services, among other things, and Stöcker. used all her influence to fight back new attempts to extend the sodomy laws to women. Although, as a heterosexual, she had no personal stake in the matter, she strongly supported her lesbian sisters, demanding individual freedom from unreasonable government interference:

If the sexual taste of some individuals leads them to behavior not shared by the general public, it is entirely their private business, as long as they are free, independent human beings and no abuse of authority and no minors are involved.... We have to arrive at a state where we are no longer offended by different kinds of love, but regard the interference in people's private lives by third parties or the state as "perverted" and "abnormal" [6].

While Stöcker was successful in this limited area (lesbian behavior remained legal in Germany), she experienced defeat in many others, especially in her fight for legalized abortions. This issue proved so divisive, that she lost the support even of many women, and, as a result, the progress of her organization was seriously impaired. A further setback was the First World War, which silenced many other cries for reform. Shocked by the mindlessness and brutality of this war, Stöcker. more and more turned to pacifism as the most effective way of eradicating the root causes of human misery, eventually fleeing Nazi Germany for Switzerland, England, Sweden, the Soviet Union, and the United States, where she died in 1943. Today an unjustly forgotten figure, she deserves further study as one of the most important feminists and sexual reformers of our century [7].

Not surprisingly, Helene Stöcker was also involved in the World League for Sexual Reform, which was founded in Copenhagen in 1928, held several international congresses in London (1929), Vienna (1930) and Brno (1932), and whose first three presidents were Auguste Forel, Havelock Ellis, and Magnus Hirschfeld. This important and far-flung organization pursued a consciously reformist (not revolutionary) course in demanding universal sexual rights. Thus, it alienated some of the more "political" sexologists, such as Wilhelm Reich, who found it too half-hearted, "bourgeois", and tame. However, when Nazism triumphed in Germany, the other European countries also became less hospitable even to modest sexual reforms. As a result, the League split into a more cautious camp under the leadership of Norman Haire in England and a radical faction under J. H. Leunbach in Denmark. Soon thereafter, it dissolved, most of its demands still unrealized. Still, if only for the historical record, the often repeated goals of the League deserve to be quoted here, as they summarize the demands of the entire sexual reform movement before the Second World War:

1. Equal privileges and obligations for men and women in regard to their sexual lives as in their political and economic lives.
2. Liberation of the marital relationship from Church domination. Reforms of the laws regulating marriage and divorce.
3. Control of conception (Birth Control, Prevenception) so that procreation may be undertaken deliberately and only with a due sense of responsibility.
4. Application of the knowledge of Eugenics towards improvement of the race through Birth Selection. (Encouragement of propagation of the fit and gifted, and sterilization of the unfit.)
5. Protection of the unmarried mother and the "illegitimate" child.
6. Proper, scientific understanding of variations in sexual constitutions (intersexuality) and a correspondingly rational attitude, for instance, toward homosexual men and women.
7. Systematic education in the biology of sex, especially regarding the problems of venereal disease, masturbation and abstinence. To promote a healthy attitude towards sex, including the knowledge of sane sex living, and not complicated by any sense of guilt.
8. Legal and social reforms regarding prostitution in order to eliminate its dangers (especially venereal disease).
9. Disturbances and abnormalities of the sexual impulse to be regarded as more or less pathological phenomena and not as crimes, vices or sins.
10. Reform of the penal code in regard to sexual offenses. Only those sexual acts to be considered criminal which violate the rights of another person. Protection of minors and feebleminded persons. Sexual acts between responsible adults, undertaken by mutual consent, to be regarded as their private affair (and not liable to legal actions.)

Differentiation between crime and vice; the former - as antisocial - being an object of the law; the control of the latter - as a personal problem - being an object of education [8].

Rene Guyon - Legal Philosopher Between East and West

While sexologists and sexual reformers advanced their ideas in Europe, an isolated Frenchman independently developed a corresponding sexual philosophy in the Far East. René Guyon, born in Sedan on May 27, 1876, had received his doctorate in law at the university of Paris in 1902, and, after a few years of practice as a lawyer and judge in France, had been called to the Kingdom of Siam in 1908 to help in drafting new legal codes. Eventually, he became head of the "Committee of Redaction" and, after the completion of the work, published a report The Work of Codification in Siam (1919). He also traveled extensively in Europe, Northern Africa, Siberia, China, Indochina, Malaya and Indonesia. He then became a legislative advisor to the Ministry of Justice in Bangkok and finally a justice of the Supreme Court of Appeals in the same city. In 1940, he adopted the nationality of his new home country and the Thai name Pichan Bulayong. During his retirement, sometime after 1956, he married a young Thai woman. He died in 1963.

To the extent that Guyon's name is still known outside of Thailand, it is usually connected to a radical, and by now almost legendary, sexological work the nine volumes of his Studies in Sexual Ethics (1929-44). The first six of these volumes were published in France before 1939, but subsequently banned by the Pétain government. The first two volumes were also translated into English and published in both Great Britain and the United Stated. The last three volumes were never published, but are now available in the original French manuscript form at he Kinsey Institute of Indiana University in Bloomington, Ind. [9].

The general thrust of this work is best summarized in Guyon's own words:

In my "Studies in Sexual Ethics", I have proposed the liberation of the sexual activities of humanity, which today are curtailed and persecuted, and their government by a doctrine whose scientific and logical foundations are the legitimacy and the freedom of sexual acts .... The substance of that doctrine of liberation is that the sexual organs and sexual acts just as "amoral" as any other physiological manifestation of living beings, and consequently are indisputably legitimate for those who exercise them; and that this amorality and legitimacy entail and justify, as an indispensable corollary, the fundamental freedom to use those organs and accomplish those acts at will, as long as this occurs without violence, constraint, or fraud against another person [10].

This position had quite naturally grown out of the author's unique experiences as a judge and scholar. After all, he had been educated in a legal system which preserved an important goal of the French Revolution - the elimination of church influence from the criminal law. Thus, already in the early 19th century, the Code Napoléon no longer carried a sodomy law or interfered with any other sexual behavior between consenting adults. Moreover, Guyon found this basic philosophy reinforced when he was called to legal duties in a non-colonial Buddhist country, which had never bothered to criminalize consensual behavior in the first place, but had long practiced sexual tolerance. Therefore, he had no sympathy at all for the "unenlightened" and unreformed English, American, German, Swiss and Austrian sex laws, which still reflected medieval Christian sexual doctrines. In his view, they were obsolete even in terms of Western intellectual history, vestiges of a legal ancien régime, which still awaited an anti-clerical popular revolution.

When, after completing the first of his Studies, Guyon learned of the formation of Hirschfeld's World League for Sexual Reform, he greeted it as a long-delayed, but inevitable consequence of the great Revolution of 1789:

We may regard this World League as one of the decisive manifestations of downtrodden and rebellious humanity's assault on the massive Bastille of sexual convention.... The documents of these States General of sexual reform ... show in strikung fashion how broadly the problem has been viewed, and how ardently it is being attacked by people of all kinds approaching it from very different angles [11].

Guyon also understood the crucial importance of female emancipation in this context. Indeed, without knowing anything about Helene Stöcker. and her Bund für Mutterschutz, he traced the European sexual reform movement itself to the fight for the very rights that concerned her most:

Some attempts in this direction (of sexual reform) had already been made in France during the nineteenth century in connection with the ... campaign for the rehabilitation of the unmarried mother and the protection of the illegitimate child [12].

Unfortunately, the belated enlightenment is now restricted to Europe, while the rest of the world is about to enter a new sexual Dark Age:

By a singular irony of fate, it is at this very hour, when the West is beginning to realize that its whole narrow and fanatic sexual policy should be recast, that this same anti-sexual morality ... is coming to be looked upon as a sign of progress by certain races who are ignorant of the general sexual malaise existing in the West, and who are in all too great a burry to abandon their own principles, which our own growing rationalism is now beginning to admire [13].

In this historical situation, Guyon finds himself cast in a paradoxical role: As a radical French thinker living in the Far East, he must defend the legal traditions of his adopted continent against newly-imported regressive Western ideas which, as he knows, have finally and rightfully come under attack in their place of origin. Thus, as a European-Asian legal philosopher, he is bound by a double loyalty and is both progressive and conservative at the same time.

Guyon's Critique of the League of Nations

The problem, as Guyon saw it, had become particularly acute after the First World War, when a newly-founded League of Nations began to meddle in the sexual customs of previously permissive societies. Ostensibly created to promote peace in the world, the League, in fact, caused a great deal of new social strife, misery and crime, especially in Asia. Many years later, after the inglorious end of the League, when Guyon looked back at its work, he thus summarized his objections:

When it is said that "sexual crimes" are increasing, it must not be forgotten that a lot of new sexual offences have been created by modern puritanism, especially during the, last century. They have been introduced everywhere. The countries outside Europe and America, almost without exception, have framed their Penal Codes more or less exactly after European criteria, in order to show the world that their civilisation was not "inferior" to the Western civilisation taken as an unquestionable model of progress.... Sometimes even those nations outside Europe were compelled to do this. The defunct "League of Nations", which had shown indefatigable activity in sexual matters, and spent millions in meetings, printing, costly journeys, etc., was simply in the hands of the puritans. 'Their influence had begun when they persuaded the very complaisant makers of the Treaty of Versailles (1919) to insert in the Pact of the League of Nations that it would be in charge of the general control of the Conventions concerning the Traffic in Women and Children. This provision had nothing to do "with tile settlement of the questions of frontiers, compensations, commercial and financial interests'', usual objects of a Treaty of Peace .... That policy has had the immediate consequence that, while the original Conventions (1910) in that matter had been passed between European States exclusively (that is to say people having a similar Judeo-Christian culture especially in matters of sexuality), the Treaty of Versailles extended that tendentious policy to all signatories of the Pact, including countries entirely alien to that culture and anxious to consider sexual affairs as a matter of private life (China, Japan, Siam, etc.); and furthermore the countries which were desirous later to enter the League (e. g. Persia, Irak, etc.) were compelled to accept the said Conventions. The Doctrine of Sin, which Missions tried for so many years to introduce in those countries, without any great success, was suddenly imposed on them by a trick which has gratified to the full the host of anti-sexually minded people [14].

In practice, all of this resulted in the world-wide imposition of new sex laws and the utmost development and refinement of certain traditional statutes: the procuration of women (even with their consent), "pornography" or "indecency" in words, acts, or writings, the "age of consent" to sexual intercourse, etc.. This, in turn, soon created the impression of an international surge in sex offenses, an impression eagerly reinforced and exploited everywhere by a growing press fashioned after Western models. Finally and here the legal irony comes full circle -the same misleading and often sensational publicity was supported by the League of Nations itself through its official studies, surveys, and reports.

Guyon observed this general regression helplessly and with growing frustration from his vantage point in Bangkok, and eventually he articulated and detailed his views in a lengthy essay La Société des Nations aux mains des Puritains (The League of Nations under Puritan Control). This work, probably written in the 1940's, was never published, but the original manuscript has now been deposited at the Kinsey Institute.

In ten chapters (a total of 160 legal-size typewritten pages), Guyon here chronicles the League's efforts on behalf of various moralistic Western pressure groups. At the beginning of Chapter Two, he offers this brief characterization:

In the history of the League of Nations, one should not overlook the role and the activities of anti-sexual associations (called "benevolent" in the official reports) .... Their names can vary: League Against Public Licentiousness in France, League Against Vice in the United States, Association of Vigilance, Foundation for the Protection of Women and Girls .... Their activities are the same. Wherever they can, they pressure local governments and institute laws of prohibition.... These associations are composed of arrogant fanatics, who are blindly determined to let the doctrine of "sin" triumph by refusing any rational and scientific discussion.... [15].

Intense lobbying by these groups set the international body on a disastrous course:

The initial error of the League of Nations has been the acceptance and ratification of the inadmissable confusion between morality and law [16].

This error was the work of anti-sexual forces, which thus undermined the League's potential role as a peaceful force of arbitration:

More than anything else, one had to prevent the League from losing its neutrality and, with it, all authority [17].

There could have been no doubt on anyone's mind that, with regard to the sexual question, the world was divided between two incompatible ideologies - the Christian position, based on dogma, and the rationalist position based on science. In view of the continued struggle between these ideologies, it was very dangerous for a supposedly neutral and independent organization to take sides. Indeed, as Guyon observes:

It already went too far and violated ideological neutrality when the Swiss delegate Motta declared the work of the League of Nations to be "work in the service of God" [18].

Such a remark could only offend the atheists, who also had a legitimate right to work through the League of Nations. Moreover, they had the right to advance their own sexual views:

Freedom of conscience exists not only in matters of philosophy, religion, and politics -it should also be recognized in the sphere of morality.... There is an abyss between the morality of continence and that of rationalism. When the League of Nations became a champion of the former, it committed treason: Treason against the neutrality without which it had no reason to exist [19].

In this context, Guyon also points out that the modest demands of the World League for Sexual Reform were completely ignored by the League of Nations. Instead, only the "Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish" views were considered. He therefore concludes, with heavy irony, that "the rationalist view is probably that of the devil" [20].

This note of sarcasm also marks the end of the essay:

There is a saying in France that ridicule kills; perhaps this was the disease that eventually claimed the League of Nations [21].

Guyon's Critique of the United Nations

If the League of Nations had paid attention to the rationalist viewpoint of European sexual reformers, it would, of course, have become aware of a first formulation of Universal Human Sexual Rights. As early as 1930, when the World League for Sexual Reform held its congress in Vienna, Rudolf Goldscheid had demanded that such rights be included in the constitutions and legal codes of all countries. This general demand had, however, still lacked specifics, and Goldscheid's untimely death shortly thereafter weakened the momentum of his crusade. Still, he left a brief summary of his ideas as a legacy to his colleagues, and Magnus Hirschfeld dutifully published it in the Reform League's journal:

Magna Charta of Human Sexual Rights

First Draft of a Declaration of Sexual and Generative Fundamental Rights and Freedoms

1. The right to sexual self-determination and the right to control one's own body. The right to self-determination with regard to procreation.
2. The right of both men and women to satisfy the sexual drive, even outside of marriage.
3. The rights with regard to marriage and divorce.
4. The right to motherhood and the protection of motherhood.
5. The rights of the unmarried mother.
6. The rights of legitimate and illegitimate children.
7. The prenatal human rights.
8. The right of both sexes to political, economic, and social equality.
9. The rights of sexual minorities.
10. The sexual fundamental rights of genetically inferior and disabled persons.
11. The sexual fundamental rights of prisoners.
12. The sexual and generative responsibilities of the individual and of society


Goldscheid had wanted this preliminary sketch to serve as a basis for discussion within the World League for Sexual Reform, and he had hoped that its annual congresses would refine and reiterate the demand for Human Sexual Rights until they had found recognition everywhere. Unfortunately, however, soon after his death, the League itself came to an early end. Once Hitler and the Nazis had come to power in Germany, no further congresses could be held anywhere, Indeed, the League's journal Sexus no longer had a future. The issue containing Goldscheid's sketch appeared in early 1933. As usual, it was published by Hirschfeld's Institut für Sexualwissenschaft in Berlin, but on May 6, 1933 this institute itself was destroyed by a Nazi mob.

It is doubtful that Guyon ever learned the full story of the Sexual Reform League and its demise or even heard of Goldscheid's demand for Human Sexual Rights. More or less isolated in Bangkok, he probably did sense a negative change of the political climate in far-away Europe. In fact, growing political difficulties prevented the publication in France of Guyon's own, already delivered manuscript for volume 7 of his Studies in Sexual Ethics. The remaining two volumes then fell victim to the events of the Second World War. During these years, Guyon's isolation naturally increased even further, and it was only after the war, that he was able to reestablish some previous sexological contacts.

However, his attention was soon drawn to a promising political development: Just as the end of the First World War had produced a supposedly peace-oriented League of Nations, so the end of the Second led to the founding of the United Nations as a new international body devoted to preventing future armed conflict. Moreover, as a first achievement and a programmatic message to the world, the United Nations even presented a Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

For Guyon, this celebrated declaration was a great disappointment. The majority of world governments obviously still did not share his concern for sexual rights, and thus they remained virtually silent on the subject. Frustrated and angry, Guyon therefore wrote a second long essay, had it privately printed in Bangkok, and mailed it to potentially interested parties everywhere, including Alfred C. Kinsey, who had just made a name for himself with the first of his famous "reports" [23].

This essay, published in English and entitled Human Rights and the Denial of Sexual Freedom (195 1), was indeed read and discussed by its recipients, most of them sexologists who had known Guyon's writings before the war. However, it does not seem to have attracted much further attention, certainly not among politicians or delegates to the United Nations themselves. In any case, as a poorly manufactured flimsy brochure, the work quickly went out of circulation. Kinsey's personal copy survives at his Institute, and recently Guyon's original (and slightly longer) French manuscript has been deposited there. Nevertheless, this historically significant essay was never and is not now easily available everywhere. Thus, a few extensive quotations seem justified.

Guyon begins his critique by noting a small, hopeful sign - the germ of human sexual rights - a legal principle capable of extension through interpretation:

The sexually enslaved citizens of the modern world must have felt hopeful when, in 1948, the Assembly of the United Nations proclaimed the "Universal Declaration of Human Rights." This especially insists (Article 18) upon freedom of thought and liberty of conscience. Sexual Freedom is in this Declaration in embryo: but only in embryo, for in practice the prohibitionist countries do not consider themselves obligated thereby to modify their denial of sexual freedom. That they are nevertheless so obligated by the letter and the spirit of this Declaration, when honestly interpreted, is a fact for which the defenders of Sexual Freedom wish to win recognition [24].

Needless to say, for Guyon "freedom of conscience" must necessarily extend to sexual morality:

Every person has the right to to have his own morality, even and especially sexual morality, in conformity with his personal convictions. And when the mores or the laws of a majority aspire to compel anyone, by coercion or penal action, to observe the consequences of a morality derived from a dogma, it is exactly the same as if they wished to force that dogma itself upon him: it is an identical violation of freedom of conscience.... But the Declaration of Human Rights itself has betrayed that freedom of conscience which it pretends to proclaim. For one finds there in Article 29 (2), a declaration that, "in the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedom of others" (so far this is faultless, but now comes the objectionable part) "and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order, and the general welfare in a democratic society." The declaration thus proclaims its belief in one "moral" standard, relying upon which legislators could restrict the freedom of consciense previously guaranteed.... Through this dangerous and arbitrary word, "Morality," we relapse into the domain of taboos, from which there is no chance of rescue by that allegedly free conscience....

There is no less danger, although it may be more indirect, in such words as Public Order and General Welfare. These words no more have any precise definition than has Morality itself. They vary with the country in question, and even with the successive Governments of a single country.... These arbitrary words represent a trap wherein the hapless Freedom of Conscience ... no longer has any chance to assert itself....

When the words of the Declaration are thus analyzed, the supposed guarantees collapse and crumble, and, once more, the pretended Human Rights, in the sphere of Sexuality, end only in a reaffirmation of that slavery whose masters remain Religious Conformity and the Morality of Continence [25].

A critical analysis of other United Nations documents reveals the same flaw. As Guyon writes in an untranslated section of his original manuscript:

One knows that the United Nations have made a great noise about their international convention prohibiting genocide, i. e. the destruction of an entire human group. The list of entities thus protected mentions national, ethnic, racial or religious groups (Article 2). One notices immediately that groups constituted on political and ethical grounds are not mentioned. Result: The communists can destroy a capitalist group, and, vice versa, the capitalists can destroy a communist group without falling under the definition (and ... one has to ask oneself whether this was not intended). Another example: ... a group of homosexuals can be destroyed by . . . a heterosexual country in the name of an outraged "morality" of reproduction. After all, this morality was invoked by the Puritans in the old story of Sodom, which was destroyed in a rain of fire (undoubtedly the atom bomb of the period) [26].

In the face of such evasiveness and hypocrisy on the part of the United Nations, positive and unambiguous demands have to be raised:

The sexually enslaved of today should . . . demand more than the construction of the Declaration of 1948, dedicated in advance to non-acceptance of their aims. They should require that the positive principle of Sexual Freedom be introduced into the Declaration of Human Rights, and no longer be the victim of an indirect ostracism. They should insist that the liberties of Article 18 be completed by the addition of the following:

"Everyone has the right to sexual freedom and the free disposal of his or her body to that end; and no person shall be molested, prosecuted, or condemned by the law for having voluntarily engaged in sexual acts or activities of any kind whatever, provided they are devoid of violence, of constraint, and of fraud" [27].

Guyon's reason for this proposal clearly stands in the tradition of the French Enlightenment:

The anti-sexuals speak much of "human dignity." . . . But ... the supreme dignity of the human being "is not to permit the enslavement of his thought", and therefore not to allow his acts to be dictated by systems of thought which his reason does not ratify, and which he regards as infantile and ridiculous. To allow such dictatorship is an essential "human indignity". It is the attitude of emasculation, of renunciation, of frightened submission, which is unworthy of a human being.... The puritans speak frequently of "defilement". But is there any worse defilement for an intelligent and perceptive human being than to abdicate his whole personality, to fail to be himself? [28].

True human dignity, based on respect for autonomous thought, is and can only be the result of the democratic process:

United by a tie whose indestructible strength is that of Reason itself, the pro-sexuals ought to realize at the very start that, as a group, they constitute a Social Force. The puritans believe, or rather pretend to believe, that they represent the general opinion .... The contrary is made evident by the frequent revolts against their dictatorship, and by the artifices constantly employed to escape therefrom. But the puritans pretend not to realize this. In order to demonstrate their essential weakness, it is necessary to found Anti-Puritan Leagues that shall demand precisely all the liberties which the puritans condemn ... The Puritan Terror, which until now has dictated the laws and the social attitudes, should no longer be allowed to hold sway, a perpetual outrage to the conviction of millions of individuals.... Like the prohibitionists, the pro-sexuals should intensify their propaganda. But the best propaganda is the propaganda of behavior: for them to live independently and boldly in accordance with their announced convictions - something which is always greatly to one's credit. Women, especially, can deeply impress the minds of those who live in ignorance of the true life of the sexes, by demonstrating, through their emancipated conduct, their devotion to the pro-sexual principles. To that end, it is the duty of every believer in the liberating Doctrine, before all else, to liberate his own life and organize it according to the rules that he has adopted. The faith that does not act is not a sincere faith [29].

Indeed, Guyon goes even further and advises the prosexual forces to mount an offensive:

In addition to banishing the "sex crimes" from the penal law, one might well add, for security, a new criminal offense: that of violating the right to sexual freedom. Such a provision would aim to put a stop to the denunciations, the houndings, the comminatory interventions in private life, and the censorship of all those puritan agents or Leagues who, with an elaborate sadism, make life insupportable for their neighbors in the name of the stupid and ruthless doctrines which so delight them [30].

The abolition of all criminal laws against consensual sexual behavior had, of course, long been Guyon's greatest concern. In fact, two years earlier, in 1949, he had begun the serialized publication of a new book on the subject in Norman Haire's Journal of Sex Education. The installments continued under the heading "Sex Offences in the Future Penal Law" (or variously "Penal Code") through early 1952, but then ceased. The eventual title of the work was to have been The Abolition of Sex Offenses from the Penal Code, but it remained unfinished and was never published in book form [31]. In its radical and uncompromisingly rationalist approach, it was clearly intended to fulfill a mandate of the Enlightenment and to take a place of honor in the history of legal thought beside Cesare Beccaria's Trattato dei delitti e delle pene (1764).

Undoubtedly, Guyon's advanced age now made it even more difficult for him than before to gain his arguments a hearing. He did find a modest new English-speaking readership and, with the help of his American translator and literary executor G. R. Weaver, tried to increase it. However, all efforts to have the bulk of his earlier, important work published or republished proved futile. The geographic, cultural, and generational distance to potential American and European disciples was simply too great, Thus, he was forced to restrict himself to minor contributions in anthologies and in Sexology, a popular American magazine. The full range of his vision, the true wealth of his life-long observations could no longer be communicated to an appropriate forum.

For today's readers, therefore, an excerpt from the concluding passage of his Human-Rights essay takes on a melancholy undertone:

Sexuality is a world in itself. But there are those who know nothing of that world and yet who, until now, have arrogated the right to make and impose laws concerning its activities. They know as much about sex as a peasant who has never left his village knows about the world. This fact is fully demonstrated throughout the documentation collected at great expense and with many fanfares by the League of Nations during twenty years, wherein the persons described as experts by the League have been the laughing-stock of the true connoisseurs of Sexuality [32] .

Guyon himself had left not only his birthplace, but also his country and continent. He knew both the world and the world of sexuality, and he could thus consider himself a connoisseur of both. As immediate recognition and influence slipped from his weakening grasp, he could nevertheless console himself with the knowledge that, in an increasingly uncivilized world and through two World Wars, he had held on to the best values of his dual cultural heritage. And perhaps the best part of this heritage was hope. As the German-American sexologist Harry Benjamin summed it up:

It is not unreasonable to assume that in a future society, less benighted by the shadow of past ages, Guyon will rank among the immortal emancipators of the human race. His valiant efforts may eventually accomplish in the sphere of sex what the advanced thinkers of Voltaire's day achieved in the realm of political freedom [33].

Acknowledgement Research for this paper was supported, in part, by the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction.


1. The best, if still incomplete, collection of documents is found in The International Bill of Human Rights, Foreword by Jimmy Carter, Glen Ellen, CA: Entwhistle Books 1981. The history and current status of human rights are cogently summarized in two German books: Menschenrechte 1: Historische Aspekte and Menschenrechte II: Ihre Geltung heute (1981/1982) Kurzrock R (ed). Colloquium, Berlin

2. Roosevelt FD (1958) Address to the Joint Session of Congress. In: Hofstadter R (ed) Great issues in American history: a documentary record, vol 2. AA Knopf, New York, pp 398-399

3. Bloch I (1912) Handbuch der gesamten Sexualwissenschaft in Einzeldarstellungen, Bd 1: Die Prostitution. Louis Marcus, Berlin

4. von Humboldt W (1908) Gesammelte Schriften, vol 7. Behr, Berlin, pp 654-655

5. Bloch 1, op cit pp xiv-xv

6. Stöcker H (1911) Die beabsichtigte Ausdehnung des § 17 5 auf die Frau. Neue Generation 2:116

7. So far, the only available study is a privately printed volume by Guttenberg G (1982) Das Recht auf den eigenen Körper - Helene Stöcker. Sexualreformerin, Schriftstellerin, Politikerin, Revolutionäre Pazifistin. Frankfurt/Main (obtainable from Gerda Guttenberg, Postfach 3024, D-6000 Frankfurt/Main 1)

8. Ouoted from an unpublished manuscript written by Harry Benjamin in 1932, which incorporates stylistic suggestions by Havelock Ellis. This text was to supersede previous declarations and serve as a basis for further discussions at a planned congress of the World League for Sexual Reform in Chicago 193 3. However, the congress was never held, since the League itself came to an end soon thereafter. Nevertheless, the version quoted here can be considered the League's "last word" on the matter. The Benjamin-Ellis correspondence, including this manuscript, is being preserved at the Kinsey Institute

9. "La persécution des actes sexuels: Intermédiaires, Mineurs, La Terreur puritaine", and "Comment organiser une société prosexuelle"

10. Guyon R (1951) Human rights and the denial of sexual freedom. Bangkok, p1

11. Guyon R (1933) Sex life and sex ethics. John Lane the Bodley Head, London, p xiii

12. ibid p xii

13. ibid p xiv

14. Guyon R (1949) Sex offenses in the future penal law. Sex Education 2: 55-6

15. Guyon R (1940's?) (unpublished) La Société des Nations aux mains des puritains. (manuscript at the Kinsey Institute, pp 18-19; translated for this paper by the author, as are the following quotes)

16. ibid p 155

17. ibid pp 155-156

18. ibid p 157

19. ibid

20. ibid p 20

21. ibid p 160

22. Goldscheid's sketch is quoted in full by Magnus Hirschfeld in his article "Was will die Zeitschrift "Sexus"? Sexus, vol 1, 1933

23. Copy with inscription preserved at the Kinsey Institute

24. Guyon R (1951) Human rights and the denial of sexual freedom. Bangkok p 4

25. ibid pp 5-6

26. Guyon R, Les droits humains et le déni de liberté sexuelle. Unpublished manuscript at the Kinsey Institute, p 4 (translated for this paper by the author)

27. Guyon R (1951) Human rights and the denial of sexual freedom. Bangkok, p 7

28. ibid

29. ibid p 16

30. ibid p 20

31. According to G.R. Weaver, Guyon's American translator, it is unknown whether he ever finished the manuscript

32. Guyon R (1951) Human rights and the denial of sexual freedom. Bangkok, p 21

33. Benjamin H, Introduction. In: Guyon R (1958) The ethics of sexual acts. Knopf, New York, p j


The Writings of René Guyon

The following preliminary and probably incomplete list of Guyon's writings is based on the sketchy information provided by his American translator and literary executor George Russell Weaver (especially in The Open Road, vol XLIII, No 5-6, May-June 1943 and in The International Journal of Sexology, vol 111, No 2, November 1949). In several instances, the publisher, place and year of  publication could not be ascertained or verified.)

1898 L'héritage du Dr. Van Tropp (novel, written with Charles Guyon)

1902 La constitution Australienne de 1900 (doctoral dissertation)

1907 A travers la forêt vierge (novel, written with Charles Guyon)

1909 Ce que la loi punit: code pénal expliqué. Larousse, Paris

1911 Les paques paiennes (poems)

1919 L' oeuvre de codification au Siam

1924 Anthologie Bouddhique, vol 1, vol 2. G. Crès, Paris

1924  Essai de métaphysique matérialiste. A. Costes, Paris

1926 Essai de biologie matérialiste. A. Costes, Paris

1927 La Cruauté. F. Alcan, Paris

1929 Réflexions sur la tolérance. F. Alcan, Paris

1929? Essai de psychologie matérialiste. A. Costes, Paris

1929-44 Études d' éthiques sexuelles, vols 1-9
                1. La légitimité des actes sexueles (1929). Dardaillon, St. Denis
               2. La liberté sexuelle (1933). Dardaillon, St. Denis
                3. Révision des institutions classiques (Mariage, Famille) (1934). Dardaillon, St. Denis
                4. Politique rationelle de sexualité: la reproduction humaine (1936). Dardaillon & Dagniaux, St. Denis
                5. Politique rationelle de sexualité: le plaisir sexuel (1937). Dardaillon & Dagniaux, St. Denis
                6. La persécution des actes sexuels: les courtisanes
                In 1949, most of these six published volumes were still available from Les Editions Temps Futur, 54 rue de Seine, Paris IV. The first two volumes were translated into English and published in London by John Lane The Bodley Head as Sex Life and Sex Ethics (1933) and sexual freedom (1939), reprinted in New York by Alfred A. Knopf as The Ethics of Sexual Acts (1934) and Sexual Freedom (1940). The final three volumes have remained unpublished in manuscript form (now at the Kinsey Institute):
                7. La persécution des actes sexuels: intermédiaires, mineurs
                8. La Terreur puritaine
                9. Comment organiser une société prosexuelle

1939 La Porte Large, vols 1-3
                1. Osiris ou la mise au point du divin
                2. Eros ou la sexualité affranchie
                3. Dionysos ou la douleur au pilori (unpublished)

1940's? La Société des Nations aux mains des Puritains (unpublished)

1948 The child and sexual activities. In The International Journal of Sexology, vol 11, No 1 (August 1948)

1949-51 The sexual problem in the historical period. In Sexology, (August 1949 - August 1951)

1949-52 Sex offenses in the future penal law. In The Journal of Sex Education, Haire N, (ed) vol 11, Nos 2-6, vol 111, Nos 1, 3, 5, 6; vol IV, Nos 1, 2, 4, 5

1951 Human rights and the denial of sexual freedom. Bangkok (self-published)

1961 Chastity and virginity: the case against. In The encyclopedia of sexual behavior. Ellis A, Abarbanel A (eds) Hawthorn, New York, pp 253-57