Historical Roots of Sexual Oppression

Erwin J. Haeberle

First published in:
The Sexually Oppressed, Harvey L. Gochros and Jean S. Gochros (eds.),
Association Press, New York, 1977, pp. 3-27

(The interested reader is referred to the author's book "The Sex Atlas".
The material appears there in a greatly revised and expanded form.)


In the eighteenth century a philosopher allegedly told one of his opponents: "I disagree with what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it." This noble maxim perfectly summarizes the spirit of an enlightened age which struggled to free itself from intellectual and moral bondage, and which, for the first time in human history, proclaimed universal liberty, equality, and brotherhood. This same spirit also guided our Founding Fathers when, in the Constitution of the United States, they guaranteed every citizen freedom of speech, of religion, and of the press.

In the meantime these freedoms have found advocates in many other parts of the world. Over the last two hundred years the ideals of tolerance, individualism, selfdetermination, and personal privacy have been incorporated into the laws of most modern nations. Indeed, our own century has seen a "Universal Declaration of Human Rights" in which all member states of the United Nations pledge their support for these ideals. Thus, at least in theory, the liberation of the human race seems almost complete.

Alas, we all know that in actual practice things are much less encouraging. Officially, governments may very well subscribe to the famous maxim of that enlightened philosopher, but unofficially many of them still treat all dissent as treason. As a matter of fact, in spite of their libertarian rhetoric, some modern states are more oppressive than were the worst medieval kingdoms.

All of this is, of course, quite obvious and therefore does not warrant any further discussion here. However, it is not often realized that even in the most tolerant Western countries the tolerance does not extend equally to all spheres of human life. Most notably two kinds of behavior continue to suffer irrational and often severe restrictions: the use of drugs and sexual activity. No public official is yet willing to say: "I disapprove of the drugs you take, but will defend to the death your right to take them" or "I disapprove of your sexual interests, but will defend to the death your right to pursue them." Such pronouncements would be considered scandalous and irresponsible by most citizens. Drugs and sex remain the great taboos of our civilization.

Actually, in recent times drugs and sex have also begun to be feared by many formerly permissive societies which have been subject to Western influence. It is therefore hardly surprising to find that the celebrated "Universal Declaration of Human Rights" says nothing about people's right to control their own bodies. The document only cites the "right to marry and to found a family" and to choose one's marriage partner freely (Article 16). There is no mention of a right to sex education or sexual fulfillment, the right to free choice of a sexual Partner or type of sexual activity, a right to contraception or abortion. Nor is this merely an oversight. Unfortunately, there is little doubt that even today the General Assembly of the United Nations would overwhelmingly reject any official declaration which dared to affirm these rights. Too many member states still consider sex legitimate only within marriage and for the purpose of procreation.

However, it should be well understood that societies which make procreation the only permissible function of sex thereby implicitly condemn most actual human sexual behavior as abnormal or deviant. Thus, solitary masturbation, sex play among children, adolescent sexual experiments, premarital and non-coital forms of marital intercourse, homosexual activity, sexual contact with animals, sex after the menopause-all of these and many other harmless forms of sexual behavior come to be seen as heretical practices which have to be suppressed. This suppression, in turn, creates a universal feeling of guilt and anxiety. Furthermore, since the suppression can never be complete, the development of a sexual double standard and widespread hypocrisy is virtually inevitable. In short, narrow sexual dogmatism always leads to social conflict and a great deal of human misery.


The nature of sex is by no means as limited or as obvious as many people believe. There have been primitive peoples on this planet who were quite unaware of any connection between sex and procreation. They assumed that a spirit entered the female body, where it then grew into a child. Thus, for them, sex was simply a joyful experience in its own right. We also know that in the past many advanced civilizations considered the pleasure of sexual intercourse at least as important as the possibly resulting pregnancies. We therefore have to conclude that the restriction of human sexual capacities to the single task of producing children is not a natural necessity, but the result of a very specific cultural development.

What are the causes of this development? Over the years, many writers have wrestled with this question and have provided quite different answers. In 1884 Friedrich Engels, in The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, linked sexual oppression to oppressive economic conditions. In 1930 Sigmund Freud, in Civilization and Its Discontents, explained sexual frustration as the inevitable price of human progress. In 1932 Wilhelm Reich traced "The Imposition of Sexual Morality" and ascribed all modern sexual problems to the emergence of a patriarchal family structure.

However, these and other theories, while pervasive in many details, remained highly speculative and were eventually contradicted by newer anthropological findings. When, in Patterns of Sexual Behavior (1951), Clellan S. Ford and Frank A. Beach compared 191 different societies, they found no direct correlation between cultural advancement and sexual oppression. Restrictive, semirestrictive, and permissive sexual attitudes could be documented for both primitive and civilized peoples. In short, as of now, the mystery is still unsolved.

Nevertheless, a great deal has been-learned from the existing limited inquiries. The deeper causes of sexual oppression may still escape us, but there is no longer any uncertainty about its effects on our own particular culture. We also have gained some insight into the growth of Western asceticism and sexual negativism. Thus, it has now become possible to illuminate certain important aspects of the problem. We can only hope that future research will fill in the missing parts of the puzzle. In the present short article we shall have to limit ourselves to a few historical observations.


The moral values of our Western civilization can be derived from three main sources: the world of classical Greece and Rome, the Christian Church, and, through it, the cultural heritage of ancient Israel. This means, among other things, that many of our present attitudes (including sexual attitudes) are rooted in a far distant past, and that, at least initially, they were not based on rational considerations.

We have to remember that in all ancient societies moral questions were decided on strictly religious grounds. People knew good from bad and right from wrong because they had learned the difference from some superhuman authority. Thus, all of their norms, standards, customs, and laws were a direct expression of their religious beliefs. Indeed, for many thousands of years every law of nature and society was, in some sense, a religious law. The spirits, the gods, or God ruled not only the natural, but also the social world. They wanted human beings to behave in a certain way and promptly punished any disobedience. The laws, therefore, practically enforced themselves.

The earliest known sex laws were no exception to this rule. Originally, there was no difference between sin and crime. Sexual offenders were both sinners and criminals, and their punishment was certain. Where human law enforcement was necessary, it simply carried out divine orders. In accordance with this general view, the first great lawgivers of the ancient world therefore claimed to be mere instruments of a higher will. Hammurabi received his laws from the Sun-god; Moses was given the Ten Commandments by Yahweh on Mount Sinai; Mohammed had the Koran dictated to him by the archangel Gabriel.

Naturally, these and various other "divinely inspired" legal codes differed rather widely from each other, especially in regard to sexual behavior. We also know that even some of Yahweh's sexual commandments changed or reversed themselves in the course of time (for example, see Genesis 38:8-10 and Leviticus 20:21). Still, when we compare the first historical attempts at sex legislation, we also find that they bad at least one thing in common: they all covered both social and religious offenses. Sexual behavior was punished not only when it caused harm to other human beings, but also when it merely showed disbelief. Indeed, the latter offense usually carried a harsher penalty than the former. People were much more afraid of divine displeasure than of any personal injury. By the same token, sexual heretics could never claim to be socially harmless. Even if they endangered nobody in particular, they still posed an indirect threat to the community. Their very existence insulted God and invited his retribution. Therefore they could not be tolerated. Their persecution was a religious duty, and any measure taken against them was justified.


While this basic approach was shared by all ancient cultures, the precise definition of sexual orthodoxy or heresy depended, of course, on their specific religious dogmas. The ancient Mediterranean cultures were, on the whole, rather tolerant in sexual matters. In classical Greece, for example, sex was seen as an elementary life force, and all sexual impulses were therefore accepted as basically good. In fact, various gods and goddesses of fertility, beauty, and sexual pleasure were worshipped in special temples or on special occasions, often with orgiastic rites. The Greeks also believed that virtually all of their gods led vigorous and varied sex lives. Therefore they considered it only proper for mortals to follow this divine example. The Greeks thought so little of sexual abstinence that their language did not even have a special word for "chastity." Instead, they devoted themselves to what they called hedone, i.e. sensual pleasure in all its manifestations. However, the hedonism of ancient Greece was by no means a prescription for sexual license, self-indulgence, or unbridled lust. Rather it was a cheerful enjoyment of life, a grateful appreciation of the human body and especially of its sexual functions. Pleasure was not divorced from reason, but always in harmony with it. The body was never punished or starved for the sake of the soul. Since the Greeks had only the most shadowy notion of a life after death, they felt obliged to live every moment on this earth to the fullest.

Greece was, of course, a male-dominated society, and, during its golden age, the ideal of beauty was male. Although men usually felt obliged to marry and raise a family, they sought little romantic involvement with their wives. Their most noble sentiments and passionate feelings were reserved for homosexual relationships before and outside of marriage. Here, again, they found support in their religion. Gods like Zeus and Apollo and demigods like Hercules were believed to have fallen in love with beautiful young men. There can be no doubt that for many Greeks these exalted models were a constant source of inspiration.

In classical Greece love and sexual desire were personified in the youthful, powerful, and unpredictable god Eros. He took possession of human beings according to his whim, and any resistance would have been not only sacrilegious but hopeless. All forms of love were of divine origin and had to be respected. This basic belief explains why the Greeks Were quite nonjudgmental in their sexual attitudes, and why there was no organized persecution of sexual heresy. Where certain gods or goddesses were offended by a particular human action, they themselves sought to punish the offender, although sometimes he could win protection from rival deities. At any rate, most of our modern, more unusual manifestations of human sexuality were virtually unknown. For instance, pain and pleasure were rarely associated, and thus sexual cruelty, "bondage and discipline," and other such practices had no chance to develop.

In this latter respect, Greece stood in sharp contrast to Rome where, especially in imperial days, sexual cruelty and brutality was fairly widespread. Eventually, sex among the Romans became more crude, coarse, and vulgar than it bad been among the Greeks. However, apart from certain eccentricities of the rich, even in Rome the general attitude toward sex was still reasonable and realistic.

In Rome, as in Greece, the religious beliefs originally reflected the values of an agrarian society. Farmers prayed mostly for large families, increased cattle herds, and good harvests, and the oldest religious ceremonies were fertility rites. Naturally, in the course of time many of these rites were changed and refined, but even the urban Rome of the emperors still saw various orgiastic religious celebrations and sexually licentious festivals. Fields and gardens were protected by statues of the fertility god Priapus displaying an enormous erect penis. Artistic representations of male sex organs were also carried in procession and worn in the form of jewelry as good-luck charms.

Like the Greeks, the Romans never regarded sex and procreation as inseparable, but accepted all types of sexual activity as divinely inspired and therefore good. Indeed, with the expansion of their empire into areas dominated by Greek culture the Romans directly adopted many Greek customs and beliefs. Thus, the Greek deities Eros and Aphrodite also were worshipped in Rome as Amor and Venus. As in Greece, homosexual relationships were considered normal and natural although they were rarely seen as superior, idealistic or noble. On the whole, the Roman approach to sex was rather direct, prosaic, and practical.

As may be gathered from these few general observations, the cultures of both Greece and Rome were sex-positive and, by our present standards, rather permissive. Children, adolescents, and old people, as well as homosexuals and persons with specialized sexual interests were not prevented from -finding sexual satisfaction, but were encouraged to express themselves freely. Hermaphrodites often inspired respect and awe; transsexuals were allowed to follow their "calling." In surn, many forms of sexual oppression which concern us today simply did not exist.

Still, it would be a mistake to assume that sexual freedom was total. First of all, as we indicated earlier, women were treated as "the inferior sex" throughout most of classical Greece. They usually received no education and remained confined to the house, where they were expected to bear and raise children. In contrast to their sons and husbands, they enjoyed no sexual privileges outside the marital bed. They had no political rights and did not take part in public affairs. It was relatively late in Roman history that women became somewhat more emancipated and achieved some measure of self-determination.

The second largest group of sexually oppressed people was, of course, created and maintained by the institution of slavery. Slaves were the property of their masters and therefore subject to all forms of sexual abuse and exploitation. In Greece there were, at times, certain laws which prohibited sexual contact between free men and male slaves, but these laws expressed not so much a protective attitude toward the slave as a high regard for the male homosexual relationship which was not to be degraded by the choice of an unworthy love object. Needless to say, female slaves were held in even lower esteem.


The oppressed status of slaves and women is well documented for all ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern societies and was, as may be expected, characteristic of life in ancient Israel, whose history, customs, laws, and religious beliefs are carefully and extensively recorded in the Bible. Thus, in most Western countries where the Bible is still widely read , the general population knows more about the Israelites than about any other ancient people. Because of this, we can restrict ourselves to a very brief sketch here.

In contrast to their polytheistic neighbors, the Israelites believed in only one God, Yahweh, the creator and ruler of the world. He bad given them his law through Moses; therefore they felt obliged to live according to his commandments and to reject all foreign influences. For the people of Israel the main purpose of sex was procreation. Men and women bad the duty to "be fruitful and multiply" (Genesis 1: 28), and there was no greater blessing than a large family. Therefore, when Yahweh decided to reward Abraham, He told him: "I will indeed bless you, and I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heavens and as the sand which is on the seashore" (Genesis 22: 17). By the same token, sexual abstinence was not only offensive in the eyes of the Lord, but also betrayed an antisocial attitude. As a matter of fact, a person who chose not to have children was regarded as little better than one who shed blood.

Various biblical passages (among them the sexually explicit "Song of Songs") make it quite clear that the Israelites thought highly of sexual pleasure. Sex was considered a normal part of a healthy life, and it was a virtue to enjoy sex. In accordance with this view, newlywed couples were entitled to an extended honeymoon: "When a man is newly married, he shall not go out with the army or be charged with any business; he shall be free at home for a year, to be happy with his wife whom be has taken" (Deuteronomy 24: 5).

On the other hand, neither men nor women were encouraged to display their nude bodies. Nudity was generally regarded as shameful and embarrassing. For instance, an adulterous woman was publicly stripped naked by her husband as an act of humiliation. Numerous customs and regulations tried to prevent even the involuntary exposure of sex organs. (In later times a Jew who exercised in a Greek gymnasium was assumed to have betrayed his faith.)

Nevertheless, the ancient Israelites can hardly be said to have been prudish or puritanical. In most respects their approach to sex was positive. However, because of their strong emphasis on reproduction, coitus was the only acceptable form of sexual expression. All nonreproductive sex (including sexual self-stimulation) was considered unnatural, i.e., contrary to the will of God. Homosexual intercourse and sexual contact with animals were even punished by death (Leviticus 20: 13 and 15).

It is important to remember the religious basis of this sexual intolerance. At a time when the Israelites fought for their national and religious survival, they were surrounded by peoples who worshipped numerous gods and idols, and who usually made all types of sexual activity part of that worship. Indeed, we know from the Book of Kings and from the denunciations of the prophets that at times even the Israelites themselves had male and female prostitutes attached to the temple in Jerusalem and to various local shrines. However, for the sake of monotheistic purity, this sacred prostitution, along with all other polytheistic customs, was eventually eliminated from the nation's life. Thus, people began to associate nonreproductive sex with idolatry and to treat it as a major religious offense. Still, within the relatively narrow framework of marital coitus, sexual pleasure remained well recognized and was actually encouraged. It was only late in Israel's history that certain peripheral and extremist sects, such as the Essenes, developed strictly ascetic ideals. This sexual asceticism was never representative of Jewish culture as a whole.


Unfortunately, at the time of Jesus not only Jewish sects but also various pagan cults had begun to preach sex-negative doctrines. In many parts of the Roman Empire philosophers and spiritual leaders renounced all sexual pleasure, declared the human body to be impure and demanded that it be neglected, mistreated, and even starved, for the sake of the pure soul. Jesus himself, however, does not seem to have subscribed to such notions, but, rather, followed the more traditional, sexually positive, Jewish teachings. Very little is actually known about his views on specific sexual issues. He remained a cbaste celibate himself, but never praised or condemned the sexual urge as such. In practice, his attitude towards sexual outcasts was compassionate and forgiving (Luke 7: 36-50; John 8: 1-11).

Human sexuality is discussed in more detail by Paul, one of the earliest and most energetic of the Christian missionaries. Paul, who bad not been among Jesus' personal disciples, was apparently influenced by some of the more negative sexual philosophies of his time. His strong condemnation of homosexual behavior can, of course, be explained as traditionally Jewish (Rom. 1: 26-27; 1 Cor. 7: 38). However, be goes far beyond this tradition when he sees sexual desire itself as a rather deplorable weakness. Indeed, in clear opposition to Jewish doctrine, he declares celibacy to be superior to marriage (I Cor. 7: 8-9; 1 Cor. 7: 38).

This ascetic approach to sex was soon developed further by stern and somber Christian scholars such as Tertullian, Jerome, and Augustine. All of these socalled "Fathers of the Church" bad a low opinion of sensual pleasure. Augustine, a brilliant thinker and writer, proved to be especially influential. He was born and died in Northern Africa, but be spent his middle years in Italy, where his thinking was shaped by certain of the fashionable ascetic beliefs and philosophies then current. During his youth and early manhood be bad led a relatively active sex life, but after his conversion to Christianity he came to see sex as shameful and degrading. In his opinion, the involuntary bodily responses during sexual intercourse were embarrassing signs of enslavement to the flesh. They proved that human beings were not masters of their own bodies as God had intended them to be. Instead, the sin of Adam and Eve had robbed them and all their descendants of the proper self-control, and thus they were given over to concupiscence-lustful desire which seeks self-satisfaction at all cost. A new Christian life therefore demanded strict repression of such lust. Marriage in itself was not evil because it allowed the spouses to employ their base desires in the noble service of procreation. Still, somehow every sexual act, even between husband and wife, remained tainted, and every child born as a result of such an act needed the cleansing power of baptism. Even then the unfortunate disposition toward lust, inherited from Adam and Eve, remained.

Augustine's association of sex with original sin and guilt had a lasting and unfortunate effect on later Christian thinkers. It has to be understood, however, that the entire intellectual and moral climate of the early church was inimical to any cultivation of the senses. The first Christians believed that the end of the world was imminent, and even when it failed to arrive their general outlook on life remained gloomy and ascetic. Virginity, total abstinence, and systematic neglect of the body were considered marks of virtue. Monks and hermits were praised and admired for their relentless fasting and their fight against sexual temptation. Even selfcastration was considered a moral act. Finally, when Christianity became the Roman state religion, these negative views found expression in the criminal code. The Christian emperors Theodosius (390 A.D.) and Justinian (538 and 544 A.D.) passed draconic laws condemning certain sexual practices as relics of paganism. The Code of Justinian, which survived for nearly a thousand years in the Byzantine (i.e., East Roman) Empire, was especially intolerant of sexual heresy.

For example, Justinian declared that heathen abominations like homosexual intercourse and sexual contact with animals cried out for God's punishment by famine, flood, drought, storm, and earthquake, and that the state therefore had the solemn duty to protect the land by executing all such offenders. The execution consisted of burning at the stake or live burial, often preceded by torture and mutilation. Thus, shortly after the Christians bad escaped from their own persecution, they began the persecution of others.


As the Christian church spread and flourished throughout Europe, this early extreme asceticism gave way to a more lenient attitude. Indeed, many members of the clergy themselves married and bad families, a custom which prevailed well into the Middle Ages, when it was officially abolished by church leaders. In the course of time, the jurisdiction over sexual offenses shifted from secular to ecclesiastical courts which now assumed the right to try all matters related to the salvation of souls. (In certain cases, however, the defendant's body was banded over to government authorities for punishment.)

Medieval church policy towards sexual behavior is well documented in "penitentials," i.e., books written for the guidance of confessors and providing long lists of sins together with the appropriate penance. In general, these penitentials show little tolerance of heretical sexual behavior or even of a vigorous normal marital sex life. Indeed, noncoital forms of sexual intercourse between husband and wife were prohibited altogether, and coitus itself was severely restricted. For example, coitus was forbidden for three days after the wedding, during a woman's menstrual period, during her pregnancy, and for several weeks after childbirth. Coitus was also prohibited on Thursdays (Jesus' arrest), Fridays (Jesus' crucifixion), and Sundays (Jesus' resurrection), as well as during official periods of fasting (forty days before Easter, Pentecost, and Christmas). Menstruating women were not allowed to enter the church. Fornication demanded a penance for up to one year, adultery for up to seven years. Masturbation and involuntary orgasm during sleep were treated somewhat more leniently. On the other band, homosexual acts and sexual contact with animals could require a penance of twenty-two years to life. (The severe penance imposed for these latter "abominations" reflected, of course, the original harsh Jewish doctrine as recorded in the Book of Leviticus. However, in a deeply ironic turn of history, this doctrine was now used against the Jews themselves. Medieval theologians declared that a Christian's sexual contact with a Jew or Moslem was nothing more than unnatural intercourse with an animal "inasmuch such persons in the eyes of the law and our holy faith differ in no wise from beasts.") Penitents usually were expected to dress in a white sheet and to appear barefooted and bareheaded at the church door. They bad to carry a heavy candle and march down the aisle to the front of the congregation where they made a public confession. Finally, after several weeks or even years, when the terms of their penance bad been fulfilled, they were given a written certificate. Offenders who either refused to confess their sins or failed to do the prescribed penance were excommunicated.

For many centuries Christian sexual doctrines remained irrational and repressive. It was only later, when Thomas Aquinas and his followers gained a wider influence in the church, that a more balanced view began to prevail. Thomas, the greatest medieval theologian, made a serious effort to approach the subject of sex in a systematic and logical manner. His basic assumption was this: It is the "nature" of human sexual intercourse to lead to the procreation of children. Therefore, any sexual activity that does not serve this ultimate end is "unnatural," i.e., contrary to the will of God and sinful. The rest of Thomas' sexual philosophy followed from this premise. "Natural" sexual activity took place only for the "right" purpose, with the "right" partner, and in the "right" way (i.e., for the purpose of procreation, with the marriage partner, and by means of coitus). Sexual acts were "unnatural" and sinful to the degree in which they deviated from this triple moral standard. The greatest offense against nature was committed when the wrong purpose (for example, mere sexual pleasure) was sought with the wrong partner (for example, a partner of the same sex) in the wrong way (for example, by means of oral or anal intercourse). Similarly, sexual contact with animals and sexual self-stimulation were very grave sins. Somewhat less sinful was coitus with a wrong partner of the opposite sex, such as in rape, adultery, and incest. By the same token, simple "natural" fornication was only a minor transgression as long as it did not lead to pregnancy. In this latter case, however, it became a serious "unnatural" act, because the child was illegitimate and would lack a father's care and attention.

Unlike Augustine, Thomas did not see the "right" sexual activity, i.e., marital coitus, as tainted by concupiscence. He merely regretted that it involved a loss of rational control. Thus, generally speaking, Thomas had a moderating influence on theological thinking about sex. Nevertheless, even for him sexual abstinence remained morally superior to marriage.


So far, we have concentrated on the religious aspect of sexual morality, because in the ancient and medieval world religion was indeed the most important moral force. But actual human behavior also has always been influenced by other factors. Moral values, even when they are defined in religious terms, are often developed, changed, or abandoned in response to purely external, secular events. Rising or falling birth rates, technological changes, contact with foreign cultures, wars, natural disasters, or epidemic diseases-any or all of these can deeply affect sexual attitudes. Indeed, with the end of the static medieval world period and the dawn of the modern age, these external factors acquired an ever-increasing importance. At the same time, the church began to lose much of its former influence and the state eagerly and openly assumed the role of moral guardian.


In regard to sex, medieval moralists were hardly tolerant or affirmative. They showed little concern for human happiness here on earth, but rather encouraged the mortification of the flesh for the sake of a pure afterlife. In their opinion, physical pleasure was, at best, unimportant, and, at worst, corrupting. It diverted the soul from the straight path toward heaven. Thus, one can easily assume that the Middle Ages were a period of austerity, cheerlessness, and unrelenting asceticism. For several reasons, however, such an impression would be wrong.

First, we have to remember that in actual practice the medieval world was not as uniform as the official moral doctrines seem to imply. There were vast differences between countries and even between regions of the same country. City dwellers lived by different values than did farmers, and feudal lords had different sexual mores from their serfs. Furthermore, in spite of its great influence, the church did not have an iron grip on every citizen. Pre-Christian sexual customs and attitudes persisted in many areas for a very long time. Under the circumstances, theologians tended to be more rigoristic than they might have been otherwise. Thus, a certain gap between the ideal and the real was always taken for granted. Also, the general living conditions were still so unrefined that there was not much room for sexual delicacy. The majority of the population lived in the countryside close to nature. Many people, in fact, shared their houses with their cattle. Families were used to sleeping together in the same room, often in the same bed. Neither the highest nor the lowest classes enjoyed much personal privacy, but there was no squeamishness or embarrassment about the natural bodily functions. Nudity as such was not a moral issue. Inns and hostels expected their guests to sleep together with strangers of both sexes. A person refusing to share his bed or to take off his clothes would have been suspected of being diseased or disfigured. Public nudity was common in bathhouses, which were a favorite social gathering places for men and women of all ages. That there was also a great deal of vigorous sexual activity is well documented by writers such as Chaucer and Boccaccio. In short, compared to our own time, people were remarkably uninhibited.

Still, for the modern observer, the most surprising aspect of sexual life in the Middle Ages is perhaps the general attitude toward children. It is often believed today that infant sexuality was discovered for the first time by Sigmund Freud in our century, and that before him children were always considered "pure" and "asexual" creatures. Actually, however, the taboo against childhood sex play is only a few hundred years old. In ancient and medieval Europe alike, the sexual interests of children were well recognized. Indeed, mothers, grandmothers and nurses were accustomed to masturbating small children in order to put them to sleep or keep them quiet. Until boys and girls were able to reproduce, they were not closely supervised, and remained free of sexual restrictions. Furthermore, nobody made any effort to determine a person's exact age. Children often did not know bow old they were, and neither did their parents. As soon as a girl bad her first menstruation, she was believed ready for marriage.

These traditional customs began to change only with the arrival of our modern age. Technological progress, increasing specialization of labor, growth of the cities, and the gradual transition to a capitalist economic system produced a new way of life. The churches started to keep accurate birth registers. Age differences became more important, as did the efficient use of time and the strict observation of schedules. Between the sixteenth and the eighteenth centuries, childhood began to be perceived as a separate phase of life with special needs of its own. Religious orders founded the first exclusive schools for the young. And people began to create fashions, books, games, and toys that were "suitable for children."

It should be noted, however, that in many parts of Europe the older, less protective view persisted for a long time. This view is exemplified by one of the earliest children's books, the Colloquia Familiaria by Erasmus of Rotterdam. Erasmus wrote the Colloquia in 1522 for his six-year-old godson "in order to teach him good Latin and to educate him for the world." The text deals with all sorts of domestic experiences and problems, including sexual ones. There are detailed and very frank discussions of sexual desire, sexual pleasure, and sexual intercourse, conception, pregnancy, birth, marriage, divorce, prostitution, and venereal disease. The language is straightforward and sometimes even humorous. Sex appears as a natural and pleasant part of life which must be approached with understanding and common sense.


Over the next two hundred years, the old realistic frankness disappeared from all educational literature-eventually to be considered inappropriate even for adults. The epidemic spread of syphilis in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and the rise of the middle class produced a Dew, largely negative attitude toward the human body. The former intimacy was now rejected as uncivilized and unhealthy. People no longer ate from the same dish or drank from the common mug. Instead of using their fingers to eat with, they began to use knives and forks. The wealthy started to wear special sleeping clothes or nightgowns. Privacy became a growing concern. The bed was removed from the living room and hidden in a separate bedroom. The bathhouses were closed, recreational swimming in lakes and rivers became sexually segregated until, finally, public bathing in the nude was prohibited altogether. In other words, the former open acceptance of the body and its functions gradually turned into prudery. At the same time, there was a growing awareness of generational differences. Children became more "childlike," and adults more 11 serious." To be an adult now meant to be able to control oneself, to submit to a greater degree of discipline than ever before. The modern age with its emphasis on efficiency and performance demanded a great deal of self-control from each individual. People could no longer afford to follow their impulses, and they became very sensitive about their spontaneous physical reactions. Open coughing, sneezing, yawning, belching, and farting, which bad been considered healthy and natural, were Dow unacceptable in polite society. The organs of excretion as well as the sex organs began to be seen as disgusting and dirty, and in the end their very existence became a shameful secret.

Obviously, these social developments were bound to lead to new kinds and degrees of sexual oppression. Moreover, in the course of time, the older sexual taboos grew much stronger than they had ever been before. They were no longer seen as mere external prohibitions, but became increasingly internalized by ever larger segments of the population. The rising middle class was "inner-directed," self-motivated, and highly scrupulous. Its outlook on life was sober, its philosophy practical, and its morality stern.

The new "solid citizen," or "bourgeois," was of course the herald of our own age. When we now study his familiar figure, we realize that his growing sexual oppression involved other factors besides traditional religious beliefs. Before we turn to a closer examination of these factors, however, we should perhaps take a brief final look at the further history of Christian sexual doctrines.


The Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century divided the once unified church of Western Europe and gave birth to numerous new Christian churches, sects, and movements. Luther and Calvin, the first important Protestant leaders, rejected the supremacy of the pope along with various other Catholic dogmas, but in regard to sex they retained most of the then-established attitudes. However, they did attack the custom of clerical celibacy and the glorification of sexual abstinence. Luther, himself a former monk, set an example by marrying a former nun, and Calvin also felt obliged to marry in order to lead a more regular and productive life. Both considered women to be necessary, if subservient, companions for men. Calvin in particular saw the role of wife as that of a lifelong close associate of the husband. She was to be more than just a bearer of his children. By the same token, marriage was not simply a means of producing and educating offspring, but also was a social institution for the natural benefit of the partners. Sexual pleasure in marriage was therefore moral and proper, provided it did not degenerate into excessive passion or sheer lust. In most other respects the early Protestant views on sex remained firmly medieval. Not only were women still denied equal religious, social, and sexual status with men, but the old intolerance for all sexual nonconformists was reconfirmed.

Calvin's theology had a great influence on the English Puritans for whom the Reformation under Henry VIII had not gone far enough, and who eventually seized power under Oliver Cromwell. Henry, as the head of the English church, had already taken over some of the ecclesiastical jurisdiction and turned various religious offenses into secular crimes. Thus, homosexual acts and sexual contact with animals, which before bad required only penance, bad begun to be punished as felonies. Offenders were executed and all their possessions confiscated. The Puritans were even more severe and greatly intensified the persecution of sexual heretics. Cromwell himself never tired of demanding more zeal on the part of prosecutors. In 1650 Parliament passed the so-called Puritan Act "for the suppression of the abominable and crying sins of incest, adultery, and fornication, wherewith this land is much defiled and Almighty God highly displeased." Thus, the religious basis of Puritan sex legislation was made unmistakably clear. The prescribed penalties were the same as those used in biblical times. For instance, just as in ancient Israel, adultery was punished by death.

Though the Puritan rule soon came to an end in England, it experienced a second flowering in America. The Puritan colonies of New England were, in fact, totalitarian religious states. Most of their sex laws were based on the laws of Moses. The Massachusetts colony, for instance, directly copied the Old Testament when it passed legislation demanding death for adultery, homosexual acts, and sexual contact with animals. Fornication posed a rather difficult problem, because the ancient Iraelites bad never condemned it as such. Nevertheless, Christians had, over the centuries, learned to regard it as a grave sin. The Puritans eventually developed their own approach and specified various forms and degrees of punishment. Fornicators could be enjoined to marry, they could be fined, or they could be pilloried and publicly whipped as a warning to others. Sometimes all three penalties were combined. In later times it also became customary to force fornicators to wear the letter "V' (for Vncleanness) conspicuously displayed on their clothing. When the death penalty for adultery was finally abolished, offenders were stigmatized with the letters "AD" or simply "A." (Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel The Scarlet Letter tells of this.) In spite of these strict laws and harsh penalties, however, complete sexual conformity was never achieved. Many contemporary reports leave no doubt that illegitimate births were frequent and that homosexual behavior was fairly widespread. This latter fact is, of course, hardly surprising, since the community concentrated its efforts on the prevention of all nonmarital heterosexual contact.

On the whole, it is difficult to avoid the judgment that the Puritan culture was among the sexually most oppressive that have ever existed anywhere. Occasional outbursts of mass hysteria, such as in the Salem witch trials, undoubtedly had sexual overtones and prove that the Puritan sexual morality bad become unrealistic, fanatical, and destructive. Fortunately, in the following centuries this rigid culture became increasingly diluted by the growing tide of new immigrants with a more liberal heritage.


The current sex laws in most states of the United States still follow the Puritan model. As the American population moved westward across the continent, the New England penal codes were simply carried along and copied in every new state. Most settlers were content with preserving the legal traditions to which they had been accustomed on the East Coast. Unlike the inhabitants of the Old World, they were not interested in new legal theories or fundamental reforms. Western and Southern Europe had, in the early nineteenth century, liberalized their sex laws at the command of Napoleon 1. The Napoleonic code, which practically legalized all consensual sex between adults in private, had an influence reaching well beyond the French national borders. It was either adopted or used as a model in Italy, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, the Netherlands, and all of Latin America. Thus, most of the world's Catholic countries entered the new Industrial Age with a sensible minimum of modern sex legislation, while the Protestant countries of Central Europe and North America remained tied to the past, with most of their ancient and medieval sex laws preserved intact. The only real change was a gradual reduction of penalties. For example, while adultery continued to be a crime in Massachusetts, the death penalty was relatively soon replaced with a public whipping, a fine, and imprisonment. Then the whipping was omitted, leaving the fine and the prison term on the books. Finally, even these reduced penalties were considered too harsh. However, instead of repealing the law, the authorities simply ceased to enforce it.

At the present time the majority of states in the United States still retain a host of laws against socially harmless, but heretical sexual behavior. Thus, "fornication ... .. cohabitation," "seduction," "adultery," "lewd and lascivious conduct ... .. sodomy," "bestiality," and similar ancient sins are still treated as modern crimes.

The fact that these and other sexual acts may be performed by consenting partners in private does not make them permissible in the eyes of the law. In short, now as before, legislators try to impose purely religious taboos on the population. Some state penal codes even admit the religious character of certain sex crimes by calling them "crimes against nature." However, the "nature" which the law endeavors to protect here is not the nature of the natural sciences, but rather an archaic concept of "God's natural order." Modern scientific findings stand in sharp contrast to the philosophy expressed in these laws. As a result, most authorities on sexual matters today find themselves in a position where, for reasons of therapy, they have to counsel the public to engage in practices that are legally "against nature" and therefore crimes.

It goes without saying that these absurd, obsolete, and probably unconstitutional laws can no longer be equally enforced today. They are enforced only periodically and selectively against certain individuals or groups who offer themselves as convenient scapegoats for various social disasters or mistaken policies. This kind of official hypocrisy, in turn, leads to blackmail, bribery, and the corruption of lawenforcement officials. It also produces widespread contempt for the entire legal system.


There is no question that the old Puritan laws against victimless sex crimes are irrational and invite all sorts of abuses. Nevertheless, today they may not even be the most dangerous and unjust instruments of sexual oppression in America because, in addition to their traditional sex laws, a number of states now also have special laws allowing the commitment and forced psychiatric treatment of sexual offenders. These states declare certain sex offenders to be sexual psychopaths in need of a cure. Consequently, such offenders, who otherwise would perhaps receive only a suspended sentence or serve a short prison term, can be committed to a mental hospital for an indefinite period or for the rest of their lives. In some states they may even be committed without a trial. Strangely enough, these curious laws were enacted in the name of science, although there was, and is, no scientific evidence to support the assumptions on which they are based. Indeed, the very term "sexual psychopath" is unscientific and does not correspond to any particular disease constellation recognized by psychiatrists today. Thus, one and the same person may be legally considered sick in one state and healthy in another. Unsound and unfair as they are, these laws remain on the books because they give an uninformed general public the illusion of preventing socially harmful sexual behavior. However, current diagnostic techniques are incapable of distinguishing between potentially dangerous offenders and those who are not dangerous. At any rate, only a very few sex offenders are violent. Furthermore, sex offenders are less likely to repeat their crimes than are other types of offenders. Finally, there is little evidence that forced psychiatric treatment is an effective tool of rehabilitation.

For the average layman today it is, of course, the concept of "sexual psychopathology" more than that of "heresy" or "wickedness" which explains nonconformist sexual behavior. After all, in most other spheres of life religious explanations have been replaced by scientific ones, and by now the habit of calling sexual deviants "sick" instead of "evil" already has a long and respectable history of its own.


Paradoxically, it was the Age of Enlightenment which laid the foundation for many of the later, irrational and oppressive sickness theories of sexual deviance. We mentioned earlier that the end of the medieval world, the transition to a capitalist economic system, and the rise of the middle class produced a new, rather negative attitude toward the human body and its natural functions. For the bourgeois, the body was, above all, a machine, an instrument of labor which had to function in the most regular and profitable manner. Inefficiency, idleness, and waste, which had been of little concern to the ancient and medieval mind, now became the supreme vices. The new supreme virtues, on the other band, were discipline, thrift, punctuality, and sobriety. The feudal lords had decorated their coats of arms with unicorns, eagles, bears, and lions, but the middle class preferred more stolid heraldic animals: the hardworking ox, the useful sheep, the diligent ant, and the industrious bee. Not only business but also pleasure bad to be judged by practical standards. Thus, sexual activity was permissible only so long as it produced children and thereby increased the labor force. Pure sensuality without purpose was subversive and dangerous.

As we explained before, in the two centuries after the Reformation the middle class developed a new, protective attitude toward the young. First childhood and then adolescence began to emerge as special innocent periods in a person's life. These periods had to be spent wisely in preparation of a productive adult career. Youthful excesses bad to be curbed, youthful energy had to be saved, and youthful strength bad to be preserved at all cost. Finally, in the early eighteenth century, the bourgeois twin anxieties-a general loss of discipline and the corruption of youth-combined to create a new, terrifying menace: "masturbatory insanity."

Masturbation bad, of course, long been condemned as sinful by Jews and Christians alike, because it subverted the procreative purpose of man's sexual faculties. Still, throughout the Middle Ages, very little attention had been paid to this sin. The loss of male semen was always deplored, but this problem was largely seen as a moral one. At any rate, women and children did not produce any semen and therefore bad no great feelings of guilt about masturbation. They simply thought of it as a way of relieving physical irritations, comparable to scratching.

In 1710, however, an anonymous pamphlet appeared in England under the title Onania, or the Heinous Sin of Self-Pollution and all its Frightful Consequences in Both Sexes, Considered with Spiritual and Physical Advice. The author, Bekker, was a former clergyman turned quack who offered his readers some frightening theories about the dangers of wasting semen and overheating the blood. He called this behavior onania in reference to Onan, a biblical character who was punished by God for practicing the withdrawal method of contraception (Genesis 38:8-10). Unfortunately, Bekker's absurd ideas and his misleading term soon found wide acceptance. The pamphlet was quickly translated into several European languages and eventually went through more than eighty editions.

In 1760 a respected Swiss physician by the name of Tissot published an even more influential book entitled Onanism, or a Treatise upon the Disorders Produced by Masturbation. The author claimed that masturbation was not only a sin and a crime but also that it was directly responsible for many serious diseases, such as "consumption, deterioration of eyesight, disorders of digestion, impotence . . . and insanity." Tissot's success was spectacular. He was widely quoted as the greatest authority on the subject of masturbation and was universally praised as a benefactor of mankind. Within a few decades, his views became official medical doctrine. Physicians all over the Western world began to find masturbation at the root of almost every physical problem.

By 1812, when Benjamin Rush, "the father of American Psychiatry," published his Medical Inquiries and Observations upon the Diseases of the Mind, the harmful effects of masturbation were taken for granted everywhere, and the number of effects had greatly increased. According to Rush, onanism caused not only insanity but also "seminal weakness, impotence, dysury, tabes dorsalis, pulmonary consumption, dyspepsia, dimness of sight, vertigo, epilepsy, hypochondriasis, loss of memory, manalgia, fatuity, and death."

As these examples indicate, the first modern fighters against the socalled evils of masturbation were physicians, and their arguments were mostly medical. Very soon, however, they found themselves supported by 11 enlightened" educators who feared for the "moral health" of their students. On the other hand, the churches at first showed little interest in joining the crusade. Some clergymen pointed out, for example, that they could not find a single reference to masturbation in the Holy Scriptures, and that they were therefore unable to condemn it. It seemed that the only solution was a new, much broader interpretation of the biblical commandment against adultery. In the long run, however, this procedure could easily make matters worse. It would require a great deal of detailed sex education, and particularly the young and innocent would suddenly have to be told about sins of which they had never even heard before. Moreover, the exact definition of masturbation appeared far from easy. After all, the term had first been applied only to adult males. The notion that women and children also masturbated was new. Indeed, it is evident from the antimasturbation pamphlets of the time that their authors had great difficulty explaining to the public what exactly they were talking about. Nevertheless, after some initial reluctance, even the clergy became 11 progressive" enough to recognize the dangers of masturbation, and soon everybody was convinced that these dangers demanded the most drastic and extraordinary measures of protection.

Naturally, this meant that young people were in particularly serious danger. If they succumbed to the vice in their early years, they could never reach a healthy adulthood. Thus, parents risked the very lives of their sons and daughters by ignoring the practice. Medical experts found that among the "pampered" children of the rich, the vast majority already masturbated to excess, most notably between the excitable ages of 6 and 12. (These are the very same years that were later believed to constitute the "latency period.") The future of these unfortunates offered no hope. Needless to say, this ideology soon led to the most bizarre educational practices and to elaborately cruel "treatments" at the bands of psychiatric authorities. In the nineteenth century, these authorities found that the insanity caused by masturbation was of an especially disagreeable kind. As explained in 1867 by Henry Maudsley, the greatest British psychiatrist of his time, it was "characterized by ... extreme perversion of feeling and corresponding derangement of thought in early stages, and later by failure of intelligence, nocturnal hallucinations, and suicidal and homicidal propensities." In other words, masturbators were mad potential killers, and thus it seemed only prudent to have them locked up in an asylum.


Actually, in the first half of the nineteenth century, masturbation bad become one of the most important causes of madness: Self-abuse slowly but surely destroyed the brain. At the same time, however, the habit itself was also an expression of some inherited psychological weakness. That is to say, masturbators were born sick and then could hardly help aggravating their sorry condition. In 1843 a Russian physician named Kaan published a book under the title Psychopathia Sexualis (Sexual Sickness of the Mind) which explained this double jeopardy of masturbation. (More than 40 years later, the Austrian psychiatrist von KrafftEbing used the same book title for a new study of unconventional sexual behavior.) According to Kaan nearly all human beings were afflicted with a certain " phantasia morbosa" (sick imagination) which predisposed them toward sensual excess. It took only the accident of a faulty diet, a soft mattress, tight clothing, or even mere idleness to trigger the inevitable chain of events. In addition to this dismal theory, Kaan also offered a first list of other, comparatively minor, sexual "aberrations," such as love of boys, homosexual mutual masturbation, violation of corpses, coitus with animals, and sexual contact with statues. This short list of sexual mental diseases was, of course, soon expanded by other psychiatrists. Indeed, the ever-growing number of new aberrations eventually reduced the once allimportant disease of masturbation to the second rank. Nevertheless, Kaan's belief in the possible heredity of sexual deviance retained its appeal and was, in fact, strengthened in subsequent years.

Before we turn to these further "scientific" developments, however, we should perhaps briefly comment on the concept of "sexual psychopathology" itself. Quite obviously, in the beginning it was nothing more than the secular version of an old religious dogma. It is hardly a coincidence that Kaan's sexual "aberrations" are virtually identical with the abominations" of the Bible. Moreover, the parallel of his inherited "phantasia morbosa" to Augustine's "concupiscence" is striking. In short, science, as the new religion, was still preoccupied with strengthening the old sexual taboos.


The traditional religious bias was further strengthened when, in 1857, the French psychiatrist Morel turned to the concept of "dégénérescence" for the explanation of madness. Morel, who earlier in his life bad pursued theological studies, came to the conclusion that progressive degeneracy was the cause of most physical and mental illnesses. The first man (whom the Bible had called "Adam") had been of a healthy "primitive type." However, after his nature bad become corrupted at some early date, man found himself subjected to weakening external and internal influences. As a result, today we no longer see the original perfect primitive type, but various imperfect human races as well as a great number of degenerates. These degenerates usually suffer from hereditary sexual perversions and are destined to die out.

In the course of time Morel's theory came to be seen as too openly biblical by many of his colleagues, and was recast in more fashionable secular terms. It began to be assumed that degeneracy could appear in the course of an otherwise progressive evolutionary process. Still, degenerates retained their basic characteristics, and they, together with their offspring, were inevitably doomed. These ideas were further popularized by great nineteenth century dramatists like Ibsen and Hauptmann, who described the effects of degeneracy in the most depressing detail. Indeed, novelist Emile Zola presented the "natural and social history" of a whole family, the Rougon-Maquarts, as a case of hereditary progressive decay. The notion of an inborn pathological disposition toward madness and sexual deviance continued to dominate psychiatric thinking up to the time of Sigmund Freud, who finally replaced it with the concept of a traumatic (and largely unconscious) individual life history.

In this context it should be remembered that the nineteenth century also laid the "scientific" foundations of modern racism. The term "degeneracy" was easily applied to entire social or ethnic groups which were unpopular for some reason or another and which could now be labeled as biologically inferior. Needless to say, such labeling also always implied the charge of sexual perversion. The logical implications of racism, in turn, led to eugenic policies, i.e., official attempts to improve the biological health of the population by preventing the breeding of degenerates.

on the other hand, it was felt that the superior races did not breed enough. There was a widespread fear that, sooner or later, the whole of mankind might become degenerate and die out. (This fear seems especially grotesque today when one looks at the population curve between 1800 and 1900.) At any rate, growing racial pride, nationalism, and a rapidly expanding industry prompted many governments to demand a population increase. Procreation was again confirmed as the only correct goal of sexual intercourse.


In the early nineteenth century at least, married couples had still been able to obtain some realistic sexual information. In France, for example, the Revolution of 1789 and the Napoleonic reforms had produced a certain amount of sexual freedom. A variety of serious marriage manuals were published which took a rather reasonable attitude toward sex and also described various methods of contraception. These books were not always scientifically correct (some important facts about human reproduction had not been discovered), but at least they tried to be helpful. Furthermore, around the middle of the century, new technical processes made the mass production of condoms possible. As a result, more and more people began to plan the size of their families. The Christian churches were, of course, aware of all this, but took no official stand on the matter. Even most of the Catholic bishops preferred to remain silent, and instructed their priests not to upset parishioners who acted in good faith. It was only later, when the fear of degeneracy began to spread, that the churches became more outspoken. Pastoral letters began to extoll the virtues of hardship and the blessings of a large, industrious family. The biblical injunction to be fruitful and multiply was reemphasized, and contraception was condemned as contrary to the will of God and the national interest. Finally, politicians and clergy were joined by various civic groups which feared for the very survival of civilization, and which called for a Christian crusade against contraception and other immoral practices.

In the United States the most successful of these new crusaders was Anthony Comstock (1844-1915), the secretary of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice. With his slogan "Morals, not Art or Literature," be set out to prevent the use of contraceptives and the dissemination of sexual knowledge. By intense lobbying efforts he persuaded Congress in 1873 to pass the so-called Comstock Act, which made it a felony to mail any obscene, lewd, or lascivious book, pamphlet, picture, writing, paper, or other publication of an indecent character. Comstock himself was made a special agent of the U.S. Post Office. This gave him the long-coveted right to open other people's mail, and soon he was able to establish a veritable reign of puritanical terror.

There is no doubt that a zealot like Comstock could not have gained his immense power in a healthy and free society. As we have seen, however, in the second half of the nineteenth century most Western nations were gripped by an unprecedented prudery. Ignorance and hypocrisy carried the day, and thus many hard-won civil liberties were surrendered. The phenomenon is also known as Victorianism, after the English Queen Victoria, who reigned in this period. Sexual repression was international, however, and England and the United States were neither better nor worse than other countries.

Today we can see that the Victorian fears about sex were based on a particularly "modern" mixture of pseudoscientific and religious beliefs. The two systems of belief mutually reinforced each other. It seems, however, that the men of science, and especially psychiatrists, had a much more ascetic outlook than the men of the church. At least in the beginning the church was a rather reluctant ally in the fight for mental health and the racial improvement of mankind. Nevertheless, over the years many clergymen embraced these secular values and even incorporated them into their own doctrines. Ironically, when science later freed itself from its narrow views, certain church leaders were unable to do likewise. For them, the Victorian sexual ideology had become part of the gospel.


At the end of the Victorian era psychiatry and medicine had begun to develop a more critical spirit. Early twentieth-century researchers like Freud, Ellis, Bloch, and Hirschfeld increasingly questioned the traditional moral assumptions and turned their attention to the victims of sexual oppression. Some of this oppression was lifted when the First World War shook the foundations of bourgeois culture. In 1936, Wilhelm Reich, the most radical of the new psychiatrists, described the accelerating social change in a book titled The Sexual Revolution. The Second World War produced even greater upheavals in Europe and North America. New empirical sex research on a grand scale replaced the traditional vague speculations. First Kinsey, and then Masters and Johnson revealed many of the remaining secrets of human sexual behavior. The old Victorian prudery finally was dying.

Or was it? As we observed at the beginning of this historical survey, the actual sexual policies of most modern nations still express the "reproductive bias" of former times. People who use their sexual faculties for the purpose of mere pleasure are still regarded as heretics in many parts of the world. When they are not directly threatened by the law, they are nevertheless despised, ridiculed, and harassed. In short, they are still oppressed in the name of some higher social good. This social good may be described in religious, scientific, or openly political terms, but its sexually inhibiting effect is the same: The individual still does not have the universal human right to pursue his personal, perhaps idiosyncratic, sexual interests even if they do not harm anyone.

As we enter the third century after the American Revolution, however, there is some hope that at least in the United States, much of the traditional sexual oppression will soon end. The various American sexual rights movements have made significant gains in recent years, and their eventual success seems likely. This success, if and when it finally comes, will be largely due to an enlightened libertarian spirit and a farsighted political constitution which to this day provides for free and unhindered expression.


BARNETT, WALTER. Sexual Freedom and the Constitution. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1973.
A thorough and comprehensive legal attack on the American "sodomy" laws, providing, among other things, a detailed discussion of their history and social function.

HAEBERLE, ERWIN J. The Sex Atlas, New York: The Seabury Press, 1977.
A popular illustrated textbook covering all aspects of human sexuality; including the history of sexual oppression in Western civilization.

HORKHEIMER, MAX. "Authority and the Family." In Critical Theory. New York: The Seabury Press, 1972.
The classic essay on the sexually oppressive role of the family in Western civilization.

MARCUSE, HERBERT. Eros and Civilization. Boston: Beacon Press, 1966.
An essay on the causes of sexual oppression, combining Marxian and Freudian theories.

SZASZ, THOMAS s. The Manufacture of Madness. New York: Delta Books, 1971.
A historical survey comparing the social role of the Inquisition with that of modern Institutional Psychiatry.

YOUNG, WAYLAND. Eros Denied. New York: Grove Press, 1964.
A short history of sexual oppression in Europe from ancient to modern times, offering many illuminating anecdotes and examples.