How To Make Your Sex Life Even Better

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History of sexuality in Britain ]

Sexual history - the socio-cultural context

Written in 1970

In the second half of the 1930s there were indications of a gradual expansion in sexual attitudes. It is difficult to put one's finger on specific manifestations of these indications, but the advice columns in women's magazines were becoming much franker in their sexual language and certain branches of literature were describing intimate relationships in much more realistic terms. The female nude was acceptable on the stage of the Windmill Theatre - so long as she did not move; advertisements for female underclothing became more revealing; and Epstein's figure of Adam, with its great massive, swinging penis, was put on public exhibition, though it did cause frightened flutters in a number of dove-cotes. But chiefly it was in social relationships that the relaxation was most noticeable. Increasingly, younger couples felt able to discuss within their own age-group some of the aspects of sexual activity; for example pre-marital and extramarital lovemaking, the use of contraceptives and the psychology of sex.

These were the years in which the present 45 to 65 year olds were between adolescence and young adulthood. As adolescents they benefited from the franker treatment of masturbation, which was less widely taught as harmful unless practiced to excess - the discovery that semen is an external secretion i.e. is not absorbed by the blood-stream, was chiefly responsible for this - though those teachers under the influence of the Christian religion still regarded habitual masturbation as sinful, and still condemned pre-marital lovemaking as an offence against Christian morality, which they are still doing today. The young adults benefited, because the franker social attitudes made it possible for them to be franker with one another in bed, though they still had - and still have - a long way to go in this aspect of their committed relationships. Equally they were beginning to be able to establish relationships in greater depth with their children, though there was still a widespread reticence in discussing sex really frankly.

The Second World War, like the First, acted as a further spur to our development and sowed the seeds of a second sexual revolution, from the real results of which we are just beginning to benefit. It would be tedious of me to reiterate here the stages by which we have reached our present level of sexual emancipation, I would, however, like to make clear that in my view we have still a very long way to go and that the stage which we have reached now is only the first step towards the total recognition of sex as a natural feature of our day-to-day lives, as natural as eating, drinking, sleeping, working and playing. As I see it, the most significant advance has been the acceptance of masturbation as beneficial (rather than harmful) physically and especially psychologically, by most and, of course, the truly narrow-minded Christians, unless it is practiced to very great excess, and it is practically impossible to define what great excess is, and that it had no moral implications. This ought to remove much of the guilt feeling which the former attitude towards it generated, feelings that, in far too many cases, affected the whole sex-life of the adult. [However, maybe there was some relevance in their positions: in particular addiction to internet pornography has become rife in out times. - Ed.]

Another significance of this new outlook upon masturbation, and of equal importance with the release from guilt feelings, is the more widespread improvement in adult-child relationships which seems to have resulted, and which came into being at the end of the first decade after World War II. Parents and others, in increasing numbers, no longer concerned when they discover or suspect that their children are masturbating, find that the barrier which the mutual knowledge that masturbation was taking place once upon a time raised, does not now present an obstacle to the adult-child relationship. Judging from my own experience, and from the experience of many of my contemporaries, at the time when the biological changes of puberty and adolescence were a source of bewilderment and of a natural curiosity about the whole question of sex made the need to be able to confide in an experienced adult desirable, this relationship of confidence was out of the question because of the attitude towards masturbation. The fact that more than 98 per cent of boys were unable to resist their sexual urges and committed a sin to which they dared not confess lest they lost the respect of adults who were near to them, created an atmosphere of deceit in which no close relationship could be engendered, let alone thrive.

In addition, the whole vocabulary of masturbation - self-abuse, self-pollution, a filthy act, a filthy person - gave the impression that everything to do with sex, except possibly procreation, was disgusting, even though it was an activity in which most men and women could not avoid participating. This colored the whole approach towards sexual activity of any kind. It led to lovemaking under the bedclothes in the dark as the rule rather than the exception. The majority of women, while demanding orgasmic satisfaction, demanded to be brought off without undue dalliance and by sex in the man on top position; the majority of men were inhibited from being in any situation in which their wives or their partners might catch sight, of their erect penis; the woman's stimulation of the man was confined to the minimum, kissing, and brief fondling of the penis with the hand, though never to orgasm - heavy petting to orgasm is a modem manifestation - and the man, inherently adventurous in sex as in most other aspects of living, was inhibited, by his deference to his partner's wishes, from exploring and experimenting with clitoral stimulation techniques. As a general result, though both partners might he sexually gratified by their lovemaking, there was an absence of sexual abandon in the marital bed, a presence of routine in foreplay, and the inevitable creation of boredom. All this I can vouch for from the results of a survey I have made among the over-50s age group with regard to their current sex lives.

The removal of sin from masturbatory activity has had even more far-reaching consequences than in the adult-child relationship. If masturbation is not sinful, filthy and disgusting, then lovemaking, except in its most perverted forms, cannot be disgusting, filthy or sinful either, since it is the natural expression of sex. This realization has released many of the inhibitions of which I have just been writing. There are very few people indeed among mature adults aged between 30 and 45, who will quarrel with my assertion that lovemaking in all its phases should be the visible, tangible expression of emotional love, the means whereby each partner by what he or she does sexually to the other and how he or she reacts to the other's sex techniques may show and know the measure of love. This has been the burden of all the sex-manuals published over the last ten or twelve years. It is, however, still necessary, I believe, to continue to stress that no matter which sexual positions or activity a couple indulge in the privacy of their bedroom, or, indeed, of their home, none is morally wrong or indefensible from any point of view provided that neither partner is compelled to participate against his or her will, and both find it sexually satisfying to a greater or lesser degree.

This group - the 30s to 45s, who are the parents of today's children - while not having benefited directly from the removal of the ethical stigma from masturbation in their own childhood, have nevertheless benefited from its circulation in the realm of relationship with their own children. They were prepared for it because before it became widely accepted, it was fairly well disseminated in theory, and the younger echelons in the group may have been made aware of it when they were in their late teens and young adulthood. These have been able to switch fairly easily from the old to the new sexual point of view. However, the fact that they were taught something of the old when they were pubescent has left its trauma. Among this group, as among my own which is much older, there are guilt feelings which involve some of the aspects of sexual activity. The husbands who consult me about their premature ejaculation problem almost without exception ask, 'Do you think the fact that I masturbated fairly frequently in my teens can have anything to do with it?' In nineteen cases out of twenty the cause is psychological and the guilt feelings about adolescent masturbation are a frequent constituent of the psychological problem. Similarly, wives who complain of frigidity or lack of vaginal orgasm - generally ask, 'Is it possible that stimulation of the clitoris as a girl has deadened the nerves in the clitoral area, and causing loss of sensation now?' Again, the answer is No; in most cases the partner's faulty stimulation techniques are to blame. Continued here.