Written by Westland Researcher Adrianna Xue

The Talk..

The Birds and the Bees…

How Babies are Made…

Even in contemporary times, sex is a taboo subject in many parts of the world. It is so uncomfortable, that made up figures of speech are often used to describe sex and sexuality rather than speak about it directly. Not surprisingly, in many cultures talking about sex invokes embarrassment, guilt, and even shame. However, sex has not always a taboo subject throughout the course of history.

Many Eastern cultures and faiths welcomed sex and sexuality as an essential part of life and culture. For instance, China, Greece, Ancient India, and Ancient Rome all had sex manuals, and sexually explicit information was presented in Latin and Greek poetry. Ancient India had a rich tradition of eroticism (such as the the Kama Sutra), however, pleasure was most often defined from the male point of view (Bhugra & de Silva, 1995). Moreover, sexual potential was seen as natural in Hinduism and the Hindu Vedas included spells to help or hinder one’s impotence and lovemaking. Sexual potential was seen as natural in Hindu tantric yoga, as they believed the practice of intercourse was emotional and spiritual. Consequently Hindus believed it required meditation, preparation, and prayers (Goodwach, 2005). Similarly, China was quite sexually open-minded. Chinese culture emphasized the orgasm, and men were encouraged to bring their female partners to orgasm (even if it meant delaying their own orgasm) (Bhugra & de Silva, 1995). In fact, Foucault (1981) argued that while India and other Eastern cultures enjoyed sensuality and eroticism, the Western sexual model was predominantly conservative and very restrictive in nature.

Western sexual models appeared to adhere to a more “scientific discourse” rather than one that was eroticism-based. Foucault (1981) stated that repression of all sexual matters deepened in the 18th and 19th century in the West as a reflection of the burgeoning capitalist system, as well as the medicalization of sex. Nineteenth century sexual ideology was based on monogamous marital sex with procreation at the forefront (Leiblum & Pervin, 1980). During this era, sexual behaviours (other than intercourse) were deemed to be unnatural or wicked. Men were generally viewed as having large sexual appetites, with a woman’s role relegated to gratifying men’s sexual desires out of duty. Women were not expected to enjoy sex and female pleasure was not considered (Goodwach, 2005).

The Victorian era (1837-1901) is famously considered the epitome of sexual suppression. This era held what are now considered bizarre beliefs about acne, blindness, impotence, insanity, and other countless side-effects being caused by willful masturbation. Dr. Samuel Tissot (1728-1776) was at the forefront of introducing these beliefs into European medicine. From the physicians to the masses, this doctrine possessed a trickle down effect that eventually reinforced strong cultural beliefs reinforcing this era of sexual suppression.

It was not until 1859 that the sexual revolutionist Havelock Ellis was born. Havelock did not blindly trust physicians, and through the late 1800’s and early 1900’s he aimed to separate medical knowledge from sexual behaviour. Havelock’s own “wet dreams” experienced as a teenager inspired his argument that wet dreams should be viewed on a spectrum, ranging from bad/shameful/creating nervous apprehension to completely natural and normal (Goodwach, 2005). In 1854, Dr. Charles Drysdale published his first work also exploring sex and it’s link to pleasure. Drysdale believed that sexual intercourse was for delight, and essential for human health. He believed contraception should be used, and saw contraception as a cure for overpopulation, poverty, and unhappy marriages (Goodwach, 2005).

Fast forward to the 1960s, a sexual liberation and revolution in the West – largely impacted by birth control options, impacted society in many ways. The 60’s emphasized spontaneity and rejected restrictive inhibitions (Goodwach, 2005). The liberated cultural surroundings of freedom and permissiveness resulted in a revision of sexual attitudes and behaviours for some. With the increasing proportion of women in the workforce and movements towards equal rights for women and homosexuals, sexual liberation was in full force. With the introduction of reliable contraception and the legalization of abortions in some provinces and states, the sexual standards began to shift. Sex acts that were once considered deviant became widely incorporated into heterosexual relationships, although homosexual relationships and sexuality were still widely persecuted. The proportion of women’s number of sexual partners increased and began to equalize with men. In the 60’s, sexual behaviour as a “moral category” also weakened significantly in part because the Judeo-Christian emphasis on moral restraint (virginity) lessened, and the moral failure of excess (the orgy) became less significant (Gagnon & Simon, 1973; Goodwach, 2005).

In Part 2 of Sexuality: A Very Brief Overview and History we will look at a few notable sex researchers that contributed to the bulk of knowledge in sexual and reproductive health, and lead the way for the continuation of viewing sexuality as a healthy expression and ‘legitimate’ medical and self-care practice.


 

Works Cited:

Bhugra, D. & De Silva, P. 1995. Sexual Dysfunction and Sex Therapy: An Historical Perspective.

Brecher, Edward M. The Sex Researchers Expanded Edition. San Francisco, CA: Specific Press. International Review of Psychiatry, 7, 159–166.

Ember, C. R. (01/01/2003). Encyclopedia of sex and gender : Men and women in the world’s cultures: Modesty and sexual restraint Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers.

Goodwach, R. 2005. Sex Therapy: Historical Evolution, Current Practice. Part I. ANZJFT, 26(3), 155– 164.

Leiblum, S. & Pervin, L. 1980. Principles and Practice of Sex Therapy. Guilford, NY: The Guilford Press.