Reading Comprehension 010

Passage

The writer who deals with a sexual theme is always in danger of being accused by those who think that such themes should not be mentioned as they are of an undue obsession with his subject. It is thought that he would not risk the censure of prudish and prurient persons unless his interest in the subject were out of all proportion to its importance.

This view, however, is only taken in the case of those who advocate changes in the conventional ethic. Those who stimulate the appeals to harry prostitutes and those who secure legislation nominally against the White Slave Traffic but really against voluntary and decent extra-marital relations; those who denounce women for short skirts and lipsticks; and those who spy upon sea beaches in the hopes of discovering inadequate bathing costumes; are none of them supposed to be the victims of a sexual obsession?

Yet in fact they probably suffer much more in this way than do writers who advocate greater sexual freedom. Fierce morality is generally a reaction against lustful emotions and the man who gives expression to it is generally filled with indecent thoughts which are rendered indecent, not by the mere fact that they have a sexual content but by the fact that morality had incapacitated the thinker from thinking cleanly and wholesomely on this topic. I am quite in agreement with the Church in thinking that obsession with sexual topics is an evil but I am not in agreement with the Church as to the best methods of avoiding this evil. It is notorious that St. Anthony was more obsessed with sex than the most extreme voluptuary who ever lived; I will not adduce more recent examples for fear of giving offence. Sex is a natural need, like food and drink. We blame the gormandizer and the dipsomaniac, because in the case of each an interest which has a certain legitimate place in life has usurped too large a share of his thoughts and emotions. But we do not blame a man for a normal and healthy enjoyment of a reasonable quantity of food. Ascetics, it is true, have done so and have considered that a man should cut down his nutriment to the lowest point compatible with survival but this view is not now common and may be ignored. The Puritans, in their determination to avoid the pleasures of sex became somewhat more conscious than people had been before of the pleasures of the table.

As a seventeenth-century critic of Puritanism says ;
Would you enjoy gay nights and pleasant dinners?

Then must you board with saints and bed with sinners.
It would seem, therefore, that the Puritans did not succeed in subduing the purely corporeal part of our human nature, since what they took away from sex they added to gluttony. Gluttony is regarded by the Catholic Church as one of the seven deadly sins and those who practise it are placed by Dante in one of the deeper circles of hell; but it is a somewhat vague sin, since it is hard to say where legitimate interest in food ceases and guilt begins to be incurred. Is it wicked to eat anything that is not nourishing? If so, with every salted almond we risk damnation. Such views, however, are out of date. We all know a glutton when we see one and although he may be somewhat despised, he is not severely reprobated. In spite of this fact, undue obsession with food is rare among those who have never suffered from want. Most people eat their meals and then think about other things until the next meal. Those, on the other hand, who, having adopted an ascetic philosophy, have deprived themselves of all but the minimum of food, become obsessed by visions of banquets and dreams of demons bearing luscious fruits. And marooned Antarctic explorers, reduced to a diet of whale's blubber, spend their days in planning the dinner they will have at the Carlton when they get home.


Such facts suggest that, if sex is not to be an obsession, it should be regarded by the moralists as food has come to be regarded and not as food was regarded by the hermits of the Thebaid. Sex is a natural human need like food and drink. It is true that men can survive without it, whereas they cannot survive without food and drink but from a psychological standpoint, the desire for sex is precisely analogous to the desire for food and drink. It is enormously enhanced by abstinence and temporarily allayed by satisfaction. While it is urgent, it shuts out the rest of the world from the mental purview.

All other interests fade for the moment and actions may be performed which will subsequently appear insane to the man who has been guilty of them. Moreover, as in the case of food and drink, the desire is enormously stimulated by prohibition. I have known children who refuse apples at breakfast and go straight out into the orchard and steal them, although the breakfast apples were ripe and the stolen apples unripe. I do not think it can be denied that the desire for alcohol among well-to-do

Americans is much stronger than it was twenty years ago. In like manner, Christian teaching and Christian authority have immensely stimulated interest in sex. The generation which first ceases to believe in the conventional teaching is bound, therefore, to indulge in sexual freedom to a degree far beyond what is to be expected of those whose views on sex are unaffected by superstitious teaching, whether positively or negatively. Nothing but freedom will prevent undue obsession with sex. But even freedom will not have this effect unless it has become habitual and has been associated with a wise education as regard to sexual matters. I wish to repeat, however, as emphatically in America, where I find it particularly pronounced among the sterner moralists, who display it markedly by their readiness to believe falsehoods concerning those whom they regard as their opponents. The glutton, the voluptuary and the ascetic are all self-absorbed persons whose horizon is limited by their own desires, either by way of satisfaction or by way of renunciation. A man who is healthy in mind and body will not have his interests thus concentrated upon himself. He will look out upon the world and find in it objects that seem to him worthy of his attention. Absorption in self is not, as some have supposed, the natural condition of unregenerate man. It is a disease brought on, almost always, by some thwarting of natural impulses. The voluptuary who gloats over thoughts of sexual gratification is in general the result of some kind of deprivation, just as the man who hoards food is usually a man who has lived through a famine or a period of destitution.

Healthy, outward-looking men and women are not to be produced by the thwarting of natural impulse but by the equal and balanced development of all the impulses essential to a happy life. I am not suggesting that there should be no morality and no self-restraint in regard to sex, any more than in regard to food. In regard to food we have restraints of three kinds: those of law, those of excess and those of health. We regard it as wrong to steal food, to take more than our share at a common meal and to eat in ways that are likely to make us ill. Restraints of a similar kind are essential where sex is concerned but in this case they are much more complex and involve much more self-control. Moreover, since one human being ought not to have property in another, the analogue of stealing is not adultery but rape, which obviously must be forbidden by law. The questions that arise in regard to health are concerned almost entirely with venereal disease, a subject which we have already touched upon in connection with prostitution. Clearly, the diminution of professional prostitution is the best way, apart from medicine, of dealing with this evil and diminution of professional prostitution can be best effected by that greater freedom among young people which has been growing in recent years.

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