February 11, 1994


I hope that I am not a prude, but I feel compelled to lodge a protest against the ever-increasing flood of obscenity in dreams. Many of my friends have been as shocked and sickened as myself by the filth that is poured out nightly as soon as our eyes are closed.

Night after night, the most disgraceful scenes of perversion and bestiality are perpetrated behind my eyelids....It is imperative that official action should be taken.

Kenneth Tynan, 1975

When, in the early part of this century, Sigmund Freud wrote about childhood sexuality, tracing it back to the cradle, he was roundly condemned by many as perverted.

We hold fast to our illusions. Almost every parent would like for his/her child, particularly his female child, to be innocent of sex in childhood; be awakened by kisses in adolescence, but not too much; fall in love and get married, and find total sexual fulfillment thereafter. That is the impossible dream; the fairy tale about the prince and princess who get married and live happily ever after. I suppose that this idyllic scenario is played out by a few people, but not by too many.

Many children are exposed to explicit sex in some form in childhood, either directly or through TV and magazines. The influence of childhood sexual experiences can be profound. I saw my first bit of hard-core pornography in grade school at a time when it was against the law. Did this exposure have an effect on me? It certainly did. Did it make me some kind of sex-fiend? It did not. I was a virgin until age 18, although that was probably more a matter of lack of opportunity than choice.

The sexual urges of adolescence are the same as in adulthood and perhaps stronger. As a consequence, a substantial number of young people plunge right into sexual activity in adolescence or sooner. That puts them at high risk of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, including AIDS.

Many marriages are sexually unsatisfactory. The temptations of greener pastures may call to one or both partners. Marriage is rarely the idyllic event of our dreams. Even the sexually perfect mating can be plagued by the doubt that the perfect mate might be just as perfect with someone else. The sexually inadequate marriage is simply plagued.

Even superb marriages have their share of problems; some avoidable, some not. The main unavoidable problem is boredom. As the friendship in a marriage grows, the sexual excitement diminishes. Some people manage to bring some excitement back into their old marriage for a short period. Many people use fantasy to liven it up. Many take the bad with the good, accepting the problems as the way that things have to be and that some boredom is a small price to pay for a life-long companionship.

People use a variety of devices to either avoid being tempted or to avoid temptation. The overweight woman may subconsciously figure that by not being attractive, the temptation will not be there. Since there are men who like fat women, that strategy doesn't work too well. Besides, every time that she looks in a mirror, she may not feel good about herself. The remedy may be worse than the problem.

Many people deliberately avoid situations that will put their morals in jeopardy. Cowardice actually works quite well as a deterrent to extra-marital affairs and to prevent sexually transmitted diseases. Others succumb to temptation. For some it works, for others it doesn't.

At the extreme ends of the sexual spectrum are the celibates, and at the other end, the amoral sex fiends; the Caligulas, to whom their own gratification is the only thing that matters --people who will stop at nothing, including murder.

Sixty Minutes had a story about such a man who sexually assaulted and murdered his daughter's friend, with her watching. A cop who raided his house said that he found pornographic material. He said it as if it was something bizarre. If every person who reads or watches pornography were a monster, no one's children, wives or mothers would be safe. Nor are there too many teenaged boys who don't have a bit of porn stashed somewhere where mama can't find it.

Pornography, according to the legal definitions, appeals to prurient interests. Prurient literally means causing an itch; in this case, a sexual itch. Art is the stuff that you find in art museums and erotica will get you sexually stimulated, but it's not supposed to be dirty.

Is it possible to tell them apart? I don't know about you, but I can't distinguish them. One reason I can't tell them apart is that people are sexually aroused by different things. I am part of a generation whose adolescent pornography was the woman's underwear section of the Sears Roebuck catalogue. As a consequence, I am more aroused by a partly naked woman than by a completely nude one. There is a whole room of Reuben's paintings of naked women at the Louvre. Like Playboy Bunnies, I find them a bore --and I like Rubenesque women.

The movie Notorious had what I thought was one of the steamiest love scenes that I have ever seen. It took place between Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant. They were both fully clothed and standing up.

In most of California, everything is sort-of allowed. Whatever you want is accessible in this state. There is also almost universal agreement that it is desirable to keep the stuff out of the hands of the young. I suspect that that is about the best that can be done, despite the protests of the blue noses.

I remember a radio debate on pornography. One of the panelists said that lots of married people use pornography to stimulate them sexually and that "anything that adds a little excitement to an old marriage is all to the good."

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