The subject of ethical norms in sex behavior is of such extreme complexity that definition of a precise position would require correspondingly great space, and more quantitative research than psychology has yet accomplished. However, it is necessary — and easy — to expose certain pseudo-psychological reasonings that are attempting to substantiate false positions today. And in any case the whole field presents an opportunity for illustrating "energy economics" principles in morality that have not elsewhere been brought out.
The basic fact that stares one in the face — though few are prepared to see it — is a biological one, namely, that the endowment in sexual activity appropriately evolved for primitive human groups over the last half-million years is entirely excessive for the reproductive conditions and chances of death in civilized society. Here is one of the largest culturo-genetic gaps in human adaptation, with resulting intense moral conflict, neurosis and other products of the sharp disparity. Not only is our endowment too elaborate for the needs of survival, depriving other areas of psychological energy for their expansion, but that same endowment appears too early on the scene. The innate triggering by the hormones puts puberty perhaps fifteen years ahead of the emotional complexities of our culture, most happily to marry and reproduce. This again is a tragedy — the tragedy essentially of Romeo and Juliet. Possibly some modern societies have a useful compromise solution, in a "trial marriage" norm consisting of early marriage with the expectation that many of these immature marriages will break up in favor of more mature choices, made within a further decade. If this were practiced along with postponement of children until the marriage proves stable, it might — though with the psychological strains of the childless marriage — prove a solution. Incidentally, there is in any case, much to be said — until eugenics can predict genetic fitness more accurately — for children being born of older parents. In this way genetic defects which typically appear, say, before the age of thirty-five, would be more rapidly eliminated. Indeed, the much-to-be-desired genetic increase of human longevity — as effective longevity — will come mainly by the selective reproduction of the long lived.
The difference between the well-known position of Christianity, calling for every possible degree of sublimation of the sex erg, and the modern, permissive Humanist position, is very marked. Julian Huxley well expresses the latter (1957) "It is tragic to think of millions of human beings denied the full beauty and exaltation of love precisely while their impulses are strongest and their sensibilities at their highest pitch" (page 207). And proceeds to suggest that "the problem of love ... must be solved ambulando, or rather vivendo, in living; and the correctness of the solution is only to be measured by the fulfillment achieved." On the sense of tragedy in the situation we are in agreement, but the final Latin expressions do not hide the fact that a solution of ethical expediency is being suggested. For the definition of "fulfillment," with the present poor capacity of psychological moral science to define it, remains at the mercy of one's illusions.
The voice of modern Humanism ("rational ethics") in the realm of marriage and promiscuity is further expressed by the life and writings of, say, Bertrand Russell, or the plea of Rosenfeld (1969), "A man of our time who feels overburdened with his confusions — sexual and otherwise — and his responsibilities — including his marital ones — might see distinct advantages in the more carefree type of world" (i.e., in which the sanctity of the family is not recognized). Knowing many bohemians one must be permitted to smile at the idea that their world becomes "carefree," but one may yet recognize the heightened confusions which Rosenfeld describes. However, it is at least possible that the decay of moral convictions, rooted in the decay of revealed religions, is one of the major causes of these confusions.
As a temporary exacerbator of the discrepancy one must recognize that we ride on the crest of a wave of luxury, such as appeared in lesser degrees at ripe stages of older civilizations. There is little doubt — as is more obvious in animal studies — that cold, sickness, high altitude stress, hunger and fear are inhibitors of sex, and in a few instances (Grinker and Spiegel, 1945, observing marines exposed to fear and stress in World War II) there is evidence of impotence in men and sterility in women induced by stress. Some perceptive literary writers have noted that sexual problems in the young seem almost to vanish in periods where economic stress is more uniform. To this one might perhaps add the comment of a ski resort owner that promiscuity is reduced at times of dangerous competitions, and of Bertrand Russell that (with obverse values!) we might reduce the participation in exciting and dangerous sports by removing obstacles to youthful sex satisfaction.
The evidence being all around us there was actually no need to wait for Freud for the insight, but it was nevertheless Freud who most clearly expressed the role of successful sexual sublimation in the cultural productivity of the artist, musician and mathematician. His analyses at the clinical level are supported by our factor analysis at the community level, where the cultural pressure factor clearly describes the same positive relation of instinctual long-circuiting to cultural productivity. All this is ignored by those who claim that their revolt against Puritanism and Victorianism (not to mention Moses) is "rational" and "enlightened." The crass assertion of an "orgasm culture" by such as Albert Ellis and others posing as representative of psychological science has little relation to the findings of either psychoanalysis or modern experimental psychology. (This is not to say that the psychologist does not meet deviant cases, where clinical disabilities arise, wherein sexual expression needs to be encouraged. And for some defective in altruism, sexual love is sometimes an avenue to love and socialization.) The oratory of Morris (1967) that a physical variation in man made sex more "pervasive" than in the other primates, and somehow produced culture, is an attempt to have one's cake and eat it (which naturally makes a best seller). This mistakes the recent genetic mutations favoring easier sublimation, which make available for culture the desperately needed energy hitherto tied up in the sex drive, a virtue of the sex drive itself, instead of reward from its amendments.
The nature of the genetic constraints which make human reactivity and energy primarily available only for certain directions of behavior is not yet fully understood — but these innate instinctual "channels" are nevertheless real. In the case of a displacement of activity and interest so large as is required in the case of sex it may be that civilization will resort to physiological inventions, if it can find them, that will delay the onset of puberty for a decade, and permit easier sublimation at all ages (an echo of the self-castration of some early Christian leaders). Meanwhile, to the fortunate whom "mightier transports move and thrill," by virtue of greater capacity to sublimate, falls the difficult task of explaining the colors of the sunset to men born blind.
In morality generally it is a higher development to accept a standard and admit inability to reach it (and here the hypocrite is already half reformed) than to commit the supreme sin of denying the value. Yet it is the latter which the rationalists in this field are attempting to do. They rejoice, for example, that chemical and other contraception has divorced sex from procreation, so that sexual license is possible for ever vaster numbers of people. But here they overlook a quite inexorable economic law of biology — that nature wastes nothing (which Aristotle's generalizing powers clearly saw long ago when he said "Nature never makes anything superfluous"). The bill of survival can be met only by an absolutely functional relation of energy expenditure to what are truly adaptive actions. Any separation of satisfaction from functionality is sheer suicide. (Biologists are in fact using a biological sex stimulation and false satisfaction as an ingenious way of wiping out insect pests!) However, it is true that (if inter-individual natural selection is not ruined by welfare and other economic machinery as discussed in the last section), the free use of contraception should more rapidly eliminate those lacking in the mutations which transfer sexual energy more freely to general cultural activity. On the other hand a greater emphasis on sexuality in marriage selection itself might have the opposite effect.
No matter what our scientific insights may be into sexual sublimation mutations that may, in evolutionary terms, be elegant, we cannot watch unmoved the passing of the sexual romance which constitutes nine-tenths of all literature. When, terrible and fair, the glittering new cultural Phoenix arises, we may yet grow nostalgic for the aroma of the nest of spices, fading on desert air. Yet, turning from verse to statistics, we know that psychology finds that the congenialities which make for lifelong romance, are even today very similar to those which make for profound friendship (Cattell and Nesselroade, 1967; Tharp, 1963; Udry, 1966). Such truths, and the diminishing role of the sex drive relative to idealistic planning in deciding when the torch of life shall be handed on, suggest that the spirit of romance will have to spread its wings in wider realms of human endeavor and adventure than those of the sex relation.
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