Saturday, September 8, 2007

Sexual Attitudes: Myths & Realities: Review

The Bulloughs have written a long shelf of studies on sexuality, and this 1995 collection of essays surveys efficiently and concisely various aspects of their field. Chapters ask "Why the Hostility to Sex?" and place blame with the Platonic and Christian strictures favoring the soul over the body, and spirit over the flesh. This survey makes powerfully and poignantly the case that Western attitudes have been tainted and crippled regarding the body. Alternative Views offers Hindu, Buddhist, Islamic, and Chinese attitudes that all remind Europeans how comparatively narrow and guilt-ridden are what we often perceive as "natural" and "ordinary" perceptions towards sexuality. Each chapter sets out its findings with calm clarity and rational analysis, backed up by primary sources and a scholarly detachment combined with a humanistic acceptance of our diversity in our sexual desires and their satisfaction. Some material has been repeated in other publications by these prolific authors; this is a minor caveat, but I do want to warn that if you have read other material by these authors, that the entries here may lack freshness. However, the Bulloughs, leading scholars in this field, write calmly, learnedly, and persuasively.

With the third chapter, the classification popularized by early Christian thinkers such as Augustine takes the '"Unnatural" Sex' restrictions against nature that limited effectively any expression of sexual activity into that of the "missionary position" for purposes of procreation, and this even limited severely and largely reluctantly by many theologians. This makes for instructive if depressing reading, considering the long shadow cast over fifteen centuries since of repressed erotic and libidinal activity by most of the Western world. The sources are dealt with concisely and clearly that led to this reaction and fear of sexual expression.

Masturbation, Sex & Gender, Contraception, Abortion gain each a chapter. Infertility, Impotence, and Artificial Insemination earns its own treatment. Pornography is differentiated from obscenity; "Homosexuality, Sex Labeling, and Stigmatized Behavior" follows. Finally, "Sex in a Changing World" compares past restrictions on sexual investigation with our own era's limited but undeniable freedom of inquiry and study. For summary, the end of the chapter on "'Unnatural' Sex" sums up the focus of this clear, succinct, and level-headed volume well. "It might be well that no human sexual activity is really unnatural. Certainly some might regard certain sexual activities as undesirable, others as potentially harmful, and still others that many would classify as immoral, but to base our assumptions on ancient Greek philosophy or Jewish mythology is to build a castle on shifting sands." (60)

(Review posted to Amazon US today.)

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