WHAT IS NORMAL IN SEX? (Oct, 1964)
WHAT IS NORMAL IN SEX?
by Denny Larke, Ph.D.
A psychologist answers a question which causes needless feelings of guilt in countless couples.
Dr. Larke is a psychologist and psychotherapist.
There is no feeling quite so terrible as the feeling of sex guilt. If a person’s guilty feelings are strong enough, the consequences may be physically and emotionally destructive.
As a case in point, the author recently had occasion to see a young woman, attractive and well-educated, who had suddenly become completely paralyzed on one side of her body. A thorough examination by doctors failed to disclose anything physically wrong.
The doctors concluded that the woman’s difficulty must have originated in her mind and a psychologist and a psychiatrist were called in to examine her.
After several talks with her, they discovered that the woman had been fighting a long-standing and losing battle of guilt-feeling because she and her husband engaged in heavy petting before sexual intercourse. The tortured young woman regarded this practice as abnormal, but could not bring herself to give it up for fear of not satisfying her husband’s desires.
Her mind converted this guilt feeling into a physical condition, and the paralysis of one side of her body was the result. It took no more than 2 or 3 interviews to enable the woman to understand that what she had been doing was quite normal. The paralysis disappeared completely.
Of course, everybody who suffers from a sense of guilt does not react quite so violently. Nevertheless, any feeling of guilt can make a person uncomfortable. And many guilt complexes come from misinformation about sex.
There must be hundreds of thousands of people in this country alone who believe that, because of certain sexual desires or practices on their part, they are mentally ill or morally degenerate.
The overriding tragedy here is that these guilt-stricken men and women are, for the most part, perfectly normal. They are merely the victims of certain superstitions regarding sex activities, or else they are unaware that practically everybody else is doing the same thing.
Foremost among those acts that are likely to give rise to deep guilt feelings in many individuals are oral-genital sex acts. Because many obscene stories center around this type of sexual activity, the average person has come to regard them as abnormal. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Scientific surveys have revealed that from 30 to 40 per cent of all married couples have had some kind of oral sex contact as a foreplay at one time or another. With many of the couples questioned, such practices were an important part of their sexual lives.
But oral-genital practices are not the only marital acts that a large segment of the population consider deviations. Masturbation, a practice which is common to almost all boys and a majority of girls, is still held to be a sign of wickedness and weakness by many adults who should know better.
Among the dire things that have been predicted for the person who resorts to masturbation are insanity, early death, and facial pimples. Such ideas are, of course, sheer nonsense. But they have probably been responsible for more tortured hours among children and adults alike than any other vicious myth about sex.
Several years ago a man came to my office and asked me: “Doctor, should I continue to whip my 10-year-old son when he masturbates?” It took several hours to convince this ignorant father that his son was not a moral leper.
Up until about a short time ago, most women in America probably felt that actually to enjoy sexual intercourse was in itself a perversion. They believed that the pleasurable part of coitus was reserved for the male. The female was intended to be merely the instrument for producing children.
As the old taboos against a frank discussion of sex began to break down, and more and more scientific literature on the subject was made available to the layman, this cruel and false attitude toward the role of the female in sexual intercourse began to vanish in most circles. Today, the average American woman realizes that it is perfectly normal for her to seek satisfaction in the sex act.
Should the terms “normal” and “abnormal” be used at all to describe different patterns of sex conduct or different types of sex play? Probably not.
The famous Yale scientists, Dr. Clellan S. Ford and Dr. Frank A. Beach, found that sex patterns vary sharply from one society to another.
The people of some Pacific islands, for example, would be shocked to learn that 70 per cent of American couples have never used any other sex posture except the usual face-to-face position. The accepted position for these islanders is a seated sex posture.
Most Americans and Europeans prefer sex in the dark. Some even consider it immoral to make love by light. Some primitive tribes, on the . other hand, are extremely fearful of marital relations at night. They believe that any child conceived in the dark is apt to be born blind.
Thus, sexual conduct depends to a great extent on where one happens to live.
Is there, then, any clear-cut rule for determining whether or not a given sexual activity is a “normal” one?
Here is how one highly-respected pioneer in scientific sexological research, Dr. G. V. Hamilton, answered this question in his well-known book, “A Research in Marriage.”
“It can perhaps be safely said that no sex play is taboo,” said Dr. Hamilton, “if it leads to orgasm, causes no guilt, and is not harmful physically.”
Or we can put it in the words of Dr. Frank S. Caprio, well-known Washington psychiatrist and author of many books on sex and marriage.
“In marital relations these things are matters of taste and inclination. The sexual appetite, like the appetite for food, is satisfied by different things in different people. … If a husband and wife are happily married, whatever they do to express physical love, to give happiness to each other within reason, is normal.”