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The New Sexual Underground: Crossing the Last Boundaries (John Warren Wells on Sexual Behavior Book 10)

Lawrence Block

  Table of Contents

  * * *


  One: The Triumph Of The Sexual Revolution

  Two: Making Ends Meet

  Three: Three Is A Beautiful Number

  Four: Love In The Electronic Age

  Five: Incest Is A Family Affair

  Six: Culture, Culture, Who’s Got The Culture?

  Seven: The Solitary Swingers

  Eight: It Started With A Swinging Honeymoon

  Nine: Like A Supermarket Of Sex

  About the Author

  Excerpt: Doing It!

  The New Sexual Underground

  John Warren Wells

  Lawrence Block

  * * *

  copyright © 1968, 2012, Lawrence Block

  All Rights Reserved


  The more things change, so we are told, the more they remain the same. And it would certainly seem to be so in the case of sexual behavior. We have long taken man’s basic sexual nature quite for granted, assuming that Western civilization has in various ways shaped the biological sexual capacity provided through the evolution of homo sapiens, and that the resulting patterns of our sexuality are, if not permanent, certainly not what one might call subject to change without notice.

  And yet, in less than the winking of History’s eye, extreme changes in our sexual mores have made their appearance in recent years. As John Warren Wells points out, the past decade has witnessed the triumph of the sexual revolution. With the bedroom as the battlefield, and with scarcely a shot fired in anger, we have in uncountable ways revised our manners of thinking and acting about intercourse (premarital, extramarital, and plain marital), homosexuality (male and female), and those forms of behavior which have in turn been called perversions, deviations, and preferences. Our children grow up knowing and doing that which their parents neither knew nor did. And their parents are now making up for lost time in the world of the swingers.

  The book which John Warren Wells has so capably prepared deals less with the general changes in the fabric of American sexual morality than with the specific mores of the “extremist” wing of this sexual revolution. While there has always been an unremitting need for valid surveys of “average” patterns of sexual behavior, it would appear equally obvious that there is a pressing need for books such as this one, which examine in detail the more vivid examples of our new sexual attitudes. One cannot learn all there is to know about the world of birds merely by studying the ostrich and the emu, but by the same token one could hardly qualify as an expert ornithologist without giving some attention to these rare birds.

  • • •

  And it is rare birds indeed that Mr. Wells presents to us in the pages which follow. I trust it will not testify to my own professional naiveté to confess that Mr. Wells presents case histories here which go rather far beyond anything in my experience. The couple obsessed with the desire to expand their sexual horizons electronically with the aid of massage devices and vibrating rubber phalli, the swinging housewife who supplements her family’s income by peddling her flesh to Manhattan executives, the cartoonist and his wife with their penchant for long-term troilistic arrangements—these and several others certainly qualify for membership in this new sexual underground.

  The Harrison family, an extraordinary clan already planning incest to the third or fourth generation, stands as an even more exceptional departure from every aspect of conventional sexual morality. Incest has always occurred, and incest will always occur, but the rational arguments for incest marshaled by the Harrisons show that even this form of generally unacceptable sexual behavior finds its niche in the new underground.

  It is greatly to Well’s credit, I think, that he functions in this book solely as an observer, chronicler, reporter. He does not take it upon himself to judge the individuals whose stories he relates. He neither moralizes upon the probable rightness or wrongness of their acts and attitudes, nor does he speculate as to the causes of these attitudes or their reflections upon the subjects’ emotional health or illness. And this, I would say, is all to the good.

  As a psychiatrist, I find it frankly difficult to maintain equivalent detachment. I am professionally concerned not merely with the what of human behavior but also with the how and the why. It is perhaps inevitable that I find myself relating to these persons as a doctor, not merely as a disinterested reader.

  From my own vantage point, then, I cannot do otherwise than be deeply disturbed by various aspects of what John Warren Wells brings out into the open. One’s initial reaction—that our society is full of an increasing number of “sick” people doing “sick” things—is perhaps a misstatement; one quickly comes to the conclusion that the acts performed and the relationships created represent less a change in human sexual urges than an increasing tendency to gratify such desires as one experiences. In simpler terms, one might say that the new generation of “swingers” are doing little that an older generation would not have wanted to do—had not conditioning prevented them either from realizing the nature of their desires or giving into such impulses as they were forced to recognize.

  What does this mean? Is it, from a psychiatric viewpoint, good or bad?

  The question is not an easy one to answer. On the one hand, it has long been maintained that a substantial proportion of human misery stems directly from the frustration of those desires which society finds unacceptable. Thus it is repression which causes neurosis and consequent personality disturbance.

  This is one way of looking at the problem, and there is quite a bit to be said for it. Yet does it tell the whole story? If so, one would have to argue that the breakdown in the pattern of societal inhibition is all to the good, and that, by gratifying whatever sexual desires they may feel, the members of the sexual underground are ushering in a brave new world of mental health on the wings of sexual freedom.

  I feel, though, that there is perhaps another side to the story. The violent overthrow of inhibition all too often has the effect of a sudden embrace of the tenets of nudism. If the latter occurs on a private beach in the Caribbean, all well and good—but should it instead take place in a Marshall Field’s window, or on an ice floe in the Arctic Ocean, the convert finds himself (in one way or another) bereft of valuable defenses.

  One observes a similar syndrome in occasional destructive psychoanalytic situations—and it is unfortunate indeed that improper analyses occur far more often than one would wish. In such cases, the analysand strips from his self all the veneer which years of conditioning have deposited upon him, all the neuroses and self-deceptions, in an effort to discover his quintessential self and face the world squarely and honestly. What one must bear in mind, however, is that these neurotic fixations, these anxieties, these bits of self-delusion, all too often serve a very important, even vital purpose. They are the clothing which protects one against intemperate winds, the pupil dilation which prevents the retina from being overcome by too-intense light. When they are stripped away without proper guidance and intelligent planning, the analysand can suddenly find that he cannot bear himself and the glaring world he lives in. Sometimes the cure is indeed worse than the disease.

  How does this situation run parallel to the demolition of inhibition in the sexual underground? Simply in that the complete unleashing of the libido can lead in rather short order to a state of sexual anarchy. When this happens, there is for the individual not only no right and wrong, no normal and abnormal, b
ut no distinction between desirable and undesirable. The individual achieves that state of sexuality which Freud ascribes to the child and labels “polymorphous perversion.” There is no discrimination between one sex act and another.

  This might be desirable if inhibitions could be completely overthrown, if anxieties could be absolutely banished, if neuroses could be rooted out unequivocally. But for the vast majority of individuals this is emphatically not the case. One can take the boy out of the country without taking the country out of the boy—and this sort of thing is often what comes about when the repressions of a lifetime are tossed furiously aside.

  Mr. Wells here presents the stories of individuals who are, for the most part, quite content with their lot. While a deeper probe of their psyches would no doubt reveal the presence of anxieties and guilt feelings, and while the same persons who blithely endorse swinging in these pages may find themselves the victims of nervous breakdowns or profound depression in years to come, they generally present themselves here as reasonably content. Some actively proselytize for the life of what Wells calls the “swinging society.” Others, at the very least, feel that their role in this society represents an ideal adjustment on their part.

  My own experience with the swingers has been somewhat different. This only stands to reason. Mr. Wells’s subjects, happy with their station, do not seek a solution on a psychiatrist’s couch. My own patients who have had experience to one extent or another with the swinging life have been less enthusiastic. In several instances, for example, I have talked with women who entered into wife-swapping with the main objective of saving their marriages. They did so at their husbands’ suggestion, and forced their own deep inhibitions concerning adultery into the background.

  And their experiences were, to say the very least, unsatisfactory. Often their loss in self-esteem did nothing to prevent the further dissolution of their marriages. Often, too, sexual abandon was accompanied by abandon in other areas—drug abuse, alcoholism, financial irresponsibility. While I would not begin to suggest that this is true in the majority of cases, it is precisely cases of this sort with which I have become familiar.

  I am sure any book I might write on the subject of this new sexual underground would suffer from the limitations of my own experience in this field. But by the same token I would counsel the reader that, for a significant number of persons, life in that underground is somewhat less rosy than it is for Mr. Wells’s happy hedonists.

  • • •

  I trust that the above remarks will not be misconstrued as an indictment of John Warren Wells’s very valuable and informative book. For I must say that I have no reservations whatsoever about recommending it strongly to any reader interested in the dimensions of our new standards of sexual morality. A meticulous researcher, an honest reporter, a skilled writer, Wells has clearly succeeded in fulfilling the demands of the now generation—he “tells it like it is,” and in so doing he tells a story which demands to be told.

  The manner in which he presents his data is, I feel, worth particular praise. By using the form of verbatim quotation from his interview tapes, the author literally permits the members of the sexual underground to speak for themselves. I cannot imagine any more effective way to convey not only the facts of their histories but also the nuances of their personalities and the subtleties of their attitudes. When I finished reading the manuscript of this book, I left off with the feeling that I actually knew some of the persons Wells interviewed; I could hear their voices in my mind, could guess at the way in which they might react to various situations. How different it is when one is confronted with cold tables of statistical data or equally opaque summaries of psychoanalytical cases! These are real people, and it will be to the reader’s profit to make their acquaintance.

  Perhaps because I am personally acquainted with John Warren Wells, I was especially interested in and impressed by the book’s final chapter, in which he goes so far as to detail his own personal experiences in the unusual setting of a Hollywood orgy. In an extreme example of reportorial honesty, he manages to convey more effectively than I have ever seen it done before the whole atmosphere of the sex orgy. I have long felt that what is most interesting about such gatherings is not the purely mechanical matter of who is doing what and with which and to whom, but the entire matter of the mood prevailing; the emotional reactions of presumably “normal” participants, and so forth. I would go so far as to label this chapter as a milestone in the annals of sexological literature. It is undeniably unique in my experience, an extraordinary subjective interpretation of an extraordinary sexual phenomenon, lucidly seen through the eyes of an articulate and incisive observer.

  Throughout the book, the reader will find himself confronted by any number of interesting theories suggested and developed by Mr. Wells. His extrapolations on the significance of the violation of incest taboos, his notions on the distinction between male and female homosexuality, his projections for the future of the sexual revolution (with which, incidentally, I find myself in complete if not euphorious agreement)—these and other bits of argument which Wells advances all demand more comment than the space limitations of this introduction permit. Let me simply say that the reader will not only find himself confronted with fascinating members of the swinging underground speaking in their own words—he will also be confronted by the probing thoughts of a first-rate and strikingly original thinker.

  Benjamin Morse, M.D.

  March 1968


  The Triumph Of The Sexual Revolution

  Several years ago, the renowned Dr. Benjamin Morse wrote a book entitled The Sexual Revolution. While I do not know whether or not Dr. Morse was the first to use this phrase, it is widely recognized that his book broke fresh ground in chronicling the exceptional changes in sexual behavior in America during the second half of the twentieth century. It was Morse’s thesis that both the existential and normative mores of the nation were under siege, and that violations of the hitherto established code of sexual morality constituted not merely rebellion but genuine revolution.

  In the years which have followed the publication of Morse’s work, the title of his book has become a catch phrase of popular journalism while its central thesis has been proved time and time again. The shock troops of the sexual revolution have been victorious in one battle after another. In virtually every sphere, the old codes of sexual morality have given ground to infinitely more permissive standards. In law and language and behavior, an ever increasing number of Americans have rejected the old and accepted the new. On the one hand, more individuals participate in practices which are at odds with earlier moral precepts. On the other hand, those individuals who continue to observe the last generation’s sexual standards are considerably more tolerant of these sexual revolutionaries; thus even for those whose behavior remains as it was, a change in attitude is readily discernible.

  Premarital sexual relations are generally taken for granted. On many campuses, college students of opposite sexes live together quite openly, and most college administrators have found it politic to ignore such arrangements rather than attempt to repress them. Statutory rape, while still illegal and in most states punishable by astonishingly heavy prison sentences, has become something of a legal joke. A Midwestern district attorney told me privately that his state could not possibly build jails fast enough to house every male who had had carnal knowledge of females under the age of eighteen, and that it is part of his job to persuade irate parents not to bother pressing such charges.

  Pornography has doffed its traditional plain brown wrapper and now holds a prominent place on newsstands all over the country. The old hypocrisy of “redeeming social importance” no longer serves to separate the sheep of literature from the randy goats of prurience. Standard underground texts of all sorts, from the Victorian classics to the Girodian moderns, are readily available. For once, though, you cannot tell a book by its cover; the ultimate hardcore works have the most innocent covers imaginable, lacking provoc
ative illustrations and blurbs, in keeping with the bizarre Supreme Court decision which held that, while it is evidently permissible to write and publish and sell a book designed to excite the libido, it is unlawful to advertise the book as such. (The logical extension of this legal position would be to permit cigarette manufacturers to sell their wares but to jail them if they warned the public that the cigarettes cause cancer.) At the same time, freedom in publishing has penetrated to non-pornographic areas. Previously forbidden words such as fuck and cunt appear with increasing frequency in the majority of realistic novels, and, occasionally, in the theater. At the time of the present writing, no one has yet broken the “fuck” barrier in the American cinema, but surely the day is not far off. Nor is this freedom confined to the verbal level; love scenes in plays and on film have become increasingly realistic both in respect to the detail shown and the nature of the act performed. Nudity is commonplace, lovemaking is highly detailed, and audiences have been treated in the past years to fellatio (Bonnie and Clyde) and cunnilingus (The Beard).

  Homosexuality, another topic which has lately received unprecedented attention in books and films and plays, similarly reflects the triumph of the sexual revolution. It may well be that proportionately there are no more homosexuals in the country than there were ten years ago, but it is certainly true that homosexuals find it far less essential to conceal their sexual preferences than they formerly did. In some localities the laws themselves have been changed to permit any and all sexual relations among consenting adults, and it is more than likely that in time this legal principle will prevail throughout the nation, either in terms of law or through systematic non-enforcement of old-style blue laws. But it is the changing attitudes of heterosexuals which most clearly show the changing nature of the homosexual scene. An increasing number of public figures no longer attempt to conceal their homosexuality, and an increasing proportion of the general public accepts it as a matter of course. From mass market magazine articles to night club jokes, one may observe the dramatic change in American attitudes.