“Sex Education for the Modern Liberal Adult” by Robert Anton Wilson, published in The Realist, Issue No. 12, October 1959, republished in The Best of The Realist.
The head Sublime, the heart Pathos, the genitals Beauty, the hands and feet Proportion. . .
If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite.
– William Blake
While I was attending college, I worked part-time as an orderly in a hospital. One of my jobs was cleaning up the “stroke” cases, paralyzed old men who could no longer control their bowels. This proved to be useful experience later on, when I became a father – a baby and a paralyzed old man are much the same to one who must care for them, except that a baby’s bowel movement is lighter in color and there is less of it.
I also used to go along on the ambulance to emergency calls. I’ll never forget the first birth I witnessed. I had just read Philip Wylie’s Essay on Morals, and I remembered his statement that a man who hasn’t seen a baby born is a spiritual fop, a traveler on the surface of life. I was, I remember, astonished at the enlargement of the vulva (it was so much bigger than verbal descriptions would lead one to expect). Later, I wrapped the placenta in newspaper, to throw it out.
In spite of having received “a good Christian upbringing,” I can’t remember a time when I really believed that sex was “dirty.” When I saw the Family of Man exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art, I was swept by a wave of tenderness, almost to the point of tears, at the photographs of lovers.
The first time I heard anybody refer to those beautiful pictures as “vulgar” (I have heard this opinion twice, once from a 16-year-old Irish Catholic virgin, and once from conservative Russell Kirk) I was flabbergasted. If someone had said that Van Gogh’s “Sorrow” was pornographic, I couldn’t have been more astonished. It still seems to me that our civilization must be basically insane to produce people with such orientations.
During the Korean War, I made a point of donating blood the maximum number of times. I was thunderstruck when somebody told me that donating blood requires “courage.” “What the hell do you mean?” I burst out. “It doesn’t hurt! ” (I was, at that time, nervous whenever I went to the dentist.) “But,” said my friend, “to see your own blood draining out…”
I didn’t understand then, and I still don’t. But I heard the same tone of voice from a co-ed in my college class when I mentioned my work as an orderly. “You mean you clean up dirty old men?” she said. And I heard the same tone, again, when I was explaining to another girl, why my wife and I believe in Natural Childbirth. “Your wife must be very brave,” she said. (Natural Childbirth, according to the Read Method, is often as ecstatic as the conception itself.)
And I hear exactly the same tone of voice in people who object to Marilyn Monroe’s joyful femaleness, or some of Red Skelton’s jokes, or Dr. Albert Ellis’s frankness. I can only conclude that our civilization is full of people who are squeamish and uncomfortable about the basic biological nature of life.
I think that these people are, whether they are “adjusted” to society or not, profoundly, existentially insane.
I was astonished and dismayed to discover – in letters of protest which The Realist received after printing Paul Krassner’s “Sex Education for the Modem Catholic Child” – that this literally insane hatred for the physical world still festers in the minds of many who consider themselves enlightened freethinkers and humanists.
Let us face the facts for once. Man is one cell in a universe of process. His life is part of the carbon cycle. He lives off the fruits of the earth directly, or off the animals whose food-value derives from the fact that they live off the fruits of the earth; and his excrement and (ultimately) his corpse both go back to the earth as fertilizer.
This is the basic existential cycle, the frame in which our values must be found. There is no way of breaking out of it. The other natural processes of the solar system and the great galaxy itself are equally crucial to humanity: if the sun went nova tomorrow, human life would end. The cycle of birth, reproduction, and death also dominates us.
Millions of lesser cycles, epicycles, rhythms, and processes make up the structure of our reality: the moon; menstruation; blood pH; metabolism; spring, summer, fall, and winter; digestion; respiration.
There is nothing “vulgar” about these processes, nothing “not nice,” nothing “obscene.” They are just there; they exist; and that’s all. Whether we accept these processes, rejoice at their beauty or feelhopeless and disgusted about being involved in them – this tells something about our own mental health, but not about the natural processes.
The most important of the cyclic processes in the life of a healthy adult is, of course, that of pre-orgasmic tension, orgasm, and post-orgasm relaxation.
Psychiatry, history, anthropology, etc. all seem to bear out the conclusion that it was the Church’s interference with this particular cycle that began the degeneration of mankind, which led ultimately to the present mess in which a great proportion of the population is embarrassed, uncomfortable, or just plain frightened at any crucial biological process.
It is for this reason that I am a militant freethinker and not just a nice, respectably academic “humanist.” The American Humanist Association goes on and on about “stating positive values,” etc., not “being merely negative,” etc. Well, I call myself the Negative Thinker with good reason.
I just don’t believe any new positive values can enter the lifeblood of our civilization until we have first purged it of the poison of the Schizogenic Fallacy: the fallacy that man is a “nice” spirit imprisoned in a “not nice” physical body.
My wife used to believe, as many “liberal intellectuals” still believe, that organized religion is a quaint relic of the Dark Ages, a charming sort of living fossil as cute and as harmless as the duck-billed platypus. She couldn’t understand how I could get so angry about it.
Now, however, with children arriving at school age, she is beginning to develop some of my own militant anger. It is a horrible thing to see innocent children begin to pick up the millennia-old theological rubbish from their playmates; it is more horrible to reflect on how much more they will pick up from children’s TV shows and from our supposedly secular public schools.
Make no mistake about it, old Wilhelm Reich may have been wrong about many things, but not when he wrote, in The Function of the Orgasm and The Mass Psychology of Fascism, that chronic rage and hatred stem directly from “orgastic impotence” (the inability to achieve total organismic orgasm), and that “orgastic impotence” stems from, man’s rejection of his own physical being.
The child taught to despise his own body and its functions and to identify himself with an imaginary “soul” is eventually going to become full of hatred for everybody and everything in existence. Why? Because one part of him (the sensory, non-verbal, existential level, you might call it) is permanently at war with this ridiculous “soul” dogma which his cortex tries to believe. His nervous system becomes schizoid.
He has what Reich calls “muscular armor,” chronic physical tension holding back the natural, but (to him) forbidden felicity of the organism. He can’t be comfortable in his body; and, of course, he can’t really get out of it.
The result, according to the usual Freudian mechanisms, is that all this neural frustration and biological rage is projected outward upon the rest of existence. The physical world becomes, as it was to Saint Cyprian, “the creation of the devil.” The rest of mankind becomes “the enemy” to be exterminated, or, more hypocritically, “the damned” to be saved. Every social evil, from the malicious gossip of Mrs. Gilhooley’s bridge-table to the horrors of Belsen, derives from this state of mind.
Now, finally, what of the people who consider themselves “liberal” and “enlightened” but object to “Sex Education for the Modern Catholic Child”? Krassner’s language is uncensored, very true. So is the blood, smear, and urine analysis of a competent obstetrician.
Are you upset by Krassner’s reference to sanitary napkins (a puritanical euphemism itself, by the way)? You would be more upset by the case of a girl my wife once knew who inserted her first Tampax without removing the cardboard roll. I don’t suppose anybody could deny that the painful experience of that girl resulted from the stupid taboos of our society which made it impossible for her to learn how a Tampax should be inserted by asking clear and specific questions in plain words.
Are we still living in the Victorian Age? Do you object to a reference to “nocturnal emissions”? The Army, in its psychological test for draftees, refers to them as “wet dreams.” If you are afraid of plain language about the natural functions of the healthy human body – your human body – what are you doing reading a freethought journal anyway?
Nobody can deny the point made by Paul Krassner’s Swiftian little bit of satire – that the precious “natural order” which the Catholic hierarchy is so anxious to save from interference by the rubber industry, this wonderful capitalized Nature that is not the same as the nature known to science (since things can happen which violate it), this sacred “Nature” sees to it that millions of ova are wasted for every one that is fertilized, that trillions of spermatozoa perish without ever reaching an ovum, that hundreds of thousands of babies are born dead every year.
Krassner makes this point by using specific, extensional language, which is what any semanticist would advise. Who or what would profit if the point were weakened by evasions, subterfuges, euphemisms, and Nice-Nelly-ism in general?
A psychiatrist once told me that he makes a point when discussing sex with his patients of using the familiar Anglo-Saxon monosyllables rather than medical terms. “They can never really tell me about their problems if they’re busy searching for ‘nice’ words,” he said. It may seem unrelated, but I am reminded of Ramakrishna’s remark that, before he could teach yoga to Occidentals, he first had to teach them to weep.
I am a very enthusiastic student of certain varieties of Oriental mysticism, some of which seem quite rational to my mind. The purpose of yoga, of what the East calls “ways of liberation,” is not to sink into a mindless trance like a masturbating tree-sloth, but to become more acutely aware on all levels of the senses, nervous system, and “mind.” (A Zen master once summed up Buddhism in the one word, “Attention.”)
The first step toward this awareness is to transcend the “muscular armor” which keeps the organism sensitive to those parts and functions it has been told are not “lady-like” or not” gentlemanly. ” (Modern psychiatry insists on “abreaction” – as Mencken put it, the patient has to make a jack-ass of himself before he can be cured.)
Michelangelo wrote that “to create, you must first be able to love.” Einstein, more verbosely, said that the drive toward greater knowledge always begins from “an intellectual love of the objects of experience.” The greatest artist and the greatest scientist of the Western world are at once in recognizing that their creativity arises from “love”; and Einstein seems to have had in the back of his mind Spinoza’s “Intellectual love of a thing means understanding its perfections.” Twenty-five hundred years ago in China, Confucius wrote in the Shu King that “the dynasty, Y Yin, came in because the folk had achieved a great sensibility. ”
All of these expressions (the Zen master’s “Attention,” Michelangelo’s “love,” Einstein and Spinoza’s “Intellectual love of things,” Confucius’ “great sensibility,” and I could throw in also Blake’s remark about “cleansing the doors of perception”) seem to me attempts to verbalize an experience which, by its nature, cannot be verbalized. One has to experience it.
You have to relax your body, so that the hard kinks of prejudice and fear cannot censor your perceptions. You have to look at things without using words inside your mind, look at things as they are originally perceived without shame or “value” or use-consciousness or purpose of any sort. Every thing you look at will then appear to you, as Blake says, infinite.
This is the “oceanic experience” Freud noted at the root of religion. It is also at the roots of science and art. We are all stumbling into this experience constantly, whenever we are completely relaxed and unafraid – Sunday afternoon in the hammock, for instance.
This experience has created a hundred stupid theologies, true; but, it has also created sciences and arts. In the Occident especially, from the troubadours of the 12th century up to D.H. Lawrence and Ezra Pound, this experience has become the exclusive property of wild and erotic independent mystics, while the official churchly mystics have sunk deeper and deeper into a miasmal mist.
It is out of this “oceanic experience” that a rational humanism can create “positive values” as an alternative to the delusional schizophrenias of Judeo-Christian theology. But these values can only be understood by those who are aware on all levels of their being, sensory as well as rational; and the majority of people will never become aware in this way until those institutions are destroyed which teach man to despise his own body and to fear even to speak of it in plain, honest words.