Sexual Revolution. The History of an Idea.

Gert Hekma, University of Amsterdam

The concept of sexual revolution has not a very long history, scarcely a century old. The first person to be seen as exponent of the sexual revolution is Otto Gross, belonging to the radical side of psychoanalysis. According to Heuer (2004: 59), he was the person who developed “the theoretical bases of the ‘sexual revolution’”. He worked in Berlin in the 1910s. The word got broader currency through the work of Wilhelm Reich in the 1930s. But there is a tradition of ideas beyond the concrete uses of the term that proposes radically different forms of sexual politics and practices from what has become mainstream since 18th-century Enlightenment ideals. In this short introduction I want to discuss some of these authors and their theories that suggest what a sexual revolution could be like. What do concepts of “sexual revolution” and related terms along lines of “sexual liberation” mean to these authors? The word “sexual” makes its breakthrough in the late nineteenth century, so some authors don’t use the concept but nevertheless refer to a radical change of society. The word revolution also is very 19th-century. Sade uses for sexuality the term “sodomy” as a critique of marital reproductive coitus as prescribed by the Christian churches. Fourier speaks of the “passions”. Many older and newer feminist texts rather discuss a gender than a sexual revolution. When the sexual in such texts takes a pre-eminent place, they are here included. Here I suggest a short overview of radical text on sexuality.

A first surprise

Strangely, researching the authors that in modern times suggested or promoted ideas on sexual revolution or liberation, I found that the oldest had the more interesting and radical ideas. Must I say that with the gradual and limited liberation of Western societies sex radicalism has been tamed? Nonetheless at the end, with the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s, we find again more radical and also more practical proposals. My notes are preliminary because these books are a selection of all those that have appeared throughout the modern period, but they already point to many important and interesting issues.

I will discuss the following themes that seem to me to be pivotal to modern ideas about sexuality: first questions of nature and/or culture of sexual pleasures, second of men and women, third of sexual preferences and identities including homo and hetero, fourth fn private and public, fifth on sex, love and relations and finally about ages of consent. Of course some authors don’t discuss all these issues, sometimes they seem uninterested, and sometimes other issues crop up. So many authors discuss the organization of the household in the future society but few ages of consent.

We should address the critique of Foucault that the Western world has become always more talkative on sexuality, and that it may well be that all these proponents of sexual liberation or revolution in fact contribute much more to the formation of sexual disciplines than that they help to promote what they say to promote, or only as a by-effect. The confession of being gay has become a veritable industry in some places, and seems to have indeed important disciplining consequences. The heterosexualization of the world has made great progress parallel to a rising gay and lesbian culture but gay and lesbian rights remain marginal on most places. Questions of visibility, public space or erotic experimentation are beyond the imagination of most people. The tolerance for gays and lesbians may in fact contribute to the heterosexualization of queers as some authors have argued with regard to same-sex marriage as embedding queers in straight culture. The answers of Foucault himself, by pointing to “the care of the self”, friendship or some form of dandyism, seems me very individualistic, and helpless when we face contemporary sexual politics of which many people have given devastating criticisms, f.e. Don Kulick for Sweden, Josephine Ho for South-East Asia while I myself am trying to do the same for the Netherlands.

My interest in the theme also comes from my discontent with the political silence of most postmodern and queer theory – that have become too often an irrelevant academic fashion and have taken the critique of Foucault too serious.

The marquis de Sade

The sexual philosophy that we have to ascribe to the Marquis de Sade (1740-1814) because he authored none of his works that are moreover mainly novels, is the most radical sexual philosophy up to this day to such an extent that Annie LeBrun remarked that all philosophers that discussed his work, from Bataille and Adorno & Horkheimer to Foucault, failed to grasp it.

Sade uses the enlightened philosophy of nature to invert it, and to persistently suggest that incest, prostitution, self-stimulation, sodomy, pederasty and lust murder are all in nature, and not against nature as both the catholic church and the mainstream enlightened philosophers would have it. The “natural” aim of sexual acts, reproduction, is of no interest for Sade. He opposes coitus that he loathes to sodomy that he loves, especially in it passive form. Against theories of scarcity as proposed by Malthus he underlines the abundance of nature – with regard to sex of sperm and eggs. He sees no reason to stimulate population policies to promote or reduce reproduction because nature will takes its course

Men and women are equally lustful. Perhaps more women have succumbed to the ideas of the church that they have to be chaste, and keep their sexuality for marriage, but the “curious” girl will soon enough understand once she gets her erotic chances that the teachings of the church are opposed to nature, and start sexual activities. Moreover the categories of male and female are not stable and Sade likes effeminacy in boys and masculinity in girls.

Sexual practices are for Sade a matter of preferences that are very diverse and include violence, bestiality and scat and piss sex. Sade himself prefers most being penetrated and whipped – so we could describe him as a passive sodomite and masochist. He nevertheless likes to revert services so he can be sadistic and active. So there is no stable sexual identity in Sade, but rather curiosity and mobility. The one thing he finds disgusting is coital sex. His libertines will only engage in it to commit incest, infect a virtuous woman with a venereal disease or rape a pregnant woman or preferably these three together. Sade is multisexual and in his work is nowhere the idea that people have certain fixed sexual identities, but they will have some strong preferences that don’t exclude other sexual activities.

Sex is not a private matter in Sade – his sex is often orgiastic with plural partners, or take place in boudoirs, semi-public places between bedroom and street. It takes place where lust arises which is everywhere. Sade´s libertines stand above convention or law. They are like the autonomous persons of Nietzsche whose philosophy shows many similarities with Sade´s.

Finally, sex has nothing to do with love or relations. Marriage and family are only good for enabling crimes such as incest and adultery. Because having sex within the family multiplies the chances of incestuous and adulterous relations (especially when it leads to procreation), it still has some charm for Sade’s libertines. The strict separation of love and sex doesn’t mean that love doesn’t exist in Sade’s life or work. Especially his letters to his wife show a loving couple. In his work marriages are fun and plural. The libertines in The 120 days of Sodom marry the daughters of their partners in crime to create connections between them and also to be able to disrespect marital laws. Moreover they marry as husbands the young adolescents that were brought to the castle for the orgies, and as wives the “male fuckers”, the young men that have been hired for anally penetrating the libertines. Also here, we see gender inversion.

A main point of de Sade at the time of the French revolution was to have as few laws as possible – interesting seen the very small number of sex laws the Code Penal would contain (in fact three: rape, the habitual debauching of youngster under 21 years and public indecency). Since, the number of sex laws has increased dramatically, f.e. with age of consent laws or laws against pornography (see Iacuba & Maniglier 2005).

Sade doesn’t indicate an age of consent but at some points he shows no compassion with prepuberal children being used for sex. La philosophie dans le boudoir (1795) describes the sexual education of the 14 years old who turns in one day from a catholic prude into a sadean slut. The story leaves the impression that this is the right age to teach youngsters about sexuality.

The problem for subsequent sex reformers with Sade is his radicalism: the violence of his work, a total disregard for consent and for loving relations beyond sexual practices. His work remains nevertheless outstanding because of the poetic way in which he indicated the many weak points of the enlightened sexual philosophy –its rationalism, its reliance on a good nature and a loving and reproductive couple, its heterosexuality (before the word was coined) and so on. And because he wrote novels and not essays, and denied the authorship pf his books, it remains a question whether the ideas of his characters were his.

Charles Fourier (1772-1837)

The main work of Fourier on sexuality Un nouveau monde amoureux was published only 130 years after his death as it was too radical for its own times and would have endangered his social movement. Only during the sexual revolution this work could be published in an integral version and it would be soon translated into other languages

Love is the first among the passions (love = love + sex) and the passion best suited to create social ties. The repression of love is a double political absurdity because first it brings all citizens in a state of secret insurrection, and second it leads to poverty, oppression, deceit. Art and culture result of experienced (and not repressed) sexual passion. So he sees a positive relation between sex and culture, while Freud would see the relation as negative with his theory that culture is a result of sexual sublimation. Love is multiple or rallying, so there is no place for either the `egoism a deux` of the couple or jealousy. Because of the pluralism of relations, social cohesion is stronger than with insulated couples who contribute little to social bonding. Rather make love with the one you are with. Love can be for him `sans lendemain` without direct aim or the need of a couple.

Men and women are equal for him and his many followers. Because nature loves contrasts, not only between man and women but also inside the sexes and between young and old, youngsters will generally go for the elderly and the reverse. For Fourier, love needs social differences for stimulation – opposed to present-day ideas that stress the necessity of equality. Love is rather momentous and situational than pure and eternal.

He also creates space for sapphists and pederasts, so for sexual diversity but not as radical and explicit as in Sade. Fourier doesn’t see sexual preference as something individual but as social. Het would like that people with specific sexual interest – even if there would be only 50 of them – should meet. He counts the number of men who have like him an interest in sapphists on 26.000. He also allows for sadist and masochist preferences (see Guérin 1969: 204-205). Incest belongs to nature and is a transitional passion between love and family, as pederasty is between friendship and love (id. 207). He also allows for both hetero- and homosexual orgies (id. 207).

Exclusivity is a radical vice of civilization that should be avoided; love is rallying – plural as Rene Scherer (2004) explained. Different from the egoism of the couple rallying love creates social cohesion.

Social life should be socialized in “phalansteres” where many people would live together and socialize the household as to relieve the separate units, and in particular women, of their tasks, and render them to specialists. Everybody should do work that he or she liked best. In this form of housing, there would be place for various units. The nuclear family was only one among many ways to live together and there would be place for pederasts and sapphists.

Young people have according to Fourier no sexual desires. They are neuter until puberty, but then they will be free to do as they like.


Marriage is the tomb of love (Guerin 1969:215)

Same-sexual practices (erotic pantheism) existed in the Orient before Judaism. These passions may have prosecuted by Christianity, but it was not able to eliminate them (214). But according pederasty was pure among the Greeks (220)

Platonism (the desire for perfect love) leads to Sodom (225) – Proudhon had a beloved friend whom he lost early on to the cholera.


The founding fathers of Communism had little interest in sexuality – it was from the start a traditional family ideology. In the socialist future, monogamy would not only be an obligation for women, but also for men – with the possibility of divorce if the marriage didn’t work out well. In their correspondence, they were railing against sexual variations in particular against Ulrichs and his uranians which they equated with pederasty. Ulrichs made himself a difference between the tow and stated that uranism (having a homosexual identity) was different from pederasty (anal sex).

The World League for Sexual Reform (1928-1935)

The WLSR was an international organization of sex reform movements that represented the views of liberal and progressive sexual specialists, mainly medical doctors. The organization was established by Magnus Hirschfeld, Havelock Ellis and August Forel in 1928. The new organization was close to socialist and social-democrat parties and reflected their sexual politics. The great example of sexual law reform at that time was the Soviet Union and many experts from that mother-country of socialism visited the conferences of the WLSR and explained Russian sexual politics.

Following the background of the members, the general idea was the naturalness of sexual expression. Seen the theory on “sexual intermediaries” of Hirschfeld, male and female would be perceived as relative by some of the members, but this was not mentioned in the stated aims. Those spoke of equal sexual rights for men and women. The radical sounding “liberation of marriage” meant that married couples should be allowed to divorce. Prostitution was mentioned together with venereal diseases as something that should be prevented. The heteronormativity is clear-cut in other aims that defended the right to birth control or protection of unmarried mothers. Rational attitudes were proposed “towards sexually abnormal persons” which apparently referred to homosexuals although the German and French versions speak of “intersexual” instead of “abnormal persons”. Still these intermediate variations of sexuality and gender were labeled in the English version “abnormal” leaving normalcy to heterosexuality. Sexual acts between responsible adults undertaken by mutual consent ought to be regarded as the private concern of those adults and not to be criminalized. It is remarkable to read just before Hitler’s rise to power that the WLSR proposes eugenics for racial betterment.

Most of these points are still worthwhile to be defended, while some have seen great progress and others are outdated or remain controversial. Eugenics is completely disqualified by the Nazi-crimes against “unworthy” people. The rational attitude towards homosexuals is fine, but what was the meaning of them being “abnormal” in the English version? (for Hirschfeld, its German leader; intersexual stood for all the gender and sexual positions between male and female). Prevention of prostitution remains a contested issue while nowadays only a few “liberal” countries legalized prostitution (Netherlands, Germany).

Wilhelm Reich (1897-1957)

We can be rather short on freudomarxist Wilhelm Reich. His ideal is straigtforward and fits the common socialist perspectives on sexuality. Young people should be left free to discover their sexuality and if so, they will without many problems, one might say following their nature, get into monogamous heterosexual relations. The sexual ideal is a coital orgasm. Because some people get confused on their sexual or relational desires or made a mistake in partner choice, the possibility of divorce is suggested. Men and women are equal and instead of the men being allowed to be promiscuous and visit prostitutes, they will be monogamous under socialism as women already often are. Sex without love or intimacy simply for pleasure would neither exist under socialism. Homosexuality and masturbation should not be forbidden, but all youngsters will get over such infantile behaviors in the socialist utopia. Prostitution and pornography will neither exist under socialism. Marriage will have less importance because the family life including the education of children will be socialized. So it will be above all an intimate relation. The main contribution of Reich to sexual theorizing was the attention he gave to the repression of sexuality as essential for capitalist exploitation of the working class. Under a socialist regime, people would like their work and do their labor voluntary and disciplined. So the Reichian utopia is monogamy and only have sex in loving relations.

René Guyon (1876-1963)

René Guyon was a French lawyer and philosopher who lived the last third of his life in Thailand where he contributed to the law making process of the country. He adamantly opposed before the War the sexual politics of the World League of Nations in moral issues, in particular White Slavery, and after the War he wrote a short text to denounce the focus in the Declaration of Human Rights of the UN on marriage and the nuclear family, and the neglect of issues of sexual freedom – a tendency that has not much changed since.

Guyon sees sexual acts in this book as mechanical acts. He makes no difference which form they have: onanism (probably more common than heterosex according to Guyon), coital, oral, anal, homosexual, bestial acts. From a rational point of view they are equally legitimate. The only exceptions he makes are sadism and masochism because they are conflated with violence, and therefore he remains silent on these variations. Enjoying sexual pleasures is normal, abstinence or platonic love abnormal. He continuously criticizes Western culture (which is largely Christian) for having created taboos on all sexual acts except for coitus in marriage. He compares them with the greater liberties of the orient where these private pleasures are no themes of moral concern.

His perspective on gender is highly misogynist. He sees women as parasites who make themselves dependent on man, the superior being. He however states that women have greater physiological capacities for sex, which makes them easily into prostitutes, or as he rather likes to call them, courtesans. One of the reasons he thinks the fuss about white slavery is non-sense is because it is a common experience for women to be bought and sold, in marriage, in prostitution; and he gives several examples of women that desired their (sexual) submission.

He argues against the idea of eternal love (in or outside marriage) and sees what he calls individualized love as something that can only be temporary because all sexual desires fade away. Routine robs the sexual act of its charms. Love is possessive and therefore creates jealousy. He doesn’t acknowledge a more general love beyond the sexual field, so for him love is simply sex and sex is for the moment, or short periods.

He bases his sexual theory on the work of Freud, but gives a more political and radical turn and criticizes psycho-analysis for taking a turn to convention (a word that provokes disgust in Guyon). The book is very refreshing because of its rational perspective on sexuality, but it is completely neglects the emotional side of sexuality, and remains – although giving perfunctory support to women and homosexuals – very male and straight. He even says that by allowing sexual freedom, perhaps more people will make coital choices – because repression favors homosexual relations among men. In this book, there is no mention of ages of consent but his statement “before eight or it is too late” makes his position clear (I have to say I didn’t yet come across this quote). He also sees sexual acts as private; so pays insufficient attention to its social, political and cultural sides (because these make sex public) . Stressing they are mechanical and physiological, he totally neglects the subjective side – on how the social invades the individual and private, or the reverse, how people identify and engage with sex following social examples.

Alec (Alexander George) Craig (1897-1973), Sex and revolution, London George, Allen & Unwin, 1934

Craig was a librarian active in left-wing, socialist and sexual reform circles before the War. He knows the work of Guyon; and shows himself a great supporter of USSR sexual politics.

Sex is natural (sex education should be about physiology) and should be expressed: “Unsatisfactory sexual life is the greatest cause of waste of energy, intelligence and altruistic urges.” (91) He is very much opposed to ideas of chastity and purity.

Men and women are equal

Craig supports some sexual diversity; homosexuality should not be criminalized but prevented; and masturbation is infantile behavior – OK for children but not for adults.

Sex should be combined with love, and he is opposed to promiscuity and lust. Marriage is at the moment not a good institution, and should be socialized: “The waste of time and energy involved in the system of individual homes, each entirely cut off from the other, is enormous.” He rather proposes communal living, nursery homes and kindergartens; coeducational boarding schools, communal kitchens and recreational clubs

Nudity or sex in public is no problem; only for the puritans who have made sex taboo.

Six main points (61-63): sexuality and reproduction are separate topics; equality between men and women; only justification for sexual coition is mutual sexual attraction; no money should be involved; practical (against ‘Moral Law’); promoting sexual knowledge (against ignorance).

No legal constraint on sexual behavior (for example homosexuality); on people who are not married; and on the dissemination of useful information or discussion of sexual subjects (67-71).

Modernist programme (104-105): 1. rational education for all; 2. equality of the sexes; 3. sex life is the own concern of adults; 4. voluntary parenthood.

Abortion “Of the various reforms proposed, the legalisation of abortion is probably by far the most important”

E. Armand (pseudonym of Ernest-Lucien Juin, 1872-1962), La revolution sexuelle et la camaraderie amoureuse, Paris Critique et raison, 1933

A text I have to read more extensively but his main points are sexual promiscuity and loving comradeships (camaraderie amoureuse); so in favor of equal hetero- but also homosexual relations. Sexual pleasure is given to humans to be enjoyed, not to be forbidden. This sexual communism of this libertarian anarchist parallels his economic communism.

Alfred Kinsey

Kinsey was a biologist who saw the sexual act as mechanical, an outlet. Not too much of a moralist, message implicit.

Sex starts at young age, and the younger one starts with sex, the sexual output will not diminish but stay at high level.

Men and women should be equal. Hhe had no problem with his wife having sex with other people, and he himself preferred his male students.

Strong advocate of sexual diversity

By indicating the high levels of extra- and premarital sex, adultery and prostitution and by his own example, he surely was a critic of traditional marriage. There is little on love in his work.

Officially, he was opposed to public sex. It was an unmentionable topic at that time also for Kinsey, but he certainly was an advocate of nudity that he practiced with his student on their long travels to find rare wasps.

He is in favor of three forms of sexual legislation: against sexual violence and abuse; against public indecency and for an age of consent – so following the liberal project of the French Code Penal, but now adding (as happened everywhere in the West) an age of consent.

ICSE (International Committee for Sexual Equality) homophile international movement of the fifties)

“Furthering objective scientific studies of … homophily … exhange on an international basis of the results of these studies and .. furthering the legal and … social position of homophile man”

Natural; place for homophiles under the sun

Herbert Marcuse Eros and Civilization. Proceeds with the freudomarxist project of Reich but now instead of making Oedipus the starting point prefers Orpheus and Narcissus – the singer of love and the man who took pleasure in his own body. He historicizes the developmental stages of Freud and makes clear that this development is not eternal or natural, but culturally specific. He sees the child as fully sexual being whose pursuit of the pleasure principle has to be restrained by the reality principle. Marcuse’s innovation is to differentiate a normal and a surplus repression of pleasure. Capitalism demands this surplus restraint which makes sex (and also labor) more an obligation than a pleasure for its own sake. This is “civilization”. A society with a normal level of sexual repression is for him a “culture” while the excessive restraints demanded by capitalism lead to destructiveness, lasciviousness, control – this is civilization. Finally, it leads to the authoritarian personality of patriarchy and the nazism.

He makes a choice for polymorph perversity and sees the pervert, in particular the homosexual, as the herald of a new era of sexual freedom. S/m is however excluded from his positive appreciation of these perversions because sadism and masochism result from the surplus repression in capitalism which leads to destructiveness also in the sexual realm.

His view of sexuality is that it is peaceful – so the expression “make sex, no war” is quite typical for his followers.

According to Marcuse, the family would play no role in late capitalism as other state institutions and the media had taken over its role for disciplining youngsters.

He resolved the Freudian theory that sex should be sublimated for cultural performances, by suggesting that work and sex could be combined through non-repressive sublimation – work could also be sexy. And he hoped that automation would lessen the importance of work.

Daniel Guérin (1904-1988)

Essai sur la revolution sexuelle après Reich et Kinsey (Paris: Pierre Belfond 1969) The book is a combination of the books on Kinsey and on Gide and Shakespeare plus some additions on Fourier and Proudhon.

Guérin is a great admirer of Kinsey but rejects his biological and technical approach. Sex is more than an outlet and a set of numbers. But he highly regards the work of Kinsey because all the data that show the dramatic consequences of repressive American culture.

Based on Kinsey’s statistics he highlights the sexual miseries of adolescence (sex is for them taboo in the period when they have most), for women who become frigid from a puritan morality, for old and ugly people who are excluded from the sexual market and for homosexuals who suffer from social and sexual repression. And he sees the difference being made between tenderness and desire disastrous , as well as the repression and guilt that are connected with sexuality (92-105).

Kinsey has too little comprehension of sexual history and is too much bound to ideas of the couple (118) and to a sexual difference between men and women that Guérin attributes to cultural restrictions on female sexuality (77-79).

For Guérin the explanation for contemporary Puritanism is not only religion, but even more the bourgeoisie. After the French Revolution that promoted a sexual liberalism against religious Puritanism, the bourgeoisie became reactionary and needed sexual repression to control the working classes, and again allied with the Church – quoting Reich (91).

Feminists (see below) Kate Millett, Shulamith Firestone, Monique Wittig

NVSH (Dutch Society for Sexual Reform)

Its president Mary Zeldenrust-Noordanus gave in 1967 a presidential address in which she formulated the following program: decriminalization of homosexuality, abortion, pornography, prostitution, divorce should be made easier and pre- and extramarital sex seen with less moral concerns (most realized in Dutch context). Her main points were however breaking down the dichotomies of male and female, homo and hetero (not realized, they have even been strengthened)..

Indifferent on nature/culture debate.

In favor of equality of men and women while opposing the sharp dichotomy between both.

Also opposed to the dichotomy of homo and hetero. In favor of sexual diversity, in fact in the seventies the NVSH offered space for pedophiles, sadomasochists, transsexuals and exbitionists. The NVSH and the Dutch gay and lesbian movement considered to become one.

Out of the NVSH came several initiatives of communal living and strong criticism of traditional marriage (see van Ussel). Zeldenrust and her partner started themselves to live together with another couple and the children of both couples.

No main issue of public sex.

Jos M.W. van Ussel, (1918-1976), Afscheid van de seksualiteit, Den Haag/Meppel: Bert Bakker, Boom & NVSH, 1970.

Makes a distinction between 3 phases of sexual reform, narrow sexual revolution and sexual emancipation. Sexual reformers defend the foursome of orgasm, reproduction, marriage and love that would belong together and should not be experienced separately (except for love). This belief is also basic to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that is founded in the idea of marriage and nuclear family being essential for the education of children. This system is not only hypocritical but also dangerous because it is forced tyrannically upon all because it would be the ‘best” notwithstanding the culpability and misery it creates.

This morality in fact creates its own opposition of those who enjoy sexual pleasure and its extremities: the narrowly sexual enthusiasts. Although this position liberated many people, it had its setbacks or remained embedded in traditional conventions, so f.e. a disregard for women, for power differences or violence in sexual relations or macho ideas of sexual achievement.

The next stage would sexual emancipation and this means a total change of society that goes beyond the narrowly sexual. Some of his main points for emancipation are are equality for women, appreciation of sexual diversity, more information on sexuality, other kinds of housing and bedrooms also for better sex, communal living opportunities, nudism (so voyeurism and exhibitionism would disappear), criticism of the nuclear family with the division of working father and homemaking mother, and of cultures of consumption and competition, materialism and seeing lovers as property.


Going through several projects of sexual freedom or liberations, there seem to be general consent in theory on several issues.

Esepcially in the earlier proposals of sexual ideologies nature plays a central role, f.e. in Sade but it has been used to completely different aims. Nowadays nature is used in general in support of sexual diversity (see Bagemihl’s Biological Exuberance (1999) for animals) but in the past to sustain traditional gender and sexual roles, f.e. that women are no sluts. In my perspective, culture should receive more prominent attention not only with regard to sex education but also in the sense of cultivation of sexual pleasure. A focus on the natural, instinctual, genetic, hormonal hinders the development of sexual cultures and pleasures.

Equality of men and women is generally proposed, but the main question subsequently becomes whether the heterosexual couple is the standard of sexuality. For various socialist and feminist projects equality doesn’t mean diversity in equality, but that all people should behave in equal ways. So rejection of power differences as they exist in prostitution or in s/m relations, sometimes even in interethnic couples. Alan Sinfield has in his On Sexuality and Power (2004) rightfully indicated that there is no sex that doesn’t include power difference; and could have added that for many people such power differences are the spice of sex (as most older sex philosophers would endorse at a time when sexual inequality was the (often naturalized) norm.

Sexual diversity is for most sex reformers not a very important issue, some even oppose it or suggest to prevent non-heterosexual pleasures. The WLSR and Guyon are ambivalent, Reich and Craig opposed, while feminists fought “sex wars” in the USA and other places on the question whether first lesbianism and later prostitution, pornography and s/m were ‘feminist’ (Duggan & Hunter 1995). Sade and Fourier are supporters of sexual diversity, Sade so radical that he suggests heterocoital sex is disgusting and everything else sexy. But claims for sexual citizenship rights for s/m people, zoöphiles, johns and prostitutes, exhibitionists are rarely voiced, or the right to produce or enjoy pornography. All these preferences – as long as they don’t infringe on the rights of other citizens – should be supported in the political/legal arena. Rights of gay, lesbian or transgender rights are not acknowledged in any UN-document, let alone such more specific right as the UN is an organization strongly directed toward women, family, marriage and heterosexuality “to protect our children”. So there is a long way to go for all these sexual variations. Following up on Sade, I like to propose when students say we should get rid of labels of homo and hetero, that I prefer to have more labels especially for heterosexuals so they might finally realize sexual preferences are more specific than for one gender – they always refer to certain types, situations, sex acts and so on. Heterosexuality is not a monolitic category.

Don Kulick in his critique of sex in Sweden has pointed out what a socialist-feminist coalition in Sweden has brought. The concept of good sex led not only to a condemnation of the clients of prostitutes (criminalized and patholigized in a classical Foucauldian way), but also of promiscuity and public sex which suggests they will have little interest in sexual diversity apart from certified homosexual couples.

Most sex reformers agree we need other forms and alternatives for marriage and the couple. Socialists often suggested the collectivation or socialization of the household. In the more specifically sexual field the question concerns mainly sex and love: do they belong together or is sex simply sex and love something else? It seems evident both perspectives can be taken, but the promotion of the view that sex and love belong together should stop because of all the problems related to this idea. People experience sex and love in various ways and this diversity should be exposed.

Public nudity is defended but not public sex. Few sex reformers are prepared to take a stance for public cruising and sex; or make at best vague remarks that puritanism prevents an open sexual culture where people can be nudists so exhibitionists and voyeurs will not any longer a special and despiced category. Spatial issues are central to any project of sexual reform because people need space for concrete sex like bedrooms, sauna’s, parks, pissoirs, highway stops, cinema’s, beaches, and also places to meet like bars, disco’s, street corners. This is certainly the case for many gay men, prostitutes and also youngsters. Women have very few places in most countries where they can pick up or have sex with men or other women. There is little mental space either because to get into sex, you not only need physical but also mental space – no guilt, no shame, beond the control of families.

I have come across the quote of Guyon but couldn’t find in his books “sex before eight or it is too late”. He touches a main point that few sex reformers discuss certainly when it comes to concrete ages of consent. Sade and Fourier simply assume that sex starts at puberty, and kids should be allowed at that age to find their own sexual ways. Most sex reformers keep silent the more so today because it has become such a touchy issue all over the Western world with many NGO’s exporting western ideas on children’s “innocence” to other parts of the world. There they often fall in vertile grounds because it often fits local religious and cultural views.

Considering that the age of puberty starts earlier and also the sexualization of the media in the present world while ages of sexual consent in laws go up (the UN suggest 18 years), there is a major problem for the sexual citizenship of youngsters. They are protected from sex by families, schools and state institutions. Taiwanese sex researcher Josephine Ho claims that this protection “in actuality works both to re-enforce heterosexual monogamy and to debunk cultural diversity as [..] harmful for children” (Ho 2007:2)

So main issue that need to be discussed is sexual diversity, whether it regards men and women, sexual preferences, love and sex, private or public sex; and also ages of sexual initiation. One thing is to discuss such things, another thing (as the Dutch Society for Sexual Reform did) is putting these ideas of pluralism and polyamory in practice.

Gert Hekma, University of Amsterdam