Towards a Quaker View of Sex

Sunday Times, 17 February 1963


The Sunday Times reviewed the report on the front page the day before it was released. A religion commentary inside the paper predicted that the report would stir up a "hullabaloo" among rank-and-file Quakers.


clippings in Keith Wedmore Papers


The Sunday Times February 17, 1963

11 Quakers Attack Moral 'Hypocrisy'
'Glory and tragedy in waywardness of love'

The conviction that "love cannot bee confined to a rigid pattern" is the theme of some devastatingly frank comments on sex in a report by a committee of 11 influential Quakers.

The report ("Towards a Quaker View of Sex," to be published tomorrow by the Society of Friends) urges he need for a new, more creative morality to govern sexual relationships. It deplores the widespread distress suffered by young and old who "do not know where they are" in such matters.

"The waywardness of love is part of its nature and this is both its glory and its tragedy," the report states. "So we are concerned with the homosexuals who say to each other 'I love you' in the hopeless and bitter awareness of a hostile criminal code and hypocritical public opinion, and also with the anguish of men and women who know they love each other when marriage is impossible and only suffering can be envisaged."

The 76-page report it the result of frequent meetings since 1957 of the eleven Quakers, who included two headmasters, two consultant psychiatrists, a barrister and a Marriage Guidance counsellor.

"In subscribing to a moral code, some of which is no longer accepts, society merits the charge of hypocrisy and its authority is weakened," they declare. "The insincerity of the sexual moral code may well be a cause of the widespread contempt of the younger generation for society's rules and prohibitions."

The committee, who make it clear that their views do not necessarily represent the view of the Society of Friends as a whole, put some blame for the sexual disorders of society on "a distorted Christianity."
The report goes on: "Christianity with us is concerned primarily with what is true, not with approved patterns of conduct. We have no hesitation in taking every now and then an empirical approach--to ask, for instance, whether homosexual contacts are really 'unnatural' or repulsive, whether pre-marital intercourse is necessarily a bad preparation for marriage, whether to have a variety of sexual partners does, in fact, weaken intimate relations and destroy a community.

"To many such questions there is as yet no answer, or only a tentative one. A much wider research is necessary on the part of those concerned with modern sexual conduct, and a more open willingness on the part of men and women to assess their own experiences honestly."

The main problems investigated in the report may be summarised under three headings:

ADOLESCENCE: The three sexual anxieties are masturbation, homosexuality and casual intercourse. On masturbation it says: "It is difficult to exaggerate the suffering caused by the sense of guilt and disgrace, the mental conflict and remorse, that so commonly invest this intimate matter. Much could be saved even by the simple acknowledgement that masturbation is the common experience of the great majority of men at some time, if not of so large a proportion of women."

The views expressed that most boys in their early teens tend to be homosexual. "It may be and commonly is extremely promiscuous, even in the most respectable boarding schools. These 'affairs' usually seem to leave little behind them--often a mere sharing of physical experience--and they may have little real connection with real homosexuality."

Referring to the great increase in adolescent sexual intimacy between boys and gifts in recent years, the report states: "It has to be accepted that loss of virginity before marriage is not now necessarily regarded, either by a girl or by her future husband, as a stigma.

"With this major change, restraint when it is exercised is as often from choice and principle as from fear....It must be accepted that lighthearted and loving casual contacts can be known without profound damage or 'moral degeneracy' being the result in either partner."

MARRIAGE: On the "eternal triangle" as usually portrayed in fiction and drama, the Committee declares: "We recognise that, while most examples are produced by boredom and primitive misconduct, others may arise from the fact that the very experience of loving one person with depth and perception may sensitise a man or women to the lovable quality in others...A triangular situation can and often does arise in which all three persons behave responsibly, are deeply conscious of the difficulties and equally anxious to avoid injury to others. Since this kind of situation attracts no publicity and does not end in the divorce court it is assumed not to exist."

HOMOSEXUALITY: "One should no more deplore homosexuality than left-handedness--though one can condemn and prohibit specific acts," says the Committee, which devotes the longest section of its report to this problem and generally endorses the findings of the Wolfenden Report.

"Homosexual affection may be an emotion which some find aesthetically disgusting, but one cannot base Christian morality on a capacity for such disgust. We are not saying that all homosexual acts or relationships are to be encouraged. One must disapprove the promiscuity and selfishness, the utter lack of any real affection, which the stamp of so many adult relationships, heterosexual as well as homosexual. We see nothing in them often but thinly disguised lust."

On the whole question or the "rights" and "wrongs" of sexual intercourse, the Committee concludes: "Where there is genuine tenderness, an openness to responsibility, and the seed of commitment, God is sure nor shut out."

The two voices of the Quakers

Rank-and-file Quakers are expected to raise a "hullabaloo," according to Home Service secretary, Mr. George Gorman, over the uncompromisingly modern attitude of 11 of Britain's most influential Quakers to sex. Their beliefs are to be published tomorrow in a report, "Towards a Quaker View of Sex."

Their conclusions, particularly about homosexuality and extramarital love affairs, are probably the most broadminded ever arrived at by a specifically religious group. In May the report will be put to the Yearly Meeting of all British Quakers to decide--silently, as they do not believe in the voting process, feeling it creates discontent among the minority--whether it expresses the views of Quakerdom.

There is likely to be considerable dissatisfaction. Within the Quaker movement liberalisation is a downward process, seeping from the intellectual top rank of Elders (of whom there are five among the report's 11 authors) through to the puritanical base.


According to Mr. Gorman, this process began at the end of the 19th century when Quakers began to emerge form seclusion into public life. Since then there have been two main paths available for Quakers who become dissatisfied as they reach the top of secular society. Many, including some members of the most famous Quaker families like Fry, Barclay, Rowntree and Cadbury, leave the movement altogether, often for Anglicanism. (There is a sad Quaker saying that "The coach and pair do not pass the church door for more than two generations.") Businessmen, particularly, tend to lapse. Professional people, like the authors of this report (Kenneth Barnes, the sex-education expert, and Lotte Rosenberg, the child psychiatrist, are among them), stay in and organise reformist movements.