Towards a Quaker View of Sex

Times Literary Supplement, 1 March 1963


The Times published a mixed review in its Literary Supplement on March 1. The reviewer seemed to have misunderstood the intentions of the authors when criticizing the number of pages dealing with homosexuality.


clipping in HSC Quaker Group on Homosexuality records, Friends House, London


The Times Literary Supplement Friday March 1 1963

Love and Morals

Towards a Quaker View of Sex. 75pp. Friends Home Service Committee. 3s. 6d.

These first gropings towards a current Quaker view of sex, formulated with worried care and often, we are told, with painful modification of previous assumptions, will in the main be readily acceptable to many liberally-minded Christians as to serious unbelievers. Central to the Quaker arguments, and worth repeating because still far from universally accepted, is the belief that "sexuality, looked at dispassionately, is neither good nor evil--it is a fact of nature" and, to the Christian, "a glorious gift of God". Morals, which "were made for man, not man for morals", are to be judged by their motives, their intentions and their fruits, and those attitudes, those kinds of behaviour are to be preferred which lead to understanding, compassion, warmth, friendship and love.

In t his light, and in the light of some recent research, and also, it should be stressed, in the light of the Will of God of which understanding must constantly be sought, this Quaker group puts forward some tentative conclusions on some of the sexual problems that perplex our society today. Their intended readership, we must suppose, consists of intelligent (the approach is far from simpliste) Quakers (this is implicit) who may be called on to give guidance on these problems (professional help is described and useful addresses given) but who up to this point were singularly ignorant of them (the glossary defines such words as contraceptive, extramarital, intimacy, menstruation). In so far as such a readership exists, the booklet must be welcomed by all who are sympathetic to its general point of view. Since it is, unfortunately, still necessary to tell people that masturbation is almost universal and usually harmless, that seduction by older men is not likely to fix sexual attitudes in younger ones, and that the range of sexual behaviour considered normal and acceptable is almost infinitely variable, even inside different classes in our own community, then it is desirable that such information be given as often as possible, and especially that it should be given with the good-will and loving-kindness that characterize this booklet throughout.

But it has faults. It is often muddle-headed and sometimes fails to see the fuller possible ramifications or implications of what is being said. Thus, the authors quote Dr. Sherwin Baily as saying, "I love you" should imply desire for a permanently shared life. This, they say, is unrealistic, since love may be felt where sharing is not possible, as in the cases of homosexuals and of those who love outside marriage. Some of us may realize that when these authors speak of love they mean or include agape, but they ignore what is now the common usage of love among many of those whom the booklet is meant to help. "She saw him across the room and felt a strange new thrill. This was love." Some such phrases are common in the conventional love-ethic of today, and a right gloss on the word would often be something like infatuation or lust or yen--necessary parts of full sexual love, but insufficient along to justify the use of the word love; and the ethic that accompanies this limited interpretation is that "love" of this kind is compulsive and that to deny it is betrayal. The authors do not apparently realize the extent to which they present a counter-ethic, or that usefully to do so demands understanding and discussion of the one that actually prevails. Often they lay themselves open to considerable misunderstanding, as, for instance, when they grant the frequent harmlessness of "light-hearted and loving casual contacts" or commend falling in love with a happily married women as "surely" helpful to "a nervous youngster".

But a more serious charge is the disproportionate space given to one problem, homosexuality--sixteen out of forty-three pages of text proper--and the disregard of others now surely more important and serious in light of social health and individual happiness. Nothing whatsoever is said about problems of contraception and abortion in relation to the increase (which the authors initially stress as the most important current developments) of sexual relationship between adolescents and young people before marriage.

Everyone who has to do with young people today knows to what a terrible extent these problems are real ones. The current informed guess at the figure of illegal abortions is 300 a day. What this means in terms of distress, danger, financial burdens, contempt for law can be regarded only with horror. One could surely have hoped that, at the least, such a booklet as this would have discussed moral approaches to these problems, at best would have considered whether contraception should be freely available to the unmarried and whether it was not urgently necessary that there should be an official inquiry into abortion. Certainly at any given moment some problems are "fashionable", others not, but the sincerity and deep sense of responsibility with which these Quakers imbue their booklet makes it a matter for regret that these urgent current problems should have been ignored.

The Times Literary Supplement
March 4, 1963.

Dear Sir,

You may be glad to have this review ofo ne of your recent books, which appeared in the Times Literar Supplement of March 1, 1963.

May I take this opportunity of inviting you to use the Times Literary Supplement more regularly for advertising? I would be pleased to give rates and international circulation on request.

Yours truly.

Jerome Foster