Towards a Quaker View of Sex

Lancet Review March 2, 1963


The report received exposure in the international medical community through this sympathetic review in the British journal, The Lancet, on 2 March 1963.


clipping in the HSC Quaker Group on Homosexuality records, Friend House, London


The Lancet March 2, 1963

The Quaker Pamphlet

It is now commonplace that Western civilisation is almost destitute of generally accepted "values". The march of the sciences (occupied exclusively with the objective and demonstrable kinds of truth, doubtful of the existence of other kinds, and largely unconcerned with the consequences of their own discoveries), the shock of two devastating wars, and perhaps the passage of time have exploded or shaken down the accepted and established values of what could, at the turn of the century, still be called Christendom. The young must somehow find their way in a desert strewn with ruined shrines. In no province of life is their dilemma more obvious than in sexual relations and behaviour. The conventions and rules of conduct which did partly govern and determine sexual behaviour fifty years ago have crumbled with special thoroughness, because they were, in fact, little more than conventions floating in air without logical foundation in reason or belief. To set them up again is neither possible nor desirable. Yet anarchy will no do; and condemnations, taboos and lack of sympathy and of understand have been and are responsible for a vast amount of suffering and missed happiness, There is urgent need for enlightenment and reform both of public opinion and the law.

All who are concerned about these things will welcome an informative and stimulating pamphlet by a group of Quakers who have been working on the subject individually and together for the past five years. The group's eleven members include men and women with experience in teaching, penology, marriage guidance, psychiatry, biology, psychology, and the law; three are medically qualified, and six are Elders in the Society of Friends. Their starting-point was the problem of helping and advising young Quaker students "faced with homosexual difficulties", but they soon found themselves compelled to explore and consider the whole subject of sexual relations and practices, homosexual and heterosexual, within marriage and without, in both sexes and with animals.

The contents of the pamphlet correspond with its title, Towards a Quaker View of Sex. The many intricate problems raised are fairly stated, and when, as often, there are two sides, they are both presented. Conclusions are seldom dogmatic and often tentative, but on some fundamental points the group feels sure of its collective opinion. "We shall have reason to say that sexuality, looked at dispassionately, it neither good nor evil--it is a fact of nature, But looking at it as Christians we have felt impelled to state without reservation that it is a glorious gift of God." They "reject almost completely the traditional approach of the organised Christian church to morality with its supposition that it know precisely what is right and what is wrong." They make it clear that in their view the words "natural" and "unnatural" have no--or next to no--meaning when applied to sexual performances. Masturbation, homosexual practices, and even a kind of transvestism occur among animals as among men. They are empathetic that public opinion--and laws reflecting it--concern themselves too much with acts, too little with circumstances and motivation. They cannot condemn homosexuality or the acts springing from it as such. "Homosexual affection can be as selfless as heterosexual affection and therefore we cannot see that it is in some way morally worse." "At the same time members of this group have been depressed quite as much by the utter abandon of many by the absurdity of the condemnation rained down upon the well behaved." They cannot agree that the words "I love you" should be spoken only when a permanent union in marriage is desired and is possible, and they have no dogmatic pronouncement to make about coitus before marriage.

The group is at once well and widely informed, convinced about spiritual values, clear-headed, warm-hearted, not lacking humour, and candid to an unusual degree. To anyone concerned to promote humane and orderly thinking on this very difficult subject, or, it may be, to get their own thoughts clear, the pamphlet can be very strongly recommended.