A review of Sex in America: A Definitive Survey. By Robert Michael, et al.
Little, Brown & Co., 1994.
The sexual revolution, which promised liberation and freedom, ended in bondage and despair. The fruit of the sexual revolution has been an escalation of sexually transmitted diseases and AIDS, abortions, shattered marriages and broken children.
Any assessment which in its study methods rates sex as nothing more or less than any other mundane human behaviour will be at best incomplete. This is the case with Sex in America. This “definitive survey” is an emasculated account of modern American sexuality. It has some positive information to offer, but starting on the wrong foot, in the end it misses the mark.
The authors state at the outset their presuppositions: “Our philosophy was that there was nothing magical about sex. It was a behavior that could be understood in the same way that social scientists have come to understand other behaviors, such as how people vote or how they choose the neighborhoods they live in.”
Writing 70 years ago, G.K. Chesterton demonstrated the folly of such a position: “The effect of treating sex as only one innocent natural thing was that every other innocent natural thing became soaked and sodden with sex. For sex cannot be admitted to a mere equality among elementary emotions or experiences like eating and sleeping. The moment sex ceases to be a servant it becomes a tyrant.”
That being said, what does this survey have to offer? It does perform several useful functions. First, it demonstrates the shortcomings of earlier surveys on sex. The authors claim that the studies by Kinsey, Masters and Johnson, and the reports by Playboy, Redbook, Hite and Janus, were all unreliable, many “worse than useless”. These studies were all “methodologically flawed, making their data unreliable, uninterpretable, and impossible to use to understand sexual behavior”.
One problem with these surveys is that they relied on volunteers. The authors explain, “people who volunteer for surveys are not like people who do not volunteer”. Yet such volunteers are by no means representative of all Americans. Kinsey, for example, relied on college students, prison inmates and people in mental hospitals.
This study, the authors claim, is different. Although they used a surprisingly small sample group (only 3,432 interviewees!), they claim they were scientifically selected to give an accurate picture of what English-speaking Americans aged 18 to 59 were really like.
The second strength of this book is the way it debunks the myths perpetuated by Hollywood and Madison Avenue. Most Americans seem pretty conservative in their sex lives. For example, while 17 percent of Americans had two or more sex partners in the past twelve months, 71 percent had only one, while 12 percent had none. Interestingly, two recent Australian studies both came out with the same kinds of figures.
Say the authors, “Marriage is such a powerful social institution that, essentially, married people are nearly all alike – they are faithful to their partners as long as the marriage is intact.”
And where there are more sexual partners, it is due to three social trends: earlier first intercourse, later marriage, and more frequent divorce.
The extent of homosexuality is also put into perspective. Unlike the often heard 10 per cent myth, in reality, homosexuals in America make up only about two per cent of the population. About 1.4 percent of the women thought of themselves as homosexual or bisexual, and about 2.8 percent of men identified themselves in this way.
The evidence then is in – the message being sold to us by Hollywood, the advertisers, and other channels of popular culture, is a lie. Why popular culture misrepresents the real story, and how it can be combated, is not covered in this book. But perhaps a future author, concerned about the future of Western culture, can use the information contained in this book to write such a story. It needs to be told.