Sex Ed in Bed
Where’d we get such crazy ideas? (Part 2)
By Jallen Rix, Ed.D. (c).

Ever heard some of these: Don’t play with your Willy or you’ll go blind, or you’ll get hairy palms, or you’ll have ten years bad luck, or you’ll go to hell? We joke about silly myths like these, but it wasn't too far in our past these ideas were published as facts — really! Furthermore, we are still constantly damaged by similar sex-negative messages from all around us — the media, the church, our government and our families. And we all know what sex experts they are.

Unfortunately for many of us, by the time we realize that we’re being duped, the messages and ill effects have already shaped our basic views of sexuality. However, learning where these myths came from and how ridiculously false they are helps to more easily rid ourselves of that baggage and embrace a positive healthy sexuality. So here is the second of the two biggest historical sources of bad sex information that still influence us today. For further reading pleasure, the below information and situations are from Ray Tannahill’s great book, Sex in History.

Believe it or not, much of America’s sexual misunderstandings come from physicians and health writers within the past 200 years. They promoted their sex ethics by “substantiating” them with so-called scientific proof. Many of these physicians described sexual pleasure as “disgusting” and taught that it did grave harm to the body. Nineteenth-century doctors believed that intercourse was acceptable only if it was done without passion or emotion. For example, it was believed that birth defects were caused by parents deriving too much pleasure from the sex act.

Dr. Benjamin Rush, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, was “the dominant medical figure in America at the end of the eighteenth century.” He taught that careless indulgence in sex would lead to (among other things): seminal weakness, impotence, tabes dorsalis, pulmonary consumptions, dyspepsia, dimness of sight, vertigo, epilepsy, loss of memory, and death.

In the early 1800’s the leading expert on human sexuality was man named, Sylvester Graham, who believed that highly seasoned food and rich dishes caused sexual desire. Therefore, he prescribed a diet that would cut down sexual desire. One such food was unbolted wheat, which became so identified with a restrained diet that its more popular name was Graham flour. Now I know the real reason why as a boy I was always fed Graham crackers in Sunday school.

But Graham was not the only one to jump on the bland wagon. Dr. John Harvey Kellogg invented corn flakes to control the sexual appetite of Americans, and to: “cure original sin by reducing the force of sexual passion.” Kellogg founded and directed the Battle Creek Sanitarium in Michigan where he developed a theory that masturbation led to insanity. How did he determine this? He noticed that his inpatients masturbated, so of course that must have been what drove them mad. With this “scientific method” he discerned other sickening side effects from masturbating. “It also caused sleeplessness, failure of mental capacity, unnatural boldness, mock piety, lack of breast development in females, use of tobacco, pimples, biting of fingernails, epileptic fits, bed-wetting, and the use of obscene words and phrases.” Son of a bitch! So that’s where I get it.

You have to wonder, if these guys had, and still have so much influence on the breakfast industry, just think of how much influence they had, and still have on our understanding of sexuality.

One of my most memorable high school classes was Home Economics. Not only did I learn practical skills that had relevance for me at the time, like balancing a checkbook, but I also developed the skills of examining the messages and motivations of advertising. When I realized a TV commercial that said, “Wear X cologne and you’ll smell good and be popular,” was actually saying, “We want your money in our pockets,” my eyes were opened to a deeper level of understanding and I have never viewed the world so naively again. Just being gay puts us in a position to be more insightful about our sexuality. Knowing a little of our sexual history can help us dispel negative gay stereotypes. It doesn’t take a historian to see that ideas like “abstinence only” education and reparative therapy come from the same old unfounded, fear-based, anti-pleasure propaganda that we’ve been fed for centuries. Don’t let ignorance from the past restrain your sexual freedom. Make history by not falling for it.

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