Sexuality as a bogeyman

Wayland Young talks about the erotic

by Keith Purtell

Wayland Young (Lord Kennet)

Wayland Young
(Lord Kennet)

“Eros Denied” by Wayland Young (Lord Kennet) is an extraordinary book from an unlikely source. This member of English Parliament in 1964 set pen to paper to explore the history of Western society’s hysterical fear of human sexuality. ”Eros Denied” describes how censorship, segregation of materials and harassment have all been brought to bear against this supposedly dangerous human quality. It also presents a variety of examples of those people whose artistic honesty has been a glimmer of light in the darkness.

In the United States, erotic material hasn’t been fully criminalized, but it has been successfully marginalized. Producers and authors of serious artistic merit cannot offer a unabashed erotic presentation without invoking a Puritan fury. What little erotic material does make it into mainstream media is usually either perverse or demeaning. (And pornographers have parlayed favorable court decisions into an opportunity to hawk industrialized versions of human sexual behavior—they're the Big Tobacco of video, silently hoping their product will be addictive.)

No other aspect of our God-given human nature seems to inspire such dread in Western and Mid-Eastern culture. Not even depictions of violence and death are so often the subject of vengeful extremists. Western culture in particular wallows in the violent while condemning the erotic. I suppose you could argue that this is a sort of blasphemy, since the environment not only opposes something created by God but also finds entertainment value in the destruction of divine craftsmanship.

Suppression of erotic expression has resulted in a situation where most dialog is between fanatics claiming all erotica should be banned and hoodlums who generate pornography that only represents their own, rather pathetic view of sexuality. This is an extraordinary disservice to us all, since each of us must possess a clear understanding of sexual matters if we are to conduct the business of our mortal existence in a graceful manner.

The social contortions practiced by the sexually paranoid produce a situation where erotic information is either absent or questionable. The most preposterous folk mythology has sprouted in the vacuum left by sexual censors. This is often dangerous, since the mismanagement of sexual activity can cause all kinds of woe. Sexual censorship also fosters artistic problems: Portrayals of humanity that would leave an independent observer with the impression that we lack functional gender.

“Eros Denied” prompts a major reassessment of assumptions. It also confirms that enlightened persons throughout history have worked to maintain their common sense in the face of irrational authority.