A Marriage Made On Earth 

By Dr. Susan Block

"Sexuality poorly repressed unsettles some families; 
well-repressed, it unsettles the whole world."
turn of the 20th century Austrian satirist Karl Kraus

As the millennium turns, the chat shows churn. Perhaps it’s because there’s not much sensational news these days, but all the talking heads are in full bloviating flower, going on and on, and around and about how we have or have not changed over the last hundred or thousand years, depending on the scope of the program and the hubris of the host, and then, if time permits, how we might or might not change in the future. 

Being a sex therapist of some notoriety, I’m often tapped to speak about sex. I’m happy to oblige but, even though I run a speakeasy, it’s not easy to speak about sex in this way. For every rule that we might find about sex in the past or the future, there is usually a counter-rule. For every concept that shows how much we’ve changed, there seems to be a truth that says we’re run by the exact same sexual demons and angels that have been wiring our genes since we broke off our engagement with the Missing Link. As for the future, well, if I really could predict it with any accuracy, I’d work the stocks, not sex. So if this column seems to contradict itself in spots or skip whimsically from one century to another, blame it on millennial madness.

Enough excuses. I’ll start by asserting that basic human sexuality hasn’t changed much over the past few millennia. We all still have pretty much the same body parts, the same physical capabilities, the same number of holes (piercing notwithstanding), and the same feelings of desire, attraction, arousal, affection, disgust, obsession, heartbreak, love. We’d have to go back a few million years to see our bodies and brains, and thus our essential sexuality, truly transform.

But at the same time, though our sex acts, physiques and feelings have remained pretty constant, our philosophy of sex is constantly changing. By "philosophy of sex," I mean our approach to sex, our sexual attitudes, values, laws, customs, turn-ons and turn-offs. Many forces influence sexual philosophy. But I would say that the single thing that has most changed how we deal with sex over the course of the 20th century, and even of the last 10 centuries (whoa, I’m catching that millennium fever now!), has been technology. Technology, along with its academic sister Science, has given and continues to give us a less superstitious and irrational, more liberated and realistic understanding of our sexuality. Of course, sex drives technology. And technology takes sex for a ride. It’s a marriage made on Earth.

Not many folks would call Thomas Edison 
a sexual revolutionary.


Not many folks would call Thomas Edison a sexual revolutionary. But it was the advent of electricity, which lit up the nightclubs and dancehalls after dark, and introduced us to our endless romances with the movies, the radio and the amusement park, not to mention the electric vibrator, that ignited the fuse of sex at the very start of the 20th century. Most people wouldn’t consider Henry Ford a force for sexual progress. But it was the automobile that drove millions of young, libidinous Americans far from hearth and home and into the big bad sexy cities, as well as provided them with a place to be legitimately yet erotically alone, to neck and pet far from the disapproving eyes of parents and chaperones. 

Electricity, the car and other wonders of technology enticed people out of their farms and villages and into the city. As James Petersen’s new book "The Century in Sex: Playboy’s History of the Sexual Revolution 1900-1999" points out, urbanization caused people to become more concerned with population control, and with something loosely called Quality of Life, than with channeling their sex drives into creating as many progeny as possible. Recreation joined procreation as a vital purpose of sex, beating the tom-toms of what was later to be termed the Sexual Revolution. 


Called Free Love in the early part of this century by sex-positive feminists like Emma Goldman, Victoria Woodhull and Margaret Sanger, the cause of Sexual Freedom became an anthem of modernity.

Called Free Love in the early part of this century by sex-positive feminists like Emma Goldman, Victoria Woodhull and Margaret Sanger, the cause of Sexual Freedom became an anthem of modernity. Sanger was the Godmother of Modern Birth Control; busted by US Postmaster Anthony Comstock for pornography, she helped to distribute diaphragms and condoms, and supported research for the Pill, all literal labor-saving devices.

We can trace the roots of sexual freedom through technology back even farther, almost a millennium actually, to Guttenberg’s printing press and Galileo’s telescopes. The technological miracle of the printing press enabled us to communicate with each other en masse, to publish and peruse the subversive thoughts and erotic fantasies of our neighbor and his wife. Guttenberg’s Bible begat Lady Chatterly’s Lover which begat Madonna’s Sex and so on. Galileo’s glass allowed us to see that we are not the center of the universe; thus our old Judeo-Christian concept of God-in-Heaven may not always be watching us. Our fate, including our sexuality, might not be governed by a Lord above, but by our "nature," a combination of what’s in our genes, our jeans and our minds. 



Tripping through the centuries, we run into another Great Sexual Revelation through Science. Smack in the middle of the famously prudish Victorian Age, Charles Darwin showed us that humans are closely related to the apes and to all of life on Earth, not through some mysterious spiritual force, but through those genes in our jeans; that is, through sex. Evolutionary biologists searched for and found clues to human sexuality in the mating behaviors of other animals, the chimps that never settled down with one partner, the gorillas that went in for harems, the orangutans that sometimes mated violently. In 1929, humans discovered bonobos, a rare species of chimpanzee that actually uses sex to keep the peace, embodying the "Make Love, Not War" ethos of the Sexual Revolution that went into full swing (another fitting sex pun) in the 1960s and 70s. 


These and innumerable other scientific discoveries and technological inventions over the past millennium have most dramatically transformed the sexual attitudes of what we call the "middle class." After all, the elite has always had wild sex. So have those who have nothing to lose, the poor, the criminal, the fringe elements of society. But the middle class has long been a bastion of prudery, propriety and denial. 

Actually, what we think of as the middle class is said to have emerged with the merchant class (probably when some lucky paisan’s ship came in), sometime between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, about a thousand years ago. 

Distinguishing themselves from what they perceived as the sexual carelessness of the lower classes and the decadence of the rich, the middle classes have long clung to sexual stuffiness as a badge of honor and a backstage pass to Heaven. No longer. The sexual freedom credo that was burbling up through the Renaissance, went into high gear at the start of the century, and was crowned a Sexual Revolution in the 1960s and 70s, busted the cherries of the middle class. They got into swinging. They danced to rock n roll. They looked at pornography. They enjoyed erotica. They bought vibrators. And they still do all these things, in greater numbers than ever, plus they’re surfing the ‘Net. And the Revolution continues.

Each technological advance has given us the gift of sexual freedom. Is it a "good" gift? Freedom is never all good or all bad. With freedom, come many dangers that the slave does not have to confront. With freedom comes individual choice, and you the individual could make the wrong choice. You could make a choice you’ll regret for the rest of your life. But if you ask me, if I have but one life to live (and as far as science reveals, I have only the one), I’d rather live it in sexual freedom than in slavery.

Of course, nowadays, you can choose to be a sex slave (part-time, full, by the hour or minute), and you can even advertise your availability in the local paper or the New World of cyberspace. Taking sex and technology into a whole new dimension, the Internet puts you instantly in touch with a universal marketplace of erotic entertainment, sex information, not to mention horny people. 

Which brings me to the part of the chat show where they ask me to predict the future. Whereupon I gaze into my crystal ben-wa balls and call upon my astounding powers of conjecture. Anyway, here’s what I see, in the next few years (or maybe weeks, since time seems to fly at the speed of sperm these days):

Technology and sex will continue to drive each other in new and amazing ways. Technology will help us find partners, for love, marriage, swinging, phone sex, sex ed, computer sex, any kind of sex. Or we’ll just use technology as our partner. This is already taking place. Phone sex has been around ever since old Alexander Graham’s Bell starting ringing, but it’s more popular than ever (even the President has it). So is computer sex. So is vibrator sex. There’s even a type of vibrator that you plug into your computer called cyberdildonics, which your partner operates (speed up, slow down) via mouse. How’s that for a multiple techno-sexual experience?

"But isn't all of this cybersex unnatural?" the chat hosts whine. "Doesn't it kill romance?" Nah. Cybersex isn't any more unnatural than writing love letters. In fact, in a way, computers can help us to get back in touch with old romantic values, like reading and writing, skills that telephones and telephones and televisions almost destroyed.

Besides, the real Death of Sex As We Know It will not come from on-line sex; it will come 
from on-line trading.

Besides, the real Death of Sex As We Know It  will not come from on-line sex; it will come from on-line trading. When the Stock Exchange fully extends trading hours, when it’s not just day trading, but day-and-night trading, it will put a damper on sex like nothing since the veneration of the Virgin Mary.

Moving down the road of Tech Sex Progress, another bit of roadkill, stomped on by the march of technology, will be the Pornography Industry as we know it, that is, the formulaic videot porn that has gushed out of the San Fernando Valley for the past 15 or so years. How can it thrive when net-surfers are able to find all types of porn, erotica and hard-core romance at amateur and semi-pro sites all over the Web? Even now, inexpensive webcams enable exhibitionists from anywhere to show voyeurs from anywhere else what’s going on in their bedroom—instantly. Of course, you can also show your office or kitchen, but most folks are interested in your bedroom (in the new millennium, we’ll be able to virtually enter your bedroom, without leaving ours). Sex celebrities will continue to proliferate, but they won’t all come from the "porn industry." They’ll come from all over the world, made famous by their sites on the Web. More men and women will get sex toys and erotic clothing. People who are ashamed to be seen going into a sex toy shop will have no problem ordering their dildos, vibrators, whips, blow-up dolls, lacy crotchless panties and latex boxer shorts on-line. And of course, after a cyber-consultation with your doctor, why not go through your virtual on-line pharmacy to pick up a little Viagra, hormone cream and your personalized sex cologne?

What about AIDS? AIDS didn’t stop the Sexual Revolution. It slowed it down big time when it first appeared in the 1980s, and sometimes, in sex, it’s good to slow down. The tragedy of AIDS has given us greater sexual knowledge, a deeper appreciation for sex education. It has forced people to acknowledge the inherent dangers of sex along with the pleasures, and to explore forms of sex that don’t involve an exchange of body fluids. In the last few years of the 1990s, AIDS deaths have plummeted, and in the new millennium, scientists will surely find a cure or cures, just as they cured the old sexual plague of syphilis in the 20th century. Even so, people will continue to be concerned about safe sex (AIDS isn’t the only sexually transmitted disease), but that won’t stop them from being sexual. They will explore more practices and fetishes that don’t involve an exchange of body fluids, like masturbation, exhibitionism, voyeurism, phone sex, computer sex, virtual sex, outercourse.

Science and technology will continue to sculpt sexual philosophy. The science that enlightens us and the technology that builds the digital global village both enable us to see and better understand diverse sex practices. This kind of sexual knowledge, formerly forbidden as the apple in Eden, inspires tolerance and a philosophy of sex that I call "Ethical Hedonism," the pursuit and cultivation of pleasure, while trying not to hurt anyone, including yourself. This, I believe, is the new morality for the next millennium.

To the shocked consternation of both the puritans and the pundits, the American people showed themselves to be ethical hedonists, or at least tolerant, sophisticated, social liberals, throughout 1998’s Presidential Impeachment Crisis. 

Though the experts tried to interpret the President’s consistently high polls every which way but loose, there was no denying that the country’s notions of goodness and fitness had loosened considerably, that the majority of citizens felt that an American President should not lose his day job over a blowjob.

Though the experts tried to interpret the President’s consistently high polls every which way but loose, there was no denying that the country’s notions of goodness and fitness had loosened considerably, that the majority of citizens felt that an American President should not lose his day job over a blowjob. This last big battle of the millennium in the "culture wars" between the forces of sexual repression and liberation definitely went to the liberators.

The "Me Decade" may have been a catch phrase for the 70s, but the scope and power of the human individual is still emerging. Choices abound. There is less repression, more freedom of expression. It’s okay to masturbate, even in the White House. It’s okay to be different. The future’s Big Question: Will the individual be ethical? Can the selfish, erotic desires of the individual be harmonious with considerate, civilized, nonviolent behavior? Yes. The bonobos point the way.

Though humans discovered bonobos in the first part of this century, we’re just beginning to understand them. Primatology researcher Sue Savage-Rumbaugh communicates with her bonobo charges via sign language and computer—they’re that smart! They’re also intensely sexual, and remarkably peaceful. Bonobos have never been seen killing members of their own species in the wild or captivity. They seem to use sex to keep the peace. Can humans do that too? Not in the same way that bonobos do it, of course, but yes, I think we can. In fact, I think we are. I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that violent crime is down in this country, even as sexual tolerance is way, way up.

More and more men and women, sick of violence and hypocrisy, are actively supporting the value of pleasure and compassion. One sign of the times is that everybody is acting sex-positive, at least on the surface. Even Jerry Falwell; after all, he’s a regular on Geraldo. Nobody says sex itself is evil anymore. Even that hymn-warbling neo-Puritan Peeping Tom Ken Starr put on a cuddly sweater and tried to convince Diane Sawyer that he wasn’t such a prude.

And how about that Vatican? Even the world’s most celebrated celibate, Pope John Paul II, penned a "Theology of the Body" that praises sexual love.

And we are all a bit healthier for it. The media loves to report the hell out of a few tragic multiple murders committed by disturbed individuals with extensive gun collections. But statistics repeatedly show that America is not just more sexually adventurous and tolerant than ever, but we are less violent. 

Violent crime is down in our cities, in our schools and in our homes, even as sex education has become a normal part of school curriculum, even as more and more American couples explore sex toys, swinging and fetishes, even as children discover a world of sex on the World Wide Web, even as men and women consume and create erotica and pornography in greater numbers than ever before.

Violent crime is down in our cities, in our schools and in our homes, even as sex education has become a normal part of school curriculum, even as more and more American couples explore sex toys, swinging and fetishes, even as children discover a world of sex on the World Wide Web, even as men and women consume and create erotica and pornography in greater numbers than ever before.

Yes, there is a vocal minority of fundamentalist erotophobes who keep trying to take us to some sanitized, glorified fantasy of the 50s or the Victorian Age, or maybe the Garden of Eden with the snake in a cage. But at the turn of the 21st century, the mass of America--the great sprawling, middle classes--are growing more sexually open, more broad-minded, even wiser.

Will the pendulum swing back? Maybe a little, but not much. Chances are that we’ll elect a Republican President in 2000 (George W’s colorful past appeals to certain hedonists, though his record on AIDS and executions makes us wonder about his ethics), but we won’t be going back to old monogamous-missionary-position-sex-within-marriage-only values. The Genie is out of the bottle. The pussycat is out of the bag, especially for women. No matter what the future brings, the ladies are not going to give up their sexual freedom. And we won’t have to because, thanks to technology, women are not dependent on men. We can communicate with each other, we can exercise control over our bodies, and we can support ourselves economically. We can even support ourselves through sex! 

In a sense, women have purchased our freedom from sexual slavery.

In a sense, we women have purchased our freedom  from sexual slavery. The world is shrinking, and thanks to the techno-wonders of film, cyberspace and air travel, Eastern and Western approaches to sex are meeting and combining, from the way Westerners practice Tantric sex to the way Easterners wear Western fashions. Is it good or bad? It’s all part of the world becoming a sexual melting pot. Cultures are losing their distinctiveness. Even races are. 

Here’s a prediction for you: In the next half century, interracial sex will virtually cease to exist, because we won’t have distinct races. That is, interracial sex will become so common, that there won’t even be a phrase for it anymore. I see it now in the faces of Los Angeles. As more and more people are born of mixed race, there won’t be simple dividing lines between races. Ultimately, this is how humanity will overcome racial prejudice, through sex. This is the natural progression that White Supremacists and African Separatists and Asian Purists are fighting to the point of madness. 

But the future is integrated, right down to our DNA.

But the future is integrated, right down to our DNA. And just as notions of "race" will be torn apart through sex, so sex--in terms of the notion of heterosexual versus homosexual--is going to be shredded to nonsensical bits. In the new millennium, it will become clear that we’ve only made up these classifications so that some people could consider themselves superior to others. In a sense, we will go back to the classical manner of dealing with sex orientation, before the Victorians decided that folks were either homosexual or heterosexual, transvestite or "normal," and rarely the twain did meet. The sexual orientation of the future is not about being straight or gay, or from Mars or Venus. It’s about being an individual who may or may not engage in homo or heterosexual acts, and who may or may not be masculine or feminine, passive or active, in certain ways. Even these dividing lines are difficult to draw. Already, a T-shirt proclaims "I’m Straight, But Not Narrow." 

I don’t know how much more we’ll be able to continue to stretch the old word "bisexual." We may have to come up with a new word (too bad "transsexual" is taken). But more and more men and women will explore their interests in being sexual with people of both genders, as well as assuming traditional masculine or feminine roles.

Many of my male sex therapy clients are somewhat secretly but quite deliberately delving into their phallic interests, as well as their softer, more so-called "feminine" sides. Women these days are generally more up front than men about being bisexual, as well as more likely to call my public TV show than my private telephone sex therapy service, in part because society deems female bisexuality more acceptable. And there’s no doubt that more and more women are comfortable with taking the dominant, traditionally "male" role in sex, whether with a man or a woman. 

I’m no psychic, but I’m also not blind. I look to history, and I see the future, and the future is sex.

I’m no psychic, but I’m also not blind. I look to history, and I see the future, and the future is sex. And if you need some help dealing with your sexual future, your sexual past, your sexual fantasies or reality, you can call the Dr. Susan Block Institute at 213.749.1330, and talk to me or one of our other fine telephone sex therapists. We’re here for you, right into the new millennium, twenty-four hours a day, every day, even holidays.

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