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If we make a god of sexuality, that god will fail in ways that affect the whole person and perhaps the whole society.

While much of the media is buzzing about a new survey on sex in America, I'm still thinking about a book, "Sex and Culture," published in 1934. I discovered it in the windowless warrens of a large university library, and I felt like an archaeologist must feel unearthing an artifact from the catacombs.

Seeking to test the Freudian notion that civilization is a byproduct of repressed sexuality, the scholar J. D. Unwin studied 86 different societies. His findings startled many scholars - above all, Unwin himself - because all 86 demonstrated a direct tie between monogamy and the "expansive energy" of civilization.

Unwin had no Christian convictions and applied no moral judgment: "I offer no opinion about rightness or wrongness." Nevertheless, he had to conclude, "In human records there is no instance of a society retaining its energy after a complete new generation has inherited a tradition which does not insist on pre-nuptial and post-nuptial continence."

For Roman, Greek, Sumerian, Moorish, Babylonian, and Anglo-Saxon civilizations, Unwin had several hundred years of history to draw on. He found with no exceptions that these societies flourished during eras that valued sexual fidelity. Inevitably, sexual mores would loosen and the societies would subsequently decline, only to rise again when they returned to more rigid sexual standards.

Unwin seemed at a loss to explain the pattern, yet it so impressed him that he proposed a special class of "Alpha" citizens in Great Britain. These individuals of unusual promise would take vows of chastity before marriage and observe strict monogamy after marriage - all for the ...

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In the Magazine

December 12, 1994

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