THE SEX ATLAS

Haeberle, Erwin J. The Sex Atlas. New York: The Seabury Press. 1978. pp 509.


This book is a comprehensive text dealing with human sexuality and its history and social implications. Written in the seventies, it offers a critical summary of the current sexual knowledge of its time. It is divided into three parts: “The Human Body,” “Human Sexual Behavior,” and “Sex and Society,” and it is intended for anyone who wants to learn more about human sexuality, and has been used as a classroom textbook. It includes many explicit photographs, artwork, illustrations and charts depicting various phenomena in the area of human sexuality.
In part one, entitled “The Human Body,” the author begins by considering how societies’ perspectives about the human body, particularly nudity, have changed over the centuries. Haeberle points out that the Greek athletes practiced and performed in the nude and that participants in the original Olympic games were nude, and that there were many other manifestations of an “open and joyful” acceptance of the human body and human sexuality in Greek culture.  He explains that blaming Christianity for the sense of shame and indignation at the sight of the nude human body that pervades our culture today, is too simplistic, for in actuality it was not until after the spread of syphilis during the 16th and 17th centuries and the rise of the middle class in the 18th century, that nudity began to be viewed as obscene. By the 19th century, we learn, the entire human body and its bodily functions were taboo, and could no longer be used in “polite” conversation. While some of the richest and more “advanced” societies today are beginning to adopt a less prudish attitude toward nudity, citizens in certain African and Asian countries are still becoming “civilized” by starting to wear clothes.


Chapter one, entitled “The Process of Sexual Differentiation,” looks at seven different factors that determine maleness or femaleness:  Chromosomal sex, gonadal sex, hormonal sex, internal accessory reproductive structures, external sex organs, sex of assignment and rearing, and sexual self-definition. Haeberle points out that many of the male and female characteristics that were formerly thought of as inborn and unchangeable, have now been shown to be inbred, and a result of cultural influences. Next, we look at the difference in the anatomical development of the male and female, considering the primary sexual characteristics, i.e. the external organs, the secondary sexual characteristics, i.e. the physical features that develop during puberty, and the tertiary sexual characteristics, i.e. those psychological qualities that are nurtured or discouraged in each sex. Finally, the author takes a brief look into the role of hormones—LH and FSH—in determining the femaleness or maleness of an individual.
In chapters two and three, entitled “The Male Body” and “The Female Body,” respectively, we look at the anatomy and physiology of the male and the female, as it pertains to sexual activity and procreation. In chapter two, we look at the external male sex organs—the penis and the scrotum, followed by the internal male sex organs—the testicles (including sperm and hormone production,) the system of the genital ducts (the epididymides, the vasa deferentia, and the urethra,) and the accessory organs (the seminal vesicles, prostate gland, and Cowper’s glands.) In chapter three, we look at the external female organs—the mons veneris, the major and minor labia, the clitoris, and the vaginal opening, followed by the internal female sexual organs—the ovaries (including egg and hormone production,) the fallopian tubes, the uterus, and the vagina.  We also look at the three phases of the menstrual cycle—preparing for ovulation, preparing for implantation, and menstruation.  At the end of each chapter, Haeberle explains the physiological changes that occur during the four phases of the male and female sexual response cycle: excitement, plateau, orgasm, and resolution, and offers anatomical illustrations, demonstrating the changes of the penis and the vagina during each phase of the cycle.


In chapter four, entitled “Human Reproduction,” Haeberle describes conception as the result of several biological processes, namely fertilization, segmentation, and implantation. We also take a look at pregnancy, including the development of the embryo and fetus, the signs of pregnancy, and what hat to expect during the first, second and third trimesters of a pregnancy. Possible problems and complications of pregnancy, such as spontaneous abortion, premature birth, RH factor, toxemia, and false pregnancy, are considered, and a brief discussion about sexual intercourse during pregnancy is offered. Next, birth is looked at, including the three stages of labor, possible complications, recovery, lactation, and intercourse after delivery. Finally, contraception and abortion are addressed, including the various methods of each.


In chapter five, entitled “Some Physical Problems,” infertility in both men and women, and the use of artificial insemination, are discussed, followed by genetic defects, sexual malformations, including undescended testicles and hermaphroditism, and pain during sexual intercourse in men and women. Venereal diseases, including gonorrhea, syphilis, some tropical diseases, and other diseases that can be spread by sexual intercourse, such as monolial vaginitis, trichomonal vaginitis, venereal warts, herpes progenitalis, non-specific urethritis, as well as crab lice and scabies, are all briefly discussed.


In part two, entitled “Human Sexual Behavior,” Haeberle begins by describing how the word “sex,” which originally referred to gender only, expanded its meaning and began to refer also to the process of reproduction, in the 18th century, and then expanded further to include a variety of new terms pertaining to “sexual behavior,” in the 19th century, including the pursuit of erotic pleasure. In the 20th century, the need for love and personal fulfillment and “the lust for life” itself, are woven into the already rich tapestry of “sex.” Haeberle explains how the emerging Middle Class in Europe, as it was changing from a feudalistic to a capitalistic economy, trained itself for more discipline, self-control, and self-denial, adopting the new ideals of efficiency, productivity, punctuality, and profit. This attitude turned the human body into a machine, which was now expected to perform in the most regular and rational manner possible, squelching any spontaneous physical responses and desires.


Today, “sexual behavior” can be defined as “all actions and responses that make fertilization possible… any behavior that involves a sexual response of the body, or… all actions and responses related to pleasure seeking.” Haeberle considers it useful to distinguish between three basic factors when talking about sexual behavior, and they are: one’s sexual capacity, or what an individual can do, one’s sexual motivation, or what an individual wants to do, and sexual performance, or what an individual actually does.


In chapter six, entitled “The Development of Sexual Behavior,” Haeberle first delves into a discussion about Freud and psychoanalytic thinking, who was the first to seriously challenge the traditional view that nature had everything to do with one’s sex drive, and that society had nothing to do with it. Freud postulated that “human sexuality unfolds under the influence of two opposing forces: the “pleasure principle,” and the reality principle,” and that it is a “contest” between biological drive and cultural constraint. Next, he considers one’s biological sex, gender role, and sexual orientation in the development of sexual behavior. The development of sexual behavior in infancy and childhood, in adolescence and in adulthood are carefully looked at.


In chapter seven, entitled “Types of Sexual Activity,” the four basic types of sexual activity are considered. They are sexual self-stimulation, heterosexual intercourse, homosexual intercourse, and sexual contact with animals. The author considers coitus, oral sex, manual stimulation, and anal sex all to be different forms of “sexual intercourse,” which is by his definition, “any communication between persons that involves a sexual response.” This chapter includes many picture and diagrams illustrating the different kinds of sexual activity.


In chapter eight, entitled “Sexual Maladjustment,” Haeberle first discusses sexual inadequacy in men, which may be lack of erection, unsatisfactory timing of orgasm, or absence of orgasm, followed by sexual inadequacy in women, which may be vaginismus, unsatisfactory timing of orgasm, and absence of orgasm. Next, he looks at compulsive and destructive behaviors, which essentially are behaviors that do not fit the norm of any given society. He discusses the many ways people may deviate sexually, by choosing the “wrong” sexual object, or the “wrong” sexual activity, or both, and thereby be considered “perverted.” Finally, Haeberle tales a brief look at transsexualism.


In part three, entitled “Sex and Society,” Haeberle again points out society’s effect on one’s sexuality, explaining that we are all “born with a certain potential for sexual expression which can be realized in a variety of ways;” that a child born into a hedonist and tolerant culture, is likely to be joyful and sensuous, and one born in a puritanical and repressive culture, anxious and inhibited. A look at the early Pacific Island cultures before Christianization, gives us a very different perspective on what it means to be sexually healthy.


In chapter nine, entitled “The Social roles of Men and Women,” Haeberle first looks at how one’s biological sex, gender role, and sexual orientation, factor in to the social roles of men and women. He then considers the “double standard,” or the different norms for sexual behavior of men and women, particularly that of society’s holding women to a higher degree of sexual restraint than men.  He then goes on to talk about the emancipation of women, including the beginnings of feminism in Europe, the feminist movement in the United States, and the status of women in the world today.


In chapter ten, entitled “Conformity and Deviance,” Haeberle considers four different approaches to looking at sexual deviance. One is as a personal quirk, another is as a sign of immorality, another as a crime, and yet another, as a diseases or disorder. He delves into our history to show us how in the Middle Ages, when the church had more power, sexual deviance was considered a sin, and a sign of immorality, but then at the beginning of the modern age, as secular authorities gained more power, sexual deviance became a crime, and finally in the 19th and 20th centuries, with diminishing trust in political authorities and a growing respect for science, sexual deviance became regarded as a disease or disorder. Haeberle also goes into considerable depth, looking at the historical background and the cross-cultural perspectives concerning each of these different approaches.


In chapter eleven, entitled “Marriage and the Family,” Haeberle considers four forms of marriage: monogamy, polygyny, polyandry, and group marriage. He then looks at the history of marriage in the Western Civilization, starting with ancient Greece and Rome, then moving to ancient Israel, and then medieval Europe and ending in modern Europe and America. He then takes a look at marriage in some non-Western societies, ancient Polynesia, Islamic countries, and China. Next, he considers marriage in contemporary America and the future of marriage, which entails a discussion of 1.flexible monogamy, including open marriages, temporary marriages, trial marriages, and marriage in 2 steps, 2. non-monogamous marriage, including polygamy and group marriages, and 3.homosexual marriages. Finally, Haeberle takes a look at the family in historical perspective, beginning with the traditional extended family to the modern nuclear family, and to new family models, including the kibbutz and the commune.


In chapter twelve, entitled “The Sexually Oppressed,” Haeberle considers groups of people who are, in some way or another, denied their right to sexual expression. These groups are: children and adolescents, the aging, homosexuals, the handicapped and disabled, persons with specialized sexual interests, persons committed to mental hospitals, and persons imprisoned.


In the final chapter, chapter thirteen, entitled “The Sexual Revolution,” Haeberle first takes a look at the influence that certain pioneers of sex research and sex education have had on society’s views of sexuality, including organizations, such as Planned Parenthood and the National Sex Forum. He also considers the future of sex research and sex education. Finally, Haeberle ends the chapter and the book with a look at the problem of sexual ethics, since all ethical standards are in some way” based upon certain fundamental beliefs, convictions, or assumptions, and the sexual ethics of any given society reflect its assumptions about the purpose or ‘nature’ of sex.” Haeberle proposes a “new morality” for the future, which accepts “recreation as a legitimate purpose of sex.”


This book is a “rare bird” of a book. I have found no other sex education book that is anywhere near as all around comprehensive, sex-positive, illustrative, historically enlightening and frank as this one. Haeberle’s straightforward language and use of explicit photographs seems much more characteristic of a sex education book written in the seventies, than one written in this day and age. Crook and Baur’s 8th edition of “Our Sexuality,” a college level sex education text used in classrooms today, athough very comprehensive and illustrative and certainly more current in its information, particularly concerning research, is nowhere near as historically enlightening or sex-positive. Instead of explicit photographs depicting sexual behaviors, we see illustrations, and the only nudity we see in photos at all are close-ups of diseased and malformed genitalia or breasts, a faceless muscle man with a condom clad penis, a woman giving birth, and four close-ups of supposedly differently sized and shaped breasts, none of which are bigger than a cup size C, or in fact shaped very differently.


Bernard Goldstein’s textbook “Introduction to Human Sexuality,” which came out in 1976, just two years before “The Sex Atlas,” covers the biological factors of human sexuality, but for the most part steers clear of the sociological factors. It primarily focuses on the birds and the bees of sex, giving it a very dry appearance, when placed next to “The Sex Atlas.” Masters and Johnson and Kolodny’s text entitled “Masters and Johnson on Sex and Human Loving,” from 1982, digs more into the historical background and sociological factors of human sexuality and does cover the broad scope of human sexuality, but nowhere near as comprehensively or as illustratively.
The author’s main bias stems up throughout the book. Haeberle even concedes that “the very concept of research itself implies an attack on conventional wisdom, and if necessary a breaking of taboos.” Haeberle “shamelessly” promotes a more hedonistic and accepting view on human sexuality than we have seen since ancient Greek times. The book is calling out loud and clear for the sexual revolution to bring humanity to a place where we truly accept the nude body and its biological functions, and more adamantly perhaps, that we accept sex as recreation, purely for enjoyment, outside of any procreative agenda. It is clear that the reason Haeberle takes us back in time so much and across cultures, is to show us that our current attitudes and views of sexuality are relative, and that our prudish attitudes toward sexuality stem from concerns that would now perhaps be considered benign, at least to many of us in the modern world of science and medicine.


In considering the positive and negative aspects of this book, I would say that they are one and the same. The book’s frankness and explicitness, as well as depth of historical perspective and political agenda are the positive aspects and what set this book apart from others. However, these traits, and the fact that the text ignores traditional fears and restraints, are also, in my mind a negative aspect. It is these traits that will push the less educated, more fearful, and more conservative minds even further away from approaching the subject of sex than they already are, fearing the “sin, depravity, and evil,” which in turn will only increase the rift between the sexually liberal minded and the repressed. While I personally greatly appreciate this work, I also recognize that much of society needs to move more slowly toward sexual liberation, and a more conservative approach is going to be more effective in assisting them toward a greater acceptance of their sexualities.


In light of this, I would say that those who can most benefit from this book, are already sexually liberal people who are wanting more historical and cross-cultural perspective to support their lifestyle and use as inspiration and insight in their fight for a more sexually tolerant culture. Anyone working in the field of sexuality, including educators, therapists, researchers, and writers should know about this book and use it as a reference. It would also make a great “coffee table” book for some, what with all of the nice pictures and artwork.  It is of great value, both educationally and aesthetically.


This text was pre-AIDS, and therefore leaves out a whole other social and biological factor concerning human sexuality, which is huge. But IASHS came out with “The Complete Guide to Safer Sex” in 1987, which addressed the AIDS crisis, and managed to still cast human sexuality in a positive light, a much needed light. It doesn’t seem to me that the author left out anything, at least nothing significant. And I do believe that Haeberle did indeed fulfill his goal of putting forth a very comprehensive summary of the most respected and current scientific opinion in all related fields of sexuality of the time, vastly increasing the sexual knowledge of our society.


For such an ambitious book, I found it to be very well written and organized. Many recurring themes wove themselves into the text throughout. It was clear and thorough in its descriptions, offering photos, artwork, and illustrations, as well as charts and graphs, to help enlighten readers even more. This book is of great value to our field and should serve as a marker for where we are headed in educating people about the many aspects of human sexuality and liberating humanity from its sexually repressive ways.