George A. Tobin
The most surprising thing about The Janus Report on Human Sexuality (John Wiley & Sons) is that its findings don't really surprise. I had hoped to come across some Kinsey-like revelations as to how huge percentages of Americans are pursuing new and innovative perversions. Alas, there are no such revelations and innovations. Instead there are painfully detailed quantifications that only tend to confirm rather than challenge familiar perceptions of the state of American sexual practices.
The authors, Samuel S. Janus, a psychologist, and Cynthia L. Janus, an M.D. (OB/Gyn), deliver equally predictable analyses between tables. They offer obligatory praise for our new sexual awareness and the hope that anxiety, guilt, and tension will dissipate in the light of our new openness. Words like "wrong" and "guilt" appear safely in quotation marks to reassure the reader that their power over him has been dispelled by scientific fiat. The comforting message throughout is that no matter what one does or believes with respect to sex, there is a demographic subcategory ready to welcome him as a member.
Reading the Janus Report, I was reminded of a fellow I once knew, a man we called Large Bob. Large Bob had the peculiar habit of excusing his frequent fits of gluttony, lust, or sloth with remarks invariably prefaced with, "Well, I'm just the kinda guy who. . . ." When he took three extra desserts in the employee cafeteria he was the Kinda-Guy-Who-Just-Likes-His-Dessert. When he goofed off during work he was the Kinda-Guy-Who-Needs-A-Break-Now-And-Then. In sexual matters, when he leered at female passersby he was sometimes simply a "leg-man" or more often the Kinda-Guy-Who (indulges in particular practices).
Large Bob's method of moral analysis consisted of three steps. First, he would infer that every impulse, drive, or desire was the product of his very nature. Second, he would perform the inductive step of inferring the existence of a whole class of beings who shared his current state of craving. Third and last, he would conclude that self-denial at the moment in question would be both an injurious betrayal of his nature and a breach of a higher duty to his entire genus. In tone and substance, the Janus Report is for all those who are looking for "Kinda- Guy-Who" support for their sexual attitudes and practices.
Even if the reader is the kinda-guy-who is inclined to believe in the validity of sexual surveys, the dust jacket on the Janus Report initially engenders distrust. The cover bears the ominous caption "The first broadscale scientific national survey since Kinsey." For this reader (and others of my genus) the reference to Kinsey immediately conjures up images of a survey of prison inmates or former guests from the Phil Donahue Show. The reader thus opens the book unsure as to whether this book has any scientific validity whatsoever. Thus you can imagine the reader's relief when the preface is immediately followed by a page titled "Panel of Experts," with their names and titles enumerated.
Over four thousand Americans participated in the Janus survey, each answering 105 questions. To their credit, the authors clearly put forth a considerable effort to give this study a firm statistical footing. This is no Cosmo survey. If there is a distortion in the numbers, it is probably largely a function of the fact that those who agree to participate in a sexual survey probably have different attitudes from those who refuse to participate. This factor may help to explain the reported sharp rise of sexual activity within the Postmature category, those sixty-five years and older (a number of "postmature" citizens of my acquaintance, for instance, would likely decline to participate even before getting to the questions on necrophilia and sadomasochism). It may also explain why the sample population turned out to be slightly more urban and upscale than the nation as a whole. Nevertheless, even with this underlying bias the numbers generally tend to paint a believable portrait of American sexual attitudes, even if skewed a few points on the side of greater sexual activism.
There are chapters devoted to sexual topics related to age, money, politics, and even geography. For example, there are data to indicate that persons living on the west coast or in the northeast are more likely than midwesterners and southerners to have had extramarital affairs, to have had an abortion, or to have had sex with sixty-one or more persons, and they are also less likely to find one-night stands degrading. (This is, of course, consistent with what everybody already knows about New Yorkers and Californians.) However, the good news for southern men is that 59 percent of southern women report themselves to have become more sexually active over the last three years as opposed to only a 28 percent rise among women on the west coast.
The education section reports the rather bizarre finding that 14 percent of all men who have never been to college have had more than 101 partners. Even though I spent three years in the Army listening to barracks braggadocio, I find that hard to believe. A reported 37 percent of women who have attended college but did not graduate have had eleven to thirty sex partners. However, a full 52 percent of those who stayed the full four years achieve that status. Therefore, statistically speaking, typical parents can expect that for each $15,000 they shell out for a year of college tuition and board, they can expect to add 2.5 to 5 partners to their daughter's sexual resume. This, too, is consistent with popular perceptions.
The data on education and sex also indicate that the overall effect of higher education is to move persons into the middle range (eleven to thirty partners) of promiscuity, whereas persons with only a high school education are somewhat more likely to be at the extremes (zero or 101+). Oddly enough, the rate of women reporting more than 100 partners declines from 4 percent among the high school graduates to one percent among college graduates but increases to 8 percent among postgraduate women. The study implies that for women senior year and grad school are rather busy times. In contrast, the postgraduate men don't appear to be keeping pace with their female counterparts.
As engrossing as the reader may find other chapters, the most interesting chapter is entitled "Religion and Sex." After an introduction consisting of an obligatory celebration of our emergence from those dark times in which religion adversely affected our sex lives, there are thirty-eight tables on sexual attitudes broken out by religious category. Some tables are broken out by the conventional Protestant, Catholic, Jew, and None. But most are categorized by the more curious Very Religious, Religious, Slightly Religious, and Not Religious categories.
I admit that this item was a real stumper for me when I filled out the sample questionnaire in the back of the book. Should I check "Very Religious" to indicate the strength of my intellectual convictions or "Slightly Religious" to more accurately reflect my actual practice? I selected "Religious" as a compromise.
From the responses, it seems that some of the participants in the survey may have had equal difficulty categorizing themselves by strength of religious conviction. For example, 14 percent of the "Very Religious" report that they "Often" have extramarital affairs (as opposed to Never, Only Once, or Rarely) and 12 percent responded that it is "Unimportant" or "Very Unimportant" that their sex practice be in harmony with their religion. Unless this segment of the "Very Religious" are worshippers of Baal, I find these responses difficult to understand. Even more difficult to fathom is why 11 percent of the "Not Religious" believe that it is important that their sexual practices be consistent with their religious beliefs.
Fifty-five percent of the "Very Religious" regarded themselves as sexually "Active" or "Very Active," a figure virtually identical to the 54 percent turned in by both the "Slightly Religious" and the "Not Religious." The merely "Religious" had a comparatively poorer showing at 45 percent, indicating that self-conscious lukewarmness in matters of faith may carry over into one's sex life.
Catholics (64 percent) and Jews (62 percent) find sex "Deliciously Sensuous" (a carefully chosen scientific term of art, no doubt) as opposed to only 51 percent of Protestants, perhaps indicating that a vestigial sense of guilt is more likely to enhance sexual excitement than a vestigial sense of moderation. By a 44 percent to 27 percent margin, Catholics report more rather than less sexual activity over the last three years, similar to the Protestant margin of 41 percent to 29 percent, whereas Jews turned in a more ambivalent figure of 39 percent to 35 percent. Surprisingly, the "None" category reported less sexual activity by a 35 percent to 30 percent margin.
Unfortunately, there is insufficient data to account for the sexual decline of the "None." Perhaps these are persons whose faith was lost and sexual energies spent during the Age of Aquarius. Or perhaps there is a peculiar new sexual reticence among the purely secular worthy of further study. I am reminded of accounts of sexual boredom and rapidly declining birth rates among secularized Soviet citizens, whereas the thriving Muslim populations in the southern USSR spoke openly of their inexorable "victory in the bedroom."
The "None" and "Not Religious" categories report higher rates of sexual fantasizing, more extramarital affairs, a reliance on a "large variety of sexual techniques," a slightly lower sense of sexual enjoyment, and a lower self-perception with respect to functioning at a sexual "biological maximum." By a 59 percent to 44 percent margin, the "Very Religious" see themselves at a biological maximum as compared to the "Not Religious."
In the summation of the "Sex and Religion" chapter, the Drs. Janus opine that "many religious people have some difficulty enjoying their sex lives." However, the data preceding this observation seem to indicate that, on the contrary, "religious people" are generally having a great time as compared to their more secular brethren. In contrast the None/Not Religious do not come across as a happier group.
The authors appear oblivious to the demonstrable behavioral effects of culturally inspired capacities for healthy levels of hypocrisy and a sense of joi de vivre clearly lacking in the "None/Not Religious." (These "None" guys need to meet some Very Religious Catholic Postgraduate Women presently residing in southern states.)
The religion and sex chapter ended with the chipper conclusion that these are indeed happy sexual times because "one no longer has to make a choice between pleasure and faith." While that assertion may be theologically absurd, historically ignorant, and psychologically shallow, the authors do have the data to show that the kinda-guy-who believes such drivel may indeed be a large genus. However, my suspicion is that the Kinda-Guy-Who-Knows-Better-But-Occasionally-Does-It-Anyway is, and ever shall be, the largest genus of all. We did not need the Janus Report to tell us that.
One can learn from unfortunate experiences. This truism applies in spades to the World Conference on Human Rights sponsored by the UN and held in Vienna in late June. Unhappily, there is no corresponding truism that guarantees the learning experience will occur. One can only hope that in this case the United States government will prove an apt pupil.
The initiating impulse behind the conference was clear. The last global human rights conference was held in Tehran twenty-five years ago. Since then the international political order has undergone a seismic shift. In recent years the Cold War has ended, a "new world order" with a distinct swing toward democracy has begun to emerge, and human rights has assumed ever greater importance on the international scene. It seemed an apposite time for the UN and its member states to review the entire human rights agenda, both its basic principles and the means available to monitor violations of those principles. In spite of the pitfalls and potholes seemingly endemic to UN deliberations, the conference presented genuine opportunities for the participating countries to advance the human rights agenda.
When the initial proposal for the conference was made in 1989, the General Assembly suggested that member states and human rights nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) hold regional meetings in preparation for the world gathering. Many did. Representatives of African states held a preparatory conference in Tunis in November 1992, the Latin and Caribbean countries did the same in San Jose in January 1993, and countries from Asia and the Pacific followed suit in Bangkok in March-April 1993. Each of these groups issued a collective statement of its views in declarations named after the cities in which they met. Each of these declarations gave clear indications of the regional goals and aspirations, often antidemocratic and otherwise unpalatable to Western values, that would be pursued at the conference. The United States and its Western allies held no regional meeting and produced no coordinated statement of principles and objectives. Only at the fourth and final preparatory meeting held in Geneva (April-May 1993) did the United States present a draft plan.
Drawing heavily on the documents of the preparatory committees, Ibrahim Fall, Secretary General of the conference, produced a working document that would form the basis for the Vienna meeting. His best efforts to find consensus among the participating countries and to finesse conflicting views in ambiguous language could not bridge profound differences. The forty-eight page draft enclosed within brackets, therefore, all passages disputed by any government. Over 200 sets of brackets peppered this document. At times during the often harsh debates over these passages it seemed that the discussions and the conference itself might simply collapse without agreement. That outcome apparently was deemed even less acceptable than a less than acceptable agreement. When the sessions finally ended, therefore, the delegates were able to congratulate themselves on producing for unanimous approval the Final Declaration and Action Program of the World Conference on Human Rights. This Vienna Declaration, as it is also called, is a grievously flawed document that compares unfavorably not only with the U.S. Bill of Rights but with the UN's own Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948. It skates lightly over such basic rights as freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and freedom of association, even as it emphasizes an array of alleged economic freedoms.
Not surprisingly, the debates at the Vienna conference reflected the real political world outside its narrow circumference. They helped clarify why the short-lived euphoria that followed the liberation of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Empire from communism was in fact short- lived. Yes, the Cold War has passed into history, but its legacy lingers on. (One of the ironic events of the conference was the rude verbal assault launched by a group of Latin American radicals against Jimmy Carter, the former "human rights President," to prevent him from speaking. They were protesting, they explained, the prominent position given to the leader of one of the world's worst violators of human rights. The irony was compounded when Carter subsequently asserted that a starving family will have no interest in freedom of speech, thereby adopting one of the most egregious apologies for the tyrannical violation of human rights.)
A number of regimes continue to locate the cause of their countries' poverty not in their own political, economic, and cultural systems but in those of the successful, productive countries. Countries that are largely industrial, capitalist, and democratic remain the target of choice. In Vienna, delegates from dictatorial countries proposed to rectify the "deplorable gap" between rich and poor countries by massive transfers of wealth, without conditions, of course, on the recipients.
As for the "new world order," it became ever clearer in Vienna that there is less order than bafflement in the new political world. Regrettably, one must add that the United States participates in and contributes to that bafflement. Its performance on the world scene was all too faithfully reflected at the conference.
The failure of the United States and its allies to perform adequately in Vienna was, it is fair to say, no accident. It flowed naturally from a lack of foresight, clearly designated goals, and political leadership. At the conference itself, it was the unhappy task of the U.S. delegation to engage in damage control. It was too late to infuse the Vienna Declaration with political vision-even had such vision been available. It is to the credit of John Shattuck, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Humanitarian Affairs, that even as he voted to accept the Declaration, he strongly criticized three separate sections. But that strong reservation was at the same time an acknowledgment that on these items the U.S. had been outmaneuvered and outvoted.
But it was on the very concept (or concepts) of human rights that most debate foundered. The Bangkok Declaration boldly attempted to deny the universality of human rights, to relativize them in terms of "national and regional particularities and various historical, religious, and cultural backgrounds." A number of dictatorial countries-including some that Freedom House has ranked among the worst violators of human rights- flatly asserted that individual rights must remain subservient to those of the state, a stipulation that, if accepted, would effectively strip the individual citizen of his rights. In his good opening statement, United States Secretary of State Warren Christopher spiked these notions. In a very quotable-and already much-quoted-statement, Christopher asserted that "we cannot let cultural relativism become the last refuge of repression." We can expect, however, that this argument, like an evil phoenix, will rise again in future debates.
The growth, indeed explosion, of interest in human rights in the last couple of decades has not been an unmixed blessing. The Helsinki process fostered the growth of human rights organizations, first in Eastern Europe and then in countries around the world. It challenged tyrannies and unleashed forces supporting democracy and civil society. The presence of hundreds of NGOs devoted to human rights, often critical of practices of their own governments, was everywhere evident in Vienna. Well, almost everywhere. The drafting committee in charge of preparing the final document prevented NGOs from attending their meetings even as observers. (In an arrangement richly symbolic of the measure of respect given to NGOs, they were allocated working space on the lower level of the vast Vienna International Center, while the official country delegates conducted business over their heads on the floors above.) The concern, energy, and increasing professionalism of many of these NGOs, including many newer ones from Asia, guarantees that in the future they will have a louder voice and more visible presence in their own countries and in international debate. All to the good.
The explosion of interest has also led, however, to an explosion of what allegedly constitutes a human right. Vienna depressingly confirmed that almost every major political or cultural issue, from AIDS to xenophobia, can now be judged to have a human rights component. This trend was evident years ago when the UN International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights ticked off as rights a list of what would more accurately be described as human aspirations and desires. Even then it seemed ludicrous to imagine that among our inalienable rights are life, liberty, and a paid vacation.
To the present laundry list of human rights, some participants wished to add a country's "universal and inalienable right to development." When to this is added the stipulation that no condition-such as the proper observance of human rights-should be attached to development aid, the stage is set for countries with faulty political and economic systems to demand, in the name of human rights, that economically successful countries bail them out.
The conference is over, and the Vienna Declaration remains as its defective fruit. Time now for reflection and plans for the future.
The issue of human rights is going to remain on the international scene, and the UN will remain a major arena in which differing concepts of those rights will be contested. If the U.S. or any of its agencies decides to engage in that arena it should do so seriously. If it does not, it will be outplayed by those who truly differ on questions of human rights or who cynically manipulate them. (It may be apropos to note here that advocates for Women's Rights scored one of the few clear victories at the Vienna Conference. They were well-organized internationally, very well-prepared, and ensured that their views were incorporated into every appropiate draft statement. As a consequence, the Vienna Declaration bears their unmistakable stamp.) To engage seriously is to have a clear concept of what constitutes human rights, what is their priority, and what are the means to ensure them. It is to assert the strong relation between democracy and the observance of human rights and to make the case for the contribution of democracies to international stability and well-being. On the basis of Vienna it is not clear that the strongest country in the world is as yet prepared to do these necessary things.