EVOLUTION OF SEXUAL CUSTOMS IN THE LAST 100 YEARS
Talking about sexual mores of a people means to analyze important issues for many still considered scabrous, such as sex education, sexual intercourse, masturbation, homosexuality, pornography, adultery, contraception, etc.. etc….
And referring to Italy, it is impossible to ignore the role played by the Church in relation to these issues, being one of those countries where the Catholic religion was born, and home to the Vatican City and Papacy.
Far from me the wish to make a treaty on a subject that would require a long and thorough study, my goal is just to verify, in broad terms, the differences, if there are, and analyze them in a perspective of evolution, without conditioning.
Although the “Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality” by Freud were published in 1905, they did not change immediately the sexual habits of the population. Theories that, as we know, have discovered and analyzed the sexuality of children and adults, and that have connected some nervous diseases with the trauma suffered in childhood or with repressed sexual impulses. Until mid-900, Freud was considered almost a charlatan who had dared to slander the untouchable childhood innocence. But compared to the eighteenth century, thanks to the industrial revolution, in 900 is the feminine figure to change and take on a different significance.
The woman, who began working at the factory, interested in politics and going to college, begins to assert her rights and be aware of her equality, and thus acquiring a different awareness of own sexuality. However, the slow disappearance of Puritanism and the ease in behavior related to sex begin before in the women belonging to the upper classes. This is because the bourgeois spirit was still subject to many taboos and strict religious rules that imposed an absolute sobriety. Engaged couples could not sleep in the same bed or staying too long alone, while all parts of the body beyond the face, shoulders and feet still were considered indecent. For Catholic religion every sexual drive or sexual intercourse, outside of marriage, was considered a mortal sin. But beyond this strict moral and religious facade comes, fortunately, another libertine and more tolerant one, kept hidden or strict confidential. Like brothels for example, where all could meet their needs of a sexual nature and where a young person began his sexual activity, unless he was one of those lucky to be in good graces with some lady who initiates him to the joys of the sex. Besides, maids and housekeepers were often “used” by the heads of the family to meet their extramarital affairs or to give youngsters the rudiments of the amateur art. In later years, during the Fascist period, Italy was still influenced by religious precepts with the Church which was considered the guardian of good moral and public order. Therefore, until the Second World War our sexual customs followed this double standard. During fascism, man acquire authority and virility and if on the one hand there comes out against homosexuality, on the other hand brothels survive and the use of condoms is encouraged, but only as a means of prevent the transmission of syphilis and not as contraceptive. The end of the war, the arrival of the Americans and the beginning of reconstruction lead to a short transition period. The desire to live and restart bring to greater freedom of manners and to the satisfaction of material needs, including sex. In addition, with successive governments supported by the nascent political party called “Christian Democracy”, also if still closely connected with the Church’s temporal power, freedom and democracy can no longer relegate the “sexual freedom” to some social rank. Most of the films that Italian cinema offers in those years are a proof even if, as in the past, the conformist moral covers up and goes hand in hand with the more libertine one. It’s the period of the “Dolce Vita”, of the empowerment of women and when the corruption of social values starts. The Church doesn’t look on passively, and its influence, as always, will determine policy and customs of the following years. One example is the Merlin Law that in 1958 will lead to the closure of any red-light house.
We must wait the mass social and political movements of ’68, along with Karl Marx’s ideas, to see some change in terms of sexual mores. Women’s sexuality “emerges” from the ghetto, premarital intercourse increases, homosexuality and contraception become a topic of discussion. At the same time, pornography gets a foothold while many accept the sex separated from love. Among the effects of this desired “sexual freedom” we undoubtedly find the release of homosexuality from the shadows, with the first studies that do not consider it more a disease, although even today the Church continues to condemn it. “Sexuality and Sex” become subjects of study, “sexual health’s concept” appears, with the publication of many books and magazines on these topics. Nowadays, we all know that sexual activity is very healthy.
But again, the State, the Church and the Judiciary act to bring control and brake “sexual freedom”, as happened, from then on, towards pornography. The following years saw the escalation of Internet in the first place, a new and simple way to find and share information in every corner of the world. Probably computer and internet are the most important inventions of the end of 900, which in a few decades have changed the customs of all peoples radically. About sex, this leads the new generations to have easier access to products with sexual content and thereby to broad their knowledge. Slowly, the connection with the intimacy changes, and thanks to the media and Internet, in the first place, the body is exposed, personal testimonials proliferate, while physical appearance and performance gain too much in importance. Another salient event of the those last decades has been the invention of the contraceptive pill, accessible to all young people, with the opening of many family planning centers in the Eighties. The marketing of oral contraceptives and the gradual generalization of their use, have greatly promoted the opportunities for women and men to dissociate clearly the procreative activity from sexual pleasure. As historians point out, one of the most obvious differences that occurred over the past one hundred years, is the achievement of a sexual awareness caused by the conscious separation between procreation and sexual instinct; it’s to say the distinction between the intercourse for reproductive purposes from the sex for mere enjoyment. But, oddly enough, in the face of these imported social changes, sexual behavior and nudity do not undergo major changes. The sex remains a very private “need” to keep hidden, while the sexual organs still a part of the body to hide and towards which we always have an atavistic shame. One last event that has also characterized the last few decades is the arrival and spread, in the eighties, of the AIDS. After the initial moments of bewilderment, sometimes even panic, the emergence of HIV gave an important impetus to the activities of sex education and prevention of sexually transmitted infections, but at the same time has added new fears to the detriment of sex activity, which gradually became something to fear and be done with caution. In a climate already so full of fear, of morality and control, there just was no need of a new sexually transmitted disease! About in the 2000s, the revolution from internet on the subject of sex brings media (who know why?) to take an interest in the phenomenon continuously, to speak of “porn generation” and exaggerate about certain issues that have always existed, such as violence, rape, pedophilia, perversion. According to a SMASH survey (Swiss Multicenter Adolescent Survey on Health), between 1993 and 2002, the percentage of young people aged between 16 and 20 years who reported being victims of a form of sexual abuse, remained stable (around 15% for girls and 2% of boys). So, it is likely that the extensive mediatisation (term meaning the media coverage) on these phenomena derives simply from the overestimation of the situation or to exploit the issue. The finding that from the eighties to the present, the sexual behaviors have not changed much, leads one to think that to characterize the evolution of recent years are rather the plentiful messages disclosed about sexuality and their apparent banality. In the past, after the boom of pornography, it also was easy to have access to erotic material, but no one has ever thought to point out the new generation as a “porn generation”, a term suitable to the young people of today if we only refer to the continuing stresses to which they are subjected and which bring them to elaborate in a different way the erotic contents. One downside of the sexual content provided by many media in general, is to let prevail, as already mentioned, physicality and performance, and this has a negative impact on the individual, generating dissatisfaction and sexual performance anxiety. Never as in the past, we have witnessed in recent decades, to the widespread concern of not having a body sexually arousing, performance anxiety, to an increase in cases of premature ejaculation and last but not least to the worry about the size of own sexual organ. Although in the life of every day, sexuality is a pervasive factor, in our society it causes even today, as in the past, insecurities and fears. Fears and insecurities often linked to physical factors, such as disease and indecent assault, because, unfortunately, little is known of the problems related to sex and even less about psychological problems and sexual instincts. Knowledge and discussion that should take place from puberty, when the best time to talk about sexuality and sex with family members or trusting people. Given that the sex organs are part of the body to hide and that the use to which they are destined is a taboo, it then becomes normal that from puberty onwards, any doubt or problem related to sexuality isn’t disclosed by young people. Therefore, where there are diseases or psychological problems, that will lead inexorably to dysfunction or sexual deviations, without treatment or adequate support by experienced and sensitive persons, the subject will be left to himself with all the consequences that then will result from (repressed sexuality, dissatisfaction, psychological complexes, deviant behavior, violence). Do not be surprised then if newspaper report cases of homophobia, harassment or rape, where for most of us then it’s easy, alas, to become strict judges.
Conclusions …. beyond some freedom in sexual mores, nothing more is changed from the late 1800s until today. Among these we may mention the female nudity that is slightly more accepted, while the male one, for some reason, is still a taboo. But, with variations, because while in the past the nudity of any minor was accepted, today is instead become a serious offense. Under this point of view, all admirable community who practice nudism should be considered depraved and outlaws! This is not to say that everyone should be free to do what he wants and where he wants to, but please, do not hide ourselves behind big words as “ethic morality”, “public order” or “decency”, to rage, in the rigor of the law, against nudity or sexuality, in any place or situation it manifests itself. What is the decency? Who established what are its limits? Why is nudity a crime? Man is born naked while civilization and religions have done everything to cover him again and practice a continuous strategy of terror towards sex. For example, for years politicians, statesmen, writers and people were in favor of racism, legislating and acting against black people. They thought they were right, and for this have influenced and changed the lives of millions of people in the name of a good cause. The man who judges and puts himself above the parties, becoming a god. Who warrants us that, also towards nudity or sex, the thousands of man-made laws and that govern them are then not inaccurate or untrue?
It is true that in recent decades sex and sexuality have been discussed especially at the scientific level, with all of us who know more about, but apparently served little use if then in a world so full of diversity they are still considered “dirty affairs” and if not is coming up a deep and serious “sex education” from early age. Although, from the high of our knowledge, we call all other living beings as animals – except humans – I think we still have much to learn from animals!