Sunday 8 May 2016

Sex and Culture


In Sex and Culture (1934), Professor J.D. Unwin a British social anthropologist, studied eighty primitive tribes and Roman, Greek, Sumerian, Moorish, Babylonian, and Anglo-Saxon civilizations. He found a strong positive correlation between the cultural achievement of a people and the chastity of its women. He said:

'These societies lived in different geographical environments; they belonged to different racial stocks; but the history of their marriage customs is the same. In the beginning each society had the same ideas in regard to sexual regulations. Then the same struggles took place; the same sentiments were expressed; the same changes were made; the same results ensued. Each society reduced its sexual opportunity to a minimum and displaying great social energy, flourished greatly. Then it extended its sexual opportunity; its energy decreased, and faded away.'
Unwin, who was a sort of Freudian, and not writing from a religious or moralistic point of view, offered 'no opinion about the rightness or wrongness' of female chastity or sexual

morality. Nevertheless, he concluded that

'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.'
He found with no exceptions that these societies flourished during eras that valued chastity in women. Inevitably, according to Unwin, after a nation becomes prosperous its sexual morality becomes less strict (is this true? Victorian England compared to Regency England and Restoration England?) and as a result loses it cohesion, impetus, purpose and inevitably declines.

Unwin was at a loss to explain the pattern, but he proposed a special class of "Alpha" citizens in Great Britain, men and women of unusual promise, who would take vows of chastity before marriage and observe strict monogamy after marriage, for the sake of society. He also said that after women had become sexually free there is no precedent for their giving this freedom up.

On the other hand, perhaps Unwin may we wrong. A woman anthropologist, Dr. Ruth Benedict, who reviewed his book, said he completely ignored several tribes that were in the immediate area and time frame of other tribes that he did consider and that would have totally destroyed his hypothesis. She concluded,
'It is impossible within the limits of a brief review to criticize the long list of absurdities that are involved in the correlations of this volume.....This volume is an extreme example of the manipulation of anthropological material to support private programs of social reform, in this case, a program of return to the immediate Victorian past. It makes clear, as has already been abundantly demonstrated in anthropological literature, that any thesis, no matter how unlikely, can be upheld by a suitable rearrangement of cultural facts from primitive peoples. Only insistence upon a greater scrupulousness and a greater intelligence can prevent the recurrence of such volumes of special pleading.'
Unwin died shortly after Sex and Culture  was published and his ideas died with him, although they have recently been revived by one or two right-wingers, who have adduced them to argue that feminised, sexually liberated Western societies will be conquered by immigrants from hyper-masculine societies that value chastity. 


  1. Correlation but probably not causality. The two phenomena, men insisting on the chastity of women and the blooming of their civilisation, could have the same cause. A hypothesis could be a cultural trait that insists more on honour, property, wealth, social prestige, public image and less on the "pursuit of happiness", hedonism, that German word, "Selbstverwirklichung", I don't know how to translate it, I would say self-fruition, atteinment of one's personal goals, converging towards the image of one has of oneself w.r.t. the society, career, family.

    I think what differentiates between the two periods in the history of civilisation is the self-image. In one case people see themselves as a part of civilisation, they live like everybody would be looking at them, they have this social consciousness, that they are "somebody" in a context. In the other case, they deny the existence of that social context, they deny the right of the "others" to have a saying in the conduct of their lives. They consider themselves to be "somebody" in their own right, not validated by others, not in a context. And then only the pursuit of happiness counts. Sexual attitude is a symptom, not a cause.

    It's simply that the atteinment of wealth, the disappearance of the fear for their own security, which is such a strong cohesive force, the feeling of dominance of the randomness of live, war, social upheaval, famine, renders life a little hollow and then people shift towards Selbstverwirklichung.

    I think we could replace sex by religion in the thesis of Prof Unwin and have the same observations.

  2. More on the line of hedonism and moral deviance, it is probably true what recent immigrants are indoctrinated with: the western/US genetic stock may be withering away into dead end 'transgender' objects.
    Being the sole inhabitant of the vast space of one's mind is a very trying business. The absence of moral archetypes does create monsters. Sad to see one's own stock being extinguished. You cannot help the sadness of death.