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Sexual Democracy. In extramarital sex, one of the chief trends is toward sexual democracy. Today's sexual adventuring seems to be among social equals, even if it means the best friend's wife or husband. The old double stand ard involved a reservoir of socially inferior women, some of them prostitutes, others "nice" girls but not really quite nice. The prostitutes' ranks are thinning more than ever. As for the little seamstress or shopgirl type, she hardly exists any longer; heaven and union wages protect the working girl.
Today's catalyst for sex, at least in urban communities, is the office girl, from head buyer to perky file clerk. To many men, the office remains a refuge from home, and to many girls a refuge from the eligible but sometimes dull young men they meet in the outside world. One of the difficulties of the office affair, except for those who relish intrigue for its own sake, is the problem of sheer logistics and security. Semipublic, semipermanent affairs are still not readily condonedor perhaps even really enjoyedin the U.S. American men seem to have decided that if there is love, only marriage will suffice in the long run, and if there is no love, only boredom can result; thus does life forever reinvent morality.
The New Sin. Some sociologists believe that the U.S. is moving toward a more Mediterranean attitude toward sex and life in general. But the U.S. still cannot relax about it the way Europe does, which accepts sex without much discussion, as it accepts bread and wine, earth and sin.
In contrast, the U.S. is forever trying to banish sin from the universeand finding new sins to worry about. The new sex freedom in the U.S. does not necessarily set people free. Psychoanalyst Rollo May believes that it has minimized external social anxiety but increased internal tension. The great new sin today is no longer giving in to desire, he thinks, but not giving in to it fully or successfully enough. While enjoyment of sex has increased for many, the "competitive compulsion to prove oneself an acceptable sexual machine" makes many others feel neurotically guilty, hence impotent or frigid. As a fellow analyst puts it bluntly: "We are always anticipating the 21-gun salute, and worried if it doesn't happen." This preoccupation with the frequency and technique of orgasm, says May, leads to a new kind of inverted Puritanism.
If there is indeed a new Puritanism, it has its own Cotton Mather. Man, says Norman Mailer, "knows at the seed of his being that good orgasm opens his possibilities and bad orgasm imprisons him." Many people take this issue very seriously: next month, the American Association of Marriage Counselors will hold a three-day conference on the nature of orgasm.
There is also a tendency to see in sex not only personal but social salvationthe last area of freedom in an industrialized society, the last frontier. In one of the really "in" books of recent years, Life Against Death, Norman O. Brown has even suggested a kind of sexual Utopia. In his vision, all repressions would be eliminated, along with civilization itself; the future would belong to sexuality, not just of the present "genital" variety, which Brown considers a form of tyranny, but the all-round, innocent sexuality a child