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The Sex Code by Francis Bennion
A review by Dahlian Kirby.
It took Mr. Bennion fifteen years to write the book he describes in the preface as a suggested code of secular ethics. Having a healthy interest in all things sexual, and feeling that a book which challenges our society’s restricting view on sex and sexuality could be useful, I dipped in. As I randomly read short sections I was impressed by Mr. Bennion’s easy and succinct style. I decided to write a review praising the openness and radical thinking of the book subtitled Morals for Moderns.
So then I carefully read the book from cover to cover, and changed my opinion I’m afraid, Mr. Bennion. Rather than being a useful book on the philosophy of sexual behaviour (as I had first thought) it is instead the ramblings of one man’s view on sex. To be fair, the author does admit this towards the end of the book but previously we are handed a series of rules, many without debate or explanation. As a result much of the book is vague, whilst the rest of it is written in an extremely authoritarian style.
The book is an attack on the sexual repression in our particular society. Although other societies are occasionally mentioned, Bennion is particularly concerned with negativity towards sex in his own culture. This of course makes sense, he is tackling a vast subject and to try to do this and examine alternatives in great detail would be impossible. But I feel that by holding up our society as the only one worthy of examination (flawed though it is) the possibilities of different attitudes towards sexuality are lost. We are shown what we have and told how bad it is. We are then told that real sex is vaginal intercourse and really we are better-off in a marriage-like relationship than not. I feel that Francis Bennion is not really exposing how dangerous a sexually repressive culture is so that as individuals we can dare to do what we know is best. Rather he wants to take it as it is and patch it up. By doing this he is not offering anything that hasn’t been offered before. He suggests that old people and handicapped people should be able to have sexlives, and he thinks that mixed-race marriages are acceptable. Thanks.
A major problem for me is the way women and issues that affect women are dealt with in this book. Despite paying great lip service to equality he talks about how all women desire to be mothers and refers to young women as ‘maidens’. When talking about sexual desire his language is firmly planted in the masculine, and female sexuality as such is ignored. Whilst asking for tolerance of sexual deviants, he continually underestimates the effect such people have on women and children. Many subjects are covered in two hundred and ninety four pages, but there is far more relating to acceptance of those society considers unhealthy than on the situation of their victims. Thus, sexual harassment is covered in one page, while the defence of pornography takes four chapters.
I may of course be one of those people Francis Bennion warns us about: someone who doesn’t accept that pornography is good for all of us. Throughout the book he quotes a study carried out in the States that proves conclusively that using pornography does not affect those using it, and therefore is not a contributing factor in the abuse of women and children. Eventually we are informed that this grand research project was carried out using twenty three male college students as subjects. One doesn’t like to stereotype in favour of scholars, but it’s quite possible that this small bunch of lads had been reared in a fairly liberal environment, had perhaps read about and discussed sexual oppression of women, and most certainly had been in a position to have met and related to women as equals. Some of us may have a tendency to manipulate research findings to our own ends, but at this point The Sex Code lost credibility!
The book is worth reading though, not least as a way of tackling our own prejudices and perhaps reaffirming our own beliefs. The book does have a simple and accessible style, and the short sections are useful as individual pieces, perhaps for discussion or as a stimulus for an essay. Francis Bennion has put a great deal of energy and commitment into writing a book which he feels will be useful to a society which appears to be floundering morally. He explains where some of the weaknesses in our society stem from and as a central theme suggests that “A growing number of caring responsible people in our society are sincerely of the view that the Judaeo- Christian rules on sex are bad, since they arise from a stance that negates and dismisses the natural sexuality of human beings.” In reaffirming a need for sex to be a positive and not a negative aspect of our lives Mr. Bennion becomes inspiring.
But for me, not inspiring enough. Whilst he is suggesting that his ideas be taken seriously he uses language which is embarrassingly romantic, so he talks of Erotic Samaritans when he means prostitutes (if he was a woman would he do the job?) and talks of a sexually positive future as The Garden of Happy Emotions. Whilst bravely tackling an aspect of our culture which certainly needs re-evaluating, Mr. Bennion shows us that he is just another victim, so that whilst he attacks inequality of women, the old, the ugly, blacks and homosexuals on some pages; he then uses racist, homophobic sexist language, and talks about ugly old men! Bennion writes about things that certainly need to be confronted, and the section on children’s sexuality is perhaps his most powerful. This is an interesting book, but I’m afraid it is not nearly as important as the author thinks.
© Dahlian Kirby 1993
The Sex Code by Francis Bennion is published in paperback by Weidenfeld and Nicolson for £7.99. (and in hardback for £18.95).
Dahlian Kirby is a writer and teacher currently doing a PhD in philosophy at University of Wales College of Cardiff.