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.
George A. Tobin, a frequent contributor to First Things , practices law in Washington, D.C.