IPT Book Reviews

Title: An End to Shame: Shaping our Next Sexual Revolution   Positive Review Positive Review
Authors: Ira L. Reiss and Harriet M. Reiss
Publisher: Prometheus Books 1990

Prometheus Books
700 East Amhurst Street
Buffalo, NY 14215-1674


The most concise way of revealing the intent of this 287-page book is to quote, verbatim, the first paragraph of his introduction to the book:

Time is running out for our society.  A flood of sexual problems is on the verge of breaking through the leaky dam of our present-day sexual customs.  If we are to keep from being overwhelmed, we must make dramatic changes in our way of thinking about sexuality.  I was persuaded to write this book by repeatedly hearing people hailing the causes of our sexual crisis as the cure!  Many politicians, ministers, educators, and parents maintain that if we were only less tolerant of sexual choice, if we only taught "just say no," then we would be more "decent" and our sexual crisis would fade away.  I believe that this intolerant, self-righteous, dogmatic approach to sexuality is precisely what has made us the world leader in all major sexual problems.  And it is exactly what we must reject.

The authors do just that in this book.  The book is readable and is thoroughly documented by an extensive bibliography.  The footnotes to the text are gathered together at the end of the book.  Ignoring the footnotes causes no confusion or difficulty in following the line of reasoning.  The footnotes are merely citations for the data discussed, and further discussions of that particular subject.

The first author of this book is a professor in the sociology department of the University of Minnesota.  He is the author of eleven books, four monographs, and more than 100 professional articles and commentaries.  He is the former president of the International Academy of Sex Research, the National Council on Family Relations, and the Society for the Scientific Study of Sex.  Among the many awards he has received for his research is the 1994 Kinsey Award for Distinguished Scientific Achievement.


The authors acknowledge the scope of the most recognized sexual problems in the United States, and cite data which establish the magnitude of each of these problems.  These problems are AIDS, teenage pregnancy, rape, and sexual abuse of children.  These results are then compared to comparable figures for Australia, Sweden, and England, as well as with other western industrialized countries where data are available.

The authors point out that the United States now has more cases of AIDS than any other country in the world.  Our rate of teenage pregnancy, for those under 15 years of age, is five times that of other developed countries of the world, even though our rate of sexual activity is no higher.  The frequency of rape in the United States is several times that of England, West Germany, and France.  The United States has one of the highest rates of sexual abuse of children.  Sexually, therefore, the United States has the worst track record of any of the western industrialized countries

The authors maintain that AIDS, teenage pregnancy, rape, and sexual abuse of children are not separate problems each with a different specific social cause; common causes underlie all these sexual problems.  The fundamental causes of our sexual crisis are the underlying unrealistic and self-defeating ideas about sexuality that have crippled our society's ability to cope with any sexual problem.  They believe that our leaders (politicians, teachers, religious leaders, etc.) are not solving the problem, but are still leading us in the direction that has not worked in the past and which has little hope of working now.  They are also preventing us from acquiring the information needed to rationally analyze these problems and their possible solutions.  They claim that other countries that have made progress in these areas have learned to change their culture but that we are resisting that.  This book examines the data and proposes a plan similar to that used by others.

The perennial American "solution" to sexual problems has always been to restrict sexuality, to 'just say no."  The authors propose instead that we accept the reality of sexual behavior, and encourage improved preparation for avoiding disease and pregnancy.  The causes for rape are principally centered in the present belief of man's superiority to women, and our culture's hero worship for the macho male attitude.  This combination makes it easy to vent on women any hostile feelings a man may have, and do this in a physically aggressive way.

The ultimate cure for all these disturbing problems requires us to abandon the traditional family values of male superiority, and remove all, or nearly all, of the restrictions (legal, religious, or moral) on any adult consensual sexual activity when the act is entered into with honesty, equality, and responsibility.  The authors believe that such a change in thinking about sex will not only produce great benefits in reducing the frequency of the foregoing sexual catastrophes, but will provide a saner perspective to deal with other sexual problems such as unwed mothers, abortion, prostitution, pornography, sex education of children, violence and sexuality in the media, and psychiatric counseling for sexual dysfunctions.

They believe that a change in our attitude will provide a better background to determine what limits, if any, should be placed on the media (radio, TV, newspapers, magazines, films, records, videos, etc.) in using language or discussing events or advertising products or services pertaining to our sexuality as human beings.  It will also indicate if the public should bring pressure upon these same media operators to abandon their present interest in preserving the ineffectual and counterproductive "traditional family values" approach to sexuality.

Neither the title nor the subtitle of this book would interest me enough to read it.  A different title could possibly attract a wider readership.  However, I recommend it as must reading for anyone with an open mind.  The authors present data to support their claims and present a compelling argument for their proposals.  Dissemination of this information could start whatever dialog is necessary to possibly achieve the solution to our society's sexual problems.

Reviewed by Howard T. Mooers, Wayzata, Minnesota.

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