Dr. Benjamin Schlesinger
For several decades human sexuality, and books on human sexuality, have seemed to obsess portions of the North American public. But for interested Canadians, homegrown information was hard to come by; the experts, and their studies, were American. That changed in May with the publication oí Sexual Behavior In Canada, the first collection of studies in Canadian sexuality, edited by Dr. Benjamin Schlesinger. A professor at the University of Toronto’s faculty of social work, the 49-year-old Schlesinger is the author of seven other books (one of them, Families: A Canadian Perspective, is a widely used textbook for high school Man and Society courses) and over 200 academic papers. Fie has taught in India and Australia and was sent by the Canadian government to the West Indies as visiting professor under the Canadian External Aid Program.
Schlesinger came to Canada in 1942, a refugee from Nazi Germany where his father and many relatives were exterminated. Fie got his BA at night school from Sir George Williams University in Montreal, then his PhD from Cornell in 1961. Fie made a point of including 17 articles by women In Sexual Behavior In Canada because he thinks men don’t understand the sexuality of women.
Schlesinger, who lives in downtown Toronto with his four children and his wife of 18 years, talked with Maclean’s contributing editor Casey Baldwin.
Maclean’s: Is there any apparent difference in the sexual attitudes or sexuality between Canadians and Americans? Schlesinger: Basically we Canadians are more conservative in the area of sexual behavior and probably there are three major areas. One is that we do not experiment sexually as much as the Americans. Neither do we follow as quickly new sexual patterns such as wife swapping or group sex. And third is the area of sexual research, which is almost nonexistent in this country. The only studies we have in this country are studies of students at universities where the interviewer went and asked students “Do you have sex or not?” and the frequency. Now, my feeling is that type of research brings out the braggart. The average young Canadian man, if you meet him on campus today and said to him “Are you having sexual intercourse before marriage?” the average man really doesn’t like to say no. I mean, after all, the Canadian manliness is at stake. Primarily we’ve done studies among students and asked
them about their sex behavior. The only small study done with adults is contained in the abortion committee report which came out recently in which 4,128 Canadians were asked about their sex behavior and the big finding was coast to coast that Canadian adults are having sex once a
Orgasm might be very interesting, buta wonderful sex life is possible without it
week. And I have to be very careful with that again. First thing it’s an average, so you know the range may be from five to seven to none. On the other hand it’s a small sample and frankly speaking who gives a damn anyhow? Who cares whether a person has it once, twice or three times? I would really ask Canadians about some of their satisfactions and their dissatisfactions in sexual behavior which range from, let’s say, holding hands, masturbation, kissing, fondling, caressing and in the end sex relations. I came across a statement which said if we look at the average Canadian adult today and add up the amount of time that he or she has sexual intercourse, it is only a weekend in a whole lifetime. In other words, the actual sexual intercourse takes such a small part of life and therefore to me, I think, and maybe Canadians are right in that, we don’t focus as much as the
Americans do on the actual sexual intercourse, you know the large penis, the big boobs, breasts, the emphasis on the conquest. In Canada, I think we still kind of feel it’s nobody’s business and probably it isn’t. I think it’s a very personal thing. Maclean’s: Is there any particular reason why there are these differences between the United States and Canada?
Schlesinger: Well, we’re a different country and I think people forget that although we are neighbors there are many differences and it’s only recently that we’ve come to realize that. We are a newer country. There are many new Canadians, and I am one of them, who came here after World War II and I think that many of our ethnic groups have brought with them traditional European values, which include religious values, which meant that sexuality is (a) not discussed (b) is not opened up (c) probably sometimes is concerned it’s a taboo. The churches and the synagogues, although some people may laugh at that, do play a very important life in shaping our morals and making decisions about what type of sexual behavior is allowed and not allowed. A good example is: in Canada, we allow massage parlors and pornography, and suddenly there is a kind of backlash sponsored by a church group and other groups, and we say, no, we don’t want it here. In the United States, there might be a small backlash but there is still a tremendous industry in this area. In my office I have about 250 books, American books, on human sexuality. There isn’t one side of sex that has not been explored, photographed, analyzed, dissected, and you wonder what is left. I think there should be some sort of secrecy left in sexual behavior. Maclean’s: Nevertheless, in spite of the fact that you feel that it should be a private matter, do you feel that ignorance might do some damage?
Schlesinger: There is a lot of misconception, ignorance and myth about sexuality in this country. Here are some interesting statistics which illustrate this: over the past five years, every eleventh baby in this country, roughly 32,000 babies a year were born to unmarried mothers. Forty percent were born to girls under 19 and about 80% of these girls are keeping their children. Now, we have done some studies in this area of family planning and contraception and the finding is that most of these girls did not want to become pregnant, they were completely, well, not ignorant, but they were playing Russian Roulette or Canadian Roulette. Or some say to me when I’ve done some of the research, it was not moral to use contraception. I began wondering if it’s not moral to use contraception, should it be moral to bring an unwanted child into the world. That to me is in the whole area of ignorance, of misconception, misunderstanding where really some help is needed.
Maclean’s: Should teen-age girls first be educated and secondly be allowed birth control pills?
Schlesinger: This evidence that I just mentioned plus the fact that out of 50,000 abortions each year, 31% are under 19 and venereal disease is increasing among teenagers—I would say yes, we need to educate teen-agers properly, not sort of after school, as part of the curriculum and not only girls. I mean it takes two to tango. There are men involved in these relationships. We have enough evidence that there is an increase in sexual experimentation among our younger Canadians and it’s getting younger every year. You hear of 12-yearolds who are sexually experimenting, it just seems to be “in.” Now many of these young people have no idea of what the results are. In other words, it’s a game, it’s roulette, it’s supposed to be something exciting and for many it is not exciting at all. And then they find themselves pregnant and either get aborted or stay pregnant, and those that don’t are lucky.
Maclean’s: What about the outragedfather who discovers his daughter is using birth control pills?
Schlesinger: Usually I find parents that get outraged about the pill say “the neighbor can take it but not my daughter.” They don’t mind. But when the daughter comes home and says “Mother, I’m pregnant...” then they say: “Why the hell didn’t we put her on the pill?” I’m not suggesting that in Canada we have every parent doling out the pill. And by the way, why should we always talk about the woman? Isn’t it time that the Canadian men take some responsibility? The condom, which is 95% or so foolproof, which does not require a prescription, which does not make you dizzy, which doesn’t give you pains, which supposedly doesn’t cause anything, is available in every drug store. You don’t need permission, you don’t need to go to your doctor. It’s available so why the hell don’t more men take the precaution in this country?
Maclean’s: How do you deal with irate parents who feel that all sex education does is promote immorality or permissiveness? Schlesinger: Well, drug education does not promote the taking of drugs; the nosmoking thing does not necessarily increase smoking or doesn’t stop smoking. Again, to me these are generalized things. On the other hand, to be honest, I can’t prove it either way. But my point always is that sexual experimentation is going on already so I’m just trying to help people become responsible rather than to increase sexual behavior.
Maclean’s: There's an interesting question raised in the anthology which says that men
and women are physically constructed in such a way that the woman is not guaranteed orgasm, whereas the man always is. Schlesinger: I agree with those in the field of sexology who believe that they have overdone this whole orgasm bit. In other words, we have almost frightened people who find that, for example, they cannot have orgasm. And they have been told that there must be something wrong if you cannot have an orgasm. So now we have classes to teach people how to have orgasms. We have books that say an orgasm a day keeps the doctor away. Again, this is the North American emphasis, which is not worldwide, on what I would call athletic prowess. My feeling is that or-
You hear of 12-yearolds experimenting with sex, with no idea what the results are
gasm might be very interesting but many Canadians, men or women, can be quite satisfied, have a wonderful sexual life, without this so-called orgasm. You know, orgasm is a physical reaction. To me when I relate to my wife or anyone else relates to their loved one, the warmth, the caring, the sharing, the holding is much more important than that orgasm that lasts a few seconds. And that is why, if I had my way, I would try to help people see that the orgasm isn’t the end all.
Maclean’s: Does sexual frustration apply to a great many Canadians?
Schlesinger: I do not have statistics, but I believe that among the 23 million people in this country there are quite a few who are frustrated. When I say frustrated, I really mean that they have an unsatisfactory sexual life in the broadest sense. What I am suggesting is that in 1977, if a couple
has some difficulty, don’t be afraid to go to a counselor. Most can be helped quite easily. The big first step is to admit that there is something wrong. In many cases, it may have nothing to do with anything emotionally, there might be certain physical difficulties which can also be corrected through minor surgery. Not all of it is in their head. Some of it is in their body. But a lot of course is in the mind. For example, a married woman comes to a counselor and says her husband wants to have oral-genital sex and she says it is dirty, it’s degrading. Well the first thing that one has to find out is what does the husband really want? Why does he want it? The husband might see that it’s so degrading to his wife that he will forgo it, that it’s not the end of the world. On the other hand, maybe the wife can be helped to see that maybe she should try it and then if it’s not satisfactory—it’s not the end of life not to have oral-genital sex. What is wrong sometimes is our magazines which play up, you know, 72 variations, 105 positions, 70 different ways of having sex. And people forget that the average person has two or three different ways of relating sexually. There are certain people who don’t want certain ways and it should be respected.
Maclean’s: Well, then the 72 positions is another way of fighting boredom in sexual relations?
Schlesinger: Yes, maybe we should talk about boredom in sexuality. You know, when you hear people say “I’m bored, I’m bored with my marriage, my family is boring, everything bores me, my job bores me, my sex bores me,”I begin worrying what are they really putting into all of this. If you just sort of sit back and expect things to change, they’re not going to change. I’ll give you one kind of case to illustrate that. A couple was telling me, he comes home at five, she comes at 4.30. They have supper. The kids are put to bed. Then he looks at his clock and at 9:45 they go upstairs have sex and at ten o’clock the hockey game starts or whatever. Now, this is boring because it becomes a routine. There’s nothing to it. There are no feelings to it. For example, let’s say the children are away at camp, it should be spontaneous, whether it’s on the kitchen floor or in the backyard when no one’s looking or that you hug each other or you run around naked in the house. No one has to see it. You play games. It has to be spontaneous. It shouldn’t be tonight at 9.45—tomorrow at 10.02—and then you see if at 10.02 somebody is not ready you get all up in a huff because we did it last week, we did it the week before. My thing is, get the hell out of the routine and become spontaneous. Maclean’s: To be personal for a moment, suppose your teen-age daughter comes home and tells you that she is having sexual relations with her steady boyfriend. What 's your response?
Schlesinger: My daughter is not that age yet, but I would respond because it is a hypothetical question at the moment for me.
I would be very upset, personally. I would speak to her as to whether they were using contraceptives and if they were not I would try to help her to get the proper contraception and possibly, since she is going with the boyfriend, I would talk to both of them.
Maclean’s: What would you say? Schlesinger: Well, first I would want to ask them what their relationship was all about, talk about sexual relations. And probably I would get very frustrated because I would never win with teen-agers. Maclean’s: But is your basic feeling that your daughter should not be having sexual relations with her boyfriend?
Schlesinger: You’re asking me personally, yes. These are my values and I’m willing to stand up, which is more than most people in this area are willing to do, stand up and say that personally speaking I don’t see that premarital sex is the end-all to teen-age enjoyment.
Maclean’s: Would it do more harm than good?
Schlesinger: I don’t know about harm or good. I think that in the past we had all these scare tactics that you would get pregnant and all of this. The teen-ager could very well argue today that there are contraceptives. But if you’re talking personally to me, it’s not a question of bad and good. My own feeling is that I can relate to a person and sex relations do not have to be the big satisfaction. For example, I hear young people saying: “I go out with my boyfriend and he asked me to prove my love and prove my love means to have sexual intercourse. Why do I have to prove my love? Can we not relate to each other in love without having to prove it?” Maclean’s: But suppose your daughter and this boy had quite a responsible relationship. On what grounds do you say no? Schlesinger: To be honest, on the grounds that I grew up within my religious tradition which I follow, which is Jewish, and maybe my moral tradition; I’m a conservative.
Maclean’s: The age of puberty has fallen from the approximate age of 16 years old to about 12 years old in the past 100 years. What effect has this had?
Schlesinger: Well, this is an interesting effect on the family life in Canada which we really hadn’t thought about. A hundred years ago, there were many youthful marriages at about 17. But you died at age 56, on the average. So you married early and lived less so there was really a very short period of what they called adolescence. Almost a nonexistent adolescence. What we have done today is that we have prolonged this “single period” from age 12 to roughly 22 or 23 because the average age of a marriage in this country is 25 for men and 23 for women. The consequence of this elongated period is the dilemma that you just asked me before—what do you do in that time? Although I said to you that I wouldn’t like my daughter to have premarital intercourse, I realize the dilemma in Canada is over a period of 10 years, say
12 to 22, in which people are single. The question is what do you say to those youngsters during that period as far as sexual needs are concerned? And I must admit that I am in a dilemma. What we really have done is we have put tremendous frustrations on young people.
Maclean’s: A recent survey of coital frequency for both male and females put England at the top and Canada at the bottom. Is, there any apparent possible reason for this? Schlesinger: We have to be very careful when we discuss coital frequency among countries. I mean, here is a difference between attitudes and actual behaviors. Now let’s say that I get a Canada Council grant, which I won’t, for that subject, to do a com-
Get spontaneous. You may have less sex per week, but you’ll have a hell of a good time
parative study of coital behavior among industrialized, English-speaking countries. I will go to Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Britain—all the Commonwealth countries—not the United States. And my study is, I will ask in each country 1,000 people about the frequency of coital behavior.
Maclean’s: You ’re telling me that this kind of survey is pretty unreliable .. . Schlesinger: Yes, it is, it is pretty unreliable. By chance I might meet people who might say to me once a week. Not only this, coital frequency is a private matter. You come to see me, I want to get rid of you and I usually overdoit. In other words, I over emphasize my frequency.
Maclean’s: Is it damaging to a child to hear or see his parents making love? Schlesinger: Well, there are various theories about that. My own feeling is that if parents at all can help it, they should try to lock their room. And it may not only be
the questions of damage, I think it’s just privacy also. I don’t know about the damage but maybe my advice is if you’re going to relate to another person with his parents or his girl friend, etc., do it in private. Not only is it nobody else’s business but I think interference and noise really spoils your relationship. So, sometimes a child by mistake does come into the room, don’t get uptight, don’t yell, relax, cover yourself. Maclean’s: What about nudity in the home? Some parents are quite unconcerned if their children see them nude, fairly often in normal situations around the house. Others would never allow their children to see them nude.
Schlesinger: My only feeling is that nudity is a personal, family thing in the same way for example that some families have formality at the dinner table. To me nudity is a family concern and if a child grows up in a home where nudity is part of life, there’s nothing wrong. It’s when you start imposing it on a child or on an adult that worries me. So my feeling is that if you’re comfortable with it, fine. On the other hand, nudity does result in sexual feelings on both parties and parents and children should be aware of that. Once nudity is there, sexual feelings are there. The question really is what do you do with them? Maclean’s: Do you think that Canadians will deal with the whole question of sexual attitudes and sexual behavior more frankly in the future?
Schlesinger: I believe that there are many signs today and I think we will do it in a good way, we won’t rush into it. We’ll debate it, we’ll argue it. We will introduce new approaches including proper sex education in our schools when we are ready. I think we’re moving into the age where possibly men and women will take equal responsibility for contraception. Hopefully we will have a society in which we do not oppress anyone sexually. In that I mean the mentally retarded, the physically handicapped, the aged. We always seem to say to them that you shouldn’t have any sexual life. I think that we’re coming to an age where we will have to recognize that each Canadian needs a sexual life which has its wide range. And I say it again: the measure of sexuality is not necessarily the frequency of coitus or intercourse. I remember speaking to one administrator of an old-age home and he said they’re separated so that no hanky-panky goes on. Now once again you start to wonder what the hell they mean by hanky-panky. Maybe we should encourage more hankypanky. That would really be good. On the other hand, we cannot thrust onto those ages,which arel 1.7% of thepopulationor 1.9 million, this whole area of sexuality either, because they grew up at a time where you didn’t discuss it. I guarantee that one of the changes in Canada will be that the future generation of aged will be sexually active, sexually aware and sexually experienced and will enjoy sex much more than the aged of today. And that is to me a very, very good sign.'ÿ