BODY PLEASURE AND THE ORIGINS OF VIOLENCE
Could Help Make Less Violent and Teach Intimacy Skills
options for healthy physical sex would reduce violence.
could teach and let men learn more intimate sexuality which would
benefit their future partners. Many
men once they have been introduced to more intimate sexuality find it
much more fulfilling than “just” sex.
We get men all excited with so much sexuality in ads, movies and TV. Tease and titillation is all over making many men desire more sexual options and sexual variety – both in sexual techniques and partners. Yet the safest, most practical choice of going to a private sexworker is illegal and not tolerated in the U.S. unlike in most all of the rest of the world.
People who are sexually repressed are angry, and angry people tend to be violent. People who are not touched, loved, made love to, feel outside of the human race and have an easier time hurting other humans.
I think the sex-negativity of most Christian sects is a contributing factor to the violence of the western world.
Common sense would suggest there is much less unwanted sexual aggression against women, if there are legal means to be sexually fulfilled. Probably not violent rape which is more of a crime of control, but date rape, sexual harassment etc, which while terrible, is often simply due to sexual frustration with no legal outlet.
to close down massage parlors and arrest private (not on the street
but private none of the governments business) prostitutes are examples
of our anti-pleasure attitudes. Apparently, sex with pleasure is
immoral and unacceptable, but sex with violence and pain such as in
movies about rape is moral and acceptable.
Men can kill
each other with all sorts of violence on TV, but an intimate scene of
loving humans can’t be seen on TV and has to exclude children at the
movies. I happen to think
this is a very sick attitude.
with a wonderful warm women, a sexworker, her beautiful warm body
caressing a man, is "an
act of prostitution" in the U.S.
She faces a felony prostitution charge for offering the tender
warmth of her body to a man! We
must protect society against this terrible act says the religious
Rape is more about control than sex. But how much does the lack of intimacy and sexual frustration of so many in our culture protect neighborhood and children as is the theme song of the religious right group behind the new laws across America to stamp out good intimacy, even non-sexual interactions between consenting adults.
PLEASURE AND THE ORIGINS OF VIOLENCE
James W. Prescott
original article is much longer and also discusses childhood issues
and has many tables and sources of outside data.
W. Prescott, a neuropsychologist, is a health scientist administrator
at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development in
Bethesda, Maryland. The views and opinions expressed here are those of
the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the National
Institutes of Health.
violence is fast becoming a global epidemic. All over the world,
police face angry mobs, terrorists disrupt the Olympics, hijackers
seize airplanes, and bombs wreck buildings. During the past year, wars
raged in the Middle East, Cyprus, and Southeast Asia, and guerrilla
fighting continued to escalate in Ireland. Meanwhile, crime in the
United States grew even faster than inflation.
the causes of violence are isolated and treated, we will continue to
live in a world of fear and apprehension. Unfortunately, violence is
often offered as a solution to violence. Many law enforcement
officials advocate 'get tough' policies as the best method to reduce
crime. Imprisoning people, our usual way of dealing with crime, will
not solve the problem, because the causes of violence lie in our basic
values and the way in which we bring up our children and youth.
Physical punishment, violent films and TV programs teach our children
that physical violence is normal. But these early life experiences are
not the only or even the main source of violent behavior. Recent
research supports the point of view that the deprivation of physical
pleasure is a major ingredient in the expression of physical violence.
The common association of sex with violence provides a clue to
understanding physical violence in terms of deprivation of physical
violence, pleasure seems to be something the world can't get enough
of. People are constantly in search of new forms of pleasure, yet most
of our 'pleasure' activities appear to be substitutes for the natural
sensory pleasures of touching. We touch for pleasure or for pain or we
don't touch at all. Although physical pleasure and physical violence
seem worlds apart, there seems to be a subtle and intimate connection
between the two. Until the relationship between pleasure and violence
is understood, violence will continue to escalate.
a developmental neuropsychologist I have devoted a great deal of study
to the peculiar relationship between violence and pleasure. I am now
convinced that the deprivation of physical sensory pleasure is the
principal root cause of violence. Laboratory experiments with animals
show that pleasure and violence have a reciprocal relationship, that
is, the presence of one inhibits the other. A raging, violent animal
will abruptly calm down when electrodes stimulate the pleasure centers
of its brain. Likewise, stimulating the violence centers in the brain
can terminate the animal's sensual pleasure and peaceful behavior.
When the brain's pleasure circuits are 'on,' the violence circuits are
'off,' and vice versa. Among human beings, a pleasure-prone
personality rarely displays violence or aggressive behaviors, and a
violent personality has little ability to tolerate, experience, or
enjoy sensuously pleasing activities. As either violence or pleasure
goes up, the other goes down.
The reciprocal relationship of pleasure and violence is highly significant because certain sensory experiences during the formative periods of development will create a neuropsychological predisposition for either violence-seeking or pleasure-seeking behaviors later in life. I am convinced that various abnormal social and emotional behaviors resulting from what psychologists call 'maternal-social' deprivation, that is, a lack of tender, loving care, are caused by a unique type of sensory deprivation, somatosensory deprivation. Derived from the Greek word for 'body,' the term refers to the sensations of touch and body movement which differ from the senses of light, hearing, smell and taste. I believe that the deprivation of body touch, contact, and movement are the basic causes of a number of emotional disturbances which include depressive and autistic behaviors, hyperactivity, sexual aberration, drug abuse, violence, and aggression.
insights were derived chiefly from the controlled laboratory studies
of Harry F. and Margaret K. Harlow at the University of Wisconsin. The
Harlows and their students separated infant monkeys from their mothers
at birth. The monkeys were raised in single cages in an animal colony
room, where they could develop social relationships with the other
animals through seeing, hearing, and smelling, but not through
touching or movement. These and other studies indicate that it is the
deprivation of body contact and body movement -- not deprivation of
the other senses -- that produces the wide variety of abnormal
emotional behaviors in these isolation-reared animals. It is well
known that human infants and children who are hospitalized or
institutionalized for extended periods with little physical touching
and holding develop almost identical abnormal behaviors, such as
rocking and head banging.
the pathological violence observed in isolation-reared monkeys is well
documented, the linking of early somatosensory deprivation with
physical violence in humans is less well established. Numerous studies
of juvenile delinquents and adult criminals have shown a family
background of broken homes and/or physically abusive parents. These
studies have rarely mentioned, let alone measured, the degree of
deprivation of physical affection, although this is often inferred
from the degree of neglect and abuse. One exceptional study in this
respect is that of Brandt F. Steele and C. B. Pollock, psychiatrists
at the University of Colorado, who studied child abuse in three
generations of families who physically abused their children. They
found that parents who abused their children were invariably deprived
of physical affection themselves during childhood and that their adult
sex life was extremely poor. Steele noted that almost without
exception the women who abused their children had never experienced
orgasm. The degree of sexual pleasure experienced by the men who
abused their children was not ascertained, but their sex life, in
general, was unsatisfactory. The hypothesis that physical pleasure
actively inhibits physical violence can be appreciated from our own
sexual experiences. How many of us feel like assaulting someone after
we have just experienced orgasm?
contributions of Freud to the effects of early experiences upon later
behaviors and the consequences of repressed sexuality have been well
established. Unfortunately time and space do not permit a discussion
here of his differences with Wilhelm Reich concerning his Beyond the
hypothesis that deprivation of physical pleasure results in physical
violence requires a formal systematic evaluation. We can test this
hypothesis by examining cross-cultural studies of child-rearing
practices, sexual behaviors, and physical violence. We would expect to
find that human societies which provide their infants and children
with a great deal of physical affection (touching, holding, carrying)
would be less physically violent than human societies which give very
little physical affection to their infants and children. Similarly,
human societies which tolerate and accept premarital and extramarital
sex would be less physically violent than societies which prohibit and
punish premarital and extramarital sex.
anthropologists have gathered exactly the data required to examine
this hypothesis for human societies -- and their findings are
conveniently arranged in R. B. Textor's A Cross-Cultural Summary .
Textor's book is basically a research tool for cross-cultural
statistical inquiry. The survey provides some 20,000 statistically
significant correlations from 400 culture samples of primitive
affectionate human societies are highly unlikely to be physically
When physical affection and pleasure during adolescence as well as infancy are related to measures of violence, we find direct evidence of a significant relationship between the punishment of premarital sex behaviors and various measures of crime and violence. As Table 4 shows, additional clusters of relationships link the punishment and repression of premarital sex to large community size, high social complexity and class stratification, small extended families, purchase of wives, practice of slavery, and a high god present in human morality. The relationship between small extended families and punitive premarital sex attitudes deserves emphasis, for it suggests that the nuclear Western cultures may be a contributing factor to our repressive attitudes toward sexual expression.
same can be suggested for community size, social complexity, and class
surprisingly, when high self-needs are combined with the deprivation
of physical affection, the result is self-interest and high rates of
narcissism. Likewise, exhibitionistic dancing and pornography may be
interpreted as a substitute for normal sexual expression. Some nations
which are most repressive of female sexuality have rich pornographic
I also examined the influence of extramarital sex taboos upon crime and violence. The data clearly indicates that punitive-repressive attitudes toward extramarital sex are also linked with physical violence, personal crime, and the practice of slavery. Societies which value monogamy emphasize military glory and worship aggressive gods.
cross-cultural data support the view of psychologists and sociologists
who feel that sexual and psychological needs not being fulfilled
within a marriage should be met outside of it, without destroying the
primacy of the marriage relationship.
Sex, Physical Violence and Other Adult Behaviors
Premarital sexual freedom for young people can help reduce violence in a society, and the physical pleasure that youth obtains from sex can offset a lack of physical affection during infancy. Other research also indicates that societies which punish premarital sex are likely to engage in wife purchasing, to worship a high god in human morality, and to practice slavery.
figures again raise the question of the special relationship between
sexuality and violence. In addition to our rape statistics, there is
other evidence that points to preference for sexual violence over
sexual pleasure in the United States. This is reflected in our
acceptance of sexually explicit films that involve violence and rape,
and our rejection of sexually explicit films for pleasure only
(pornography). Neighborhood movie theaters show such sexually violent
films as Straw Dogs, Clockwork Orange, and The Klansman, while banning
films which portray sexual pleasure (Deep Throat, The Devil in Miss
Jones). Attempts to close down massage parlors are another example of
our anti-pleasure attitudes. Apparently, sex with pleasure is immoral
and unacceptable, but sex with violence and pain is moral and
questionnaire I developed to explore this question was administered to
96 college students whose average age was 19 years. The results of the
questionnaire support the connection between rejection of physical
pleasure (and particularly of premarital and extramarital sex) with
expression of physical violence. Respondents who reject abortion,
responsible premarital sex, and nudity within the family were likely
to approve of harsh physical punishment for children and to believe
that pain helps build strong moral character. These respondents were
likely to find alcohol and drugs more satisfying than sex. The data
obtained from the questionnaire provide strong statistical support for
the basic inverse relationship between physical violence and physical
pleasure. If violence is high, pleasure is low, and conversely, if
pleasure is high, violence is low. The questionnaire bears out the
theory that the pleasure-violence relationship found in primitive
cultures also holds true for a modern industrial nation.
Attitudes of College Students
The reciprocal relationship of violence and pleasure holds true in modern industrial nations as well as primitive societies. This theory was tested by means of a questionnaire given to 96 college students (average age: 19). The results showed that students who have relatively negative attitudes toward sexual pleasure tend to favor harsh punishment for children and to believe that violence is necessary to solve problems.
The origins of the fundamental reciprocal relationship between physical violence and physical pleasure can be traced to philosophical dualism and to the theology of body/soul relationships. In Western philosophical thought man was not a unitary being but was divided into two parts, body and soul. The Greek philosophical conception of the relationship between body and soul was quite different than the Judeo-Christian concept which posited a state of war between the body and soul. Within Judeo-Christian thought the purpose of human life was to save the soul, and the body was seen as an impediment to achieving this objective. Consequently, the body must be punished and deprived. In St. Paul's words: "Put to death the base pursuits of the body -- for if you live according to the flesh, you shall die: but if by the spirit you mortify the deeds of the flesh, you shall live" (Romans 8:13). St. Paul clearly advocated somatosensory pleasure deprivation and enhancement of painful somatosensory stimulation as essential prerequisites for saving the soul.
concerning the things whereof you wrote to me: It is good for a man
not to touch a woman" (1 Corinthians, 7:1).
did not view a state of war between the body and soul, but rather
envisioned a complimentary relationship in which the state of the soul
or mind was dependent on the state of the body. In fact he stated that
"the care of the body ought to precede that of the soul." (Politica)
also appreciated the reciprocal relationship between pleasure and
pain, and recognized that a compulsive search for bodily pleasure
originates from a state of bodily discomfort and pain:
excess is possible in the case of the goods of the body, and it is the
pursuit of excess, but not the pursuit of necessary pleasures, that
makes a man bad. For all men get some kind of enjoyment from good
food, wine, and sexual relations, but not everyone enjoys these things
in the proper way. The reverse is true of pain: a bad person does not
avoid an excess of it, but he avoids it altogether. For the opposite
of an excess is pain only for the man who pursues the excess. . . .
we must now explain why the pleasures of the body appear to be more
desirable. The first reason, then, is that pleasure drives out pain.
When men experience an excess of pain, they pursue excessive pleasure
and bodily pleasure in general, in the belief that it will remedy the
pain. These remedial (pleasures) become very intense -- and that is
the very reason why they are pursued because they are experienced in
contrast with their opposite. (Nichomachean Ethics, Book 7)
is evident that the Judeo-Christian concept of body pleasure is quite
the opposite of that outlined by Aristotle, particularly, the relief
of body pain and discomfort through somatosensory pleasure. This
denial of somatosensory pleasure in Pauline Christian doctrine has led
to alternative forms of 'relief' through such painful stimulations as
hair-shirts, self-scourgings, self-mutilations, physical violence
against others, and in the non-sensory pleasures of drugs.
do men rape women?
Researchers report that most rapists have a family background of paternal punishment and hostility and loss of maternal affection. I interpret rape as man's revenge against woman for the early loss of physical affection. A man can express his hostility toward his mother for not giving him enough physical attention by sexually violating another woman.
explanation may be that the increasing sexual freedom of women is
threatening to man's position of power and dominance over women which
he often maintains through sexual aggression. Rape destroys sensual
pleasure in woman and enhances sadistic pleasure in man. Through rape,
man defends himself from the sensual pleasures of women which threaten
his position of power and dominance.
is my belief that rape has its origins in the deprivation of physical
affection in parent-child relationships and adult sexual
relationships; and in a religious value system that considers pain and
body deprivation moral and physical pleasure immoral. Rape maintains
man's dominance over woman and supports the perpetuation of
patriarchal values in our society.
data clearly indicate that the rigid values of monogamy, chastity, and
virginity help produce physical violence. The denial of female
sexuality must give way to an acceptance and respect for it, and men
must share with women the responsibility for giving affection and care
to infants and children. As the father assumes a more equal role with
the mother in child-rearing and becomes more affectionate toward his
children, certain changes must follow in our socioeconomic system. A
corporate structure which tends to separate either parent from the
family by travel, extended meetings, or overtime work weakens the
parent-child relationship and harms family stability. To develop a
peaceful society, we must put more emphasis on human relationships.
About the Body
No matter what type of family structure is chosen, it will be important to encourage openness about the body and its functions. From this standpoint, we could benefit from redesigning our homes along the Japanese format, separating the toilet from the bathing facilities. The family bath should be used for socialization and relaxation, and should provide a natural situation for children to learn about male-female differences. Nudity, like sex, can be misused and abused, and this fear often prevents us from accepting the honesty of our own bodies.
beneficial stimulation of whirlpool baths should not be limited to
hospitals or health club spas, but brought into the home. The family
bath should be large enough to accommodate parents and children, and
be equipped with a whirlpool to maximize relaxation and pleasure.
Nudity, openness, and affection within the family can teach children
and adults that the body is not shameful and inferior, but rather is a
source of beauty and sensuality through which we emotionally relate to
one another. Physical affection involving touching, holding, and
caressing should not be equated with sexual stimulation, which is a
special type of physical affection.
Love, not Compete
The competitive ethic, which teaches children that they must advance at the expense of others, should be replaced by values of cooperation and a pursuit of excellence for its own sake. We must raise children to be emotionally capable of giving love and affection, rather than to exploit others. We should recognize that sexuality in teenagers is not only natural, but desirable, and accept premarital sexuality as a positive moral good. Parents should help teenagers realize their own sexual selfhood by allowing them to use the family home for sexual fulfillment. Such honesty would encourage a more mature attitude toward sexual relationships and provide a private supportive environment that is far better for their development than the back seat of a car or other undesirable locations outside the home. Early sexual experiences are too often an attempt to prove one's adulthood and maleness or femaleness rather than a joyful sharing of affection and pleasure.
all, male sexuality must recognize the equality of female sexuality.
The traditional right of men to multiple sexual relationships must be
extended to women. The great barrier between man and woman is man's
fear of the depth and intensity of female sensuality. Because power
and aggression are neutralized through sensual pleasure, man's primary
defense against a loss of dominance has been the historic denial,
repression, and control of the sensual pleasure of women. The use of
sex to provide mere release from physiological tension (apparent
pleasure) should not be confused with a state of sensual pleasure
which is incompatible with dominance, power, aggression, violence, and
pain. It is through the mutual sharing of sensual pleasure that sexual
equality between women and men will be realized.
we strive to increase the pleasure in our lives this will also affect
the ways we express aggression and hostility. The reciprocal
relationship between pleasure and violence is such that one inhibits
the other; when physical pleasure is high, physical violence is low.
When violence is high, pleasure is low. This basic premise of the
somatosensory pleasure deprivation theory provides us with the tools
necessary to fashion a world of peaceful, affectionate, cooperative
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