Dr. V.K.Maheshwari, M.A. (Socio, Phil) B.Sc. M. Ed, Ph.D.

Former Principal, K.L.D.A.V.(P.G) College, Roorkee, India

Mrs Sudha Rani Maheshwari, M.Sc (Zoology), B.Ed.

Former Principal, A.K.P.I.College, Roorkee, India

The topic of sexual morality makes many people uncomfortable.  Many people believe that sexual morality is a private issue and that no one has a right to make a judgment about someone else’s moral decision.

Morality is nothing but a code of conduct arrived at by mutually consenting persons who consider such code of conduct, such morality, to be in their own best self-interest. All successful societies have based their specific code of conduct, their morality, on the innate human drive to always act in what each individual considers to be in his own best self-interest. Moral codes differ over time and between places, and there are many cases of things being considered moral by one society and immoral by another. Moral or ethical behaviour is generally taken to mean behaviour that conforms to some code of conduct which is held to be authoritative in matters of right and wrong. The set of principles that define what is right and wrong being called ‘morality’ or ‘ethics’

All living organisms, including bacteria, fish and human beings have developed from inanimate matter through the process of evolution. Evolution, and life itself, is due to the ability of a complex chemical compound to sense a threat to its continued existence and to react upon such impulse with an attempt to negate any incipient threat. We know this instinctive, automatic interaction with the environment as the survival instinct.

This instinct must be present in all living things and is the basic emotion from which all other emotions evolved. Over eons of time, man has enhanced the survival instinct embedded in his genes, by developing complex emotions, such as love, hatred, hunger, despair, fear, joy and many other powerful feelings. The nerve centers dealing with these ancient emotions are physically located in the deepest layers of the human brain, particularly in our brain stem, our so-called reptilian brain.

Deeply embedded instincts and emotions govern all animal behaviour, including human behaviour. However, during the past two million years of hominoid development, man has developed a new mental faculty that sets him aside from other animals. This ability superimposes rational, logical thought processes on our primitive emotions.

Our rational mind applies a thin veneer of logical thought processes over the raw emotions that govern our interaction with our environment. Emotions control the preponderance of basic human needs and behaviour patterns. Emotions determine when we are hungry, when we feel sexually aroused, when we are afraid, when we feel a sense of well-being.

The evolution of our newly developed rational mind greatly facilitated interaction among human beings. Our instincts and our emotions still initiate the human sex drive but our rational mind imposes beneficial restrictions as to the circumstances under which the sex drive can be satisfied.

Unlike dogs, humans do not meet their emotional sex drive by copulating at street corners. Instead, humans go through a rational mating process that enhances the survival of the offspring that often results from sexual activity. Thus, rationality greatly enhances the survival and perpetuation of rational, intellectual beings.

Our rational mind has similarly enhanced many other human interactions, such as our ability to influence or to manipulate other human beings: We have learned how to cause other people to do what we would like them to do. All of human existence is a constant process of manipulating or influencing other persons with different degrees of subtlety. The degree of subtleness usually depends on the respective intelligence of the manipulator and the manipulated person.

The arena of morality is one of the primary spheres where human beings utilize their rational mind to manipulate other human beings. We may refer to another person as evil in order to prod him to mend his ways and to modify his behaviour to our liking. We may also refer to another person as evil if we wish to prevent other persons from emulating him or associating with him.

Sex is judged morally like any other action: It is only immoral if it breaks some well-established moral rule.  The natural end of human sexuality is to generate children who should be brought up properly. Thus, only sexual relations between a married man and woman that can lead to procreation are moral.

Sex is only moral if the partners are in love, since sex without love reduces a humanly significant activity to a merely mechanical performance, which leads to the negative consequences of dehumanization and psychological disintegration. Some argue that it is possible to love several people simultaneously.

The greatest task of morals is always sexual regulation; In human sexual behaviour, promiscuity refers to the practice of having many sexual partners in the absence of any commitment and promiscuous is a term applied to a person who has had sex with relatively many partners

What  behaviour is considered socially acceptable and what behaviour is “promiscuous” varies much among different cultures, and within a culture, and different standards are often applied to people of different gender and civil status. In many cultures, while male promiscuity previously had glamorous connotations that acted as an affirmation of masculinity, female promiscuity was seen as a sign of emotional instability and loose morals in women. The reproductive instinct creates problems not only within marriage, but before and after it, and threatens at any moment to disturb social order with its persistence, its intensity, its scorn of law, and its perversions. The first problem concerns premarital relations ( which refers to consensual sexual intercourse between two persons not married to each other.)  shall they be restricted, or free? Even among animals sex is not quite unrestrained; the rejection of the male by the female except in periods of rut reduces sex to a much more modest role in the animal world than it occupies in our own lecherous species. As Beaumarchais put it, man differs from the animal in eating without being hungry, drinking without being thirsty, and making love at all seasons.

Among primitive peoples we find some analogue, or converse, of animal restrictions, in the tabu placed upon relations with a woman in her menstrual period. With this general exception premarital intercourse is left for the most part free in the simplest societies. Among the North American

Indians the young men and women mated freely; and these relations were not held an impediment to marriage. Among the Papuans of New Guinea sex life began at an extremely early age, and premarital promiscuity was the rule.  Similar premarital liberties obtained among the Soyots of Siberia, the Igorots of the Philippines, the natives of Upper Burma, the Kaffirs and Bushmen of Africa, the tribes of the Niger and the Uganda, of New Georgia, the Murray Islands, the Andaman Islands, Tahiti, Polynesia, Assam, etc.

Under such conditions we must not expect to find much prostitution in primitive society. The “oldest profession” is comparatively young; it arises only with civilization, with the appearance of property and the disappearance of premarital freedom. Here and there we find girls selling themselves for a while to raise a dowry, or to provide funds for the temples,  but this occurs only where the local moral code approves of it as a pious sacrifice to help thrifty parents or hungry gods.

Chastity is sexual behaviour of a man or woman is often used interchangeably with sexual abstinence, especially before marriage .Chastity is a correspondingly late development. Similarly Virginity is the state of a person who has never engaged in sexual intercourse.[1][2]There are cultural and religious traditions which place special value and significance on this state, especially in the case of unmarried females, associated with notions of personal purity, honour and worth.

Like chastity, the concept of virginity has traditionally involved sexual abstinence before marriage, and then to engage in sexual acts only with the marriage partner. The concept of virginity usually involves moral or religious issues and can have consequences in terms of social status and in interpersonal relationships. Although virginity has social implications and had significant legal implications in some societies in the past, it has no legal consequences in most societies today.

What the primitive maiden dreaded was not the loss of virginity, but a reputation for sterility; premarital pregnancy was, more often than not, an aid rather than a handicap in finding a husband, for it settled all doubts of sterility, and promised profitable children. The simpler tribes, before the coming of property, seem to have held virginity in contempt, as indicating unpopularity.

The Kamchadal bridegroom who found his bride to be a virgin was much put out, and “roundly abused her mother for the negligent way in which she had brought up her daughter.”  In many places virginity was considered a barrier to marriage, because it laid upon the husband the unpleasant task of violating the tabu that forbade him to shed the blood of any member of his tribe. Sometimes girls offered themselves to a stranger in order to break this tabu against their marriage. In Tibet mothers anxiously sought men who would deflower their daughters; in Malabar the girls themselves begged the services of passers-by to the same end, “for while they were virgins they could not find a husband.” In some tribes the bride was obliged to give herself to the wedding guests before going in to her husband; in others the bridegroom hired a man to end the virginity of his bride; among certain Philippine tribes a special official was appointed, at a high salary, to perform this function for prospective husbands.

What was it that changed virginity from a fault into a virtue, and made it an element in the moral codes of all the higher civilizations? Doubtless it was the institution of property. Premarital chastity came as an extension, to the daughters, of the proprietary feeling with which the patriarchal male looked upon his wife. The valuation of virginity rose when, ‘ under marriage by purchase, the virgin bride was found to bring a higher price than her weak sister; the virgin gave promise, by her past, of that marital fidelity which now seemed so precious to men beset by worry lest they should leave their property to surreptitious children.

The men never thought of applying the same restrictions to themselves; no society in history has ever insisted on the premarital chastity of the male; no language has ever had a word for a virgin man.  The aura of virginity was kept exclusively for daughters, and pressed upon them in a thousands ways. The Tuaregs punished the irregularity of a daughter or a sister with death; the Negroes of Nubia, Abyssinia, Somaliland, etc., practised upon their daughters the cruel art of infibulations i.e., the attachment of a ring or lock to the genitals to prevent copulation; in Burma and Siam a similar practice survived to our own day.  Forms of seclusion arose by which girls were kept from providing or receiving temptation. In New Britain the richer parents confined their daughters, through five dangerous years, in huts guarded by virtuous old crones; the girls were never allowed to come out, and only their relatives could see them. Some tribes in Borneo kept their unmarried girls in solitary confinement.  From these primitive customs to the purdah of the Moslems and the Hindus is but a step, and indicates again how nearly “civilization” touches “savagery.”

Modesty came with virginity and the patriarchate. There are many tribes which to this day show no shame in exposing the body;  ” indeed, some are ashamed to wear clothing. All Africa rocked with laughter when Livingstone begged his black hosts to put on some clothing before the arrival of his wife. The Queen of the Balonda was quite naked when she held court for Livingstone.” A small minority of tribes practise sex relations publicly, without any thought of shame.  At first modesty is the feeling of the woman that she is tabu in her periods. When marriage by purchase takes form, and virginity in the daughter brings a profit to her father, seclusion and the compulsion to virginity beget in the girl a sense of obligation to chastity. Again, modesty is the feeling of the wife who, under purchase marriage, feels a financial obligation to her husband to refrain from such external sexual relations as cannot bring him any recompense. Clothing appears at this point, if motives of adornment and protection have not already engendered it; in many tribes women wore clothing only after marriage,” as a sign of their exclusive possession by a husband, and as a deterrent to gallantry; primitive man did not agree with the author of Penguin Isle that clothing encouraged lechery. Chastity, however, bears no necessary relation to clothing; some travelers report that morals in Africa vary inversely as the amount of dress.” It is clear that what men are ashamed of depends entirely upon the local tabus and customs of their group. Until recently a Chinese woman was ashamed to show her foot, an Arab woman her face, a Tuareg woman her mouth; but the women of ancient Egypt, of nineteenth-century India and of twentieth-century Bali (before prurient tourists came) never thought of shame at the exposure of their breasts.

We must not conclude that morals are worthless because they differ according to time and place, and that it would be wise to show our historic learning by at once discarding the moral customs of our group. A little anthropology is a dangerous thing. It is substantially true that as Anatole France ironically expressed the matter “morality is the sum of the prejudices of a community” ;” and that, as Anacharsis put it among the Greeks, if one were to bring together all customs considered sacred by some group, and were then to take away all customs considered immoral by some group, nothing would remain. But this does not prove the worthlessness of morals; it only shows in what varied ways social order has been preserved. Social order is none the less necessary; the game must still have rules in order to be played; men must know what to expect of one another in the ordinary circumstances of life. Hence the unanimity with which the members of a society practise its moral code is quite as important as the contents of that code. Our heroic rejection of the customs and morals of our tribe, upon our adolescent discovery of their relativity, betrays the immaturity of our minds; given another decade and we begin to under- stand that there may be more wisdom in the moral code of the group the formulated experience of generations of the race than can be explained in a college course. Sooner or later the disturbing realization comes to us that even that which we cannot understand may be true. The institutions, conventions, customs and laws that make up the complex structure of a society are the work of a hundred centuries and a billion minds; and one mind must not expect to comprehend them in one lifetime, much less in twenty years. We are warranted in concluding that morals are relative, and indispensable.

Since old and basic customs represent a natural selection of group ways after centuries of trial and error, we must expect to find some social utility, or survival value, in virginity and modesty, despite their historical relativity, their association with marriage by purchase, and their contributions to neurosis. Modesty was a strategic retreat which enabled the girl, where she had any choice, to select her mate more deliberately, or compel him to show finer qualities before winning her; and the very obstructions it raised against desire generated those sentiments of romantic love which heightened her value in his eyes. The inculcation of virginity destroyed the naturalness and ease of primitive sexual life; but, by discouraging early sex development and premature motherhood, it lessened the gap which tends to widen disruptively as civilization develops between economic and sexual maturity. Probably it served in this way to strengthen the individual physically and mentally, to lengthen adolescence and training, and so to lift the level of the race.

Adultery is extramarital sex that is considered objectionable on social, religious, moral or legal grounds. Though what sexual activities constitute adultery varies, as well as the social, religious and legal consequences, the concept exists in many cultures.

Historically, many cultures have considered adultery a very serious matter. Adultery often incurred severe punishment, usually for the woman and sometimes for the man, with penalties.

As the institution of property developed, adultery graduated from a venial into a mortal sin. Half of the primitive peoples known to us attach no great importance to it. The rise of property not only led to the exaction of complete fidelity from the woman, but generated in the male a proprietary attitude towards her; even when he lent her to a guest it was because she belonged to him in body and soul. Suttee was the completion of this conception; the woman must go down into the master’s grave along with his other belongings. Under the patriarchate adultery was classed with theft;  it was, so to speak, an infringement of patent. Punishment for it varied through all degrees of severity from the indifference of the simpler tribes to the disembowelment of adulteresses among certain California Indians.  After centuries of punishment the new virtue of wifely fidelity was firmly established, and had generated an appropriate conscience in the feminine heart. Many Indian tribes surprised their conquerors by the un- approachable virtue of their squaws; and certain male travelers have hoped that the women of Europe and America might someday equal in marital faithfulness the wives of the Zulus and the Papuans.

It was easier for the Papuans, since among them, as among most primitive peoples, there were few impediments to the divorce of the woman by the man. Unions seldom lasted more than a few years among the American Indians. “A large proportion of the old and middle-aged men,” says Schoolcraft, “have had many different wives, and their children, scattered around the country, are unknown to them.”  They “laugh at Europeans for having only one wife, and that for life; they consider that the Good Spirit formed them to be happy, and not to continue together unless their tempers and dispositions were congenial.”" The Cherokees changed wives three or four times a year; the conservative Samoans kept them as long as three years. With the coming of a settled agricultural life, unions became more permanent. Under the patriarchal system the man found it uneconomical to divorce a wife, for this meant, in effect, to lose a profitable slave.” As the family became the productive unit of society, tilling the soil together, it prospered other things equal according to its size and cohesion; it was found to some advantage that the union of the mates should continue until the last child was reared. By that time no energy remained for a new romance, and the lives of the parents had been forged into one by common work and trials. Only with the passage to urban industry, and the consequent reduction of the family in size and economic importance, has divorce become widespread again.

In general, throughout history, men have wanted many children, and therefore have called motherhood sacred; while women, who know more about reproduction, have secretly rebelled against this heavy assignment, and have used an endless variety of means to reduce the burdens of maternity. Primitive men do not usually care to restrict population; under normal conditions children are profitable, and the male regrets only that they cannot all be sons. It is the woman who invents abortion, infanticide and contraception for even the last occurs, sporadically, among primitive peoples.” It is astonishing to find how similar are the motives of the “savage” to the “civilized” woman in preventing birth: to escape the burden of rearing offspring, to preserve a youthful figure, to avert the disgrace of extramarital motherhood, to avoid death, etc. The simplest means of reducing maternity was the refusal of the man by the woman during the period of nursing, which might be prolonged for many years. Sometimes, as among the Cheyenne Indians, the women developed the custom of refusing to bear a second child until the first was ten years old. In New Britain the women had no children till two or four years after marriage.

The Guaycurus of Brazil were constantly diminishing because the women would bear no children till the age of thirty. Among the Papuans abortion was frequent; “children are burdensome,” said the women; “we are weary of them; we go dead.” Some Maori tribes used herbs or induced artificial malposition of the uterus, to prevent conception.

When abortion failed, infanticide remained. Most nature peoples per- mitted the killing of the newborn child if it was deformed, or diseased, or a bastard, or if its mother had died in giving it birth. As if any reason would be good in the task of limiting population to the available means of subsistence, many tribes killed infants whom they considered to have been born under unlucky circumstances: so the Bondei natives strangled all children who entered the world headfirst; the Kamchadals killed babes born in stormy weather; Madagascar tribes exposed, drowned, or buried alive children who made their debut in March or April, or on a Wednesday or a Friday, or in the last week of the month. If a woman gave birth to twins it was, in some tribes, held proof of adultery, since no man could be the father of two children at the same time; and therefore one or both of the children suffered death. The practice of infanticide was particularly prevalent among nomads, who found children a problem on their long marches. The Bangerang tribe of Victoria killed half their children at birth; the Lenguas of the Paraguayan Chaco allowed only one child per family per seven years to survive; the Abipones achieved a French economy in population by rearing a boy and a girl in each household, killing off other offspring as fast as they appeared. Where famine conditions existed or threatened, most tribes strangled the newborn, and some tribes ate them. Usually it was the girl that was most subject to infanticide; occasionally she was tortured to death with a view to inducing the soul to appear, in its next incarnation, in the form of a boy.” Infanticide was practised without cruelty and without remorse; for in the first moments after delivery, apparently, the mother felt no instinctive love for the child.

Oijce the child had been permitted to live a few days, it was safe against infanticide; soon parental love was evoked by its helpless simplicity, and in most cases it was treated more affectionately by its primitive parents than the average child of the higher races. For lack of milk or soft food the mother nursed the child from two to four years, sometimes for twelve;  one traveler describes a boy who had learned to smoke before he was weaned;” and often a youngster running about with other children would interrupt his play or his work to go and be nursed by his mother.” The Negro mother at work carried her infant on her back, and sometimes fed it by slinging her breasts over her shoulder.  Primitive discipline was indulgent but not ruinous; at an early age the child was left to face for itself the consequences of its stupidity, its insolence, or its pugnacity; and learning went on apace. Filial, as well as parental, love was highly developed in natural society.

Dangers and disease were frequent in primitive childhood, and mortality was high. Youth was brief, for at an early age marital and martial responsibility began, and soon the individual was lost in the heavy tasks of replenishing and defending the group. The women were consumed in caring for children, the men in providing for them. When the youngest child had been reared the parents were worn out; as little space remained for individual life at the end as at the beginning. Individualism, like liberty, is a luxury of civilization. Only with the dawn of history were a sufficient number of men and women freed from the burdens of hunger, reproduction and war to create the intangible values of leisure, culture and art.

This wide divergence of moral codes has led to a view that all morality is relative, that there is no universal (‘normative’) ideal standard which can be used to judge what is better or worse. The morally good is whatever a culture or group decides it is.

It is not necessary for all members of a society to subscribe to the identical morality. However, it is important for all individuals to be aware of any differences in conduct that may exist among various groups. This consensus enables individuals to cope with, not only other individual members of their own society, but also with groups of non-conforming persons beyond their own society.

“We have, in fact, two kinds of morality side by side; one which we preach but do not practice, and another which we practice but seldom preach.” Bertrand Russell




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