thumbnail of CSAA Annual Conference: Sexual behavior and social ethics; Reel 1 Morton L. Eisenberg
Hide -
If this transcript has significant errors that should be corrected, let us know, so we can add it to FIX IT+
Ladies and gentleman Ford's forty second annual conference the child study Association of America has chosen an infinitely complex subject sexuality and morality as the opening speaker. I have the formidable assignment of presenting to some ideas on the subject of sexuality and its implications for personal identity and fulfillment. Mr Buckmaster has generously conceded to me an extra 10 minutes or so in the ensuing 40 minutes. My remarks on this subject were had as their principal focus. The phenomenon of adolescence in western democratic society from the perspective of a psychoanalyst. I would like to preface my remarks however by asking you to keep in mind that compressing such a broad subject into such a short space of time
necessitates oversimplifications overgeneralizations. I have tried to maintain validity in this dilemma by limiting my remarks for the most part to the so called normal range of adolescent development. Nevertheless you will rightly feel that many of my ideas deserve qualification or elaboration. Perhaps Professor Denham and Dr. Kirk and all will further clarify some of these issues. Certainly the social code governing Adolescent Sexual behavior is not identical in different class stratification of our society. Certainly the available life situations in which a young person can experiment toward becoming an adult as well as the totality of childhood experiences that shape his destiny differ widely not only from individual to individual but from one subculture of our society to another. By all of these factors will adolescence be influenced in the form of its
expression and in its ultimate resolution. Nevertheless the broad interaction between the biological the psychological and the social aspects of adolescence that is my frame of reference has general application. I would also like to emphasize at the outset what my remarks do not mean to convey. They do not attempt to establish an ethic of sexual behavior. Psychology and sociology can only study morality they cannot decide what society ought to consider as quote good or bad behavior. Although the investigation of morality does influence such decisions it does not arbitrate them. The fact that sexual morality can be a subject for discussion in such an open public forum as this is in itself indicative of the change that has occurred in our attitude toward sexuality at a time when many of us were
adolescents. Such a discussion as this would have been inconceivable or at least shocking it seems to me that it would be no less absurd to label this event anti Marl then it would be to make the assumption that adolescent sexual behavior and the changing social code of the youth of our society is anti model. But I will have more to say about this shortly. We are hindered in our efforts to gain some perspective on this Subject because it is overcast with the intensity of emotion and confusion. That is the usual consequence of the collision between the older generation and the younger generation. It is a collision that has its roots in the complex changes that take place when our children reach this stage of transition between childhood and adulthood. In primitive societies with the onset of puberty the young boy or girl was conducted with the elaborate rites of passage into adulthood. There are predetermined roles of wife mother husband hunter worker
where assumed with little delay. In different historical areas for example before the Industrial Revolution and even through the first part of our own century when the speed of change was slow or young people gradually assumed commitment to the responsibilities of adulthood work marriage and children within the supportive confines of a larger family unit wherein the experience of the several generations was similar. In the year nine thousand sixty six. It is even impossible for parents to help their children with third grade arithmetic. Under these conditions the uncertainties conflicts and fears. Preliminary to the establishment of a new adult sense of a personal identity were sidestepped. On the other hand in our rapidly changing society where occupational choice requires lengthy preparation where social role is
uncertain and commitment to a sexual mate is deferred the young boy and girl must set forth from the familiar and relatively comfortable shores of their childhood into a land that is new and strange. The contours of this strange land are constantly in flux. Be set by forces acting upon it from many directions. The most decisive of these forces is the result of advancing biological maturity. The awakening of the end a green system and event predetermined by an innate genetic timetable will within a few years transform the body of the young boy and girl into that of a sexually mature man and woman. Above all there will be a vast increase in the intensity of the sexual drives bringing with them a dramatic end to the quiescence of the latency period and a disruption of the personality organization of childhood.
Psychoanalysis has shown that adult sexuality is a force that has its archaic expression in the dim history of one's life. In the course of development for an infant from infancy to adulthood the pleasure seeking activities motivated by this force change according to an inborn biological schedule eventuate ing in the mature sexual needs existing between a man and a woman. However unlike other genetically determined maturation events the evolution of sexuality is highly influenced by the growing child's relationship with its parents. The course of development of sexuality and morality is very much rooted in the lengthy dependency of the human infant on his parents and especially in the early months of life for his mother. She is the ultimate source of his frustration his pleasure and his survival. There is a great deal that we do not understand about the nature of the communication between a mother and
her baby in these early months. Nevertheless we do know that the child's total experiences of frustration and pleasure within the matrix of this uniquely human tie forge a bridge to another human being and to the world outside of himself. It is within this bond that the core of his sense of himself as a separate entity and the foundation of his ability to love first take shape. We also know that because of this intense tie between a mother and her baby her attitude will enhance or discourage certain kinds of responses. This is true not only in the immediate sense but also in the sense in which she transmits the cultural expectations of her society. Throughout childhood the young boy and girl takes into his expanding self traits qualities values ideals positive and negative. After the model of his parents or
rather his perception of them. This internal model is a crucial factor in the identity system of childhood. Around a third to fourth year of his life this process of identity formation is catalyzed further by the maturing of his sexuality as his sexual drive becomes centered in his genital organs. He makes a startling and disconcerting discovery about his body. He discovers his sexual identity. The child receives support for the establishment of his sexual identity from the emphasis that his parents place on various masculine and feminine characteristics. More important than this however is the degree to which the parents themselves truly accept their own masculinity and femininity. The moral component of the child's identity is also highly influenced by his developing sexuality. Emmanuel Kant felt that the
moral imperative is innate in man. While it is true that something in the nature of a precursor of conscience may exist at birth any parent knows that good behavior is bestowed neither by God nor genetic evolution but must be learned and new in each generation. The child's ideas of good and bad are at first dependent on his desire to please his parents and the fear of their disapproval. His morality in other words is not autonomous or transcendental but is essentially a morality of restraint of parental control. The beginnings of an autonomous conscience arise around the fifth year of life. This development is spurred by the continuing biological maturation of the sexual drive which now becomes more firmly localized in the genital organs and gives rise to a powerful daydream to state it in a highly oversimplified way. The core of this daydream is the young child
sexual and possessive interest in the parent of the opposite sex with the corresponding rivalrous feelings toward the parent of the same sex. Psychoanalysis has called the various complements of this daydream the Oedipus complex after Sophocles tragedy Oedipus Rex. Under ordinary circumstances however this connotation of relentless punishment and inexorable tragedy is only in the child's imagination. Out of the ashes of this tragedy a great advance in the child sexual and moral development will occur. He renounces the daydream along with the sexual impulses connected with it during the period of latency it is gradually relegated to the storehouse of forgotten memories the energies feeding these urges are freed for use in learning in play and mastery of the environment in its stead. There occurs a decisive a dent a vacation with the parents the taking in of the qualities of the
parents and especially the parent of the same sex provides an important stabilizer for the child's mature masculine and feminine identity in the future and now establishes the foundation for an internalized autonomous mall all within himself. At the onset of puberty under the impact of the resurgent sexual drives the personality integration of latency has disrupted this re-awakening of sexuality in turn threatens to revive the whole gamut of the young person's emotional interest in their parents including old and forgotten feelings of dependency and longing. Although the full force of these archaic desires are usually not experienced on a conscious level the adolescent reacts with various defenses to keep them in check. Primarily both the boy and the girl attempt to disengage themselves from their parents and to direct these needs to their peers.
A direction that is consistent with the demands of healthy development. The urgent necessity for emotionally separation from the parents in the direction of greater independence has its long range rewards. But for the time being it is accompanied by a sense of loss that is reflected in moodiness and feelings of depression. This sense of loss that attends the farewell to childhood is similar to that experienced at the end of each decade of one's life at one's 30th 40th 50th birthdays and especially when our children marry and leave our homes. Only now for the young boy and girl it strikes much deeper for there is the inner realisation that childhood is over and life will never really be the same again. Needless to say parents to find it difficult to separate from their children and to permit them to struggle into a future that leaves their own lives more empty. Who.
The adolescent is caught in a sense between the danger of the sexualized independent tied to his parents and the fear of independence and sense of loss that pulls him back to them in order to give up this supportive relationship of childhood. He must step into the new world of his peers a world that is devoid of established and secure roles. He must begin to test his abilities his strengths his fears of the opposite sex his ideals and his sense of himself. In doing so he must risk failure and injury to his self-esteem. Thus rebellion against parents co-exist and alternates with childlike dependency in bewildering succession. On the one hand the adolescent bristles at the most well-intentioned parental help. On the other hand he will make the most outlandish demands to be catered to and waited on. He will accuse you of nagging him when you have to wake him up three times in order to be ready for school. If you wake him only once he will accuse you of not caring whether or not he
gets an education. The stronger the dependent need the more violent will be the rebellious ness and anger as a defense against it. I am sure you are all familiar with the experience of parents whose teenage son is leaving for a date. Have a good time they tell him as he is leaving the house. He responds instantly. Don't tell me what to do. So dear mother daughter conflicts are not unusual at this stage. They are probably more frequent between mothers and daughters than between sons and either parent dependency on her mother presents and an even greater threat to the girl than to the boy for it carries with it a threat to the girl's feminine development by intensifying her tied to a woman at a time when she is struggling to achieve a firm sense of her feminine sexuality. For both boy and girl however the urgent necessity to relinquish the emotional dependence also means a temporary disengagement from the internalized
psychic model of the parents that has been the foundation of their sense of identity. The rupture of the internalized model results in a fragmentation of the sense of personal identity which may be experienced as a sense of unreality a confusion about who I really am and a groping for a philosophy of life or an ideology upon which to anchor for the time being a stable feeling of self. The dissolution of the internalized model of the parents includes as well a partial negation of the values and standards of the parents that have been appropriate to childhood and have served well prior to this time. The temporary need geisha and realignment of these values is a necessary concomitant to growing up and to the achievement of an independent and autonomous value system of one's own eventually and ideally there will be a re modeling within the personality of a morality based not only on the past but also on the
exercise of judgment and discrimination as applied to the realities and responsibilities of living as an adult in his own generation. Adolescent sexual attitudes and behavior at first have little similarity to those of a mature relationship between a man and a woman. Sexual feelings as well as the newly won physical maturity are often felt as alien and not as integrated components of the self frequently the sexual drive is used as an instrument to relieve some of the conflicts of adolescence. For example as an assertion of masculinity or femininity with boys there is a great deal of exaggerated boasting with peers about sexual experience. This usually is at considerable variance from the actual facts for the girl and may provide an outlet for defiant self assertion and hostility to her parents. The adolescents feelings of loneliness and depression may
be temporarily relieved by the illusion of love created by the physical closeness to another human being. Intimacy with the opposite sex may be avoided altogether because of intense feelings of fear and guilt. Sometimes the negation of the moral codes of the parents results in even more rigid self imposed standards. I think of a young man who upon being rewarded with a goodnight kiss after a pleasant evening proceeded to give the young miss a lecture about her own ladylike behavior. As a statement of independence from the parents it is sometimes so extremely specious that only the young people themselves fail to discern it. For example I would like to cite one young couple 19 and 21 during the course of an intense attachment to each other and illegitimate pregnancy occurred followed in a few months by a marriage they both wanted. The spurious motive of this sexual independence was betrayed by the fact that both
of them proceeded successfully to perpetrate an elaborate hoax on their parents and which the out of wedlock pregnancy was concealed including the birth of the baby and its placement for adoption so terrified were they of parental alienation and censure as punishment for the forbidden sexual relationship. In many instances the guilt over the sexual relationship necessitates idealizing it as love which may in turn result in marriage. This effects a closure of the adolescent process a pseudo resolution that once and for all terminates the search for identity around a premature commitment to a permanent sexual relationship. It is a dawning of the cloak of adulthood carrying with them into the relationship the unresolved conflicts of the past and an identity that remains dependent on the childhood image of the parents. Obviously it is erroneous to assume that adolescent sexual behavior and attitudes can be adequately explained on the basis of a desire for physical pleasure
although sexuality can be exploited in the service of more infantine needs. It already has within it the seeds of what will become an expression of a deep and intimate bond between a man and a woman. Gradually near the end of adolescence sexual interests and the freedom to express it within the framework of such a commitment to a sexual partner should begin to emerge. This marks the integration of sexuality into the personality structure and is an important element in the realisation of adult identity. The Harmonious integration of sexuality and morality is influenced not only by the interrelationship of the forces within the personality but is also dependent upon the social and cultural setting in which these biological and psychological events unfold and reciprocate. At every phase of his life cycle the growing individual meets in his social environment
pattern expectations restrictions opportunities and an image of himself determined by his society and the particular subculture in which he matures. This social environment can be either positive or negative and meeting the requirements for growth if it does not meet these requirements at any particular phase of development. That phase of development will run an abortive and deviant course imposing lasting before Maddy's on the personality. Since I am limiting my remarks to the normal range of adolescent development I will not deal here with the effects of a pathological social environment. I need only comment that in many segments of American society children are raised in slums and ghettos and grow up in disorganised families deprived of minimal cultural stimulation in this setting. They develop with a degraded and inferior sense of identity communicated not only by the society that surrounds them but also by
identification with parents who self-image is already distorted in this direction. They will possess neither the internal stability nor sufficient realistic opportunities to exploit whatever push toward maturity adolescence evokes. However for the quote average adolescent in our quote average expectable environment of our society the acceleration of historical change has produced a wide and ever increasing gap between the older generation and the younger generation. The march of history has created within the time span of a single generation. Unprecedented social political and technological changes. This phenomena is reflected in such terms as population explosion sexual revolution information explosion mass communication and so forth. This telescoping of time is evident certainly in the field of
medicine where new drugs and fantastic organ surgery have given man control over death. Science and Technology have heard of us to the doorsteps of neighboring planets plunged us deep into the floor of the ocean and is even now on the threshold of unlocking the secret of life itself. Although here the march of history is dramatic and obvious it is paralleled and interdependent with changes in our style of life economically geographically and politically. There is little doubt that the standard setting function of tradition has been weakened in the area of the relationship between the sexes this is certainly true. The morality of authoritative restraint derives from our Puritan heritage and perpetuated by parental control religious dictum and the economic dependency of women has given way in the absence of these traditional restraints. The adolescent attempts to resolve his quest for a code of
sexual behavior within the relationship with his peers. It is possible to assume that the coercive power of the external controls are integrated into the personality in such a way that they then function as autonomous moral directives. While this is true and appropriate in childhood in adulthood they encourage dependency and thereby inhibit the formation of independent internalized values. Likewise if the adolescent borrows automatically the outward form of another authority the peer group. Little has been gained in moral growth. This fact is behind the fear of the older generation that external standards of sexual license will replace standards of authoritative restraint. The few sociological studies that have been done so far do support the existence of a change in the direction of greater sexual freedom among college students. These studies do not support the thesis that this change is a revolution in favor of a
morality occasional sensational news articles notwithstanding. They do suggest that the changes in the direction of a more autonomous regulation of sexual behavior which sanctions premarital sexual intercourse within the confines of a serious and exclusive relationship in only a very small percentage of the women in the studies can their sexual behavior be typified as casual or promiscuous. It is highly probable that in NIS instances we are observing deviant development where in pseudo sexuality is the expression of an emotional disturbance and represents an attempt and a failure to resolve the conflicts of adolescence. Observations from another sauce seem at first glance to substantiate an increasing disregard for established social mores. I am referring to the great increase in the number of out of wedlock pregnancies. Actually an increase of from 10 to 20 to per 1000 unmarried women over a 15 year
period. However these statistics are not so easy to interpret. It is clear that they do not represent a sudden crisis but a very gradual long term trend that can be traced back at least 30 years. The effect of more accurate reporting of Vital Statistics over this period is difficult to evaluate. Interestingly enough however the startling increase is in the age group from 20 to 30 years not in the teen age group. The proportion of teenage unmarried mothers is even slightly lower than in earlier years. Perhaps those who interpret these figures to indicate the breakdown of previous standards and restraints along with the diffusion of a fun morality are right. The evidence is not convincing. Undoubtedly the sociological and cultural changes that I have referred to must be taken into account. From my own frame of reference as a consultant to social agencies working with these young women the internal
psychological causes of the out of wedlock pregnancies were striking. For some of these young women out of wedlock pregnancy represented a quasar solution to an unsolvable internal conflict. For others it was an inevitable crisis on the path to adulthood. In conclusion then the establishment of a firm sense of identity is dependent on the interaction of the various segments of the personality with each other and with the traditions opportunities and style of life that the adolescent meets in the world around him. The force of maturing sexuality itself is responsible for the dissolution of the ties to the parents and the shaking up of the whole fabric of the personality configuration of childhood. It is a force that can be exploited for other more infant needs. But above all it is a force that pushes the adolescent out of his childhood in more primitive cultures and more distant
historical areas. Adolescence was curtailed under those conditions the childhood structure of the personality changed very little. The personal identity of the adult was more irrevocably tied to the childhood relationship with the parents and accordingly to the traditions values and standards of the past. The youth of our society have to weather a more prolonged period of uncertainty and turmoil than any generation that has preceded him. He must enter into a new kind of relationship with his peers where he must embark on a period of experimentation in which he tests his interest and capabilities his ideals and values and his emerging sexual identity gradually he will organize into a cohesive whole. A stable sense of himself founded on his unique and varied personal attributes. In this process he is evolving a new kind of sexual morality a morality no longer dependent for its enforcement on the power of external restraints.
Please note: This content is only available at GBH and the Library of Congress, either due to copyright restrictions or because this content has not yet been reviewed for copyright or privacy issues. For information about on location research, click here.
CSAA Annual Conference: Sexual behavior and social ethics
Reel 1 Morton L. Eisenberg
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
If you have more information about this item than what is given here, or if you have concerns about this record, we want to know! Contact us, indicating the AAPB ID (cpb-aacip/500-tm720w1p).
No description available
Media type
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 4877 (University of Maryland)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:30:00?
If you have a copy of this asset and would like us to add it to our catalog, please contact us.
Chicago: “CSAA Annual Conference: Sexual behavior and social ethics; Reel 1 Morton L. Eisenberg,” 1966-03-17, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed February 4, 2023,
MLA: “CSAA Annual Conference: Sexual behavior and social ethics; Reel 1 Morton L. Eisenberg.” 1966-03-17. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. February 4, 2023. <>.
APA: CSAA Annual Conference: Sexual behavior and social ethics; Reel 1 Morton L. Eisenberg. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from