THE REMOTENESS OF THE RECENT PAST
The scientific study of sex can trace the earliest of its most significant roots almost to the memory of living humanity. But the growth, one might almost say explosion, of scientific attention to the sexual must really be charted from the end of the Second World War. A period of some forty years, half of which was almost entirely dominated by the works of a single group— Alfred Kinsey and his colleagues.1 However, this explosive growth of scientific attention did not occur in isolation.
A distinct era in the Western experience that culminated in the mid-1970s saw comparable shifts and transformations in most other aspects of our lives and the landscapes that surrounded us. For example, within far less than the span of a single generation our uses of time and space were utterly transformed. The concepts and implicit valuing of modernism seemed all at once to permeate almost all of social life; what for so long had been the major source of assault upon the conventional became the conventional. It was as if, almost without warning, tomorrow finally arrived and, more than being contemplated, had to be lived.
After two decades (1950-1970) of almost unprecedented affluence, an enriched and enlarged North American middle class was pressed hard to demonstrate a talent not merely for success but for living and enjoying that success (Simon and Gagnon 1975). Thus the sexual, which previously had been a source of compensation for the common deprivations and denials of life and a motivational spur to achievement, became something to do more than contemplate. The sexual became proof for many of their capacity to experience life to the fullest. The sexual had come out of the closet.
A quality of affluence also described the condition of both theoretical and applied scientific work in the sexual realm. Moreover, it was not merely financial affluence (dangerous, but not the least dangerous of all the forms of affluence) but an affluence of attention as well. Sex commanded or competed for the center stage, not as innuendo, but as something that appeared larger than life and was available for immediate exploitation.