BODY PLEASURE AND THE
ORIGINS OF VIOLENCE
By James W. Prescott
From "The Bulletin of The Atomic
Scientists", November 1975, pp. 10-20
(Introduction of the article in
the "Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists")
James W. Prescott, a neuropsychologist, is a health scientist
administrator at the National Institute of Child Health and Human
Development in Bethesda, Maryland. He is a member of the Board of
Directors of the American Humanist Association. This article appeared
in part in the April 1975 issue of The Futurist, published by
the World Future Society, and is reprinted here with their permission.
The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do
not necessarily reflect the position of the National Institutes of
A neuropsychologist contends that the greatest
threat to world peace comes from those nations which have the most
depriving environments for their children and which are most
repressive of sexual affection and female sexuality.
James W. Prescott,
Human 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. Figures from the
Federal Bureau of Investigation show that serious crimes rose 16
percent in the first six months of 1974 -- one of the largest crime
increases since FBI record-keeping began.
Unless 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 pleasure.
Unlike 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.
As 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
These 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.
Although 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?
The 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 Pleasure Principle.
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.
Cultural 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
Infant Neglect/Adult Violence
Certain variables which reflect physical affection (such as
fondling, caressing, and playing with infants) were related to other
variables which measure crime and violence (frequency of theft,
killing, etc.). The important relationships are displayed in the
tables. The percent figures reflect the relationships among the
variables, for example, high affection/low violence plus low
affection/high violence. This procedure is followed for all tables.
Societies ranking high or low on the Infant Physical Affection
Scale were examined for degree of violence. The results (Table
1) clearly indicated that those societies which give their infants
the greatest amount of physical affection were characterized by low
theft, low infant physical pain, low religious activity, and
negligible or absent killing, mutilating, or torturing of the enemy.
These data directly confirm that the deprivation of body pleasure
during infancy is significantly linked to a high rate of crime and
Some societies physically punish their infants as a matter of
discipline, while others do not. We can determine whether this
punishment reflects a general concern for the infant's welfare by
matching it against child nurturant care. The results (Table
2) indicate that societies which inflict pain and discomfort upon
their infants tend to neglect them as well. These data provide no
support for the prescription from Proverbs (23: 13-14): "Withhold
not chastisement from a boy; if you beat him with the rod, he will not
die. Beat him with the rod, and you will save him from the nether
Adult physical violence was accurately predicted in 36 of 49
cultures (73 percent) from the infant physical affection variable. The
probability that a 73 percent rate of accuracy could occur by chance
is only four times out of a thousand.
Of the 49 societies studied, 13 cultures seemed to be exceptions to
the theory that a lack of somatosensory pleasure makes people
physically violent (see Table 3). It was expected
that cultures which placed a high value upon physical pleasure during
infancy and childhood would maintain such values into adulthood. This
is not the case. Child rearing practices do not predict patterns of
later sexual behavior. This initial surprise and presumed discrepancy,
however, becomes advantageous for further prediction.
The Long-Term Consequences of Infant
Pleasure and Pain
Human societies differ greatly in their treatment of
infants. In some cultures, parents lavish physical affection
on infants, while in others the parents physically punish
their infants. A study of anthropological data by the author
 found that those societies which give
their infants the greatest amount of physical affection have
less theft and violence among adults, thus supporting the
theory that deprivation of bodily pleasure during infancy is
significantly linked to a high rate of crime and violence.
The tables below show how physical affection -- or
punishment -- given infants correlates with other variables.
For example, cultures which inflict pain on infants appear
to be more likely to practice slavery, polygyny, etc. In the
tables, N refers to the number of cultures in the
comparison while P is the probability that the
observed relationship could occur by chance which was
calculated by the Fisher Exact Probability Test.
Adult Behaviors in Societies Where
Physical Affection is Lavished on Infants
|Invidious display of wealth is low
|Incidence of theft is low
|Overall infant indulgence is high
|Infant physical pain low
|Negligible killing, torturing or mutilating the
|Low religious activity
Adult Behaviors in Societies Where
Pain is Inflicted on Infants by Parent or Nurturing
|Slavery is present
|Polygyny (multiple wives) practiced
|Women status inferior
|Low infant physical affection
|Low overall infant indulgence
|Developing nurturant behavior in child is low
|Supernaturals (gods) are aggressive
|The coded scales on
infancy were developed by cultural anthropologists
Barry, Bacon and Child ; on sexual
behavior by Westbrook, Ford and Beach ;
and on physical violence by Slater .
Two variables that are highly correlated are not as useful for
predicting a third variable as two variables that are uncorrelated.
Consequently, it is meaningful to examine the sexual behaviors of the
13 cultures whose adult violence was not predictable from physical
pleasure during infancy.
Apparently, the social customs which influence and determine the
behaviors of sexual affection are different from those which underlie
the expression of physical affection toward infants.
When the six societies characterized by both high infant affection
and high violence are compared in terms of their premarital sexual
behavior, it is surprising to find that five of them exhibit
premarital sexual repression, where virginity is a high value of these
cultures. It appears that the beneficial effects of infant physical
affection can be negated by the repression of physical pleasure
(premarital sex) later in life.
The seven societies characterized by both low infant physical
affection and low adult physical violence were all found to be
characterized by permissive premarital sexual behaviors. Thus, the
detrimental effects of infant physical affectional deprivation seem to
be compensated for later in life by sexual body pleasure experiences
during adolescence. These findings have led to a revision of the
somatosensory pleasure deprivation theory from a one-stage to a
two-stage developmental theory where the physical violence in 48 of
the 49 cultures could be accurately classified.
In short, violence may stem from deprivation of somatosensory
pleasure either in infancy or in adolescence. The only true exception
in this culture sample is the headhunting Jivaro tribe of South
America. Clearly, this society requires detailed study to determine
the causes of its violence. The Jivaro belief system may play an
important role, for as anthropologist Michael Harner notes in Jivaro
Souls , these Indians have a "deep-seated
belief that killing leads to the acquisition of souls which provide a
supernatural power conferring immunity from death."
Infant Physical Affection and Adult
Societies that provide infants with a great deal of
physical affection ('tender loving care') are later
characterized by relatively non-violent adults. In 36 of
the 49 cultures studied, a high degree of infant affection
was associated with a low degree of adult physical
violence -- and vice versa. When the 13 exceptions were
investigated, it was found that the violence of all but
one (the Jivaro tribe of South America) could be accounted
for the presence or absence of premarital sexual behavior.
Relationship of Infant Physical
Affectional Deprivation to Adult Physical Violence
|High Infant Physical Affection
||Low Infant Physical Affection
||High Infant Physical Affection
||Low Infant Physical Affection
|Low Adult Physical Violence
||High Adult Physical Violence
||High Adult Physical Violence
||Low Adult Physical Violence
|Premarital sex punished: underlined
||Premarital sex permitted: italic
a According to Harner
(1972) the Jivaro culture is misclassified and
belongs in column 2 (personal communication).
b According to Derek
Freeman, Professor of Anthropology, Australian
National University, the Samoans belong in column 2
c The Zuni are also
reclassified to column 1.
Source: Textor ;
infant behavior ratings from Barry, Bacon and Child ;
and adult violence ratings from Slater .
|This table is a revised version updated with information
from the article "Can More Touching Lead to Less
Violence in Our Society?" by Lionel Gambill,
published in The Truth Seeker, March/April 1989.
Subsequent to original publication of this material in The
Futurist in April 1975, cultural anthropologists
informed Prescott of errors in some of the original
codings in the reference work on which the comparison was
based. When these errors were corrected, no exceptions
remained. The Pleasure/Violence Reciprocity Theory,
applied to the cultures listed in that reference work, has
a predictive validity of 100%.
The original version of the table from the Futurist is
The strength of the two-stage deprivation theory of violence is
most vividly illustrated when we contrast the societies showing high
rates of physical affection during infancy and adolescence against
those societies which are consistently low in physical affection for
both developmental periods. The statistics associated with this
relationship are extraordinary: The percent likelihood of a society
being physically violent if it is physically affectionate toward its
infants and tolerant of premarital sexual behavior is 2 percent
(48/49). The probability of this relationship occurring by chance is
125,000 to one. I am not aware of any other developmental variable
that has such a high degree of predictive validity. Thus, we seem to
have a firmly based principle: Physically affectionate human societies
are highly unlikely to be physically violent.
Accordingly, 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. The same can be suggested for community size, social
complexity, and class stratification.
Not 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 art forms.
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.
These 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.
Premarital 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. Other results are shown
in the table below.
Adult Behaviors in Societies
Where Premarital Sex is Strongly Punished
|Community size is larger
|Slavery is present
|Societal complexity is high
|Personal crime is high
|Class stratification is high
|High incidence of theft
|Small extended family
|Extramarital sex is punished
|Wives are purchased
|Castration anxiety is high
|Longer post-partum sex taboo
|Bellicosity is extreme
|Sex disability is high
|Killing, torturing and mutilating the enemy is
|Narcissism is high
|Exhibitionistic dancing is emphasized
|High god in human morality
These findings overwhelmingly support the thesis that deprivation
of body pleasure throughout life -- but particularly during the
formative periods of infancy, childhood, and adolescence -- are very
closely related to the amount of warfare and interpersonal violence.
These insights should be applied to large and complicated industrial
and postindustrial societies.
Crime and physical violence have substantially increased over the
past decade in the United States. According to FBI statistics, both
murder and aggravated assault increased 53 percent between 1967 and
1972, while forcible rape rose 70 percent.
These 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 acceptable.
A 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
Another way of looking at the reciprocal relationship between
violence and pleasure is to examine a society's choice of drugs. A
society will support behaviors that are consistent with its values and
social mores. U.S. society is a competitive, aggressive, and violent
society. Consequently, it supports drugs that facilitate competitive,
aggressive, and violent behaviors and opposes drugs that counteract
such behaviors. Alcohol is well known to facilitate the expression of
violent behaviors, and, although addicting and very harmful to chronic
users, is acceptable to U.S. society. Marijuana, on the other hand, is
an active pleasure-inducing drug which enhances the pleasure of touch
and actively inhibits violent-aggressive behaviors. It is for these
reasons, I believe that marijuana is rejected in U.S. society. For
similar reasons heroin is rejected and methadone (an addicting drug
minus the pleasure) is accepted.
The data from my questionnaire support this view. As Table
5 shows, very high correlations between alcohol use and parental
punishment indicate that people who received little affection from
their mothers and had physically punitive fathers are likely to become
hostile and aggressive when they drink. Such people find alcohol more
satisfying than sex. There is an even stronger relationship between
parental physical punishment and drug usage. Respondents who were
physically punished as children showed alcohol-induced hostility and
aggression and were likely to find alcohol and drugs more satisfying
than sex. The questionnaire also reveals high correlations between
sexual repression and drug usage. Those who describe premarital sex as
"not agreeable" are likely to become aggressive when
drinking and to prefer drugs and alcohol to sexual pleasures. This is
additional evidence for the hypothesis that drug "pleasures"
are a substitute for somatosensory pleasures.
Violence and Pleasure:
The 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 students rated a
series of statements on a scale of 1 to 6, where 1
indicated strong agreement and 6 strong disagreement.
Through a statistical technique (factor analysis), a
personality profile of the violent person was developed.
Table 5 shows the degree of relationship among the various
statements which reflect social and moral values. The
figures at left, known as 'loadings,' are treated like
correlation coefficients. They indicate the strength with
which each variable contributes to the overall personality
description of the respondent as defined by this specific
Somatosensory Index of Human
||Hard physical punishment is good for children who
disobey a lot.
||Physical punishment and pain help build a strong
||Abortion should be punished by society.
||Capital punishment should be permitted by society.
||Violence is necessary to really solve our
||Physical punishment should be allowed in the
||I enjoy sadistic pornography.
||I often feel like hitting someone.
||I can tolerate pain very well.
||Physical Pleasure Condemned
||Prostitution should be punished by society.
||Responsible premarital sex is not agreeable to me.
||Nudity within the family has a harmful influence
||Sexual pleasures help build a weak moral
||Society should interfere with private sexual
behavior between adults.
||Responsible extramarital sex is not agreeable to
||Natural fresh body odors are often offensive.
||I do not enjoy affectional pornography.
||Alcohol and Drugs Rated Higher
||Alcohol Is more satisfying than sex.
||Drugs are more satisfying than sex.
||I get hostile and aggressive when I drink alcohol.
||I would rather drink alcohol than smoke marijuana.
||I drink alcohol more often than I experience
||I tend to be conservative in my political points
||I often dream of either floating, flying, falling,
||My mother is often indifferent toward me.
||I often get "uptight" about being
||I remember when my father physically punished me a
|The collaboration of
Douglas Wallace, Human Sexuality Program, University
of California Medical School, San Francisco, in the
questionnaire study is gratefully acknowledged.
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.
"Now concerning the things whereof you wrote to me: It is
good for a man not to touch a woman" (1 Corinthians, 7:1).
Aristotle 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
Aristotle 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:
Now, 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. . . .
Accordingly, 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)
In his discussion of the highest good, Aristotle was quite
"Therefore, the highest good is some sort of pleasure, despite
the fact that most pleasures are bad, and, if you like, bad in the
unqualified sense of the word." (Nichomachean Ethics, Book
It 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
Experimental animal studies have documented counterparts to these
phenomena. For example, animals deprived of somatosensory stimulation
will engage in mutilations of their own bodies. Animals deprived of
touching early in life develop impaired pain perception and an
aversion to being touched by others. They are thus blocked from
experiencing the body-pleasure therapy that they need for
rehabilitation. In this condition, they have few alternatives but
physical violence, where pain-oriented touching and body contact is
facilitated by their impaired ability to experience pain. Thus,
physical violence and physical pain become therapies of choice for
those deprived of physical pleasure.
The question arises as to how Christian philosophy and theology,
which borrowed heavily from Aristotle, managed to avoid, if not
outright reject, Aristotle's teachings regarding the morality of
pleasure. The roots to this question can be found throughout the Old
Testament, beginning with the account in Genesis of the expulsion of
Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. The first consequence of Eve's
transgression was that nudity became shameful. This even may well be
the beginning of man's hostility toward women and the equating of
woman with evil, particularly the evils of the body. This is vividly
portrayed in Zechariah (5:5-8) in an angel's description of the flying
"This is a bushel container coming. This is their guilt in
all the land." Then a leaden cover was lifted and there was a
woman sitting inside the bushel. "This is wickedness, he said,
and he thrust her inside the bushel, pushing the leaden cover into
Violence against sexuality and the use of sexuality for violence,
particularly against women, has very deep roots in Biblical tradition,
and is spelled out very early. The nineteenth chapter of Genesis
(19:1-11), the first book of the Old Testament, holds that the rape of
woman is acceptable but the rape of man is "a wicked thing."
This chapter about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah describes
Lot's hospitality to two male travelers (actually two angels) who were
housed with him.
In the evening the townsmen of Sodom came to Lot's house and said
to him: "Where are the men who came to your house tonight? Bring
them out to us that we may have intimacies with them." Lot went
out to meet them at the entrance. When he had shut the door behind
him, he said, "I beg you, my brothers, not to do this wicked
thing. I have two daughters who have never had intercourse with men.
Let me bring them out to you, and you may do to them as you please.
But don't do anything to these men, for you know they have come under
the shelter of my roof." They replied, "Stand back! This
fellow," they sneered, "came here as an immigrant, and now
he dares to give orders! We'll treat you worse than them!" With
that, they pressed hard against Lot, moving in closer to break down
the door. But his guests put out their hand, pulled Lot inside with
them, and closed the door; at the same time they struck the men at the
entrance of the house, one and all, with such blinding light that they
were utterly unable to reach the doorway.
As the story continues, the two angels escort Lot and his family to
safety and then destroy Sodom and Gomorrah for their great sinfulness.
Yet not a word of reproach is given to Lot for his willingness to hand
over his two virgin daughters to be gang raped. This same story is
repeated in the books of Ezekiel (23:1-49) and Judges (19:22-30).
Given such a tradition, it is understandable that during the
Inquisition only women were charged with having intercourse with the
devil and put to death for this crime of pleasure. What man has died
at the stake for having slept with Satan? This tradition is maintained
in modern cultures where women are punished for prostitution but their
male customers are not.
The historical and Biblical acceptance of rape down through the
ages has brutalized the psyche of males brought up in this tradition.
This is well illustrated in the account of Michael McCusker, a Marine
sergeant who witnessed a gang rape in Vietnam. McCusker 
tells of a rifle squad of nine men who entered a small village.
They were supposed to go after what they called a Viet Cong
whore. They went into her village and instead of capturing her, they
raped her -- every man raped her. As a matter of fact, one man said
to me later that it was the first time he had ever made love to a
woman with his boots on. The man who led the platoon, or the squad,
was actually a private. The squad leader was a sergeant but he was a
useless person and he let the private take over his squad. Later he
said he took no part in the raid. It was against his morals. So
instead of telling his squad not to do it, because they wouldn't
listen to him anyway, the sergeant went into another side of the
village and just sat and stared bleakly at the ground, feeling sorry
for himself. But at any rate, they raped the girl, and then, the
last man to make love to her, shot her in the head.
What is it in the American psyche that permits the use of the word
'love' to describe rape? And where the act of love is completed with a
bullet in the head!
Why 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.
Another 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.
It 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.
It is clear that the world has only limited time to change its
custom of resolving conflicts violently. It is uncertain whether we
have the time to undo the damage done by countless previous
generations, nor do we know how many future generations it will take
to transform our psychobiology of violence into one of peace.
If we accept the theory that the lack of sufficient somatosensory
pleasure is a principal cause of violence, we can work toward
promoting pleasure and encouraging affectionate interpersonal
relationships as a means of combatting aggression. We should give high
priority to body pleasure in the context of meaningful human
relationships. Such body pleasure is very different from promiscuity,
which reflects a basic inability to experience pleasure. If a sexual
relationship is not pleasurable, the individual looks for another
partner. A continuing failure to find sexual satisfaction leads to a
continuing search for new partners, that is, to promiscuous behavior.
Affectionately shared physical pleasure, on the other hand, tends to
stabilize a relationship and eliminate the search. However, a variety
of sexual experiences seems to be normal in cultures which permit its
expression, and this may be important for optimizing pleasure and
affection in sexual relationships.
Available 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.
Family planning is essential. Children must be properly spaced so
that each can receive optimal affection and care. The needs of the
infant should be immediately met. Cross-cultural evidence does not
support the view that such practices will 'spoil' the infant. Contrary
to Dr. Benjamin Spock, it is harmful for a baby to cry itself to
sleep. By not answering an infant's needs immediately and consistently
we not only teach a child distrust at a very basic emotional level,
but also establish patterns of neglect which harm the child's social
and emotional health. The discouragement of breast feeding in favor of
bottle feeding and the separation of healthy newborns from their
mothers in our 'modern' hospitals are other examples of harmful
About 25 percent of marriages in the United States now end in
divorce, and an even higher percentage of couples have experienced
extramarital affairs. This suggests that something is basically wrong
with the traditional concept of universal monogamy. When viewed in
connection with the cross-cultural evidence of the physical
deprivations, violence, and warfare associated with monogamy, the need
to create a more pluralistic system of marriage becomes clear.
Contemporary experiments with communal living and group marriage are
attempting to meet basic needs that remain unfulfilled in the
isolation of a nuclear marriage. We must seriously consider new
options, such as extended families comprised of two or three couples
who share values and lifestyles. By sharing the benefits and
responsibilities of child rearing, such families could provide an
affectionate and varied environment for children as well as adults,
and thereby reduce the incidence of child abuse and runaways.
The communal family -- like the extended family group -- can
provide a more stimulating and supportive environment for both
children and adults than can the average nuclear family. Communal
living should not, of course, be equated with group sex, which is not
a sharing, but more often an escape from intimacy and emotional
Openness 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
The 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.
To 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.
Above 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.
The sensory environment in which an individual grows up has a major
influence upon the development and functional organization of the
brain. Sensory stimulation is a nutrient that the brain must have to
develop and function normally. How the brain functions determines how
a person behaves. At birth a human brain is extremely immature and new
brain cells develop up to the age of two years. The complexity of
brain cell development continues up to about 16 years of age. Herman
Epstein of Brandeis University has evidence that growth spurts in the
human brain occur at approximately 3, 7, 11, and 15 years of age. How
early deprivations affect these growth spurts has yet to be
determined; however, some data suggest that the final growth spurt may
be abolished by early deprivation.
W. T. Greenough, a psychologist at the University of Illinois, has
demonstrated that an enriched sensory environment produces a more
complex brain cell in rats than an ordinary or impoverished sensory
environment (see figure). His studies show that extreme sensory
deprivation is not necessary to induce structural changes in the
developing brain. Many other investigators have shown that rearing
rats in isolation after they are weaned induces significant changes in
the biochemistry of their brain cell functioning. Other investigators
have shown abnormal electrical activity of brain cell functioning in
monkeys reared in isolation. I have suggested that the cerebellum, a
brain structure involved in the regulation of many brain processes, is
rendered dysfunctional when an animal is reared in isolation and is
implicated in violent-aggressive behaviors due to somatosensory
deprivation. It has been shown that cerebellar neurosurgery can change
the aggressive behaviors of isolation-reared monkeys to peaceful
behavior. Predatory killing behavior in ordinary house cats can be
provoked by stimulating the cerebellar fastigial nucleus, one of the
deep brain nuclei of the cerebellum.
Abnormally low levels of platelet serotonin have been found in
monkeys reared in isolation and also in institutionalized, highly
aggressive children. These findings suggest that somatosensory
deprivation during the formative periods of development significantly
alters an important biochemical system in the body associated with
highly aggressive behaviors. A number of other investigators have
documented abnormalities in the adrenal cortical response system in
rodents who were isolation-reared and who developed hyperactive,
hyperreactive, and hyperaggressive behavior. Thus another important
biochemical system associated with aggressiveness is known to be
altered by somatosensory deprivation early in life.
It needs to be emphasized here that I advocate somatosensory
pleasure stimulation as a therapeutic procedure to correct the
abnormalities due to somatosensory pleasure deprivation. Such sensory
stimulation can influence brain functioning and it does not appear
necessary, except in rare circumstances, that brain surgery or
electrical stimulation of the brain is required to alter pathological,
violent behaviors. Unfortunately, therapeutic programs of
somatosensory pleasure have yet to be established to determine the
effectiveness of this therapy at the human level. The success of
somatosensory therapy in isolation reared monkeys reported by Harry F.
Harlow and Stephen Suomi  when other forms of
therapy have failed in these animals, provide further encouragement
and support for the utilization of touch and body movement therapies
in the treatment of emotional disorders.
On the contrary, our prisons have been designed to maximize those
conditions that are responsible for the violence and imprisonment of
the social offender. It is not surprising that physical violence in
such prison environments is a major problem. The acceptance of
somatosensory pleasure as a form of somatic therapy will be difficult
for our society to accept, as the opposition to massage parlors in
many communities indicates.
Clearly, if we consider violent and aggressive behaviors
undesirable then we must provide an enriched somatosensory environment
so that the brain can develop and function in a way that results in
pleasurable and peaceful behaviors. The solution to physical violence
is physical pleasure experienced within the context of meaningful
For many people, a fundamental moral principle is the rejection of
creeds, policies, and behaviors that inflict pain, suffering and
deprivation upon our fellow humans. This principle needs to be
extended: We should seek not just an absence of pain and suffering,
but also the enhancement of pleasure, the promotion of affectionate
human relationships, and the enrichment of human experience.
If 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
The world, however, has limited time to correct the conditions that
propel us to violent confrontations. Modern technologies of warfare
have made it possible for an individual or nation to bring total
destruction to large segments of our population. And the greatest
threat comes from those nations which have the most depriving
environments for their children and which are most repressive of
sexual affection and female sexuality. We will have the most to fear
when these nations acquire the weapons of modern warfare. Tragically,
this has already begun.
1. R. B. Textor, A
Cross-Cultural Summary (New Haven, Conn.: Human Relations Area
Files (HRAF) Press, 1967).
2. J. W. Prescott, "Early
Somatosensory Deprivation as an Ontogenetic Process in Abnormal
Development of the Brain and Behavior," Medical Primatology,
edited by I. E. Goldsmith and Moor-Jankowski (Basel: Karger, 1971),
357-375; and Prescott, "Cross-Cultural Studies of Violence,"
in Aggressive Behavior: Current Progress in Pre-Clinical and
Clinical Research, Brain Information Report No. 37 (Los Angeles,
Ca.: University of California, Aug. 1974), pp. 33-35.
3. M. K. Bacon, I. L. Child and H. A.
Barry, III, "Cross-Cultural Study of Correlates of Crime," Journal
of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 66 (1963), 291-300; and Barry,
Bacon and Child, "Definitions, Ratings, and Bibliographic Sources
for Child-Training Practices of 110 Cultures," in Cross-Cultural
Approaches: Readings in Cooperative Research, edited by C. S. Ford
(New Haven: HRAF Press, 1967).
4. J. T. Westbrook, Ford, and Beach, in A
Cross-Cultural Summary, edited by Textor (New Haven: HRAF Press,
5. P. E. Slater, "Killing, Torturing
or Mutilating the Enemy," in A Cross-Cultural Summary,
edited by Textor.
6. Michael Harner, Jivaro Souls.
7. Vietnam Veterans Against the War,
statement by Michael McClusker in The Winter Soldier Investigation:
An Inquiry into American War Crimes (Boston: Beacon Press, 1972).
8. S. J. Suomi, and H. F. Harlow,
"Social Rehabilitation of Isolate-Reared Monkeys," Developmental
Psychology, 6 (1972), 487-496.
9. F. R. Volkmar and W. T. Greenough,
"Rearing Complexity Affects Branching of Dendrites in the Visual
Cortex of the Rat," Science, 176 (June 1972), 1445-1447;
and M. Coleman, "Platelet Serotonin in Disturbed Monkeys," Clinical
Proceedings of the Childrens Hospital, 27 (1971). 187-194.
Text republished with the kind permission of James W. Prescott.
Originally appeared in THE FUTURIST magazine (April 1975). Reproduced
with permission of the World Future
Society, 7910 Woodmont Avenue, Suite 450, Bethesda, MD 20817 USA.
WFS is a nonprofit educational and scientific association with 30,000
members in 80 countries. It serves as a neutral forum and
clearinghouse for information and ideas about current trends and
possible future developments.