BODY PLEASURE AND THE ORIGINS
By James W. Prescott
From "The Bulletin of The Atomic Scientists",
November 1975, pp.
(Introduction of the article in the "Bulletin of the Atomic
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
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
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
p. 11, November 1975, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
sociation 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
Violence against sexuality and the use of sexuality for violence,
particularly against women, has very deep roots in Biblical tradition.
include depressive and autistic behaviors, hyperactivity, sexual
aberration, drug abuse, violence, and aggression.
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
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
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
p. 12, November 1975, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
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 primitive societies.
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 violence.
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 world."
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
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 enemy
|Low religious activity
Adult Behaviors in Societies Where Pain is Inflicted
on Infants by Parent or Nurturing Perso
|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 .
p. 13, November 1975, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
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 Physical
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:
||Premarital sex permitted:
According to Harner (1972) the Jivaro culture is
misclassified and belongs in column 2 (personal
b According to Derek Freeman,
Professor of Anthropology, Australian National
University, the Samoans belong in column 2 (personal
c The Zuni are also
reclassified to column 1.
; 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 available
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.
p. 14, November 1975, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
The same can be suggested for community size, social complexity, and class
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
|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 high
|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
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 industrial nation.
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 fa-
p. 15, November 1975, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
cilitate 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 profile.
Somatosensory Index of Human Affection
||Hard physical punishment is good for children who
disobey a lot.
||Physical punishment and pain help build a strong moral
||Abortion should be punished by society.
||Capital punishment should be permitted by society.
||Violence is necessary to really solve our problems.
||Physical punishment should be allowed in the schools.
||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 upon
||Sexual pleasures help build a weak moral character.
||Society should interfere with private sexual behavior
||Responsible extramarital sex is not agreeable to me.
||Natural fresh body odors are often offensive.
||I do not enjoy affectional pornography.
||I often get "uptight" about being touched.
||Alcohol and Drugs Rated Higher than
||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 orgasm.
||I tend to be conservative in my political points of
||I often dream of either floating, flying, falling, or
||My mother is often indifferent toward me.
||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.
|This table is a slightly revised version. The original
version has been preserved.
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
p. 16, November 1975, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
sory 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 soul." (Politica)
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)
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.
In his discussion of the highest good, Aristotle was quite explicit:
"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 7)
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 drugs.
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
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 bushel:
"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 the opening."
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
p. 17, November 1975, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
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
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
|The first months. Breast-feeding and caressing will help this
infant to grow into a non-violent adult. Denial of such body contact
in infancy can have the opposite effect.
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
It is my belief that rape has its
|Realistic dolls. Swedish paper doll exemplifies the frankness
about the human body that is needed to inculcate wholesome attitudes
toward sex and violence. In this paper doll, no attempt is made to
idealize or de-sexualize the human body; the body is simply accepted
as it is.
p. 18, November 1975, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
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.
This figure shows the effects of the rearing
environment upon a type of nerve cell (called a stellate) which
is found in the fourth layer of a rat's visual cortex. The
number of branches of the dendrites is much greater in animals
reared in groups in a toy-filled environment (called enriched
environmental condition, EC) than the number which occurs when
two rats are reared together in an ordinary cage (called social
condition, SC) or when rats are reared alone in ordinary cages (called
isolate condition, IC).
These data show that extreme conditions of
sensory/social deprivation are not necessary to alter brain
structure, and that an enriched sensory/social environment can
increase the complexity of brain cells. Dendrites, which are
usually branched like a tree, are the part of the nerve cell (neuron)
which carries the nerve impulse to the cell body; and they are
the means by which brain cells communicate with one another.
Brain cells with many dendrites can influence and regulate the
activity of other brain cells more effectively than brain cells
with fewer or abnormal dendrites. It is believed that the
complexity of brain cells is related to the ability to solve
complex problems both of an intellectual and social nature, and
that abnormal dendritic structures underlie abnormal electrical
'spike' discharges in the brain.
Source: Volkmar and Greenough
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
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
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
p. 19, November 1975, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
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 child-rearing
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 vulnerability.
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 bodies.
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.
The competitive ethic, which teaches children that they must
advance at the expense of others, should be replaced by values of
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
p. 20, November 1975, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
early deprivations affect these growth spurts has yet to be determined;
however, some data suggest that the final growth spurt may be abolished by
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
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 human relationships.
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
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 individuals.
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 Sludies 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.
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.
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