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The Mosher Report
The sexual habits of American women, examined half a century before Kinsey
June/july 1981 | Volume 32, Issue 4
From these answers, Mosher concluded that one source of sexual maladjustment in marriage might occur at first intercourse. Coming to marriage so innocent of sexual matters, misunderstandings were bound to occur. One problem, she believed, might be “physical terror though mental consent.” Indeed, one woman reported that the sudden introduction to sex was such a shock that she “ran away after one month of marriage. [Was] sent back by parents and told to behave.” Apparently as an afterthought, Mosher asked twelve women how many days after their wedding ceremony had first intercourse taken place. Six women said that first intercourse took place within the first three days; one said “immediately.” Six said from ten days to one year after the ceremony.
Mosher also recognized that women’s slower sexual reaction time could lead to maladjustment if not understood. Some of her subjects recognized it, too. One woman reported that for years sex had been distasteful to her because of her “slow reaction,” but “orgasm [occurs] if time is taken.” Another, referring to differences in reaction time, complained, “Men have not been properly trained.” For some, failure to reach orgasm was devastating. The woman cognizant of her “slow reaction” reported, “When no orgasm, takes days to recover.” Another described the absence of orgasm as “bad, even disastrous, nervewracking,—unbalancing, if such conditions continued for any length of time.” One woman said its absence was “depressing and revolting,” and described orgasm, which she almost always reached, as a “sense of absolute physical harmony.” Others spoke of the “quiet” and “calmness” which followed. One woman described it as a “general sense of well being, contentment, and regard for husband.” “This is true, Doctor,” she added earnestly.
The most detailed and personal responses were elicited by a series of questions on the “true purpose of intercourse.” Mosher asked whether intercourse was a necessity, or whether its purpose was pleasure, reproduction, or “other.” (Under “other,” one woman claimed, “I have taken it as a sedative.”) Of those who responded, nine believed that intercourse was a necessity for men; thirteen claimed it was a necessity for both sexes; and the remaining fifteen believed it was a necessity to neither. Though a few women felt that reproduction was the only acceptable reason for intercourse, and thirty marked reproduction as the primary purpose, twenty-four women believed firmly that the pleasure exchanged was a worthy purpose in itself. One young wife who checked both pleasure and reproduction said, “It sweeps you out of everything that is everyday.” Another woman, married thirty years, claimed it “makes more normal people.” This woman wasn’t even sure that children were necessary to justify intercourse: “Even if there are no children, men love their wives more if they continue this relation, and the highest devotion is based upon it, a very beautiful thing, and I am glad nature gave it to us.” Still another woman argued that intercourse should be indulged in for more than offspring: “The act is frequently simply the extreme caress of love’s passion, which it would be a pity to limit… to once in two or three years.”
Since so many women believed that pleasure alone was a legitimate reason for intercourse, Mosher suspected that they must use some sort of contraceptive and she included a question on this subject. At least thirty women used some method of birth control. Even a mother who declared that marriage without desire for children amounted to legalized prostitution practiced withdrawal. Still, she probably would have disapproved strongly of the young wife, married one year, who had no children and, by using “clear water in a syringe,” obviously hoped to remain childless, at least for a while. Withdrawal and “timing” ranked high as methods of birth control, but most women preferred douching. Hot water, ice water, tepid water, alcohol, sulphate of zinc, and carbonated water had their adherents. Several women’s husbands used a “male sheath.” Two women used a “rubber cap over the uterus,” and one woman used cocoa butter—for what, she didn’t say.
While most of the women Mosher surveyed found sexual expression to be normal and natural, sometimes even a joy, not all were free of guilt. One woman, who admitted she desired intercourse and experienced orgasm, noted that sexual relations were “apparently a necessity for the average person”; and “superior individuals,” with whom she felt she could not be classed, could be “independent of sex relations with no evident ill results.” Even more revealing was the young woman, married only a year, who wrote, “As I personally see it, I think a habit of intercourse once a month if both desire would be as much of an ideal as I now have.” She crossed this out, however, and wrote beneath it, “Since writing the above, I have become convinced that the ideal would be to have no intercourse except for reproduction, but it is often hard to live up to such an ideal.”