Don’t Be a “Marriage Illiterate”

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Dr. Katherine Bement Davis, general secretary of the Bureau of Social Hygiene, once induced 1,000 married women to reply frankly to a set of intimate questions. The result was shocking – an incredibly shocking comment upon the sexual unhappiness of the average American adult. After perusing the answers she received from these thousand married women, Dr. Davis published without hesitation her conviction that one of the chief causes of divorce in this country is physical mismating.

Dr. G. V. Hamilton’s survey verifies this finding. Dr. Hamilton spent four years studying the marriages of 100 men and 100 women. He asked these men and women individually something like 400 questions concerning their married lives, and discussed their problems exhaustively – so exhaustively that the whole investigation took four years. This work was considered so important sociologically that it was financed by a group of leading philanthropists. You can read the results of the experiment in What’s Wrong with Marriage? by Dr. G.V. Hamilton and Kenneth Macgowan.

Well, what is wrong with marriage? “It would take a very prejudiced and very reckless psychiatrist,” says Dr. Hamilton, “to say that most married friction doesn’t find its source in sexual maladjustment. At any rate, the frictions which arise from other difficulties would be ignored in many, many cases if the sexual relation itself were satisfactory.”

Dr. Paul Popenoe, as head of the Institute of Family Relations in Los Angeles, has reviewed thousands of marriages and he is one of America’s foremost authorities on home life. According to Dr. Popenoe, failure in marriage is usually due to four causes. He lists them in this order:

  1. Sexual maladjustment.
  2. Difference of opinion as to the way of spending leisure time.
  3. Financial difficulties.
  4. Mental, physical, or emotional abnormalities.

Notice that sex comes first; and that, strangely enough, money difficulties come only third on the list.

All authorities on divorce agree upon the absolute necessity for sexual compatibility. For example, a few years ago Judge Hoffman of the Domestic Relations Court of Cincinnati – a man who has listened to thousands of domestic tragedies – announced: “Nine out of ten divorces are caused by sexual troubles.”

“Sex,” says the famous psychologist, John B. Watson, “is admittedly the most important subject in life. It is admittedly the thing which causes the most shipwrecks in the happiness of men and women.”

And I have heard a number of practicing physicians in speeches before my own classes say practically the same thing. Isn’t it pitiful, then, that in the twentieth century, with all of our books and all of our education, marriages should be destroyed and lives wrecked by ignorance concerning this most primal and natural instinct?

The Rev. Oliver M. Butterfield, after eighteen years as a Methodist minister, gave up his pulpit to direct the Family Guidance Service in New York City, and he has probably married as many young people as any man living. He says: “Early in my experience as a minister I discovered that, in spite of romance and good intentions, many couples who come to the marriage altar are matrimonial illiterates.”

Matrimonial illiterates!

And he continues: “When you consider that we leave the highly difficult adjustment of marriage so largely to chance, the marvel is that our divorce rate is only 16 per cent. An appalling number of husbands and wives are not really married but simply undivorced: they live in a sort of purgatory.”

“Happy marriages,” says Dr. Butterfield, “are rarely the product of chance: they are architectural in that they are intelligently and deliberately planned.”

To assist in this planning, Dr. Butterfield has for years insisted that any couple he marries must discuss with him frankly their plans for the future. And it was as a result of these discussions that he came to the conclusion that so many of the high contracting parties were “matrimonial illiterates.”

“Sex,” says Dr Butterfield, “is but one of the many satisfactions in married life, but unless this relationship is right, nothing else can be right.”

But how to get it right?

“Sentimental reticence” – I’m still quoting Dr. Butterfield – “must be replaced by an ability to discuss objectively and with detachment attitudes and practices of married life. There is no way in which this ability can be better acquired than through a book of sound learning and good taste. I always keep a number of these books on hand and recommend one or the other of them to the married couples who come and consult me.”


So, Rule 7 of “How to Make Your Home Life Happier” is:



Learn about sex from books? Why not? A few years ago, Columbia University, together with the American Social Hygiene Association, invited leading educators to come and discuss sex and marriage problems of college students. At that conference, Dr. Paul Popenoe said: “Divorce is on the decrease. And one of the reasons it is on the decrease is that people are reading more of the recognized books on sex and marriage.”

So I sincerely feel that I have no right to complete a chapter on “How to Make Your Home Life Happier” without recommending a short list of books that deal frankly and in a scientific manner with this problem.

  • Sex Outline for Young People, by Helena Wright (Benn).
  • The Book of Love, by Dr. David Delvin (Paperback – New English Library).
  • The Joy of Sex, by Dr. Alex Comfort (Quartet books – hardcover and paperback editions available).


Any good bookseller should have a selection of books on the subject and most paperback booksellers will stock a number of cheaper books on the subject which you can choose yourself from the racks.