In the lecture “Abnormal” Michel Foucault, when talking about the figure of the masturbator, says, “Almost no one knows what everyone does,” (59). This idea of shared ignorance about sexual practice which Foucault applies to the practice of masturbation, seems to me to be applicable in regards to a myriad of sexual behaviors. I am reminded of the impact of the publication of the Kinsey Reports in the late 1940s and early 1950s: before the debut of this document, many Americans had no idea what other Americans like themselves actually did when they were sexual. As Foucault implies in his lecture, masturbation is that thing that everyone does, but nobody talks about; this secrecy fosters a climate of guilt surrounding the unspeakable practice and prevents those partaking from truly enjoying the experience. Arguably, such was also the case with many other taboo sexual practices (oral sex, anal sex, homosexual contact of any kind, etc) before the publication of the Kinsey Reports (but also persisting to the present).
As can be seen from examining the Dear Dr. Kinsey Collection (a collection of personal letters addressed to Dr. Kinsey during the 1940’s and 1950’s), the cycle of secrecy, guilt, and subsequent sexual anxiety about behaviors persists when “no one knows what everyone does.” I had the wonderful chance to examine some of these personal letters, and one profound conclusion I came to was just how little most people knew about what was common and healthy sexually (not to mention how often “healthy” and “moral” wound up tied together). Many letters were from anxious writers in the 40s and 50s describing behaviors such as cunnilingus or fellatio (which are commonly accepted today) and asking whether they were going to develop a physical or moral disease as a result of their behavior. Insofar as behaviors which have no empirically proven physical detriments are blamed for unrelated health problems, the depiction of sex as immoral or unhealthy does no one any favors: when “no one knows what everyone does,” we all spend a lot of unnecessary energy feeling bad about what we like.