The community lost an invaluable resource and I lost a dear friend with the death of Dr. Jack Morin, Ph.D., author and pioneer in the fields of sexology and sex therapy, on June 14, 2013. He was 67.
When I met Jack in 1975, change was in the air. We were both newly out young gay men; the sexual revolution was in full-swing; Stonewall was still a recent memory; and the American Psychiatric Association had removed homosexuality from its manual of mental illnesses just two years earlier.
Jack was a doctoral student in psychology, and his great ambition was to apply the principles of humanistic psychology to the study of sexuality and the practice of sex therapy. Sex therapy was still a new concept, and many in the field believed that it was their business to determine for the rest of us what was and was not “normal” sexual behavior. Words like “perversion” and “deviance” still appeared in “scientific” papers on sexuality. Jack’s mission was to change all of that. In a time when so many of his contemporary therapists pathologized minority sexual preferences, he wanted to respond to all of his patients from the humanistic principle of “unconditional positive regard.” And in the field of sexology he wanted to replace ancient prejudices with scientific rigor.
Early in his work as a therapist, both men and women began sharing with him that they wanted to have anal sex, but that they were too tense and uncomfortable to enjoy it. Jack did a literature check and discovered that no one had ever done serious research in this area. He invited patients to work with him in finding an approach that might help. Soon, as word spread about his work, he was leading regular “Anal Awareness & Relaxation Workshops” to handle the growing demand.
In 1981, he released the results of his research in a book called Anal Pleasure and Health. The whole subject was taboo, and he got a lot of negative attention. Fundamentalist Christians loudly condemned him. A Daily Show interview was non-stop ridicule. Howard Stern did a “serious” interview — with continuous fart sounds playing in the background. Jack bore it all with his characteristic professionalism, patience, and humor. No detractor ever succeeded in provoking him, and he had the last laugh, because his critics were his best advertisers, and because — surprise! — there was a huge audience for what he had to teach. Thirty-two years later the book is still selling briskly, and is widely regarded as the definitive reference on the subject of anal sex.
In 1995 he published his magnum opus, The Erotic Mind: Unlocking the Inner Sources of Sexual Passion and Fulfillment, a ground-breaking and comprehensive theory of the psychological underpinnings of sexual arousal. His theory of the “erotic equation,” explained, among other things, why emotions like shame and fear can function both as sexual inhibitors and aphrodisiacs, simultaneously. Laypeople find the book a fascinating and comprehensible read, but it also secured his place in the history of sexology.
Every area of sexuality that he examined yielded new insights. To point to just a few of his accomplishments: He did ten years of research which shed light on how some long-term couples are able to maintain sexual passion and avoid the waning of sexual interest that troubles so many couples. He developed treatment guidelines to address the “love/lust split” – which I have personally found extremely helpful in my work with gay men. When he noticed that treatment for sexual compulsion often involved demonizing sex, he developed an approach that avoided making sex the enemy. He wrote “If you go to war with your sexuality, you will lose, and end up in more trouble than before you started. I have never seen a single exception to this principle.”
The roots of Jack’s success were the twin passions that governed his life: compassion and curiosity. He didn’t have to work at unconditional positive regard – it was his natural response to virtually everyone he met, family, friend, and patient alike. I’ve had many teachers, but of all of them, he taught me the most about the healing power of love and respect. His passion for understanding wasn’t clouded by ideology or prejudices, and he had no axes to grind – which allowed him to see what so many others could not.
The great humanist philosopher, Bertrand Russell, once described the good life as “inspired by love and guided by knowledge.” Jack, more than anyone else I have ever known, embodied this ideal. His life was a commitment to service and an adventure of discovery. It was an honor to have known him and a privilege to have been his friend.