For some years now, I’ve been looking for documentary evidence about the way the sexual revolution played out in Unitarian Universalism from the late 1960s through the early 1980s. I have lots of anecdotal evidence, stories told to me by people who saw, or in a few cases experienced first-hand, the “open marriages,” the “wife-swapping,” the sex games, etc., that took place in Unitarian Universalist congregations and other Unitarian Universalist organizations such as camps and conference centers. These decades-old memories are of definite historical interest, but documentary evidence is also essential to a fuller historical understanding of this topic.
Recently, I realized I had one such document, which I uncovered a dozen years ago when I was working on a contract with the Unitarian Universalist Association’s (UUA) Youth Office to write a training manual for youth advisors, and I’ll include it in full here. Part of my research involved poring through the historical archives of the Unitarian Universalist youth movement. At that time, those archives were stored in the basement of the UUA’s Boston headquarters (I have heard rumors that some of that archival material has since been destroyed), and I made copies of some of the records so I could work on them at home. One of those documents I was working with was the last issue of People Soup, the old newspaper of Liberal Religious Youth, and it contained this essay:
“Rape” by Jennifer Brett
I was originally going to write this paper on how many women are raped and then don’t do anything about it because of humiliation or because they know the courts make it very hard to prove anything. But when I started to talk to people I know in LRY about it, two things came into light: first, that quite a number of us had been raped by people outside of LRY; and second, that even more of us have been raped within LRY, but have not thought of it as such. It seems that someone will, say, be giving someone else a massage, and that massage will get more and more intense until suddenly the person receiving the massage will find him/herself in a sexual situation. The person giving the massage. The person giving the massage simply assumed that when the other person said s/he would love a massage, they meant they would like to go to bed with him/her. (How “massage” equals “sex” is something I still don’t understand.) One of two things usually happens next: either the one receiving the massage will excuse him/herself from the situation (possibly by falling asleep – the ultimate putdown.), or s/he will give in to the peer-pressure and the LRY stigma and let it ride. When I’ve asked these people why, they usually reply that they felt miserable in the situation, but they would have felt like a real ass if they said no.
Another type of rape that occures in LRY is when a former lover thinks everything is still “peaches and cream”. Sometimes h/she will begin stripping his/her former partner without even considering that anything new might have come up. The situation gets really bad when the one was sleeping by him/herself and still cares for the first.
So what is it that makes this type of rape so permissable? Is it something to do with LRY? Or does it have to do with society as a whole? I think it is some of both. The “sexual revolution” has changed the way society looks at sex. I, myself, used to think I had to have a good sexual experience to prove that I loved somebody. And I’ve found others who think that way. But LRY’s community spirit, the giving and wanting and needing and finding have amplified this attitude. When some people say they want a massage, they do mean they want to go to bed with you. It is one of those handy LRY come-ons. (You know, like “I forgot to bring my sleeping bag, can I share yours?”) I think it’s about time we understand that rape has become a part of LRY, and an accepted part as well. And it’s also time we do something about it. I don’t have any quick solutions. Maybe if people begin to talk to each other about what they think instead of telling tall stories about irrelevent things, many of the problems we have might evaporate.
People Soup, July, 1982, vol. X, issue II (Boston: Liberal Religious Youth Inc.), p. 5. Original spelling, punctuation, and typographical errors retained.
I would love to hear from you if you have any documentary evidence on the sexual revolution within Unitarian Universalism that you could pass along; or if you have any anecdotes you are able to share.