Slay It With a Smile

Paul Cameron's mission to stop homosexuality is hard to swallow

Complaints from other scientists about Cameron's ethics prompted his ouster from the American Psychological Association. (Cameron insists he left under his own power.)

But what's most striking to Cole is not Cameron's scientific practices; it's his dogged pursuit of other people's sex activity.

"The intriguing thing about Paul Cameron is his obsession and extreme preoccupation with homosexuality," says Cole. "He's certainly obsessed and fascinated with homosexuality, in a persistent way."

Cameron has an answer for that: "All scientists become obsessed with whatever their topic is."

Paul Cameron says he was a "late bloomer" sexually. But that didn't prevent him from being aware of sex. He recalls being sympathetic, at one time, to gays before he knew "what homosexuals do." As a student at the University of Louisville, he says, he would have ranked a "seven" on a scale of support for gay rights.

After receiving his Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Colorado-Boulder in 1966, Cameron went to work on what kills people. He claims he was one of the first researchers to explore the effects of secondhand smoke. He studied gerontology. In 1972 he published a study in Psychological Reports about the relationship between pet ownership and happiness. Pet owners, he concluded, were more apt to like pets than were non-owners, but pet owners in general were less happy than non-owners.

Petting was more his cup of tea, however. While teaching at a seminary, he authored a small book called Sexual Gradualism, a Christian sex guide for teens. The 1978 book, available locally only at the Denver Seminary library, is remarkable compared with other Christian sex guides. While practically all such books are vague about sexual practices and full of warnings about any such activity outside of marriage, Cameron's advocates instruction and responsible practice in "levels" of sexual intimacy, urging youths to experiment but cautioning them to avoid intercourse, which he describes as "Level 8," the ultimate level of intimacy.

While open-minded in many ways, with its emphasis on pursuing sexual pleasure right along with other intimacies, the book also reveals a preoccupation with cleanliness. Kissing, for example, was "Level 3" in Cameron's list of sexual intimacies, below mutual masturbation ("Level 5") and oral sex ("Level 7"). But he also noted that kissing "is probably among the most harmful practices in which our culture indulges. I know of no absolute way to compare the amount of disease attributable to sexual intercourse as compared to mouth to mouth exchange. But I would suspect there are far more dangerous diseases communicated by way of the mouth than the genital track."

His book even sang the praises of anal sex, noting that "the anus is potentially 'sexy'" and describing for his conservative Christian audience the technique of "pressing on and around" the anus to evoke sexual pleasure. In fact, he wrote, one could consider anal sex an even deeper sexual intimacy, although he couldn't quite decide where to rank it. "Personally," he wrote, "I believe anal intercourse is too close to the 'real thing' and is to be left as 'Level 9.' I could see making a case for it, however, but only after Level 7...Perhaps I am being too 'square.' Anal intercourse is employed in many cultures as a substitute for Level 8." He noted that "some regard the anus as 'dirty' or 'smelly' and therefore not sexy. Others, sometimes for the same reasons, see it as sensual."

Which led right back to his favorite subtext of cleanliness. Elsewhere in this groundbreaking Christian guide to sex, he advised: "A person who presents himself to you 'in the raw,' smelling like a human, and looking a bit gruky, is providing a gift. But how much better if the present has been wrapped? When wrapped you know some care has gone into the gift. So with cleanliness. The only thing that all humans have equally is time. A clean person has spent some of this valuable and irreplaceable commodity to you. Appreciate and enjoy."

The book was aimed at sparking a movement toward a "middle ground" of sexuality between liberal and conservative approaches. The teaching of gradualism, he pronounced, was suitable for children as young as eight; by the age of thirteen, such advice would be too late. Though no diatribe against homosexuality, the guide encouraged heterosexual behavior as a way of ensuring that children wouldn't find homosexual activity appealing. "One's sexual tastes are one's own business," he wrote. That was before Cameron made everyone else's sexual tastes his business.

Now Cameron sees his book in a slightly different light. "I was more ignorant then than today," he says of anal sex. "It's true, people practice it. But I didn't realize at the time how readily the anus is injured and allows the absorption of various germs. Now that we know more about the anus, it's simply a practice I wouldn't recommend now."

As a whole, he says, the book "went too far" for conservatives and not far enough for liberals, so it wasn't well-received.

"Sexual gradualism" clearly wasn't going to become a movement, so Cameron searched elsewhere for a cause.

"I looked at the panoply of things happening to our society--abortion, homosexuality, suicide, euthanasia," he says. "I had dabbled in each of these areas." He decided to focus on homosexuality. Cameron describes his choice as a "back-door sort of thing," evolving out of a 1974 study he had done on smokers that convinced him that they become more "lethal" in their behavior. As an afterthought, he says, he had included a question about homosexuals and theorized that they, too, were more "lethal." He noticed that while organizations of psychologists and psychiatrists were destigmatizing homosexuality by no longer considering it an "illness," conservatives were doing little on the subject.

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