The Circle of Sex

December 1965

An ingenious delineation of the age-old magnetism between male and female in which a clock face is used to chart the 12 libidinal types that attract and repel. Originally printed in issue 144 of Playboy magazine.

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The Circle of Sex

Every so often someone comes up with a key idea that makes sense of what had seemed to be chaotic or simply perverse facts. Frequently these idea men are not “authorities” of the academically respectable variety, because official specialists of all kinds are apt to get so absorbed in details and routines that they have little opportunity for a truly fresh look at their problems. It takes a maverick, an outsider, an inspired eccentric—just such a person as Gavin, grandson of the 21st President of the United States, Chester Arthur. Gavin Arthur (actually Chester Alan Arthur III) lives in San Francisco, and almost everyone knows him. He has sold newspapers on Market Street and been secretary of California’s Democratic Central Committee. Now 64 years old, this aristocrat of bohemians makes his living by casting horoscopes, and lives in a crummy downtown apartment-turned-museum. Every square inch of wall space is covered with autographed photos of the great or the inspired far-out: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, Walt Whitman, Havelock Ellis, Edward Carpenter, Robinson Jeffers, Alfred Kinsey, Woodrow Wilson, Henry Wallace, Aneurin Bevan, Ernest Hemingway, and a countless multitude of friends and relations. Interspersed are his own colored diagrams of cosmic principles and the rhythms of man’s history, and even the seven drawers of his tall bureau are painted with symbols of the Seven Planes of Being.

Though Gavin has never been able to convince me that astrology really works, the astrologer’s passion for classifying people by the signs of the zodiac has given him the fascinating notion that there may be 12 sexual types rather than two. Not just mommas and poppas, and outside these a disorderly mess of perverts and neurotics, but a rational spectrum of sexual variations arranged in the form of a clock, which Gavin has called the Circle of Sex, and which was worked out with the sympathetic advice of such great sexologists as Havelock Ellis, Magnus Hirschfeld and Alfred Kinsey.

People always seem to be fascinated by methods of classifying themselves: not only by their zodiacal signs or the often vicious one-upmanship games of social class and status, but also by the psychological and physiological type systems invented by such as C. G. Jung and W. H. Sheldon. Jung devised the system of grouping people into introverts and extroverts, adding the subclasses of thinking, feeling, intuitive, and sensation types. Sheldon (popularized by Aldous Huxley) classified us according to three temperaments—cerebrotonic (brainy), somatotonic (athletic) and viscerotonic (luxurious), and also according to three body types—ectomorphs (tall and skinny), mesomorphs (tough and stocky) and endomorphs (the fat slobs). But Gavin Arthur’s classification of sexual types is much more complex and sophisticated, though I am going to describe it in a way that is much simplified for brevity, and slightly changed to fit my own prejudices. For the Circle of Sex takes on a subtly altered appearance according to one’s own position on the dial. there just isn’t any way of being perfectly objective about it.

The central axis of the sexual clock is 12 opposite 6, and at 12 stands a man called Darby, and at 6 a lady called Joan (The names come from a ballad, The Happy Old Couple, attributed to John Woodfall and Matthew Prior). Darby and Joan are monogamously married, ordinarily have children and manage to muddle through more or less harmoniously in approximation of our civilization’s proclaimed sexual idea, which assumes that every mature and sane person ought to be a father or a mother, and should be able to form a permanent love relationship with a person of the opposite sex.

But the human community depends upon certain kinds of people for services that are most difficult to combine with being father or mother of a harmonious family. Doctors, nurses, priests, merchant seamen, traveling salesmen, airline pilots and career women have one hell of a time trying to be good fathers or mothers. Furthermore, artists, writers, scientists, scholars and many businessmen must, to be effective, be so deeply in love with their work that their work becomes a truly threatening rival to their wives. Yet we penalize these highly valuable servants of the community by insisting that if they want a sexual relationship they must have it on the Darby-and-Joan basis of monogamous, heterosexual marriage. As of today, however, the laws of the United States allow—if you can afford the cost and trouble—a scheme of staggered polygamy: several wives if you will take them one at a time. Most of us fail utterly to see that the Darby-and-Joan arrangement is a special vocation, a way of life for which not all of us are fitted, just as not all of us are cut out to be physicians or lawyers or professors. The population problem alone requires immediate recognition of this fact, and simple kindness and consideration should restrain us from trying to force every human being into this crude, clumsy, and insensitive either/or classification of sexual types—not forgetting that for certain individuals the Darby-and-Joan scene is ideal.

Consider, next, the total opposite of this standard and supposedly “normal” relationship—the 9-3 axis on our clock. At 9 is a lady called Sappho, and at 3 a gentleman called Dorian. Sappho (named after the ancient Greek poetess of Lesbos) looks feminine, dresses like a “true woman,” but loves the feminine world so much that she is uncomfortable in physical contact with men, though she may enjoy their intellectual and social companionship. Indeed, she may enjoy it so much that a heterosexual male may fall head over heels in love with her—to his utter bewilderment and frustration. For Sappho loves the caresses of women—their lingering gentleness and their innate understanding of how a woman wants to be loved. For her taste, most men are crude, insensitive, in too much of a hurry, and ignorant of the astonishing instrument of pleasure which is the female nervous system.

Dorian, at 3 o’clock, is her natural opposite, and is named after the Greek tribe of Dorians, who practiced and admired homosexuality. He is male in appearance, but doesn’t trust the world of women. He feels that, sexually, women are traps. They have, as it were, teeth in the vagina. They are out to get you and tie you down in exchange for sexual favors that men will give with no marital strings attached. Thus Dorian loves the male world as Sappho loves the female world. Like Sappho, he can have deep friendships with the opposite sex, but when it comes to intimate physical contact, he feels that only men understand what men want, and often he has a preference for extremely masculine-looking men.

Both Sappho and Dorian are, however, on the way to “becoming” the opposite sex by virtue of their love for their own. Homosexuals have begun to grow female souls in male bodies, and vice versa, and this bisexuality gives them peculiar and often most valuable talents. Dorian, for example, not only loves men but also understands women much better than Darby. this, plus his detachment from family responsibilities, will often fit him to be a superb physician, priest, psychiatrist, painter or poet, for—in our culture—the “regular-guy” Darby type is terrified of admitting to fine or subtle feelings that might cast doubts upon his masculinity. When Darby gets to the symphony, it is usually Joan who drags him there.

The direction of motion in the Circle of Sex is clockwise: There is a tendency for the 9-3 axis to rotate into the 10-4 position. The idea is not necessarily that a 3-o’clock individual is on the way to becoming a 4-o’clock type, but that the two types follow each other in the same logical way that summer follows spring, or that orange follows red in the spectrum. Sappho and Dorian are what I shall presume to call “normal” homosexuals. There are untold millions of them, but they are not easy to recognize by outward appearance or mannerisms. It is, incidentally, quite beyond the scope of this article to go into religious or psychiatric arguments for or against homosexuality. The point is simply to show that it has a logical, orderly place in a scheme of sexual variations.

The obviously recognizable homosexual is the very masculine woman at 10, known as a Dyke, and the very effeminate man at 4, known as a Quean. These are the sexual types most despised in our culture, and though the origin of the word Dyke (sometimes Bull-Dyke) is obscure, the dictionaries define Quean as “a jade, wench or slut,” used as a supremely insulting term for a male. The Dyke, like Gertrude Stein, often wears cropped hair, tweeds, shirt and necktie, walks with a stride, and perhaps smokes cigars. Sexual relations with a male are quite repulsive to her, for she adores women and wants to be more and more of a man to them. If she could be changed surgically, as is sometimes possible with the Quean, she would happily cross the border.

The Quean, too, is often a transvestite and likes to wear feminine clothes, but of the smart rather than the frilly kind. Yet, as we shall see, by no means all transvestites are Dykes or Queans. Like his neighbor Dorian, the Quean finds women sexually unattractive or repulsive, yet intellectually and aesthetically interesting because he wants to be a woman. This is why he makes an excellent beautician, hairdersser, interior decorator or costume designer, and, like Dorian, he often excels in the “sensitive arts” of music, dancing (especially ballet), poetry, and painting. The 10-4 axis is, however, the trouble spot on the Circle not only because Dykes and Queans are on the sexual borderline and inwardly mixed up, but even more because of social rejection, which mixes them up because it makes it hard for them to accept themselves. Occasionally they actually succeed in passing themselves off as members of the opposite sex, though this is a risky and unsatisfactory means of social adaptation.

The rotation of the axis to the 11-5 position is critical, for between 10 and 11, 4 and 5, is the physiological boundary between male and female. If one believed in reincarnation, teh 11 and 5 types are just what the Dyke and the Quean would become in their next lives, for at 11 is Don Juan and at 5 is someone we shall call Lady C., after Lady Chatterley, Catherine the Great and Courtesan. For it seems that in the Don Juan type the extreme Lesbian has at last acquired male equipment and is going to use it for all it is worth. In common with the Dyke, Don Juan finds physical contact with men repulsive. He cannot abide army life, and prison is sheer torture. Yet he is often mistaken for a Quean because he dresses elegantly, even foppishly, and sometimes enjoys wearing the fluffy style of women’s clothes. Give him a boudoir rather than a den, for he is plain crazy about feminine women and everything to do with them. He has no interest in children and abhors monogamy, loving variety in women just as one likes to rove around with one’s hands in fondling a woman’s body. He is a “woman’s man,” because what pleases him above all in sexual intercourse is to bestow the female orgasm. His interest is not, as is often supposed, in how many women he has made, but in how many he has delighted. The man who scores up his makeouts is usually trying to prove an insecure masculinity, and Don Juan has no worries about that.

Standing right opposite Don Juan, Lady C. is not necessarily a feminine-looking woman. She may be something of a tomboy, a “man’s woman” who likes to camp, hunt and even (like Catherine the Great of Russia) go to the wars with her menfolk. She is a nymphomaniac of insatiable sexual appetite, the female “reincarnation” of the kind of Quean who prefers to be isolated with males in the navy. She is disliked by most women, just as Don Juan is no friend of other heterosexual males: They are distrusted as heart-stealers, though they will seldom elope with one’s spouse. For them, variety is the spice of life and sexual intercourse a sweet intimacy between friends. As one Don Juan put it, “Never refuse a desirable lady when she desires you. It is unchivalrous. But never seduce a lady against her will. That is also unchivalrous and, besides, unnecessary. There are plenty of unhappy wives whose husbands are too cold or too stupid to satisfy them.” The sexual converse would be true for the attitude of Lady C. toward men.

Almost as if a particular Don Juan had at last fallen in love with a particular Lady C., the 11-5 axis swings on to the Darby-and-Joan position of pater- and materfamilias down the center, the axis where sexuality is at its best for the lawful reproduction of the species—the only legitimate kind of sexuality for those who believe that bearing children is the only legitimate function of intercourse. It must be repeated that this is the ideal relationship for some people, and especially when a particular Darby and a particular Joan happen to harmonize, which is always a big gamble. Since most news is bad news, one hears more of the failures than of the successes. Yet when two 20-year-olds vow before an altar to love each other for always and always, it is perhaps a mistake to confuse this solemn expression of their immediate feelings with a literal and legal contract. When the ancients said, “O king, live forever!” they meant no more than to wish him a long life.

Every axis of the Circle is unstable, some more than others, for few individuals are fixed firmly at one point on the dial. We are more like needles on the dial, vibrating between certain limits. Even in a successful Darby-and-Joan relationship there is a tendency, later in the marriage, for the interests of husband and wife to go beyond the family, and in many marriages it exists from the start. Thus, when the axis rotates to the 1 and 7 positions, we have at 1 a man called the Pioneer and at 7 a woman whom Gavin Arthur calls Clubwoman (the very feminine Helen Hokinson type), though I do not like the term. It twits her too much, and suggests that she is always middle-aged, potbellied and intellectually naïve. But consider her as the complementary opposite of the highly male Pioneer with his strong devotion to some vocation beyond, but not necessarily excluding, family life—profession, business or sport. Here are artists and soldiers, hunters and explorers, philosophers and politicians, scientists and engineers—men who work not just to bring home the bacon but for the joy of the work itself. These 1 o;clocks usually marry and are predominantly heterosexual, but they have a strong capacity for friendship with other men. Every so often they must escape from the family for the club or poolroom, fishing trip or bull session.

Likewise the 7-o’clock woman is not primarily a homemaker. She has a mind of her own and is interesting because she has many interests—not only the P.T.A., the Church, or the League of Women Voters, but also reading or painting, gardening or bowling, attending concerts and lectures, and thus relies rather heavily on the babysitter. The late President Kennedy is supposed to have said to his wife, “You look after the culture and I’ll run the country!” so perhaps we should call this lady Jacqueline. She is above all a civilizing influence—at her best, she woos men into culture and graciousness; at her worst, she castrates them as Mom or Mrs. Grundy because she never had a man who knew how to play with her. Thus, any man who really wins a Jacqueline has a relationship, not just a wife.

We are now at the second critical point of the Circle. As the physiological differentiation of the sexes lay along the diameter between 10 and 11 at one end and at 4 and 5 at the other, so the diameter 7-8 to 1-2 is the “watershed” along whose ridge lies maximal femininity and masculinity. Just over the ridge from Jacqueline is the Career Girl, usually a very feminine single woman—the devoted secretary, nurse, social worker, actress or schoolteacher—the 8-o’clock lady who is inclined to professions particularly suitable for woman, as distinct from the neighboring Sapphos and Dykes who often compete with men in medicine, science, law and business. In her sexual life the Career Girl wavers. In our culture, at least, her general inclination is for male lovers, but she toys with homosexual relationships with her roommates since, for economic reasons, she often shares living quarters with other women. Frequently she is very happy as an “on-the-side” girl for two or three men who want holidays from their wives, but who want much more out of sex than just a piece of tail. Career Girl tends to collect men whose wives “don’t understand them.”

Her opposite at 2 o’clock is Caesar, named after Julius, who was known in his army as “every man’s wife and every woman’s husband.” Our culture makes it hard for him to accept and express his ambisextrous nature, and thus he usually appears as a caricature of Pioneer—the “tough guy” who plays the role of policeman, drill sergeant, bouncer, prize fighter, test pilot, truck driver, aggressive supersalesman or tycoon. Just because he must not, at all costs, admit his ambisexterity, he loathes Dorians and Queans and beats them up when they make advances to him. Unlike his opposite, Career Girl, he is generally forced into marriage to assert his heterosexuality, though the vigor of the assertion is the measure of its weakness. He “screws” women because a man should, but he is uncomfortable and uncommunicative in their company; he is preeminently the “man’s man.” Freed of these social repressions, he can be a most valuable member of the community—tough but not hostile, brave but not combative, strong but not swaggering—a wonderful combination of courage and friendliness.

Now that we have been all the way round the Circle, some general remarks are in order. The intention of the scheme is to be provocative rather than definitive. It is a suggestion—not yet a rigorous and scientific classification of sexual types. People are supposed to argue about it, to see if they can fit themselves and their friends into the types, and to take particular note of (a) the types they dislike, and (b) the ways of typing with which they most strongly disagree. This may tell them a lot about themselves, for the classification that you find most inept may well be your own.

Obviously, few people stand at one precise spot on the dial. As I have said, most of us waver like pointer needles over 5, 10, or 15 “minutes” of the clock, say from 11 to 1 or from 5 to 8, or from 11:05 to 1:02. In the white Anglo-Saxon Protestant subculture of the United States, we pretend that most of the population lies between 12 and 1 for males, and 6 and 7 for females (with some tolerance for 8). But this is an opinion as to where the population should be, not an account of its actual distribution, and, as no one knew better than Alfred Kinsey, the facts are as elusive as can be. Under the immense social pressure of sexual mores and fashions, the individual is often unable to admit, even to himself, that he belongs to an “abnormal” type.

But most argumentation as to the normalcy and abnormalcy, healthiness and sickness of sexual variations is nonsense. If the standard of normalcy is to be determined statistically by what most people do, are physicists abnormal because there are so few of them? If sickness is what shortens life and/or makes people miserable, is there any evidence that homosexuals die younger than heterosexuals? Or that they are miserable for any other reason than that there are powerful laws and prejudices against them? Is there, furthermore, the slightest evidence that sexual intercourse is “natural” or “good” only for purposes of reproduction? If every sexual act should, ideally, produce a baby, should every seed bring forth a plant? Should every pomegranate, which, like human sperm, has lots of seeds in it, produce a thousand trees? Miserly and ungenerous people think of nature as wasteful and profligate in the vast variety of her forms and in the “superfluity” of her seeding processes. But nature may, with just as much right, be called exuberant, or likened to a player, singer or dancer doing things that aren’t absolutely necessary for bare survival. Is it unreasonable to extend the same generous attitude to the varieties of human sexuality—especially when they can be seen in the form of a logical spectrum?

Finally, it should be remembered that this brief description of the Circle has given no more than hints of certain points lying upon an equator that surrounds a sphere. This equator is the hottest, the most sexual latitude of love. It may even be that at the sphere’s center there is that white light which is the spinning source of all the colorations of the human spectrum, which every human being on earth calls by the name that is mystically most meaningful to him, and which Dante called “the Love which moves the sun and other stars.”



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