SEXUAL MORES IN THE WEIDER MUSCLE BUILDING COURSE OF THE 1950s By Bryan E. Denham, Ph.D. Assistant Professor of Communication and Mass Media Southwest Missouri State University 901 South National Avenue Springfield, MO 65804 (417) 836-4156 E-mail: [log in to unmask]

Paper submitted to the Magazine Division, AEJMC National Conference, August 1999, New Orleans EDUCATION FOR THE BODYBUILDER OR ALIBI FOR THE PUBLISHER? SEXUAL MORES IN THE WEIDER MUSCLE BUILDING COURSE OF THE 1950s Abstract Joe Weider has been involved with bodybuilding since the late 1930s, and today he operates a health and fitness empire in Woodland Hills, California. His organization produces exercise equipment, nutrition supplements, books, and magazines, such as Muscle & Fitness, Flex, Shape and Men's Fitness. This essay looks back to the 1950s and examines the sexual mores he advanced in a mail-order course designed for young men interested in weightlifting. As discussed in the paper, substantial differences existed across the glossy magazines that he produced for gay men throughout the 1950s and his mainstream mail-order course, published late in that decade. The information in Sex Education for the Bodybuilder, the publication examined here, is linked on a conceptual level to contemporary queer theory, in that the normative and deviant sexual activities discussed in it seem to reflect perfectly the social constructs and norms of the time, while differing markedly from those of today.

EDUCATION FOR THE BODYBUILDER OR ALIBI FOR THE PUBLISHER? SEXUAL MORES IN THE WEIDER MUSCLE BUILDING COURSE OF THE 1950s In the late 1950s, Weider offered young men interested in weightlifting a mail-order course on fundamental training techniques. As part of his "Muscle Building Series," he produced a supplemental publication addressing human sexuality. This study explores the sexual mores advanced in his booklet Sex

Education for the Bodybuilder (1958). 1998. . . in the early 1990s. Weider advised that masturbating was not something a young man in pursuit of physical strength did.' 'out of the ordinary. for instance. For queer theorists. particularly sexual activities and identities. Scholars have used similar theories in studies of normative and deviant sexual behaviors and sexual identities among bodybuilders. grew out of scholarship addressing how normative and deviant sexual behaviors are created through a socially constructed process (for example. The study reveals the disparity between the glossy magazines he produced for gay men and the generic mail-order course he produced for young men interested in weightlifting.' Queer theory concerns itself with any and all forms of sexuality that are "queer" in this sense-and then. Thus. 1994). (pp. Klages (1997) provides an explanation of the theory and how it evolved: Queer theory emerges from gay/lesbian studies' attention to the social construction of categories of normative and deviant sexual behavior ." as it appears in the dictionary. sexuality is a complex array of social codes and forces. . In the former. are social constructs. anything that falls into normative and deviant categories. Gillett and White (1992) employed a critical feminist perspective and concluded that hypermasculine physiques among bodybuilders represent attempts by men to restore . perhaps to be expected given that time period (Loughery. editors searched for ways to make posing briefs "cling" to the genitalia. subscribers to the "Muscle Building Series" received advice that smacked of sexual repression. in the latter. all concepts linking sexual behaviors to sexual identities. . and all categories of normative and deviant sexualities. and studies.' 'peculiar. For example. Queer theory insists that all sexual behaviors. . sets of signifiers which create certain types of social meaning . while gay men may have looked to Weider's magazines for titillation. 1-2). and has a political critique of. by extension. has a primary meaning of 'odd. Queer theory looks at. which. . . forms of individual activity and institutional power . The word "queer. with the normative behaviors and identities which define what is "queer" (by being their binary opposites) . Jagose. 1997). Chauncey. Theoretically. . this paper is grounded in queer theory.

1985a. construct and solidify normative and deviant types of sexual behavior. the mainstream mail order course could be waved in the face of suspicious postal inspectors and local police officers. who were under pressure from citizens to keep risque materials out of the mailboxes of Middle America (Waugh. Klein has published other studies (1986. The authors argue that the muscular male physique is constructed by social relations etched in gender ideology (see also. The term "contradiction. the product of ideologies in gender difference. While bodybuilding has been linked with sexual fantasy for more than half a century. As the information on the following pages demonstrates. as Klein has observed. something Klein (1989) had observed in a long-term ethnographic study of the Southern California bodybuilding culture (see also. 1995b) that reveal many contradictions in the way bodybuilders present themselves .and maintain feelings of self-control and self-worth. their behavior in the gym was anything but indicative of homosexuality. Hooven. Klein (1987) observed that bodybuilders often related to members of the outside world in an arrogant manner in order to conceal deep-rooted feelings of inferiority. the parents may have revolted against a . 1996. a Weider bodybuilding magazine. Muscle magazines play a major role in this ongoing disparity. appears to be one that has characterized the bodybuilding subculture for decades. An additional study by White and Gillett (1994) examined photographs in Flex. Klein concluded that in order to maintain perceptions of heterosexuality. 1995). Joe Weider certainly played a role in helping to uphold. if necessary. From helping to pioneer gay magazines to offering very conservative advice to young men interested in weightlifting. it has existed on disparate public and private levels. Weider ran the gamut as a publisher. their sexual identities and social behaviors-and the way things really work. He may have known that the parents of his teenage pupils would have little interest in explaining gay eroticism to their sons. 1993). Klein (1989) studied the practice of "hustling" among male bodybuilders. bodybuilders often engaged in homophobic behavior. In fact. 1990). Or. The authors concluded that the portrayal of the muscular body as ideal offered resistance to progressive change and alternative masculinities." then. Messner & Sabo. perhaps he knew that. In a study on the rising popularity of bodybuilding during the early 1980s. More bluntly. concluding that while many bodybuilders offered sexual favors to gay men.namely. Perhaps he knew how to target different audiences. Klein. They noted that the muscular male body was considered natural and desirable.

. "it seems likely that the artistic alibi was an unspoken protocol allowing producers. the U. it took great courage for gay men to purchase magazines such as Physique Pictorial and American Manhood at local newsstands. and local police and dealers to maintain the decorum of the open secret and a functional level of tolerance between periods when the heat was on" (p. Chauncey explains: Bernarr Macfadden. in response to the crisis in middle-class masculinity precipitated by the manly comportment of working-class men and the subversion of manly ideals and sexualization of male social relations by the fairy . "Rather than a legal safeguard. cleared Weider photographer Jimmy Caruso of creating unlawful images." Waugh noted. Middle-class men increasingly conceived of their . The overt sexual interest of the fairy in men made the possibility that normal men's admiration of manly bodies might have a sexual component inescapable. could barely contain his loathing of the men who sexualized and perverted the male gaze at male bodies. as an artistic alibi. Waugh (1996) recalled a situation in Canada in which Weider's attorney brought into court an image of Michelangelo." he and other producers were able to keep authorities at bay. . middle Americans would guru who they believed was targeting their offspring for deviant behavior. for such publications to show up at the average American household in the late 1950s may have exceeded the boundaries that mainstream. which. ." "art. the point at which Weider arose both as an individual and as a publisher. It required men whose manliness was already suspect to assert their exclusive sexual interest in women in order to show they were not queer." and "nature. then.S. and under the alibis "sports. [He insisted] that ther e could be no relationship between the healthy youngster's adoration of a barely clad exemplar of manly muscularity and the depraved sexual desires of a degenerate . Weider sought expensive legal advice routinely. . As Hooven (1995) pointed out. 224). Post Office. Chauncey (1994) provides an excellent discussion of the social atmosphere in the early decades of this century. The insistence on exclusive heterosexuality emerged in part. advocate of physical culture and publisher of bodybuilding magazines treasured by straight and gay men alike.

It was as if they had decided that no matter how much their gender comportment might be challenged as unmanly. The booklet addressed below. 5). Sex Education for the Bodybuilder. While the former could cause sterility. soft. As its content indicates. Weider wrote. He discussed only these ailments. Thus. flabby muscles and other weaknesses" (p. You could become deaf. "You must do everything in your power to protect yourself from the insidious ravages of venereal disease" (p. blind. The final effects of syphilis are truly . crippling damage to the joints and heart problems. provided strength and vigor: "This was discovered centuries ago when male sex glands were injured or removed. or your brain tissues damaged. "Spirochetes will quietly continue their deadly attacks on the vital tissues of your body . Boys whose testicles had been removed developed many feminine characteristics such as high-pitched voices. Sex Education for the Bodybuilder In this publication. the public paid considerable attention to syphilis and gonorrhea." In addition. and Weider discussed the two accordingly. the more devastating of the two. and wrote of the need to avoid "the parasitical infestation known as crabs. Sex drive. or exclusive desire for women-as one of the hallmarks of a real man. social codes and forces were kept in place by a booklet no more risque than a Boy Scout Manual. Weider understood just how unsettled things were. your liver could be diseased. your arteries weakened. He provided a fundamental review of the male sex organs. 3). one "free from frustration and the shackles of prudish convention. blindness. and having come of age during it. . boys were raised ignorant of sex and were taught that it was something evil and sinful--not the power responsible for perpetuating the human species. may have been Weider's strongest representation of cultural conservatism. Weider wrote. paralyzed or insane. noting that gonorrhea was five times as common as syphilis. your spinal cord partially destroyed. Weider continued with a brief overview of puberty and the changes adolescent males experience during this time. the situation in the early decades of this century was a delicate one." He wrote that all too often. .sexuality-their heterosexuality. the latter could lead to even more severe consequences. lack of hair-growth on the face. In 1958. Weider (1958) began by discussing the need to maintain a healthy sex life. they were normal men because they were heterosexual (pp. 116-117) Clearly. he wrote.

however. In Sex Education for the Bodybuilder. discussion of sexually transmitted diseases seems to have been reactionary in nature. In this section. perhaps. all concepts linking sexual behaviors to sexual identities. linking the content with contemporary queer theory. the use of condoms as protection against both disease and unwanted pregnancy. repression . Weider discussed. This was.terrible" (p. are social constructs. 7). of your bodybuilding workouts. Perhaps the social climate of the times dictated that he not discuss. You should also keep your mind free from sex-stimulating thoughts and avoid reading sex-arousing stories or looking at erotic pictures. the importance of protecting against the diseases. "Queer theory insists that all sexual behaviors. in graphic detail. While an individual can certainly use the restroom before going to bed and also refrain from drinking liquids for 60 minutes. Weider discussed nocturnal emissions. Weider began to advise his pupils to fight the natural urges whose freedom he earlier had espoused. but made little mention of exactly how to do so. a relatively conservative period. pointing out that under normal circumstances. one in which producers of situational comedies had to decide whether a husband and wife should occupy the same bed. can an adolescent male really be expected to keep his mind free from sex-stimulating thoughts? During puberty. say. Your body can use up the accumulated sex secretions for building greater strength and bigger muscles (p. Following his section on sexually transmitted diseases. Ironically. Again. As Klages (1997) noted earlier. after all. More important still. and all categories of normative and deviant sexualities. 8). social forces may have dictated the generic content. you should indulge in more physical activities and increase the number. One of the last sections in Sex Education for the Bodybuilder--and one that perhaps contains the most interesting content for studying acceptable sexual behavior--is a segment addressing masturbation. He wrote: If you have a 'wet dream' more frequently than once every ten days you should empty your bladder before going to bed and refrain from drinking liquids for at least an hour before. 2). or the duration. sets of signifiers which create certain types of social meaning" (p. sex-stimulating thoughts pretty much sum up the entire process. an adolescent might experience a "wet dream" once every two weeks. that is.

8). Then came a period of reaction. nature intended this urge to result in sexual intercourse between a male and a . He began: Over the years the subject of masturbation has been kicked back and forth like a football. Not so long ago it was considered one of the most frightful evils of youth. or the manipulation of one's own sex organs. becomes a shameful practice. We were told that masturbation could wreck your mental and physical health. and soon nothing could be found wrong with masturbation. In the following passage. There is nothing wrong. Having summarized the change in thinking. or water. Parents. sap your stre ngth. like that which we possess for food or air. and even medical men. or self-relief. It is a natural hunger. but then offered advice that might seem impractical. lead to nervous breakdowns. until an orgasm is reached. denied. while understandable. Normally. teachers. where everything that had been said before was challenged. The average boy starts to experiment with his sex organs around 10 or 11 years of age. as evidenced by the passages below. normative rulings enter the picture. he then explained the process. 8). and some authorities were even pointing out its benef its (p. and masturbation. or bad about the fundamental sex urge. and just as important. The pendulum kept on swinging. The author began with a reasonable discussion of "old-school" thinking. What is the real truth about this wide-spread disturbing habit? Masturbation consists of self-stimulation. vied with each other in their efforts to frighten young people out of this habit. if not humorous. and scoffed at. He finds the manipulation pleasant and continues it (p. cause feeble-mindedness and even lead to insanity. This is also called auto-erotism.becomes dominant.

relief is something that one does by himself. impressive muscles. 8-9). masturbation is definitely out (pp. there has been furious debate over the cause of homosexuality (for example. and perhaps not surprisingly. Additionally. Masturbation is not part of nature's plan and may therefore be considered abnormal. and a magnificent he-man physique. who wants to build big. He continued with a discussion of the dangers "masturbators" risked. the author opines that masturbation is not part of nature's plan. In recent years. in secret. nor does it make it any more normal (p." Weider advocated the status quo with respect to masturbation. At least two concerns arise from this passage. 1997. He wrote: Excessive masturbation can lead to the depletion of nervous energy and physical strength. for contrary to his intent of freeing adolescent males "from the shackles of prudish convention. the greatest dangers of masturbation. lie in the mental and psychological realms. Again. For the bodybuilder. there is no mention of homosexuality with regard to what nature intended.female. and so must have Weider when he was publishing magazines that attracted gay men. superb strength. it is considered bad and . First. it is not recognized as an alternative sexual preference or orientation in Sex Education for the Bodybuilder. Pronk. 8). the parents of his bodybuilding pupils might have considered him some sort of fitness guru with radical ideas about sex. conservative parents did not have to worry. Had he condoned masturbation. The fact that the majority of men masturbate at some time or other in their lifetimes does not justify the act. that much of what Weider wrote may have reflected what middle Americans considered appropriate advice in 1958. many people in contemporary society take masturbation as a given. In other words. while others contend that homosexuality has its roots in genetics. By far. Either way. for the purpose of perpetuating the species. once more. powerful. hidden from the eyes of others. Indulging in self. Some argue that individuals become homosexual through a sociological process. 1993). As the following passages indicate. It should be noted. Herman.

of course. look at yourself as though you were looking at some other person. Thus. Ask yourself if you honestly admire what you are doing (p. especially in a public forum. they might question whether the practice is truly "debilitating. to create mental pictures while performing this act. heterosexual intercourse was considered normative. Though many individuals are embarrassed to speak about masturbation. not masturbating and instead enjoying traditional.the masturbator d evelops unhealthy psychological feelings. Kennedy entered the White House and began receiving female visitors on a regular basis. for example. Weider suggested a vital young man with a powerful physique should not masturbate. issues of sex were not be discussed. which is in itself a dangerous practice (p. With respect to contemporary queer theory. the conservative advice on masturbation is consistent with the notion of social constructs linking sexual behaviors to sexual identities. if masturbation was considered deviant. Perhaps more than any other segment. Washington correspondents knew it. or use actual photos. but not many people have been crippled from masturbating. many masturbators let their imaginations run wild. If you are the slave of the habit of masturbation then you must add still another negative factor. they are escaping from reality and living in a sort of a dream world. To break yourself of this habit. then. In other words. for no one can be master of himself if he is controlled by a debilitating habit. the section on masturbation in Sex Education for the Bodybuilder represents a major departure from what many individuals now recognize as a common and natural practice. It connoted weakness. as "masturbators" became powerless against a disturbing habit. John F. Did Weider not help to create this dream world in his gay-oriented magazines? Below is a final passage that demonstrates how Weider ran the gamut as a publisher. In general. but reporting such a story would have been unthinkable. ." There may be exceptions. In addition. 9). 9). Just two years after Sex Education for the Bodybuilder appeared. These ideas of normative and deviant sexual behaviors reflect the conservative culture in which Weider wrote. for masturbation was considered a deviant behavior.

The best way to effect a change. as it appears to have been earlier in the century. masturbation is not considered a deviant activity. publisher and businessman. As a bodybuilding promoter. Readers of Sex Education for the Bodybuilder may have been hardpressed to find the information therein racy--even in 1958. In conclusion. In terms of the sexual mores advanced in his early fitness publication. largely due to psychological factors. adhered largely to the status quo and smacked of sexual repression. In this section. Conclusions Joe Weider became interested in bodybuilding and physical culture long before many of today's top physique competitors were born. . and perhaps by discussing some of them. he may have moved past the writings of others. In all likelihood. largely perhaps because few methods existed. to use it well. While readers in 1999 might consider the content in Sex Education for the Bodybuilder to be the ultimate in "prudish and foolish schools of thought. were not something to be discussed. sensibly and with the utmost consideration ." but rather adhered to the status quo of the times-something he and other publishers did not do when it came to magazines geared toward gay men. What he wrote. The details of sex. on impotence and sterility. for at the time. however. The copy reads like a basic course in sex education. but it was not something to be discussed and brought out in publications. for example. In present-day society.Following his section on "self-relief." Weider moved to a final segment. In this regard. that is. there appears to have been some confusion among adolescents. . he noted. was to stop masturbating. With respect to contrasts with present-day medicine. . Weider appeared progressive. he discussed the fundamental differences between the two. Weider wrote. the Weider publication contained no reference to methods used to treat impotent men. masturbation was a common practice in the late 1950s. 11). and the section on masturbation leans more to the prudish side than to the free-spirited." much of what Weider wrote may have been shaped by social forces. the primary conclusion reached is that he did not free his pupils from the "shackles of prudish convention. He also noted that men who had masturbated a lot frequently found it difficult to have an erection for sexual intercourse. by just discussing it. he has enjoyed considerable success. so should you free another from the same bondage" (p. "I hope that you will read what has been written here--and above all. Weider may have been ahead of the curve. For as you have been freed from the shackles of a prudish and foolish school of thought.

a war hero. she seemed virtually untouchable. bringing to light the present study. One can imagine how important Hollywood players would have reacted had Hudson said publicly that he was a homosexual. Mickey Mantle belted home runs for the New York Yankees. The booklet contained no risque photography. As indicated earlier. Hooven (1995) noted that gay men who produced glossy physique magazines did the "unthinkable" by coming out.As Hooven (1995) and Waugh (1996) explain. At a minimum. for example. but made him appear perfectly in tune with the social climate of the time. behavior considered deviant . Sex Education for the Bodybuilder could be shown to a postal inspector or police officer without hesitation. Weider produced a mail-order weightlifting course with a supplemental publication on human sexuality that not only distanced him from his gayoriented magazines. while Roy Rogers and Gene Autry personified chivalry. Weider and his attorneys understood this. and the copy was generic and conservative. By any standard. Bold and attractive. In the case of Hollywood. LeVay and Nonas. 1996. and books that have traced the history of homosexuality in America certainly reflect that contention (for example. and they did not press their luck after enjoying tremendous success with homoerotic magazines. Dwight Eisenhower. 1998. In short. At a time when publishers sought creative alibis for homoerotic material. law enforcement officers across America were under pressure from citizens to keep the mails free from risque materials. and people flocked to the theaters to see the movie. toying with the male police officers who pursued her as a murder suspect. the term "homosexual" did not even appear in Sex Education for the Bodybuilder. while a rugged John Wayne appeared on the big screen. 1995). one can look to popular individuals. Sharon Stone played a hip bi-sexual in Basic Instinct. occupied the White House. Advancing to the 1990s. Alwood. that is. keeping Weider in tune with the times. Loughery." and Paul Newman played "Brick" in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. mediated sexual behavior has traveled quite a distance in the second half of the twentieth century. those who thousands admired and sought emulate. Alan Ladd saved the day as "Shane. one can appreciate how social forces help to determine what is considered appropriate sexual behavior. In considering this climate. Rock Hudson emerged as a major star.

and the ironies continue. As an example. Weider continues to publish bodybuilding magazines. a pastime with inherent contradictions. hypermasculine shouters in the the 1950s is not so deviant today. . as well as in the lives of bodybuilders themselves. but at the same time. the magazines feature pictures of massive bodybuilders who have used steroids for years. and appears to always have been. but also as homophobic. reflecting the notion of sexual behavior and sexual identity being part of what Klages (1997) called "a complex array of social codes and forces. the bodybuilders often find themselves existing as "hustlers" to pay the rent. And. Indeed. as Klein (1989) observed. and these contradictions have appeared in massmediated publications. it continues to function on different levels. Today. both in his magazines as well as in other bodybuilding publications. yet a given issue of any bodybuilding magazine will feature editorials denouncing the use of drugs is sport. bodybuilding is. he distanced himself from the homosexual lifestyle with his generic publication Sex Education for the Bodybuilder. Weider produced magazines aimed at attracting gay men throughout the 1950s." As for the sport of bodybuilding.

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