Is It Time to Rehabilitate Al Goldstein, Publisher of Screw?

In my view, he played a major role in smashing apart Presbyterian Sex

Posted Jul 22, 2015

If there was one bête noire among sensitive intellectuals in the 1970s, who were just beginning to get into erotic oils and kamasutra sex positions, it was Al Goldstein, publisher of Screw magazine. Goldstein, as the New York Times obituary put it in December 2013, “took the romance out of sex.” In 1968 he founded Screw, a weekly sex mag published in Times Square and featuring reviews of adult films and massage parlors, ads from prostitutes on the back pages, and sex on every page.

Depending on your point of view, Screw was either unspeakably vulgar or an overdue challenge to a system of Presbyterian Sex that had stifled eroticism in the United States after the Second World War.

On the front page, Goldstein ran photos of penises and vaginas. The f-bomb appeared not just on every page but every paragraph, and Goldstein’s view of dealing with his “enemies” – of which he made numerous with his aggressive coarseness –was to photoshop them on page one in compromising positions.

He spent a lifetime in the waiting rooms of psychiatrists, mainly psychoanalysts, without receiving what seems in retrospect to have been the most likely diagnosis: He had manic-depressive illness, and in his manic moments he was simply off the wall. He never had convulsive therapy, and as far as I know, was never on – at least  not for long periods – the medication that would have stabilized him: lithium.

Reflecting the conventional psychoanalytic wisdom of the day, Goldstein attributed all his problems to an overbearing mother and a weak father. This is nonsense. He had a biological brain disease, and much of the opprobrium that rained down on him reflected ignorance that at times he was simply out of control. But people with manic-depressive illness are often brilliant, and Goldstein was brilliant.This shone forth from his arresting autobiography I, Goldstein, My Screwed Life (New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press, 2006), which alternates sexual energy with self-pity. Decades from now, it will be required reading in university courses.

In my view, he played a major role in smashing apart Presbyterian Sex, and I winced when the New York Times obituary characterized Goldstein, a gifted polemicist and shrewd social observer, as “scabrous.”

Alan Dershowitz, an elite liberal lawyer, sniffed, “Goldstein’s contribution was to be utterly tasteless.”

No, Alan, it was much more than that, and the Cambridge intellectuals failed to recognize that Goldstein was the entering wedge of a great adult entertainment industry that, however much deplored by liberal intellectuals, would permit millions of people to experience personal growth as they discovered new variations on the sexual palette.

Today, we celebrate transsexuality, homosexuality among men and women, and exploring all the orifices of the body in sexual terms. We see these as vehicles of personal growth and emancipation, rather than as dangerous departures from the missionary position.

Who do you think opened this door? It was Goldstein and Screw, however distasteful the battering ram with which he smashed it to pieces.

Goldstein’s company went bankrupt in 2003. Screw was overtaken by even more daring publications. And Goldstein finished his life in poverty and humiliation. The liberal establishment heaved a sigh of relief when he passed.

Yet it was like the Anglican Church heaving a sigh after Darwin’s passing: Thank God we no longer have to deal with all that evolution stuff!

Well, guess what?  All that evolution stuff acquired over the years an unstoppable momentum, and the sexual revolution that rages about us today was heavily cued by Al Goldstein. It’s time for the chattering classes to get over their prissiness and recognize Goldstein, like Alfred Kinsey, as a pioneer of our modern understanding of sexuality.