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[Note from the CCIES Website Editor:  Please send any additions, corrections, or updated information to:  Raymond J. Noonan, Ph.D.]


Someone said, “Never tackle anything that is not a challenge.”

In 1991, a publisher invited me to edit a 350-page single-volume International Encyclopedia of Sexuality (IES). The plan was to invite 20 sexologists in 20 countries to prepare 20-page chapters on sex and love, marriage and family in their countries. It seemed like an easy project to tackle after editing the 766-page Complete Dictionary of Sexology. Having attended national and international meetings of sexologists for 30 years, I could easily recruit 20 colleagues to write 20 chapters on their countries. The problem came when my recruits fell so in love with describing sex and love, marriage and family—and much more—in their countries, that they completely ignored my “15,000- to 18,000-word limit.” As the word spread, other sexologists offered to write about sex in their countries. After five years work, we published three volumes covering 32 countries. With even more countries already in the works, we published a fourth volume, with 17 additional countries, in 2001.

At that point, despite very enthusiastic and glowing reviews, despite international acclaim and the endorsement of Library Journal, Choice, and the World Association for Sexology, we decided not to publish a fifth volume of IES with even more countries. Libraries cannot afford the shelf space or the cost of a five-volume IES. Instead, we thought it best to update all 49 countries in the original four volumes and add a dozen new countries, all in a single, large-format volume.

Now, after 11 years of work by 270 authorities on six continents, we have a truly unique up-to-date Continuum Complete International Encyclopedia of Sexuality (CCIES) with in-depth studies of sexual attitudes and behavior in five-dozen countries. It is a far richer resource and reference work than we could have imagined when we started this project 11 years ago.

Looking back on this adventure, I would like to share some thoughts and ruminations with the reader. Creating this Encyclopedia has been a long and complex process. If it is a monument of sexual knowledge, its importance and usefulness are solely because of the magnificent contributions of 230 experts from five-dozen nations around the world. Their work, far more than mine, makes this Complete Encyclopedia an unequaled repository of scientific and scholarly information about human sexuality.

To be sure, many works of undeniable importance have claimed to speak about human sexuality, but in the CCIES we hear the voices of many nations and cultures. With voices from more than a quarter of the nations of the world, I believe we can speak of this volume as a true encyclopedia of human sexuality. Ultimately, the subjects who have provided the data are not college students, as has been so commonly the case in academic studies of sexuality in, for example, the United States. Don’t get me wrong. The sexual attitudes and behavior of college students are interesting, and their sexuality should not be ignored. But in this volume, we are hearing from a far wider and richer sample of human beings than college-aged students. Our authorities come from almost every discipline and worldview imaginable.

Without in the least minimizing the other essays in our CCIES, let me single out first the contributions about sexuality in China and in India. Together, these two nations comprise some 40% of humanity. When, next, we consider the contributions about other Asian nations, the Muslim nations, Africa, South America, and Europe, we begin to see a truly international picture of human sexuality. And it has been the immense patience and skill of the contributors to the Encyclopedia that have created such a worldwide scope. It has been a collaborative, and incredibly challenging adventure. Among my inspiring experiences, I include the following:

  • One day I had a question about some data in the Botswana chapter. Five minutes after I emailed Dr. Ian Taylor, he emailed me back with the clarification I needed. A question to Alain Giame at INSERM in Paris brought a return cellular communication from Dr. Giame on some rain-forest tributary of the Amazon River.
  • In 1995, while touring France, a fellow American I had just met quizzed me about the books I write. My rather-vague mention of IES prompted Julanne McCarthy to ask if I would like a chapter on Bahrain. Without knowing where Bahrain was, I said, “Of course,” never thinking anything would come from a casual, “Of course.” Months later, a FedEx package appeared in my mailbox, sent the day Julanne and her museum-director husband returned to the U.S. “The information in this chapter was gathered and written by Julanne McCarthy and 28 Bahraini professionals and expatriates who are not to be identified in any way.”
  • While trying to recruit Radhouan Mhiri, M.D., president of the Arab Institute of Sexology and Somatotherapy, to write a chapter on Tunisia, he mentioned Abderrazak Moussaïd, founder of the Moroccan Society of Sexology and a physician at the University of Casablanca. Several emails and a month later, on my first night of vacation in Morocco, Dr. Moussaïd whisked me out of a hotel lobby, assuring my wife he would bring me back safe and sound. At dinner, a vehement discussion erupted as Moussaïd cajoled four colleagues—in Arabic and French, of course—to join him to write a chapter on Morocco. Very little English was spoken, but I received their chapter a few months later.

Along the way, I have learned about many different customs, and more importantly, about the social context that surrounds these customs. To name a few customs that are very foreign to my Western mind: widow inheritance, “adultery hoots” in Ghana, Hijra in India, living apart together (LAT) in Germany and Sweden, transgendered kaneeths in Bahrain and kathoey in Thailand, temporary marriage (mut’a) in Iran, the Virgin Mary’s influence in Ireland, very different constructs of male homosexuality in the Islamic cultures, hymen reconstruction in South Korea and Greek Cyprus, fazendo tudo (“try everything”) advice given to both Brazilian boys and girls, taboos on sexual communications between males and females, even husbands and wives, in many cultures, and the subordinate role of women in many cultures, where female orgasm is either unknown or feared as a prelude to insanity.

Despite my pride in initiating and editing the four volumes of IES, and now the comprehensive updated CCIES, I have to admit that this Encyclopedia is only a beginning. As we read through the essays, we learn how very little we really know about human sexuality. We have only begun to touch the surface of this hugely complex and ancient phenomenon. Much work remains to be done. Yet, I feel that the contributors to these volumes have eased the way for future scholars. Our contributors have blazed new pathways. In the process, I have learned some lessons I would like to share:

  • Whenever we talk about any sexual attitude, value, or behavior, we are talking about a cultural snapshot. Think of a tour bus stopping at a scenic lookout. Camera-toting tourists rush off the bus, flip off their lens caps, squint through the viewfinder, scan the site, and take a snapshot or two. Unlike the casual tourist, our CCIES authors are very familiar with their own landscapes. As professional researchers and sexologists, their snapshots are more skillfully composed, more perceptive, and more alive to the cultural context and meaning of the observations than any casual observer could present.
  • The snapshots created by the 270 contributors to CCIES are as true to reality as possible. But we should never forget that each snapshot is also flavored by the gender, education, and professional training of the sexologist presenting it.
  • Likewise, we should not forget the social/economic/political/religious/historical context in which each sexual pattern, value, behavior, or attitude developed and is now supported.
  • Although we can observe many commonalities in the values, attitudes, behaviors, and trends reported in this volume, idiosyncratic variations exist within each more-general variation within any culture, and between cultures. The richness and diverse flavors of human sexualities can be fascinating.
  • The English language is rich in its nuances, but often in these chapters, the reader will find descriptions of sexual concepts and constructs, such as homosexual identity versus men having sex with men, transgendered, paraphilias, and sexual satisfaction, harassment, and dysfunction, which do not translate into Western patterns of thought. Does premarital virginity and sexual abstinence, for instance, simply require no vaginal intercourse? Or does it include no oral or anal sex? No kissing before marriage? No holding hands? Or all of these, plus no visual contact before marriage?

While editing, I also became aware of some worldwide problems we face:

  • How can we deal with sexual health issues—not just the obvious issue of HIV/AIDS, but also access to affordable contraception and STD diagnosis and treatment, as well as general medical care?
  • How can we promote the reality of gender equality and equal legal rights for all, regardless of sexual identity, role, and orientation?
  • How can we provide basic comprehensive sexuality education for all, even in countries where the traditional taboos, the government, or religious tenets restrict or prohibit comprehensive and timely education?
  • How can we promote recognition of the sexual rights and needs of all humans—children, adolescents, adults, the elderly and those disabled, whether male or female?
  • What strategies do we need to address issues of population growth and decline?
  • And finally, what steps do the nations of the world need to take to help immigrants adjust when they find themselves living in a very different and foreign culture, with very different traditions, values, and attitudes?

I happily end this Preface by repeating my sincere thanks to everyone who has given so generously of their knowledge, time, and energy to produce what my good friend and long-time editor/adviser, Jack Heidenry, described as a “Herculean effort.” This Complete Encyclopedia and the four earlier volumes of IES are the product of a wonderful team of colleagues, my fellow editor and skillful designer/typographer, Ray Noonan, our associate editors, and many new and old friends, with whom I have had the truly exciting and great pleasure of working. They join me, I am sure, in the hope that scholars around the world will find CCIES a rich and useful resource and reference.