On the night of 11 June 1962, Frank Morris and the brothers Clarence and John Anglin broke out of Alcatraz, America’s supposedly escape-proof prison, and vanished into the darkness of San Francisco Bay. Remains of their homemade raft were found on nearby Angel Island. Beyond that, the three men simply disappeared. Had they gone to the great gulag in the sky—or had they truly escaped from Alcatraz?

It took the FBI seventeen years to conclude that the three men had drowned and close the case; yet it was reopened in 1993 when a former Alcatraz inmate, Thomas Kent, claimed in an interview to have agreed with Clarence Anglin’s girlfriend to drive the escapees to Mexico but later withdrew. Kent’s story was dismissed when it was learned he was paid for the interview. Yet the intriguing possibility that the Morris gang succeeded refused to die. A 2011 documentary, Vanished from Alcatraz, gained access to previously confidential police files and discovered that on the night of the escape three men fitting the descriptions of Morris and the Anglin brothers held up a car on the mainland near Angel Island and drove away. The final verdict on their escape must therefore be in the affirmative.

If the Morris gang can escape from Alcatraz, we too can escape from Sexcatraz and create a world that has more in common with Stealing Beauty, The Wicker Man and Antonia’s Line than A Clockwork Orange, Salò and 1984. Characters like Sarah Morton in Swimming Pool, Ann and Graham in Sex, Lies, and Videotape, Luisa, Tenoch and Julio in Y Tu Mamá Tambíen and Philip Marlow in The Singing Detective have breached the seemingly unbreakable walls of Sexcatraz[1]. Lucy in Stealing Beauty, the young man unashamedly initiated by Willow in The Wicker Man and the little community in Antonia’s Line all benefit from the simple acceptance of human sexuality.

Like Frank Morris and the Anglin brothers as they stood on the roof of Alcatraz, we are confronted by darkness and open water. We know, at a technical, intellectual level what the floor plan of Sexcatraz looks like and how its largely invisible, shame-based mechanics have kept humanity trapped in a destructive paradigm for the last few thousand years. The question is how do we make the quantum leap across the turbulent waters of San Francisco Bay to the safety of a new, sexually tolerant mainland?

The question is how do we make the quantum leap across the turbulent waters of San Francisco Bay to the safety of a new, sexually tolerant mainland?

Let us return to an earlier moment in Sexcatraz, left unresolved and seemingly inexplicable: Nicole Kidman’s monologue in Eyes Wide Shut when Alice Harford craved sex with an unknown naval officer yet, at the same time, felt an overwhelming love for her husband Bill. According to our traditional sexual covenants, which equate sex with love, Alice’s contrasting feelings are both paradoxical and impermissible. However, in the dilapidated beachfront motel room where Y Tu Mamá Tambíen climaxes, with the dim glow of its naked bulb falling on the entwined bodies of Tenoch, Julio and Luisa, the paradox suddenly resolves. Outside Sexcatraz, Alice and Bill’s love is not contingent on sexual fidelity. When she experiences the freedom to explore her sexuality with the naval officer, she also feels an overwhelming rush of love and gratitude towards the husband who recognises, supports and is unthreatened by her deepest sexual desires. And thus Alice escapes from today’s either/or world, where she can only satisfy her sexual desire for the naval officer by destroying her family, into one where she can have her cake and eat it.

Alice’s problem lies not with either marriage or monogamy but with the invisible emotional baggage that accompanies them, and has done so for several thousand years: the unspoken understanding that Bill is the only person with whom it is socially—and thus emotionally—legitimate for her to have sex with, and that a violation of this law carries the direst social costs for her entire family. The net effect of this psychological programming is to make her marriage conditional: “I love you as long as you don’t screw around.” Beyond Sexcatraz, where sex is just a natural part of the human condition and not subject to lifelong emotional repression and regulation, this simply becomes “I love you.”

This is the paradigm shift: unconditional love. To escape from Sexcatraz we must open our hearts and recognise each other’s inherent sexual sovereignty. A confetti-sprinkled commitment to a monogamous lifetime may appeal to our inner starry-eyed romantic but for many it’s an emotionally unrealistic, insufficiently pliable structure, its failings reflected in sexual frustration, jealousy, destabilising affairs, declining marriage rates, increasing divorces and children emotionally traumatised for their whole lives.

Similarly, those who are so ashamed of sex that it currently precludes meaningful relationships—the Buds and Erika Kohuts of this world—can, by accepting their own sexuality, gradually emerge from the bleak void of sexual alienation into a less painful, less frightening world. As we escape from our current, emotionally destructive sexual beliefs—and the conditional relationships that stem from them—there will likely be a rise both in the number and duration of marriages, providing long-term emotional satisfaction for both partners; open, satisfying sex lives, and the most stable and nurturing environment for our children. Multi-partner relationships will also become more prevalent. In such a society self-regulation, rather than self-indulgence, prevails[2].

It won’t happen overnight. It won’t even happen in a generation. But it must happen. We must end the assembly line of perverts, predators and paedophiles that patriarchal society inevitably produces. We must make this paradigm shift. We owe it to ourselves, we owe it to each other, and most of all we owe it to our children. We don’t have a choice—for every day that we fail to acknowledge the destructiveness of our current sexual paradigm is another day of emotional misery and alienation trapped inside the prison of Sexcatraz.


[1] That Dennis Potter, writer of The Singing Detective, was not personally able to escape from Sexcatraz demonstrates that while the theory may be simple, the actual process of releasing age-old judgments from the deepest layers of the human psyche is anything but.

[2] This conclusion is supported by evidence from pro-female, pro-child, sex-positive societies that lingered into recent times, such as the Trobriand Islanders of Melanesia, the Muria of central India and the Pygmies of the African rainforest. James DeMeo writes that, “As was the case with Trobriand society, the Muria and Pygmy, in spite of the [sexually] free conditions, did not display evidence of ‘unbridled promiscuity’.”

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