I knew Albert Ellis as a friend for more than 50 years. I will try to afford the reader insight into the Albert Ellis I knew. Al did not do much small talk or attend many cocktail parties--he focused on doing therapy, writing books, and discussing controversial issues. My interaction with Al consisted primarily of our discussions about controversial issues concerning sexuality. I will focus here on the two key periods in our relationship: first, the period during the 1950s and 1960s when Al was founding our organization (the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality [SSSS]) and also establishing his Institute of Rational Living; and, second, the 2000-2003 period when we did a book together and also debated a major assumption of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT). I believe this approach will afford you insight into Al Ellis's thoughts and feelings and make clear some of the crucial roles he played in the advancement of sexual science in our society.
I became familiar with Albert Ellis's work when in the early 1950s I began to teach courses in the sociology of the family area. I wanted to include material on sexuality in that class. The dominant premarital sexual approach in family textbooks at that time was the promotion of abstinence before marriage. Kinsey's research often was ignored and distorted in these textbooks. In addition to using Kinsey's work, I wanted to use authors who had studied our society's cultural perspective on sexual behavior. It was in that search that I came across some of Ellis's early writings. It was obvious that Ellis was no traditionalist--his writings blasted away at the narrow restraints of our sexual customs and highlighted the psychological problems that they produced (Ellis, 1951, 1954). I knew that he would be a good person to get to know better. So, when my first professional article was published, I sent a reprint to Ellis and indicated my interest in his work. That was the beginning of our friendship.
We began discussing our ideas about premarital sexuality in our correspondence, and it soon became apparent that there was a difference in our emphasis on the relative worth of what I called "person centered sexuality" and "body centered sexuality." We were both pluralists concerning premarital sexuality, and so neither of us condemned either of these two types of sexual relationships and we both believed that the affection in person centered sexuality added extra value to a sexual relationship. But we did have differences. I emphasized the greater value placed on person centered sexuality in our culture and its better integration with love based marital sexuality and Al emphasized the attraction many individuals felt for body centered sexuality and the need to avoid making these people feel guilty by stressing only sex with affection. In short, Al thought that I didn't give enough support for sex without affection.
He felt that American society by making sex without affection a guilt ridden experience increased its importance to people. He wanted to treat it simply as a full choice and not "propagandize" in favor of sex with affection. He illustrated part of his thinking in a 1957 letter:
For the fact remains, and must not be unrealistically ignored, that in our culture, at the present time, sex without love is much more frequently available than sex with love. Consequently, to ignore non-affectional coitus when affectional coitus is not available would, it seems to me, be sheer folly. In relation both to immediate and greater enjoyment, the individual would be losing out. (Reiss & Ellis, 2002, p. 11)
In our debate about the relative worth of person centered and body centered sexuality Al was taking a more psychological-individual perspective and I was taking a more sociocultural value perspective. Al, as a clinical psychologist, stressed the individual and his goals and promoted what he himself called an "anarchistic" perspective of the individual and society. …