Food And The Sexual Life
( Originally Published 1921 )
EITHER considered as a social problem, or as an individual and personal problem, the sexual life is vitally important in its relation to health, happiness, morality, and racial welfare. Any light that can be shed on this subject by science or practical human observation should be welcomed as ranking with the most important knowledge that man can acquire.
My own attitude favors the open and frank discussion of sexual problems, and my opposition to all prudery that would shield vice and disease by a veil of ignorance is too well known to require any apology here for the discussion of the effect of food upon the sexual life.
Many years ago I learned that over-eating and the use of stimulating foods led to an unnatural increase of the sexual passion of man, and hence were instrumental in the increase of vice and disease. I further learned that the use of a natural vegetarian diet and the elimination of meat, together with a general reduction of the quantity of food eaten, were very valuable aids in controlling the sexual passions, and enabling men to lead clean, moral lives.
Although this knowledge has long been a part of the general program of clean and healthful living, which I have advocated and taught, no account of investigation of this problem by systematic scientific experiment had been reported until the result of the wartime investigations of a restricted diet were published.
The problem of the effect of food on the sexual life was not one of those Dr. Benedict and his associates started out to investigate, but the facts in this connection that came to light as a result of their experiments are exceedingly interesting and important.
The men in this experiment were taking courses of training for work as Y. M. C. A. Secretaries or Physical Directors. Both groups were well educated in sexual matters and were mature men living clean, normal lives and with a wholesome and intelligent attitude toward sex matters. Therefore, the evidence given by them is much more valuable than that which could be secured from an ordinary group of men, who would have been prudish and ashamed to reveal any evidence in regard to their sexual desires.
On the other hand, it should be noted that the scientists having this experiment in charge had not thought of this phase of the problem and, therefore, nothing had been said regarding it to the men, which might have prejudiced their observations. The matter came to their attention quite by chance from one of the subjects who volunteered a statement that the effect of the restricted diet had been to eliminate all sexual desire. Therefore, the scientists in charge, without previously discussing the matter with the men, secured by private and individual interviews statements regarding the effect of the low diet upon their sexual natures.
The agreement of the reports of these men was astonishingly uniform upon this subject. All of the twelve men reported a general de-crease of sex interests.
Upon the reports regarding the more specific physical expressions, the majority gave quite definite proof of less tendency to uncontrolled expression of the sexual nature, as in seminal losses, sexual dreams, etc., as commonly experienced by unmarried men.
Here are a few extracts from the interviews that reveal the general experience of the men :
"I think there is a relation between the low diet and the sex instinct. . . . This winter I made on an average two visits a week to my fiancee,
Before the experiment when with her I noticed (I hope she did not) much sex stimulation. . . . When visiting my fiancee during the low diet period nothing of a sex nature came to my mind. . . . It has been so long since I had a sex dream that I have no recolleetion of any."
"I would swear that a low diet greatly reduces sexual feeling. I noticed this myself before talking to any one about it. . . . Jokes and stories which might commonly have a sex appeal were devoid of interest."
"I am very definite in the conviction that there is a reduction in sexual desire during a low diet.
I think the kind of food also affects the sex appetiteŚmeat causing a stimulation of it. I do not recall any nocturnal emissions during the diet. Before the diet these were rather frequent. I have usually to put up a stiff fight against the sex instinct, and noticed that it was not nearly so difficult to control during the experiment. I slept better love scenes had less effect upon me."
"The most definite change in sexual matters noticed during the experimental period was that stories and suggestive jokes where the sexual element might have been prominent were repulsive. I was surprised at this."
"I am sure' that during the diet period sex desires, particularly as associated with dances . . . . were decidedly less. At a dance attended during the diet I noticed no sex desire or irritation, which was quite unusual for me and impressed on me that there was a change of some sort."
All of these data back up in a most convincing manner the principle that I have long believed and taught. The sexual life of man is unquestionably directly influenced by his eating habits. Let us consider for a moment why this should be so.
Both the physical and mental processes of life and the laws that govern them we believe to be the result of long ages of evolution. The basic laws apply to all living species, but the detailed laws vary somewhat with each species. Primitive man was more closely akin in his habits to other animal species than is civilized man; but even in the case of the human race as it exists under civilization, the general physiological laws and fundamental instincts are unquestionably very similar to those that apply to animal species.
Consider now the probable effect of food scarcity or food abundance upon the existence and welfare of any species. If food were scarce and the species continued to breed and multiply excessively, it would result in a still greater food scarcity for each individual, and hence endanger the life of the whole race. But if reproduction was restricted and food was scarce then the result would be a greater abundance of food for each member of the species, race or tribe, and a better chance of survival.
On the other hand, were food abundant, then excessive reproduction would be an advantage to the species as it would favor its growth and spread and dominance over other species, races or tribes. But if in ages of food abundance, reproduction was not stimulated then the species or tribe would fail to make use of this favorable factor for its increase and its conquest of the earth.
From these considerations we may comprehend why in the long periods of evolution an increase in the sexual instinct and its expression became associated with food abundance, and why excessive eating stimulates the sexual passions.
Man, because of the possession of a dexterous hand combined with a superior intelligence found out many ways to increase his natural food supplies, and to conquer and overcome the inferior animal species. Because of this, man became dominant in the world and developed what we call civilization, one of the essential and necessary facts of which is the production of comparative abundance of food for the race. Many generations with food abundance has developed the sexual instinct of man to a degree, that, as compared with other species, may be considered somewhat abnormal. Wild animals rarely breed except in the natural "mating season" which usually coincides with their period of greatest food abundance. Man, living under the artificial conditions of civilization, has lost the instinct of such a mating season, and doubt-less one of the factors in this change has been the abundant year-round food supply. As further evidence of this explanation of man's change of sexual habit, we find that domestic animals, artificially supplied with food by man, also lose their natural mating season, and breed freely at all times.
These interesting explanations of the relation of food on reproduction are, of course, rather far removed from the problem of the individual, but the fact remains as an inheritance from this past experience of the race, that the eating habits of the individual do directly influence the nature of sexual instincts. It is not to be expected that the sexual habits of civilized man can be brought back to the seasonal mating instincts of the wild animals, but as an individual and personal problem the question of the degree of sex passion is vital in the lives of all.
Those who continue to over-eat and indulge in an abundance of meat and other stimulating food will find their sexual passions artificially stimulated. This will lead either to a greater struggle in the suppression of the sexual instinct, or to a greater indulgence, which too often is destructive not only of morality, but may become a drain on the general health and vitality, or a seriously disturbing factor in the intellectual life.
Those who desire to restrain this excess of sexual passions will find an abstemious diet most helpful. The reverse principle that an increase in the amount of food or an increase of meat or other stimulating foods, will increase sexual passions is also obviously true. The application of this knowledge must of course remain a problem for the individual to work out according to his own moral standards and personal relations. I would point out, how-ever, to any who might see fit consciously to indulge in over-eating as a means of stimulating a sexual life for the purposes of indulgent pleasures, that there may be other facts to reckon with. As will be clearly shown in the last chapter, the effect of over-eating is to cause man to live his life at a higher pressure and hence shorten his years. We have good cause to believe, both from the standpoint of scientific reasoning and practical observation, that what is true of the general life, is also true of sexual life; it is a case of "a fast life and a merry one," or "eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die."
. As in the entire matter of living so in the sexual life, the individual problem becomes one of indulgence versus temperance; enduring vitality and a prolonged happiness versus a greedy effort to grasp all the pleasures of living at once, and an indifference to the future that recks not of the days of disease, decay and death.