Married Love - Woman's "Contrariness"
( Originally Published 1931 )
Oh! for that Being whom I can conceive to be in the world, though I shall not live to prove it. One to whom I might have recourse in all my Humors and Dispositions : in all my Distempers of Mind, visionary Causes of Mortification, and Fairy Dreams of Pleasure. I have been trying to train up a Lady or two for these good offices of Friend-ship, but hitherto I must not boast of my success. —HERRICK..
WHAT is the fate of the average man who marries, happily and hopefully, a girl well suited to him? He desires with his whole heart a mutual, lifelong happiness. He married with the intention of fulfilling every injunction given him by father, doctor, and friend. He is considerate in trifles, he speaks no harsh words, he and his bride go out together, walk together, read together, and perhaps, if they are very advanced; even work together. But after a few months, or maybe a few years, of marriage they seem to have drifted apart, and he finds her often cold and incomprehensible. Few men will acknowledge this even to their best friends. But each heart knows its own pain.
He may at times laugh, and in the friendliest spirit tease his wife about her contrariness. That is taken by every one to mean nothing but a playful concealment of his profound love. Probably it is. But gnawing at the very roots of his love is a hateful little worm—the sense that she is contrary. He feels that she is at times inexplicably cold; that, sometimes, when he has "done nothing" she will have tears in her eyes, irrational tears which she cannot explain.
He observes that one week his tender love-making and romantic advances win her to smiles and joyous yielding, and then perhaps a few days later the same, or more impassioned, tenderness on his part is met by coldness or a forced appearance of warmth, which, while he may make no comment upon it, hurts him acutely. And this deep, inexplicable hurt is often the beginning of the end of his love. Men like to feel that they understand their dearest one, and that she is a rational being.
After inexplicable misunderstanding has continued for some time, if the man is of at all a jealous nature he will search his wife's acquaintances for someone whom she may have met, for someone who may momentarily have diverted her attention. For however hard it is for the natural man to believe that any one could step into his shoes, some are ready to seek the explanation of their own ill success in a rival. On some occasion when her coldness puzzles him the man is perhaps conscious that his love, his own desires, are as ardent as they were a few days before; then, knowing so intimately his own heart, he is sure of the steadiness of its love, and he feels acutely the romantic passion to which her beauty stirs him; he remembers perhaps that a few days earlier his ardor had awakened a response in her; therefore, he reaches what appears to him to be the infallible logical deduction—that either there must be some rival or his bride's nature is incomprehensible, contrary, capricious. Both thoughts to madden.
With capriciousness, man in general has little patience. Caprice renders his best efforts null and void. Woman's caprice is, or appears to be, a negation of reason. And as reason is man's most precious and hard-won faculty, the one which has raised mankind from the ranks of the brute creation, he cannot bear to see it apparently flouted.
That his bride should lack logic and sweet reasonableness is a flaw it hurts him to recognize in her. He has to crush the thought down.
It may then happen that the young man, himself pained and bewildered at having pained his bride by the very ardor of his affection, may strive to please her by placing restraint upon himself. He may ask himself : Do not religious and many kinds of moral teachers preach restraint to the man? He reads the books written for the guidance of youth, and finds "restraint," "self-control," in general terms (and often irrationally) urged in them all. His next step may then be to curtail the expression of his tender feelings, and to work hard and late in the evenings instead of kissing his bride's fingers and coming to her for sweet communion in the dusk.
And then, if he is at all observant, he may be aggrieved and astonished to find her again wistful or hurt. With the tender longing to understand, which is so profound a characteristic in all the best of our young men, he begs, implores, or pets her into telling him some part of the reason for her fresh grievance. He discovers to his amazement that this time she is hurt because he had not made those very advances which so recently had repelled her, and had been with such difficulty repressed by his intellectual efforts.
He asks himself in despair; What is a man to do? If he is "educated," he probably devours all the books on sex he can obtain. But in them he is not likely to find much real guidance. He learns from them that "restraint" is advised from every point of view, but according to the character of the author he will find that "restraint" means having the marriage relations with his wife not more than three times a week, or once a month—or never at all except for the procreation of children. He finds no rational guidance based on natural law.
According to his temperament then, he may begin to practice "restraint."
But it may happen, and indeed it has probably happened in every marriage once or many times, that the night comes when the man who has heroically practiced restraint, accidentally discovers his wife in tears on her solitary pillow.
He seeks for advice indirectly from his friends, perhaps from his doctor. But can his local doctor or his friends tell him more than the chief European authorities on this subject? The famous Professor Forel ("The Sexual Question," Engl. trans. 19o8) gives the following advice :
The reformer, Luther, who was a practical man, laid down the average rule of two or three connections a week in marriage, at the time of highest sexual power. I may say that my numerous observations as a physician have generally confirmed this rule, which seems to me to conform very well to the normal state to which man * has become gradually adapted during thousands of years. Husbands who would consider this average as an imprescriptible right would, however, make wrong pretensions, for it is quite possible for a normal man to contain himself much longer, and it is his duty to do so, not only when his wife is ill, but also during menstruation and pregnancy.
Many men will not be so considerate as to follow this advice, which represents a high standard of living; but, on the other hand, there are many who are willing to go not only so far, but further than this in their self-suppression in order to attain their heart's desire, the happiness of their mate, and consequently their own life's joy.
However willing they may be to go further, the great question for the man is: Where?
There are innumerable leaders anxious to lead in many different directions. The young husband may try first one and then the other, and still find his wife unsatisfied, incomprehensible—capricious. Then it may be that, disheartened, he tires, and she sinks into the dull apathy of acquiescence in her "wifely duty." He is left with an echo of resentment in his heart. If only she had not been so capricious, they would still have been happy, he fancies.
Many writers, novelists, poets and dramatists have represented the uttermost tragedy of human life as due to the incomprehensible contrariness of the feminine nature. The kindly ones smile, perhaps a little patronizingly, and tell us that women are more instinctive, more childlike, less reasonable than men. The bitter ones sneer or reproach or laugh at this in women they do not understand, and which, baffling their intellect, appears to them to be irrational folly.
It seems strange that those who search for natural law in every province of our universe should have neglected the most vital subject, the one which concerns us all infinitely more than the naming of planets or the collecting of insects. Woman is not essentially capricious; some of the laws of her being might have been discovered long ago had the existence of law been suspected. But it has suited the general structure of society much better for men to shrug their shoulders and smile at women as irrational and capricious creatures, to be courted when it suited them, not to be studied.
Vaguely, perhaps, men have realized that much of the charm of Iife lies in the sex-differences between men and women ; so they have snatched at the easy theory that women differ from themselves by being capricious. Moreover, by attributing to mere caprice the coldness which at times comes over the most ardent woman, man was unconsciously justifying him-self for at any time coercing her to suit himself.
Circumstances have so contrived that hitherto the explorers and scientific investigators, the historians and statisticians, the poets and artists have been mostly men. Consequently woman's side of the joint life has found little or no expression. Woman, so long coerced by economic dependence, and the need for protection while she bore her children, has had to be content to mold herself to the shape desired by man wherever possible, and she has stifled her natural feelings and her own deep thoughts as they welled up.
Most women have never realized intellectually, but many have been dimly half-conscious, that woman's nature is set to rhythms over which man has no more control than he has over the tides of the sea. While the ocean can subdue and dominate man and laugh at his attempted restrictions, woman has bowed to man's desire over her body, and, regard-less of its pulses, he approaches her or not as is his will. Some of her rhythms defy him—the moon-month tide of menstruation, the cycle of ten moon-months of bearing the growing child and its birth at the end of the tenth wave—these are essentials too strong to be mastered by man. But the subtler ebb and flow of woman's sex has escaped man's observation or his care.
If a swimmer comes to a sandy beach when the tide is out and the waves have receded, leaving sand where he had expected deep blue water—does he, baulked of his bathe, angrily call the sea "capricious"?
But the tenderest bridegroom finds only caprice in his bride's coldness when she yields her sacrificial body while her sex-tide is at the ebb.
There is another side to this problem, one perhaps even less considered by society. There is the tragic figure of the loving man whose love-tide is at the highest and whose husband does not recognize the delicate signs of her ardor. In our anaemic artificial days it often happens that the man's desire is a surface need, quickly satisfied, colorless, and lacking beauty, and that he h s no knowledge of the rich complexities of love making which an initiate of love's mysteries enjoys. To such a man his wife may indeed seem petulant, capricious, or resentful with-out reason.
Welling up in her are the wonderful tides, scented and enriched by the myriad experiences of the human race from its ancient days of leisure and flower-wreathed love-making, urging her to transports and to self-expressions, were the man but ready to take the first step in the initiative or to recognize and welcome it in her. Seldom dare any woman, still more seldom dare a wife, risk the blow at her heart which would be given were she to offer charming love-play to which the man did not respond. To the initiate she will be able to reveal that the tide is up by a hundred subtle signs, upon which he will seize with delight. But if her husband is blind to them there is for her nothing but silence, self-suppression, and their inevitable sequence of self-scorn, followed by resentment towards the man who places her in such a position of humiliation while talking of his "love."
So unaware of the elements of the physiological reactions of women are many modern men that the case of Mrs. G. is not exceptional. Her husband was accustomed to pet her and have relations with her frequently, but yet he never took any trouble to rouse in her the necessary preliminary feeling for mutual union. She had married as a very ignorant girl, but often vaguely felt a sense of something lacking in her husband's love. Her husband had never kissed her except on the lips and cheek, but once at the crest of the wave of her sex-tide (all unconscious that it was so) she felt a yearning to feel his head, his lips, pressed against her bosom. The sensitive interrelation between a woman's breasts and the rest of her sex-life is not only a bodily thrill, but there is a world of poetic beauty in the longing of a loving woman for the unconceived child which melts in mists of tenderness toward her lover, the soft touch of whose lips can thus rouse her mingled joy. Because she shyly asked him, Mrs. G.'S husband gave her one swift unrepeated kiss upon her bosom. He was so ignorant that he did not know that her husband's lips upon her breast melt a wife to tenderness and are one of a husband's first and surest ways to make her physically ready for complete union. In this way he inhibited her natural desire, and as he never did anything to stir it, she never had any physical pleasure in their relation. Such prudish or careless husbands, content with their own satisfaction, little know the pent-up aching, or even resentment, which may eat into a wife's heart, and ultimately may affect her whole health.
Often the man is also the victim of the purblind social customs which make sex-knowledge taboo.
It has become a tradition of our social life that the ignorance of woman about her own body and that of her future husband is a flower-like innocence. And to such an extreme is this sometimes pushed, that not seldom is a girl married unaware that married life will bring her into physical relations with her husband fundamentally different from those with her brother. When she discovers the true nature of his body, and learns the part she has to play as a wife, she may refuse utterly to agree to her husband's wishes. I know one pair of which the husband, chivalrous and loving, had to wait years be-fore his bride recovered from the shock of the discovery of the meaning of marriage and was able to allow him a natural relation. There have been not a few brides whom the horror of the first night of marriage with a man less considerate has driven to suicide or insanity.
That girls can reach a marriageable age without some knowledge of the realities of marriage would seem incredible were it not a fact. One highly educated lady intimately known to me told me that when she was about eighteen she suffered many months of agonizing apprehension that she was about to have a baby because a man had snatched a kiss from her lips at a dance. And another girl told me she also not only suffered in the same .way mentally, but that this fear of the results of a mere kiss so affected her that menstruation was suppressed for months.
When girls so brought up are married it is a rape for the husband to insist on his "marital rights" at once. It will be difficult or impossible for such a bride ever after to experience the joys of sex-union, for such a beginning must imprint upon her consciousness the view that the man's animal nature dominates him.
Many men who enter marriage sincerely and tenderly may yet have some previous experience of bought "love." It is then not unlikely that they may fall into the error of explaining their wife's experiences in terms of the reactions of the prostitute. They argue that, because the prostitute showed physical excitement and pleasure in union, if the bride or wife does not do so, then she is "cold" or "under-sexed." They may not realize that often all the bodily movements which the prostitute makes are studied and simulated because her client enjoys his climax best when the woman in his arms simultaneously thrills.
As Forel says ("The Sexual Question," Engl. trans. 1908) : "The company of prostitutes often renders men incapable of understanding feminine psychology, for prostitutes are hardly more than automata trained for the use of male sensuality.
When men look among these for the sexual psychology of woman they find only their own mirror."
Yet the simulated transports of the prostitute have their meretricious value only because they imitate something real, something which should sweep over every wife each time she and her husband unite. The key which unlocks this electric force in his wife must reverently be sought by every husband, and its place varies in different women.
Fate is often cruel to men, too. More high-spirited young men than the world imagines strive for and keep their purity to give their brides; if such a man then marries a woman who is soiled and has lost her reverence for love, or, on the other hand, one who is so "pure" and prudish that she denies him union with her body, his noble achievement seems bitterly vain. On the other hand, it may be that after years of fighting with his hot young blood a man has given up and gone now and again for relief to prostitutes, and then later in life has met the woman who is his mate, and whom, after remorse for his soiled past, and after winning her forgiveness for it, he married. Then, unwittingly, he may make the wife suffer either by interpreting her in the light of the other women or perhaps (though this happens less frequently) by setting her absolutely apart from them. I know of a man who, after a loose life, met a woman whom he reverenced and adored. He married her, but to preserve her "purity," her difference from the others, he never consummated his marriage with her. She was strangely unhappy, for she loved him passionately and longed for children. She, appeared to him to be pining "capriciously" when she became thin and neurotic.
Perhaps this man might have seen his own behavior in a truer light had he known that some creatures simply die if unmated.
The idea that woman is lowered by sex-intercourse is very deeply rooted in our present society. Many sources have contributed to this mistaken idea, not the least powerful being the ascetic ideal of the early Church and the fact that man has used woman as his instrument so often regardless of her wishes. Women's education, 'therefore, and the trend of social feeling have largely been in the direction of freeing her from this, and thus mistakenly encouraging the idea that sex-life is a low, physical, and degrading necessity which a pure woman is above enjoying.
In marriage the husband has used his "marital right"* of intercourse when he wished it. Both law and custom have strengthened the view that he has the right to approach his wife whenever he wishes, and that she has no wishes and no fundamental needs in the matter at all.
That woman has a rhythmic sex-tide which, if its indications were obeyed, would ensure not only her enjoyment and an accession of health and vitality, and would explode the myth of her capriciousness, seems not to be suspected. We have studied the wave-lengths of water, of sound, of light; but when will the sons and daughters of men study the sex-tide in woman and learn the laws of her Periodicity of Recurrence of desire?