Married Love - Mutual Adjustment
( Originally Published 1931 )
Love worketh no ill to his neighbor.-ST. PAUL.
IN the average man of our race desire knows no season beyond the slight slackening of the Winter months and the heightening of Spring. Some men have observed in themselves a faintly marked monthly, some quite a definite fortnightly rhythm; but in the majority of men desire, even if held in stern check, is merely slumbering. It is always present, ever ready to wake at the lightest call, and often so spontaneously insistent as to require perpetual conscious repression.
It would go ill with the men of our race had women retained the wild animals' infrequent seasonal rhythm, and with it her inviolable rights in her own body save at the mating season. Woman, too, has acquired a much more frequent rhythm; but, as it does not equal man's, he has tended to ignore and override it, coercing her at all times and seasons, either by force, or by the even more compelling power of "divine" authority and social tradition.
If man's desire is perpetual and woman's intermittent; if man's desire naturally wells up every day or every few days, and woman's only every fortnight or every month, it may appear at first sight impossible for the unwarped needs of both natures simultaneously to be satisfied in a paired union of two only.
The sense that a satisfactory mutual adjustment is not within the realms of possibility has, indeed, obsessed our race for centuries. The result has been that the supposed need of one of the partners has tended to become paramount, and we have established the social traditions of a husband's "rights" and wifely "duty." As one man quite frankly said to me : "As things are it is impossible for both sexes to get what they want. One must be sacrificed. And it is better for society that it should be the woman."
Nevertheless, the men who consciously sacrifice the women are in a minority. Most men act in ignorance. Our code, however, has blindly sacrificed not only the woman, but with her the happiness of the majority of men, who, in total ignorance of its meaning and results, have grown up thinking that women should submit to regularly frequent, or even nightly, intercourse. For the sake of a few moments of physical pleasure they lose realms of ever-expanding joy and tenderness; and while men and women may not realize the existence of an untrodden paradise, they both suffer, if only half consciously, from being shut out from it.
Before making some suggestions which may help married people to find not only a via media of mutual endurance, but a via perfecta of mutual joy, it is necessary to consider a few points about the actual nature of man's "desire." In the innumerable books addressed to the young which I have read, I have not found one which gives certain points regarding the meaning of the male sex-phenomena which must be grasped before it is possible to give rational guidance to intelligent young men. The general ground plan of our physiology is told to us in youth because it, so obviously, is right for us to know it accurately and in a clean scientific way, rather than to be perpetually perplexed by fantastic imaginings. But the physiology of our most profoundly disturbing functions is ignored—in my opinion, criminally ignored. To describe the essentials, simple, direct and scientific language is necessary, though it may surprise those who are accustomed only to the hazy vagueness which has led to so much misapprehension of the truth. Every mating man and woman should know the following : The sex-organs of a man consist not only of the tissues which give rise to the living, moving, ciliated cells, the sperms, and of the penis through which they pass and by means of which they are directed into the proper place for their deposition, the woman's vagina. The woman's vaginal canal, which has an external opening covered by double lips, is generally of such a size as to allow entry of the erect penis. At the inner end of the vagina lies the smaller opening, even more important, of the neck of the womb. The sperm must penetrate this smaller opening to effect conception, though sex union is completed in the vagina save in special circumstances. In both men and women associated with the primary and essential structures there are other tissues and glands which have numerous subsidiary but yet very important parts to play; some of which influence almost every organ in the body. Man's penis, when inactive, is soft, small and drooping. But when stimulated (and I use this word in its scientific sense), either by physical touch which acts through the nerves and muscles directly, or indirectly through messages from the brain, it increases greatly in size, and becomes stiff, turgid and erect. Many men imagine that the turgid condition of an erection is due to the local accumulation of sperms, and that these can only be naturally got rid of by an ejaculation. This is entirely wrong. The enlargement of the penis is not at all due to the presence of actual sperm, but is due to the effects of the nervous reaction on the blood-vessels, leading to the filling, principally of the veins, and much less of the arteries. As the blood enters but does not leave the penis, the venous cavities in it fill up with venous blood until the whole is rigid. When rigid this organ is able to penetrate the female entrance, and there the further stimulation of contact calls out the sperms from their storehouses, the seminal vesicles, and they pass down the channel (the urethra) and are expelled. If this is clear, it will be realized that the stiffening and erection does not necessarily call for relief in the ejaculation of sperm. If the veins can empty themselves, as they naturally do when the nervous excitement which restricted them locally passes, the erection will subside with-out any loss of sperms, by the mere passing back of the locally excessive blood into the ordinary circulatory system. This can happen quite naturally and healthily when the nerves are soothed, either physically or as a result of a sense of mental peace and exaltation. When, on the other hand, the local excitement culminates in the calling up and expulsion of the sperms, after it has once started the ejaculation becomes quite involuntary and the sperms and the secretions associated with them pass out of the system and are entirely lost.
Of what does this loss consist? It is estimated that there are somewhere between two and five hundred million sperms in a single average ejaculation. * Each single one of these (in healthy men) is capable of fertilizing a woman's egg-cell and giving rise to a new human being. (Thus by a single ejaculation one man might fertilize nearly all the marriageable women in the world!) Each single one of those minute sperms carries countless hereditary traits, and each consists very largely of nuclear plasm—the most highly specialized and richest substance in our bodies. The analysis of the chemical nature of the ejaculated fluid reveals among other things a remarkably high percentage of calcium and phosphoric acid—both precious substances in our organization.
It is, therefore, the greatest mistake to imagine that the semen is something to be got rid of frequently—all the vital energy and nerve-force involved in its ejaculation and the precious chemical substances which go to its composition can be better utilized by being transformed into other creative work on most days of the month. And so mystic and wonderful are the chemical transformations going on in our bodies that the brain can often set this alchemy in motion, particularly if the brain is helped by knowledge. A strong will can often calm the nerves which regulate the blood-supply, and order the distended veins of the penis to retract and subside without wasting the semen in an ejaculation.
But while it is good that a man should be able to do this often, it is not good to try to do it always. The very restraint which adds to a man's strength up to a point, taxes his strength when carried beyond it. It is my belief that just sufficient restraint to carry him through the ebb-tides of his wife's sex-rhythm is usually the right amount to give the best strength, vigor, and joy to a man if both are normal people. If the wife has, as I think the majority of healthy, well-fed young women will be found to have, a fortnightly consciousness or unconscious potentiality of desire, then the two should find a perfect mutual adjustment in having fortnightly unions; for this need not be confined to only a single union on such occasion. Many men, who can well practice restraint for twelve or fourteen days, will find that one union only will not then thoroughly satisfy them; and if they have the good fortune to have healthy wives, they will find that the latter, too, have the desire for several unions in the course of a day or two. If the wave-crests facing page 42 are studied, it will be seen that they spread over two or three days and show several small minor crests. This is what happens when a woman is thoroughly well and vital; her desire recurs during a day or two, sometimes even every few hours if it does not, and sometimes even when it does, receive satisfaction.
Expressed in general terms (which, of course, will not fit everybody) my view may be formulated thus : The mutually best regulation of intercourse in marriage is to have three or four days of repeated unions, followed by about ten days without any unions at all, unless some strong external stimulus has stirred a mutual desire.
I have been interested to discover that the people known to me who have accidentally fixed upon this arrangement of their lives are happy and it should be noted that it fits in with the charts I give which represent the normal, spontaneous feeling of so many women.
There are many women, however, who do not feel, or who may not at first recognize, a second, but have only one time of natural pleasure in sex in each moon-month. Many men of strong will and temperate lives will be able so to control themselves that they can adjust themselves to this more restrained sex-life, as do some with whom I am acquainted. On the other hand, there will be many who find this period too long to live through without using a larger amount of energy in restraining their impulse than is justifiable. It seems to me never justifiable to spend so much energy and will-power on restraining natural impulses, that valuable work and intellectual power and poise are made to suffer. If, then, a strongly-sexed husband, who finds it a real loss to his powers of work to endure through twenty-six days of abstinence, should find himself married to a wife whose vitality is so low that she can only take pleasure in physical union once in her moon-month (in some it will be before, in some a little time after, her menstrual flow), he should note care-fully the time she is spontaneously happy in their union, and then at any cost restrain himself through the days immediately following, and about a fort-night after her time of desire he should set himself ardently to woo her. Unless she is actually out of health he is more likely then, than at any other time, to succeed not only in winning her compliance, but also in giving her the proper feeling and attaining mutual ecstasy.
The husband who so restrains himself, even if it is hard to do it, will generally find that he is a thousandfold repaid not only by the increasing health and happiness of his wife, and the much intenser pleasure he gains from their mutual intercourse, but also by his own added vitality and sense of self-command. A fortnight is not too long for a healthy man to restrain himself with advantage.
Sir Thomas Clouston says ("Before I Wed," 1913, page 84) : "Nature has so arranged matters that the more constantly control is exercised the more easy and effective it becomes. It becomes a habit. The less control is exercised the greater tendency there is for a desire to become a craving of an uncontrollable kind, which is itself of the nature of disease, and means death sooner or later." This conclusion is not only the result of the intellectual and moral experience of our race, but is supported by physiological experiments.
While a knowledge of the fundamental laws of our being should in the main regulate our lives, so complex are we, so sensitive to a myriad impressions, that clockwork regularity can never rule us.
Even where the woman is strongly sexed, with a well-marked recurrence of desire, which is generally satisfied by fortnightly unions, it may not infrequently happen that, in between these periods, there may be additional special occasions when there springs up a mutual longing to unite. These will generally depend on some event in the lovers' lives which stirs their emotions; some memory of past passion, such as an anniversary of their wedding; or perhaps will be due to a novel, poem, or picture which moves them deeply. If the man she loves plays the part of tender wooer, even at times when her passion would not spontaneously arise, a woman can generally be stirred so fundamentally as to give a passionate return. But at the times of her ebb tides the stimulus will have to be stronger than at the high tides, and it will then generally be found that the appeal must be made even more through her emotional and spiritual nature and less through the physical than usual.
The supreme law for husbands is : Remember that each act of union must be tenderly wooed for and won, and that no union should ever take place unless the woman also desires it and is made physically ready for it.
While in most marriages the husband has to re-strain himself to meet the wife's less frequently recurrent rhythm, there are, on the other hand, marriages in which the husband is so under-sexed that he cannot have ordinary union save at very in-frequent intervals without a serious effect on his health. If such a man is married to a woman who has inherited an unusually strong and over-frequent desire, he may suffer by union with her, or may cause her suffering by refusing to unite. But the variations in the sex-needs and the sex-ideas of different healthy people are immense, far greater than can be suggested in this book.
Ellis states that the Queen of Aragon ordained that six times a day was the proper rule in legitimate marriage ! So abnormally sexed a woman would today probably succeed in killing by exhaustion a succession of husbands, for the man who could match such a desire is rare, though perhaps less exceptional than such a woman.
Though the timing and the frequency of union are the points about which questions are oftenest asked by the ignorant and well-meaning, and are most misunderstood, yet there are other fundamental facts concerning coitus about which even medical men seem surprisingly ignorant. Regarding these, a simple statement of the physiological facts is essential.
An impersonal and scientific knowledge of the structure of our bodies is the surest safe-guard against prurient curiosity and lascivious gloating. This knowledge at the back of the minds of the lovers, though not perhaps remembered as such, may also spare the unintentioned cruelty of behavior which so readily injures one whose lover is ignorant.
What actually happens in an act of union should be known. After the preliminaries have mutually roused the pair, the stimulated penis, enlarged and stiffened, is pressed into the woman's vagina. Ordinarily when a woman is not stimulated, the entrance to this canal, as well as the exterior lips of soft tissue surrounding it, are drier and rather crinkled, and the vaginal opening is smaller than the man's distended penis. But when the woman is what is physiologically called tumescent (that is, when she is ready for union and has been profoundly stirred) local parts are flushed by the internal blood-supply and to some extent are turgid like those of the man, while a secretion of mucus lubricates the opening of the vagina. The walls of the vaginal canal, being ridged with very extensible muscles, readily stretch to receive and fit the enlarged organ of the man. In an ardent woman the vaginal orifice may even spontaneously contract and relax. (So powerful is the influence of thought upon our bodily structure, that in some people all these physical results may be brought about by the thought of the loved one, by the enjoyment of tender words and kisses, and the beautiful subtleties of wooing.) It can, therefore, be readily imagined that when the man tries to enter a woman whom he has not wooed to the point of stimulating her natural physical reactions of preparation, he is endeavoring to force his entry through a dry-walled opening too small for it. He may thus cause the woman actual pain, apart from the mental revolt and loathing she is likely to feel for a man who so regardlessly uses her. On the other hand, in the tumescent woman the opening, already naturally prepared, is lubricated by mucus, and all the nerves and muscles are ready to react and easily accept the man's entering organ. This account is of the meeting of two after the woman has been already married. The first union of a virgin girl differs, of course, from all others, for on that occasion the hymen is broken. One would think that every girl who was about to be married would be told of this necessary rupturing of the membrane and the temporary pain it would cause her ; but even still large numbers of girls are allowed to marry in complete and cruel ignorance. What is even more surprising is the corresponding ignorance, not only of many men, but of men married some time, concerning this feature of a virgin woman's structure. It should be known that as a rule if complete penetration by the man is effected on a single occasion or hastily after marriage, quite considerable resistance may be offered by the membrane and pain experienced by the woman. Tender and loving husbands increasingly consider this, and to reduce or eliminate it approach their brides gradually, exercising self-restraint over several days at least, thus rupturing the membrane little by little. Brides should be prepared for a slightly painful initiation, and should be taught that it is transient and that their part is not to shrink from it and thus to unnerve a sensitive bridegroom, but to assist in every way by self-control coupled with self-yielding. Once the barrier is broken down, union is easy and delightful. Women differ considerably, however, in the strength of the membrane; in some the membrane is so delicate it ruptures easily in one night, others have so firm a structure that after several attempts the man finds penetration absolutely impossible. This sometimes leads to great disappointment, the man thinking himself lacking in virility, but without reason, for I know of several women who had to have a slight slit in the membrane (of course done by a medical practitioner) after several weeks of marriage, as their tissues were unusually resistant.
It should be realized that a man does not woo and win a woman once for all when he marries her : he must woo her before every separate act of coitus, for each act corresponds to a marriage as other creatures know it. Wild animals are not so foolish as man; a wild animal does not unite with his female without the wooing characteristic of his race, whether by stirring her by a display of his strength in fighting another male, or by exhibiting his beautiful feathers or song. And we must not forget that the wild animals are assisted by nature; they generally only woo just at the season when the female is beginning to feel natural desire. But man, who wants his mate all out of season as well as in it, has a double duty to perform, and must himself rouse, charm, and stimulate her to the local readiness which would have been to some extent naturally prepared for him had he waited till her own desire welled up, But here it is necessary to repeat what cannot be too vividly realized : woman's love is stirred primarily through her heart and mind, and the perfect lover need not lag awaiting her bodily and spontaneous help, but can rouse and raise it to follow their soaring minds.
To render a woman ready before uniting with her is not only the merest act of humanity to save her pain, but is of value from the man's point of view, for (unless he is one of those relatively few abnormal and diseased variants who delight only in rape) the man gains an immense increase of sensation from the mutuality thus, attained, and the health of both the man and the woman is most beneficially affected.
Assuming now that the two are in the closest mental and spiritual, as well as sensory harmony : in what position should the act be consummated? Men and women, looking into each other's eyes, kissing tenderly on the mouth, with their arms round each other, meet face to face. And that position is symbolic of the coming together of the two who meet gladly.
It seems incredible that to-day educated men should be found who—apparently on theological grounds—refuse to countenance any other position. Yet one wife told me that she was crushed and nearly suffocated by her husband, so that it took her hours to recover after each union, but that "on principle" he refused to attempt any other position than the one he chose to consider normal, although he was ignorant of so obvious a requirement as that he should support his weight on his elbows. Mutual well-being should be the guide for each pair.
A rigidity of mental as well as physical capacity seems to characterize some excellent and well-meaning people, and among those whose marriages fail to reach that height of perfection in a physical sense which they intellectually desire are those who are either entirely ignorant that sex-union may be accomplished in many various positions, or those who consider any other position but the most usual one to be wrong.
Yet, curiously enough, it sometimes comes to light that a pair do not even know the usual position, and in my own experience several couples who have failed to have children, or have failed to obtain the complete delight of union, have revealed that the woman did not know that it is not only her arms which should embrace her lover. Consequently, entry was to him both difficult and sometimes impossible.
In addition to this, that spontaneous movement which comes so naturally to those who are highly stirred, needs in far too many of our moderns to be encouraged and cultivated. A pair should, impelled by the great wave of feeling within them, be as pliable as the sea-plants moved by the rushing tides, and they should discover for themselves which of the innumerable possible positions of equilibrium results in the greatest mutual satisfaction. In this matter, as in so many others of the more intimate phases of sex-life, there should not harden a routine, but the body should become at the service of intense feeling a keen and pliable instrument.
It is perhaps not generally realized how great are the variations of size, shape, and position of the sex-parts in different individuals, yet they differ more even than the features of the face and hands. It happens, therefore, that the position which suits most people is unsatisfactory for others. Some, for instance, can only benefit by union when both are lying on their sides. Though medically this is generally considered unfavorable for or prohibitive of conception, yet I know women who have had several children and whose husbands always used this position. Many a man who fails to rouse full sex-feeling in his wife during union and who finds her crushed and weary after it, would gain immensely himself and give to her both health and happiness were he to lie on his side by her and, as though carrying her in his arms, to embrace her thus. In this matter every couple should find out for them-selves which of the many possible positions best suits them both.
When the two have met and united, the usual and normal result is that, after a longer or shorter interval, the man's mental and physical stimulation reaches a climax in sensory intoxication and in the ejaculation of semen. Where the two are perfectly adjusted, the woman simultaneously reaches the crisis of nervous and muscular reactions very similar to his. This mutual orgasm is extremely important (see also p. 73), but in many cases the man's climax comes so swiftly that the woman's re-actions are not nearly ready, and she is left without it. Though in some instances the woman may have one or more crises before the man achieves his, it is, perhaps, hardly an exaggeration to say that 70 or 80 per cent, of our married women (in the middle classes) are deprived of the full orgasm through the excessive speed of the husband's reactions, or through some maladjustment of the relative shapes and positions of the organs. So deep-seated, so profound are woman's complex sex-instincts as well as her organs, that in rousing them the man is rousing her whole body and soul. And this takes time. More time, indeed, than the average, uninstructed husband gives to it. Yet woman has at the surface a small vestigial organ called the clitoris, which corresponds morphologically to the man's penis, and which, like it, is extremely sensitive to touch-sensations. This little crest, which lies anteriorly between the inner lips round the vagina, enlarges when the woman is really tumescent, and by the stimulation of movement it is intensely roused and transmits this stimulus to every nerve in her body. But even after a woman's dormant sex-feeling is aroused and all the complex reactions of her being have been set in motion, it may even take as much as from ten to twenty minutes of actual physical union to consummate her feeling, while two or three minutes often completes the union for a man who is ignorant of the need to control his reactions so that both may experience the added benefit of a mutual crisis to love. There are some organic features which, being slightly abnormal, need special medical treatment, but the hastiness of most healthy men is largely due to mental ignorance alone, and can be conquered by a persistent and consciously exerted will.
A number of well-meaning people demand from men absolute "continence" save for procreation only. They overlook the innumerable physiological re-actions concerned in the act, as well as the subtle spiritual alchemy of it, and propound the view that "the opposition to continence, save for procreation only, has but one argument to put forward, and that is appetite selfishness." ("The Way of God in Marriage.")
I maintain, however, that it should be realized that the complete act of union is a triple consummation. It symbolizes, and at the same time actually enhances, the spiritual union; there are a myriad subtleties of soul-structures which are compounded in this alchemy. At the same time the act gives the most intense physical pleasure and benefit which the body can experience, and it is a mutual, not a selfish, pleasure and profit, more calculated than anything else to draw out an unspeakable tenderness and understanding in both partakers of this sacrament; while, thirdly, it is the act which gives rise to a new life by rendering possible the fusion of one of the innumerable male sperms with the female egg-cell.
Lit should never be forgotten that without the discipline of self-control there is no lasting delight in erotic feeling. The fullest delight, even in a purely physical sense, can be attained only by those who curb and direct their natural impulses.
Dr. Saleeby's words are appropriate in this connection (Introduction to Forel's "Sexual Ethics," 1908) : "Professor Forel speaks of subduing the sexual instinct. I would rather speak of transmuting it. The direct method of attack is often futile, always necessitous of effort, but it is possible for us to transmute our sex-energy into higher forms in our individual lives, thus justifying the evolutionary and physiological contention that it is the source of the higher activities of man, of moral indignation, and of the `restless energy' which has changed the surface of the earth."
Forel says ("The Sexual Question," 1908) : "Be-fore engaging in a lifelong union, a man and woman ought to explain to each other their sexual feelings so as to avoid deception and incompatibility later on." This would be admirable advice were it possible for a virgin girl to know much about the reactions and effects upon her mind and body of the act of coitus, but she does not. She may take it as an absolute rule, however, that unless the touch of the man's hand on hers, and the contact of his lips, are sweet and delicious to her, the man can never be a true husband. Both before and after marriage a delicate and noble frankness about their feelings and desires is due from each to each of the two who are to be welded into one by life together. Actually it often takes several years for eager and intelligent couples fully to probe themselves and to discover the extent and meaning of the immensely profound physiological and spiritual results of marriage. Yet it is true that an early frankness would save much misery when, as happens not infrequently, one or other of the pair marry with the secret determination to have no children.
So various are we all as individuals, so complex all the reactions and interactions of sex-relations, that no hard-and-fast rule can be laid down. Each couple, after marriage, must study themselves, and the lover and the beloved must do what best serves them both and gives them the highest degree of mutual joy and power. There are, however, some laws which should be inviolable. Their details can be gathered from the preceding pages, and they are summed up in the words : "Love worketh no ill to the beloved."