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Sex Attraction as an Emotional Experience

( Originally Published 1957 )

THIS BOOK is a study of one kind of sexual attraction. Attractions between the sexes are of more than one kind. Some of them may be classed, doubtless, as friendships, and some may be seen as simple erotic affairs kept alive by sensual interest alone. But there is another kind which nearly everyone seems to think of as a very different and more important type of sexual experience. It is most often referred to as being "in love," or as "romantic" love, or, occasionally, as "amorous" feeling. At least one modern text on psychology admits that the experience in sexual love may be a "genuine emotional state." (29) These terms may therefore be used to suggest an emotion that definitely seems to be something more than what is commonly meant by sexual "impulse" or "excitement."

A vast amount has been written of the physical side of human sexual behavior. Countless books, among them the monumental studies of Havelock Ellis and Alfred C. Kinsey, have dealt with the sexual act, with its biology and psychology, and with the varieties and abnormalities of sexual activity. There is now a large literature rich in information on the subject.

Surprisingly little, by comparison, has been offered to people whose interest goes beyond "sex" in the usual narrow sense of the term and who want to know the meaning of a sudden, strong attraction to a particular person of the opposite sex; who want to know what "falling in love" means, and who would like to understand better certain very exciting emotional experiences which have a feeling-quality very different from the desire for sexual intercourse.

Anyone might think, judging by this neglect, that these remarkable and often very disturbing sudden experiences of attraction, or the less exciting but equally strong emotions that grow more gradually, are much less important than sexual desire, and are perhaps nothing more than the way this desire "feels" when first aroused, or when it is mixed with other emotions.

That there is much more to the matter than this is proven, of course, by the themes of millions of novels, by endless motion-picture stories, and by observations from everyday life that anyone can make. In America, more than anywhere else, the emotions aroused by the attraction between men and women have been exalted to a very high place among the important experiences of life. Among no other people have they been so completely accepted as the only true and reliable basis for marriage. Whatever the reason, it is certainly not for lack of wide and strong interest that few scientists have so far ventured to investigate this sphere of emotions. Indeed, ". . . libraries are filled with books exclusively devoted to it, and these are as eagerly devoured by philosophers and sages as by school girls."

This entire book is based on the conviction that there is a psychology of sex that begins, not with the way the sex organs are constructed (as so many sex books do), but with the fact that men and women are attractive to each other, that this kind of attractiveness attaches to a great deal more than the physical differences, and that attraction is selective: that is, one person is chosen from several or many when opportunity for choice is offered. This branch of sex psychology will next proceed to the fact that preferences often show various degrees of permanence, that they may become continuous preferences, or "fixations." Sex desire is often referred to as an "impulse," or as an "appetite." These words suggest desires that may come and go quickly. But in this exceedingly important fact of continuous preference between a man and a woman there is evidence of something more than a desire for erotic "organ pleasure" or for relief of tension in the genital region. Since, however, the outward expressions of the romantic emotion may often very deceptively resemble those of sexual "excitement," a high-level question of sex psychology concerns the connection between these two experiences.

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