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Modern Views of Sexual Emotion - Sublimation

( Originally Published 1957 )

The modern idea of "sublimation" as a change of the "sub-stance of the soul" into a more spiritualized form may be traced, according to Ellis, back to early Christian mystical writings. Separated from religious doctrine, and under its modern name, it appeared frequently, he finds, in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century literature. It stood for a change of gross human elements into "higher" and more refined forms. For sex psychology, sublimation in its narrowest sense may be taken to mean the process whereby the sexual impulse undergoes a transformation into desires or feelings that may be termed amorous or "romantic" or "higher erotic." For Ellis, sublimation means a real emotional change; he adds that we must regard the process as unconscious. It is also not under direct control. It is not a simple substitute outlet for unchanged sensual feeling. Sublimation is hard to achieve, however, and it is possible that only persons of fine "nervous texture" are capable of it. He thinks it doubtful, moreover, whether more than a portion of sexual energy can be sublimated. A certain amount must be discharged in "degraded" form. He reminds us that Dante the supreme sex romanticist was a family man as well as a poet.

There are two important points about "irradiation" of the sexual impulse as Ellis describes it. First, parts of the mind that are "outside the sexual sphere" become active. This means that sexual "love" comes about by a wider spreading of the currents of sexual energy resulting in varieties of experience different from those that are part of the sexual impulse. Second, the statement clearly tells us that sublimation results from an inhibition of the sexual impulse. It is as if "falling in love" were a kind of emotional overflow that occurs when sexual desire is first aroused, then blocked.

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