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Modern Views of Sexual Emotion - Albert Moll

( Originally Published 1957 )

Moll is commonly classed with the major founders of modern sex psychology. He was a student of the entire field, both normal and abnormal. Although he worked out, systematically, an interpretation of sexual experience and behavior, his views were overshadowed in influence by those of his contemporaries, Sigmund Freud and Havelock Ellis. His conception of the nature of the amorous emotion differs widely from theirs, and places it upon a different basis. He may be regarded as chief of those students of sex who find it too varied in its forms to be, at the source, all of one kind.

Our sexual nature includes, according to Moll, two "entirely distinct" parts. One of these is the genital impulse. Here he stresses a point that was touched upon earlier: that the impulse may have no reference to a person of the opposite sex, and may be aroused and completed as a solitary act, like scratching the skin in response to "itching." He found evidence that masturbation occurs, in mature men as well as in boys, without the stimulus of even an imaginary partner. This is also true of the animal world: "When a stallion kicks its genital organs again and again with its hind-foot, and repeats the action until ejaculation ensues, we are hardly justified in assuming that the animal has the idea of a mare before its mind."

The second part of our sexual make-up is seen in the attraction of the sexes. This, when it first appears, Moll believes, is altogether independent of the genital impulse. It is an interest often observable among young boys and girls, most clearly ex-pressed in a kind of visual fascination. There may be an impulse to touch or embrace, but such contacts may be entirely free of genital excitement. Attractions of this kind, Moll observes, may be of marked intensity at an age at which evidence of sexual maturity (puberty) is quite lacking. The beginnings of interest in the opposite sex appear, he thinks, three or four years earlier than the awakening of the genital impulse. He cites an inquiry among sexually normal men (86 cases) of whom a large majority reported such feelings of attraction at an earlier period than that in which genital sensations were first experienced. (33) Although, as the boy grows older, his feelings toward girls are increasingly likely to include some genital excitement, attraction may show a high degree of early independence, and may often be observed with particular clearness near the beginning of puberty.

The independence of amorous attraction is best seen, however, in the behavior of children. Boys, as early as the age of eight, or even younger, "long before the appearance of any signs of puberal development, are impelled towards physical contact with members of the other sex . . . although these boys may exhibit no tendency whatever to masturbate, or to manipulate their genital organs." Again, ". . . cases occur in which boys experience organic sensations in the genital organs leading them to masturbate, and at the same time love someone; and yet when in the company of, and even when embracing the beloved, such a boy will not experience any specific sensations in the genital organs, nor will any impulse arise towards sexual contact with the beloved person."

As a typical illustration of the awakening of amorous attraction and the later appearance of the genital impulse, Moll gives an account of a case which began at the age of seven, and which exhibits such features as strong preference, confession of affection, embraces, sharing of possessions, plans for marriage, etc. (36) During the early years no evidence of genital desire was reported. There were no recollections of any similar experiences in relation to persons of the same sex. At the age of thirteen, during close physical contact with the girl, an erection occurred, accompanied by pleasurable local sensation; henceforth the desire for these contacts was recurrent, and thoughts of the girl were much more frequent than formerly. Later, following a period of such preoccupation, the first seminal emission took place in a dream in which an earlier episode of physical contact was revived. During this period the emotion was apparently strong. Final separation resulted in marked depression.

A further example may be taken from a more recent source:

Max was a quiet and rather repressed little boy who astonished his classmates by falling violently in love at the age of eleven and one-half . . . His school teacher was in despair. She found it almost impossible to secure Max's attention so long as the object of his devotion was in the same classroom. No amount of ridicule or abuse on her part would seem to have any effect. Although Max lived near the school, he insisted on bringing his lunch every day so that he might accompany Marjorie to her home and wait for her beneath her window. After school he would make a pilgrimage to her neighborhood and stay there until bed time, merely taking enough time off to eat his supper. If Marjorie would come out and play with him he was in the seventh heaven of bliss; if she did not, he was content to stay outside her window, happy in the consciousness that she was not far away.

There are, then, two different kinds of sex interest and sex desire in all of us, Moll believes, and all the relationships between men and women may be understood in terms of one or the other of them. Nature's purpose in "attraction" is to draw the sexes together in order that the genital urge may operate. Moll finds support for his view of their basic independence, however, in evidence that "love play" among the lower animals may be noted long before sexual maturity is reached. At the human level, he thinks, such expressions are the commonest of the early signs of sexual response in childhood. While in the adult the two desires may become closely blended, their separateness may still be seen, and especially in women, in whom strong attractions may be experienced, the impulse to embrace, etc., in the absence of genital excitement. He remarks, as have others, that there are times during the amorous state when physical presence, and the consciousness of emotional possession, are felt as a sufficient goal of desire.

Moll agrees with Havelock Ellis as far as the genital impulse is concerned, but disagrees rather sharply on the meaning of the attraction. Attraction, for Ellis, is little more than a name for the kind of mutual stimulation between a male and a female which little by little arouses genital-sex excitement. His point of view came, as we saw earlier, from studies of the sex maneuvers and courtship displays of the lower animals and of primitive man. For him, as for Moll, sex has "two parts," but these are merely two phases of the same process: the charging and discharging of the genital mechanism. He saw no reason, therefore, for "dividing off" attraction from the rest of this kind of sex behavior.

The important difference between the two views is that Moll regards amorous attraction as the expression of an independent element of sexual responsiveness whose final fusion with the genital impulse, in the mature adult, must take place slowly. Attraction, finally, comes to include both sensual and nonsensual, or amorous, feelings. Before the fusion of feelings occurs, he observes, the emphasis may fluctuate between these two kinds of attraction; at one time, the "romantic" mood may be dominant, at another, the sensual.

The kind of separation Moll made between amorous emotion and the sexual impulse disposes of the difficult problem of de-riving the former from the latter. It offers an alternative to "sublimation," and one that may be compared, in a variety of settings, with the doctrines of Ellis and Freud. Further features of Moll's study will be considered in other places.

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