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Contemporary Views of Sexual Emotion

( Originally Published 1957 )

Some studies of amorous behavior that have discovered more than "one kind of sex" have been outlined. They represent the older generation of modern students of sex psychology. Comparable observations have continued to appear, more recently, in scattered places.

G. V. Hamilton finds evidence of a "mating tendency" that functions "separately from the tendency that leads directly to copulation." The adolescent boy who is attracted to a girl may experience a longing to be near her, but "unless he has been considerably perverted by unfavorable environmental factors," this longing, "has, initially, no reportable tinge of desire to copulate . . ." (19) Hamilton finds grounds for the belief that the first experience of amorous attraction is not an expression of the genital impulse.

W. S. Taylor favors one of the philosophical views (Hume's) of sexual love, which he regards as "much nearer the truth than is the psychoanalytic conception." " (53) It includes the aesthetic, the genital, and the altruistic factors to use the terms of previous discussion. Hume placed the aesthetic factor first as the source of the "most common species" of attraction. The three feelings he regarded as distinct, each with a goal of its own. This view, as Taylor says, allows "for tender regard with-out lust, and for aesthetic enjoyment in its own right."

Charlotte Baler's observations also support the view that amorous and sexual behavior are originally separate, tending to combine at puberty. The object of amorous attraction in early childhood is usually not the partner in sexual ( genital) play. The amorous child's behavior is to be described in terms of speechless gazing and admiring words, in passionate confessions, in liaisons and in claims of possession. Nothing of this is observed in the behavior in which sexual play occurs. Sexual and amorous desires have different goals. The choice behavior seen in amorous attraction is not evident, moreover, in that of the sex-play type. The latter may emerge suddenly out of any sort of casual pastime in a "playful-prurient" way.

Professor J. W. Bridges also separates sexual "emotion" from sexual "drive," the latter being what we have called the genital impulse. Sexual emotion "is aroused by the same stimuli which incite the sexual drive, but the emotion does not always accompany the drive." The two are, in fact, quite independent. The "drive" may be aroused, fully expressed and satisfied with-out the emotion, while the latter may be strongly aroused, he believes, in the absence of the drive, or at any rate with "little or no drive." As to the question of the origin of the sexual emotion, Bridges uses for one answer the familiar notion of a checking of the impulse, with the effect of a draining off of "neural energy" by a different channel, whereby the sexual emotion is generated. This is the "indirect" way. There is another mode of arousal, however; the emotion may also be a "direct response" to the person of opposite sex. This involves supposedly no re-channeling of neural energy. Bridges does not explain what makes the difference in mode of release. While his statement appears to be an attempt at compromise between the two major views of the source of sexual love, the fact that he finds reason to include the possibility of a "direct" stimulus to the emotion deserves mention.

One student made a thorough study of the diaries of adolescents. He found evidence of an emotion which he calls "friendship-love." He describes it with such terms as "romantic," and "sublime." It is, he believes, "absolutely different" in quality from the feelings of genital excitement, or "venereal voluptuousness." (21) There is an apparent antagonism between the two experiences. The characteristics of "friendship-love" seem to be very similar to the description of amorous emotion offered by Folsom. The name, "pan-love," for the feeling expressed toward a group of school girls, is suggestive of Dunlap's "generalized" attraction.

In his analysis of sexual emotion Folsom observes that in those phases of the relationship in which amorous feeling is dominant "the desire for sexual contacts often seems remote ... One does not want dermal or genital pleasure particularly ... One thrills at the mere presence of the beloved person and at receiving her (or his) undivided attention. Yet these feelings commonly become linked to the erotic and the two may mutually reinforce each other. Some persons have fused them so completely that to them the present analysis will have little personal meaning." (15) How much "fusion" of sensual and amorous feeling takes place doubtless varies considerably; that the separation is possible has been repeatedly noted. That the genital impulse may be inactive during amorous emotion was observed by Moll, and also by Freud, who remarked that, with a high degree of this emotion, the "tendencies whose trend is towards directly sexual satisfaction may . . . be pushed back entirely, as regularly happens, for instance, with the young man's sentimental passion . . ." Similar observations occur among the older writers. Ward noted that it is the presence of the love-object that mainly suffices for this emotion. "It seems to consist of a continuous series of ever repeated nervous thrills which are connected if the object is near, but interrupted and arrested if the object is absent. These thrills, though exceedingly intense, do not have an organic function, but exist, as it were, for their own sake. That they are physical is obvious, and they are intensified by various physical acts, such as kissing, embracing, caressing, etc. . . . Romantic love gives free rein to all these innocent excitements and finds its full satisfaction .. , in these." Loewenfeld, referring to women, wrote: "Even where sexual desire is small or absent, the erotic element, desire for caresses from a man and for returning them may be very highly developed, and this condition which may frequently . . . be markedly manifested especially in young virgins, may easily be misinterpreted as sensual desire."

Apart from, or "over and above" the genital impulse, the sex responses between man and woman are aesthetic in character, according to Edward Spranger. This aesthetic relationship he calls "erotic." By this Spranger means "aesthetic love which is directed to sensible grace or virile appearance . . ." (49) He does not question the close relations of sensual and aesthetic feelings, but finds them to be, nevertheless, altogether different. He thinks, in fact, that they belong to different "layers of the soul." Aesthetic attraction is aroused by the beauty, grace, charm, or power of another. It is not limited to the physical. It is, in part, as a visible expression of the personality that the body becomes beautiful; beauty is in the blending of body and spirit.

In youth, aesthetic response and sexual impulse are disjoined. Both may be awakened, but the direction of interest is not the same. It marks maturity when they can be harmonized. Spranger doubts the explanatory value of the mysterious alchemy of the sublimation concept. The aesthetic and the sensual are equally primary and original; neither is merely an "effect" of the other. In youth the response to beauty is one-sided; its interest is only in line, form, and coloring. The appreciation of beauty of the "spirit" must develop. Once it is achieved, we find that persons of unattractive surface will grow in beauty as inward qualities become manifest.

The meaning of what is commonly called "infatuation" is made clearer by a book on sexual love by Muller-Freienfels. Concerning amorous emotion and the sex impulse his treatment resembles that of others we have reviewed. The two kinds of sex are unlike, he believes, in basic nature. Either may appear without the other. Both may be present at the same time, but with different persons as their goals. Attractions differ greatly, and it is important, he thinks, to distinguish between "real" love and certain emotional experiences that may resemble it but that lack its true substance. The difference may best be recognized, he suggests, in the contrast between an attraction that embraces the entire personality of the attractive person, and one that fastens upon some superficial detail, such as the eyes, the hair, the figure, and so on. (39)

The striking and perhaps unfortunate fact is that such fascination may have the power of great passion, and therefore cannot be distinguished from genuine love by the strength of feeling. Duration is a better guide, for despite the furious pitch to which they may rise, such attractions to surface traits do not last. They may for a time, nevertheless, deceptively resemble the deeper kind of love, since the "charm" of some unusually alluring detail may tend to color or "irradiate" the whole per-son. There are other signs, however, which help us to recognize the true emotion. Attractions of the shallow variety spring up suddenly "at first sight" but deeper attachments are not born in this way. They grow more slowly and should not be valued any the less because this growth may lack the glittering moments, the "lightning flashes and rocket-bursts" of more romantic encounters.

This distinction between deep and shallow attractions, the latter tending to be linked with surface traits, seems to correspond to the popular one between "real" love and "infatuation." The idea that a highly important quality of love experience depends on the difference between surface and "deep" characteristics is a vital one for sex psychology. A question may be raised, however, of whether this difference is simply one of degree, or of the "location" of the traits. The possibility that what we have here are two essentially unlike kinds of attraction, or, let us say, attraction by essentially unlike traits, will be considered in a later chapter.

Stendhal, in On Love, treated the growth of sexual love as a process whereby imagination endows a person with quite unreal merits. "For Stendhal," says Ortega y Gasset, "love is not blind; it is hallucinated." Yet there is, according to this Spanish philosopher, a profound truth in Stendhal's view, namely, that love's desire is a longing for a person we perceive as having some kind of perfection, or approach to perfection. That it may be questioned whether this excellence is real or imaginary is beside the point. Try to imagine, he suggests, an amorous state in which the beloved does not, in the eyes of the lover, possess some quality of excellence; he will find that it is impossible. To be in love is to be charmed, or enchanted, and this cannot occur unless perfection, or what appears to be a perfection, is present.

It is, Ortega y Gasset thinks, as much a folly to suppose that "love and sex" are the same as to think that true love contains no sex. Amorous emotion differs, most fundamentally, from sensual desire in the factor of choice. Choice is of the very nature of sexual love. Sensual desire may come before one knows what person is to satisfy it; and there is hardly a limit to the possible number of its objects. It is because it springs so largely from within that its requirements as to an object may be small. Nothing, on the other hand, so greatly reduces sexual susceptibility in all other directions as an awakening love interest in a particular person.

Against the Freudian doctrine that the response to beauty (or "excellence") is a sublimation of sensual arousal is the possibility that this response is, from the beginning, at a different "level" of sexual sensibility. The key to amorous emotion may be rather in the phenomenon of choice than in the genital impulse. This would shift the entire emphasis, in the study of sexual love, toward the individuality, in an aesthetic sense, both of the affected person and of the source of attraction.

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