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Sexual Autobiography

( Originally Published 1957 )

Among the materials collected by Havelock Ellis are a number that show the amorous response without "sensual" elements, or that illustrate the separation in other ways. Each of the following selections is taken from a different source.

I can distinctly remember from the age of 9 years, and am sure that I had no sexual feelings before the age of 13, though always in the company of girls. I had many boyish passions for girls, always older than myself, but these were never accompanied by sexual de-sires. I deified all my sweethearts, and was satisfied if I got a flower, a handkerchief, or even a shred of clothing of my inamorata for the time being. These things gave me a strange idealistic emotion, but caused no sexual desire or erection. (18)

At 12 he fell deeply in love with a girl of corresponding age. He never felt any powerful sexual desire for his sweetheart, and never attempted anything but kissing and decorous caresses. He liked to walk and sit with the girl, to hold her hand, and stroke her soft hair. He felt real grief when separated from her. His thoughts of her were seldom sensual.

I fell in love and enjoyed kisses, etc., but the mere thought of any-thing beyond disgusted me. Had my lover suggested such a thing, I would have lost all love for him. But all this time I went on masturbating, though as seldom as possible and without thought of my lover. Love was to me a thing ideal and quite apart from lust, and I still think it is false to try to connect the two.

Looking back over the whole period of his youth and adolescence, he can trace the psychological effect of what was going on secretly, in his relations to girls and women. In a word, these relations were sentimental only. . . . He hesitated to regard in any sexual way any girl of whom he had a high opinion; sexual desire and "love" seemed for him to inhabit different worlds and that it would be a pollution to bring them together.... Yet night after night he could masturbate, his imagination glowing with visions of female nakedness.

In my more idle moments I elaborated erotic day dreams in which there was a peculiar mixture of the purely ideal element, which never fused in my experience, but held the field alternately or mingled somewhat in the manner of air and water. One person usually served as the object of my ideal attachment, another as the center round which I grouped my sensual dreams and desires.

The last example from Ellis is closely similar to an observation obtained by the writer from a college student.

For several years during the late "teens" I had fantasies about girls, usually at night before falling asleep. I often imagined having a sex affair with a girl. Most of the fantasy had to do with the preliminaries leading up to the act, and quite often I fell asleep before this climax. These fantasies were all sex. The girl's face was pretty much a blank, but I thought a good deal about what sort of body she would have. Usually I got an erection. Sometimes I would feel in a different mood and then there would be no sex at all in the fantasy. I would imagine a very beautiful girl with the kind of personality I admired, and imagine meeting her and courting her. Mostly I would picture her face and her voice and the things we would say to each other. The end of these was always that I would propose to her and we would embrace. There was never any sex in these fantasies and they never gave me an erection. I would some-times have trouble to decide which kind of fantasy I would have, depending on how I felt. When I was having a romantic one there was never any temptation to bring sex into it. The two things just didn't mix.

A further example of double composition in sexual imagery is seen in one of Krafft-Ebing's cases:

In late boyhood and early youth I was subject to an enthusiastic partiality for young girls of my acquaintance, with all the extravagances common to this youthful enthusiasm. But it never occurred to me to connect the world of my sensual thoughts with these pure ideals. I never had to overcome such a thought; it never occurred to me. This is the more remarkable, since my lustful fancies seemed ... in no wise vile or obnoxious. This, too, was a kind of poetry with me; but it was divided into two worlds on the one hand was my heart, or, rather, my aesthetically excited fancy; on the other, my sensually inflamed imagination. . . . In dreams the two spheres of my erotic ideas recurred alternately, but never combined. Only the images of the sensual sphere induced pollutions.

Loewenfeld collected some histories of persons characterized by markedly weak sensual impulse associated with apparently normal development of amorous emotion.

A young man of 28 years, with apparently good heredity, seeks medical advice for his extremely weak genital sexuality. He denies ever having masturbated, has never experienced a desire for sexual relations. An experimental attempt at intercourse at the age of 20 failed through absence of sexual arousal; he is indifferent to the female genitalia. By contrast the patient is in no respect lacking in erotic inclination for the feminine; he is fond of being with girls, and has been in love several times; he feels a desire for embraces but no genital impulse. He is strongly attached at the time, and wishes to marry, but is restrained because of his sexual condition.

Other examples are given by Loewenfeld illustrating the weakness or absence of the sexual impulse together with normal amorous responsiveness.

Occasional illustrations appear in autobiography. One of the classic instances of early amorous experience is that of the poet Byron, who wrote of an attachment dating from his eighth year:

I have been thinking lately a good deal of Mary Duff. How very odd that I should have been so utterly, devotedly fond of that girl, at an age when I could neither feel passion, nor know the meaning of the word. And the effect! My mother used always to rally me about this childish amour; and, at last, many years after, when I was sixteen, she told me one day, "Oh, Byron, I have had a letter from Edinburgh, from Miss Abercromby, and your old sweetheart Mary Duff is married to a Mr. Coe." And what was my answer? I really cannot explain or account for my feelings at that moment; but they nearly threw me into convulsions, and alarmed my mother so much, that after I grew better, she generally avoided the subject to me and contented herself with telling it to all her acquaintances . . . I had never seen her since . . . we were both the merest children. . . . How the deuce did all this occur so early? Where could it originate? I certainly had no sexual ideas for years afterwards; and yet my misery, my love for that girl were so violent, that I sometimes doubt if I have ever been really attached since.

The contrasting quality of amorous and sensual feeling is seen in an account of boyhood attraction by Max Eastman. The fact that the two experiences centered upon different objects furnishes an example of Buhler's view that in childhood the object of amorous feeling is usually not the partner in physical sex play.

I loved Ethel Marble from the time I saw her until we left West Bloomfield, and I love her still. But I believe I have never communicated with her except the momentous once when I handed her a little circle of white peppermint candy stamped with the words: "Will you be my sweetheart?" She brought me back the next day a similar circle of candy, colored with lime, and stamped: "You're too young and too green." It was all seemingly a joke, and I tried hard to make it so in my heart, but not successfully. There is almost always some single part or feature of a girl upon which your passion concentrates, and those mottled cheeks combining so miraculously with the wondrous beauty of her name I trust you will have the courtesy to perceive its wondrous beauty kept me in a state of sad poetics for a long time.

Side by side with that, and not a bit the same, I felt a lustful yearning over Nonnie Marlin. So did every other well-sexed boy in town, for notwithstanding her pimply complexion, there was a great power of attraction in Nonnie. Her round strong shoulders and round breasts and ease of attitude and action made her like a warm animal. She lived in a poor and tiny house four or five doors down the road from ours, and I never went by there without a forlorn casting down of eyes and a rising in me of the hot but hopelessly diffident desire to "put my arm around" Nonnie.

I did not dream that my two feelings toward these different girls might someday be focused upon one, and what a birth of the universe that would produce. A great many American boys of my generation and boys everywhere, I guess never do succeed in combining these two feelings, and that is one of the troubles with the life of love.

In a similar vein W. E. Leonard writes:

... sex-passion ... is during these earlier years incapable of complete assimilation with the higher and finer feelings in an idealistic growing boy of my sort. . . . He is now two individualities; the unfledged idealist, and the sex-animal. Even his mooning about girls belongs to the idealist in him; for his sex-speculations and secret gloatings he chooses feverishly some young wench of the plebs .. . whom he really despises.

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