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Conflict in Sex Feelings

( Originally Published 1957 )



The idea is common that there is some degree of antagonism between amorous emotion and the sexual impulse. It was sharply stressed by Weininger, who saw these feelings as "two unlike, mutually exclusive, opposing conditions." (65) This op-position of the sensual and the amorous is a part of the second stage of the evolution of sex, according to Lucka. It was in the beginning of the twelfth century that "spiritual" love was born, and "until modern times the two fundamental erotic principles existed side by side without inner relationship." Muller-Freienfels thinks that most men have not one but two feminine ideals, which stand in contrast. He finds these illustrated among the women who passed through the erotic life of Goethe: on one hand, ethereal, romantic figures of subdued sexuality; on the other, more "realistic" examples of ripe and luxurious womanhood. In Goethe's case, Lucka thinks, the conflict was never reconciled. "There was no woman in Goethe's life in regard to whom he arrived at, or even aspired to, the blending of both emotions in a higher intuition." " (47) Similarly in the poet Baudelaire, according to Aldous Huxley, is found exclusive sensuality on one hand, and the "worship of inviolable divinities" on the other. Here, again, the "double life" persisted. There was never a blending of esteem, tenderness, and sexual impulse into a harmonious whole. Baudelaire, Huxley thinks, would have denied the "very possibility" that such sharply contrasted experiences, with their profoundly different values, could ever be fused. The gulf between was impassable, and it was in part through the very degradation of the sexual impulse and its coloring with the notion of sinfulness that such exaggerated idealization was possible.

The same feature was discovered by Iovetz-Tereshchenko in his study of adolescent diary materials. Thus, "If we analyzed the mental course of two persons of opposite sex, approaching one another on the way towards the sexual act, we would see, I believe, that the mental state of Love, when it appears, plays a negative repressive and retarding role, and not the role of a biological `pusher' of a male and a female . . . towards the goal of sexual intercourse." Amorous emotion does not, on the other hand, conflict with religious sentiment. It is "morally positive." For example, the diarist writes that he renounced a certain sensual interest because it became "repugnant" to the feelings inspired by his schoolgirl friends). The sexual impulse he sees as a "disturbing factor" in the appreciation of sexual beauty.

The inhibition of sensual desire by aesthetically induced emotion is illustrated in a case from the literature of homosexuality.

When I was 20 years of age I met a gentleman one night in a heavy snowstorm. We walked and talked and understood each other. He was extremely refined. He asked me to his rooms. We undressed and lay down. He had a very beautiful head and a still more beautiful body. I think that all my erotic feelings were numbed by looking at his beautiful body. To me anything sensual would have been sacrilege, I thought, and I can remember the feeling of awe which came over me. . . . First he did not understand, and then he was very gentle to me. I kept perfectly chaste for three whole months after the sight of his body.

What is the meaning of conflict, of any degree, between "romantic emotion" and the sexual impulse? If amorous feeling is truly independent of the sexual impulse, it should largely escape the moral taboos that society lays upon the latter. The result is the familiar contrast between "true love" and "mere sensuality"; between the romantic and the "animal," the "spiritual" and the "carnal." It seems highly unlikely, however, that there could be any basic conflict or incompatibility between the two modes of sensibility. Both are sexual, both attract man and woman to each other, both are expressed in the embrace. We might expect a "shift of gear," emotionally, but no conflict. What we have here, it appears and again recalling Freud's comment on the unaesthetic character of the sex organs is a fundamental unlikeness in the quality of sexual experiences, to which society has given a moral meaning. The "natural" difference is aesthetic. To this, culture has added a difference in value.



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