Social Restrictions On Sexual Intercourse
( Originally Published 1940 )
IN addition to the internal resistances and physical obstacles to which we have referred, there are also a number of economic obstacles which must be removed, and through which in many affectionate people passion is stimulated to its utmost degree.
The more traditionally the institution of marriage is organised, the more is the free choice of a partner systematically restricted. Even in prehistoric times it was considered incestuous to cohabit with very near relations, while intercourse with persons too widely different from oneself was naturally out of the question. So from the earliest times sexual intercourse has been naturally limited by exogamy and endogamy although these limits varied extremely in different races and tribes. Later, the economic conditions which tended further to widen the differences between different races produced a far more appreciable limitation of the possibilities of marriage, and now as the reverse side of prostitution, innumerable affectionate people must remain single. Yes, even in married life there are still many conditions which, if the marriage is monogamous, exclude sexual intercourse, for instance, the menstrual periods and the time just before and after a confinement.
Besides which, there are special categories of people who are wantonly condemned to celibacy, such as priests, officials and women teachers; while others from an exalted ideal, look upon sexual abstinence as something exceptionally praiseworthy. In the course of time, abstinence before and even in marriage has become a categorical commandment. The production of illegitimate children was regarded even in historical times, especially among the upper classes, as something not at all unusual or dishonourable; but it has now become an increasing cause of despair.
In consequence of all these categoric obstacles the sexual impulse, especially in the most respectable classes, may increase to madness and become an uncontrollable passion so that ultimately one renders oneself unhappy or brings others to misery. A passion thus terribly roused often leads to desperation and suicide. J. J.
Rousseau and Fourier long ago remarked that we should not despise the passions, as such, but rather the fact that we men had neglected to direct them into the right paths. When a river is dammed through icepacks, it may overflow and ruin everything around, this self-same river that originally had watered and fertilised and rendered lovely the whole region.
When we have come to a proper understanding of this whole chain of cause and effect, then we also know precisely in which direction we must seek salvation, in order to prevent this immeasurably increased passion from leading to such despair in future. The ascetic ideal, however useful and necessary it may be for early youth, and old age, has always made things worse for the vigorous adult and will certainly continue to do so. Throughout the centuries of our era, man has sought in vain to enforce this solution.
Suppose we were to give up further striving after the impossible? Suppose that at last we consented to be so reasonable as to learn from Nature? Suppose we could at last all begin to work together earnestly so that every individual who has reached man-hood and who longs for love could listen to the demands of Nature and bring his love to expression without anxiety or remorse? This should henceforth be the aim of all sexual reform! Instead of a destroying fire, passion would then be converted into the friendly sunshine of our lives.
Falling into the other extreme, the question has been asked: whether through unlimited indulgence the sexual life would not entirely lose its passionate character. It has been asked: if from puberty the exercise of the sexual function were always enjoined as a duty, would this function then not be rendered as free from passion as, for instance, the secretion of urine now is? It is a fact that in the Middle Ages there were some would-be saints who actually gave themselves up to unbridled intercourse in the hope of killing the lusts of the flesh.
This is a desperate measure, and one fore-doomed to failure, as everyone knows who has read the foregoing chapter attentively. All these irritating obstacles which lie in the way of the seminal secretion cannot be removed, and will always cause this function to retain its passionate character. And if we try to carry that method so far that it paralyses the function by exhaustion, then indeed the remedy would be worse than the disease.
But, as human beings, we are not satisfied with a merely animal appeasing of lust. We claim higher ideals, and before these are attained a great deal of self-control and self-denial must be exercised.
The greatest difficulty however lies in the following. As we expect it to afford us satisfaction, it should be not only a suitable and permissible satisfaction, but since the material foundation of this function is a regularly recurring urge, the satisfaction must also take place regularly and periodically if we are to obtain the full benefit of it.
A solitary experimental connection is for a normal adult rather tantalising and an aggravation of the evil. On that account it often happens that serious symptoms due to abstinence may be observed in persons who, as we know full well, have coitus now and again.
We might represent the passion-curve by a zig-zag line which falls suddenly after each act of sexual intercourse and often sinks below zero, but rapidly rises again. Through impure sexual inter-course, the curve fall from disgust so far below zero that one wishes to change the object of one's passion with every new rise of the curve. In pure, more ideal love, however, the curve approaches more and more to a constant straight line; even in marriage, both parties should reflect that after every connection their mutual love should blossom afresh; every time a fresh bud that bursts into a more lovely flower than before.
Everyone does not realise this in his own case. He who longs in vain for relief, always thinks that satisfaction on one occasion would save him, he does not demand more for the time being. So with Faust, who pawned his soul to the Devil for one single moment's pleasure!
Yes, then one has really "gone to the devil"! And so many a man is attracted like a moth to the candle flame, in the hope of salvation.
The problem is almost insoluble, because even in our cool climate we are sexually ripe at an age when the body has still scarcely reached its full development, and certainly not its full powers of resistance, and in addition the economic condition of the individual, owing to the complicated nature of our social conditions, will not be at its best for many years. And yet even in these early years of the transitory period, the impulse makes itself felt so categorically and so imperiously!
The task for the parent and teacher is hardest of all in these transitory years, when they seek to direct the love-life into the right path. No stereotyped generalisations and traditional commonplaces are of any use here; each case must be studied individually; and we should never condemn another because he has acted differently from ourselves. In every case education in love should be ideal, not simply negative, and still less impure.