Conscious Control Of Our Sexual Life
( Originally Published 1940 )
SO we have enquired into the practical means of controlling our sexual passions. Now if we only carry out that good advice...yes, if we behave accordingly, but here we are confronted by a great difficulty. Just in those very moments when a sexual stimulus occurs, we want to be thus excited, and at the very instant when we ought to avoid this excitation we do not wish to avoid it.
Nowhere is our unwillingness so great as in sexual self-control. Here we are only too glad to allow ourselves to drift. And if we have once given way, and especially if we have often given way, then it soon becomes so habitual that we no longer wish to do otherwise, and we no longer think of what we are doing. That which we did at first more or less consciously, in the course of time we do unconsciously, more and more automatically.
Thus it is with married people in marital intercourse, with youths in masturbation and with old bachelors in prostitution. If we once become the slave of passion, what can be done? And especially in a sphere that is already so full of animal impulse. Of course St. Anthony might as well have preached to the fishes, for they, at any rate, are cold-blooded.
To make my meaning clearer I will quote as a concrete example an every day occurrence, not taken from the sexual life, but from one just as impulsive, alcoholic intoxication. In the police court news appears the following: "During a quarrel in a restaurant X...fractured his friend's skull with the leg of a chair...Homicide, with extenuating circumstances...two years' hard labour."
On that fatal Saturday night, when the guilty man was overcome with drink, he was no longer responsible; but the previous afternoon his will was perfectly free and open to reason. He was a most respectable man, all his companions liked him whether they met in the tavern or out in the country. He said to him-self: "I have worked too bard all the week, (first mistake) it was really too had; but now I have done good business and want to have a bit of fun, (second mistake). Now the weather is so fine I might take a brisk walk out in the country with some of my friends, that would be the best recreation." No sooner said than done. But as he was going along the street his friend and tavern companion, the one whom he struck down later, met him. He was quite sober and jolly and called to him from a distance: "God's truth, old chap, is that you? You look so tired out, come along and let's drink a pint together. All the other fellows are coming tonight, too, we shall have a fine time, that's the best way to pull yourself together." In reality the good man was a little annoyed at the unexpected meeting, which upset his plans for a quiet day in the country and would much rather have said "No," because it was such a fine day for a walk. Before he had pulled himself together, (third mistake), and because being so tired he did not feel in a mood to resist, he said: "Oh, all right, I can go for a-walk any time," and went along with his friend. The first thought that in order to enjoy himself he must do something foolish was more powerful than the hygienic idea of going for a walk, and so it won the day.
Principiis obsta! Be careful at the beginning. Many things which are recommended in this book may represent for the author and for the reader the little stimulus which exerts a deciding influence at the right moment, when one is first tempted to fall from pure speech and thoughts to the less pure; but has no effect when one has become too fascinated.
The question now arises, what will lead us to choose wisely to the critical moment? What motives ultimately influence our will in deciding? When we have once found that out, then we can begin to employ these valuable motives for our future actions.
In order empirically to discover the prime motive that governs all living creatures, we must go back to the history of evolution.
It is one of the most remarkable facts in the organic world, that all living creatures aim at self-preservation; they shun injury and seek what does them good. We find this principle in the lowest order of all unicellular organisms, as far as they are capable of changing their position; that is to say even in such creatures as have neither nerve-system nor consciousness, but in which the entire cell consists of a drop of semi-fluid albumen. We know that albumen contracts under detrimental influences such as heat, frost, metallic poisons, alcohol, electricity, desiccation, concentrated fluids, etc., and if such a living cell of albumen contracts on one side, the danger side, and remains fluid on the side remote from the danger, then it changes its position, moving away from the noxious influence and towards the favourable one.
On a somewhat higher stage in the seals of evolution the same object is better attained by the vibrating movements of the cilia or other similar microscopic processes of the albumen, specially differentiated for the purpose, and which act like the oars of a boat. Because these contract much more actively on the side nearest to the unfavourable influence the tiny organism, just like a rowing boat, will turn its stern to the danger, and if it has stored up energy from the food stuffs absorbed, will rapidly flee from danger. The smooth muscle-fibres in insects and the striped muscle-fibres in the higher animals are still more finely differentiated; these fibres are indeed particles of albumen even more high* differentiated into organs of locomotion. We are endowed with an organisation which allows us still more accurately to avoid everything injurious and to seek everything favourable. The sense-organs are like so many outposts and are in telephonic communication with the muscles, through the medium of the nerve-fibres. The central nervous system acts as the switch-board.
The sensitiveness of our nerve-cells, especially those which lie in protected clusters in the central nervous system, is so great, that they not only react to a danger which threatens life, hut to the finer shades of pleasure and pain; they are even so sensitive that net only the pleasure or pain of the moment, but even the memory of previously experienced pleasure or pain influences our every decision, so that in the latter case, we can avoid it in future.
If then, we enquire what are the motives that generally decide our choice, we see that in general the instinct of self-preservation stands first. This is the life-sustaining principle of all cell-life, and our most powerful weapon in the struggle for existence.
And with this also must be associated the instinct of the protection of those persons who are the most nearly related to us, who so to speak form part of our existence; which is often, though inappropriately, called the instinct for the preservation of the race. We wish to live happily in common with them.
We generally find this instinct of self-preservation united with this altruistic feeling of solidarity, more highly developed, the higher we ascend in the series of animal species. The highest development of all we find in mankind, inasmuch as we have accustomed ourselves to trace out consciously the chain of causes and effects. Only thus are we able to judge after full consideration what is good or evil for us and ours in any particular case, whereby conscious self-control will be the soonest assured.
Yet it would be difficult for us to make the thousand and one daily decisions which are necessary, if we had to stop to think each time of everything we must weigh in the balance. So we only do this in the most serious decisions. Generally we decide very quickly, and choose more intuitively, or, if you prefer it, instinctively, that which appears the more favourable. It is evident that one can deliberately acquire the habit of never deciding too rashly. And all our higher education should have as its object the broadening of our views and our sense of the higher pleasures and aims of life, so that we may make the right decision in any particular case, without too lengthy a consideration or hesitation.
However, there is another category of influences of the highest importance, based on the very essence of our mental organisation and all the harder to control because they are outside our consciousness. When we find ourselves in a dilemma, the question is not merely which solution is the better for us and ours, but also which is the easier one. The decision which comes easiest to us, always possesses, without our being aware of it, a great advantage.
The more often in our psychic life a certain course of action has been followed by a good result, the more rapidly and comfortably will the same path he followed in the future; the following of this path then becomes a habit, a routine, something in the same way as a foot-path when worn smooth is more readily followed. The resistance in our brain seems to diminish. So in the course of time we can acquire a certain virtuosity in making swift decisions, and the making of a wise choice becomes second nature with us, just as though it were an ordinary reflex. One need only think of the rapid fingering of an expert pianist, and of learning by heart, both of which are only attained by endless repetition.
If we once thoroughly study this unconscious influence, we can also turn it to our own use. For we know what a powerful factor the force of habit is with us, and how enormously important it is to accustom ourselves from childhood to good habits and correct principles. This more than anything else, gives us a future assurance of proper decisions, even if we find ourselves confronted by a difficult dilemma.
Closely related to this preference for that which we have already often done, is the preference for that which we have preserved in our memory, not indeed as an accomplished act, but as a nested image. We have already seen that a mental image is only a degree inferior in its effect to the reality. Hence the great importance of good plans and intentions. The making of these good plans has in and for itself perhaps no great value, but it may be the first step towards realisation. Good intentions will be especially effective, if they do not simply affect details, but the whole of one's mode of life. That is the strength of the ideal. Then an entirely new perspective of heightened joy is opened to us, which makes us feel happy in anticipation.
Similarly related to this preference which we feel for what we have already done, is the preference for what we see or hear others do around us; for in this case also we have only to work on an image that we have before us, which is always easier for us than creating an entirely new one. This is the force of suggestion through our environment, and in the case of our co-religionists or fellow members in a party, we call it mass suggestion. Even the thought of a faithful friend, of our mother, our betrothed, or our children may restrain us from many an act, at the last moment.
Here, however, we must make a certain reservation. Of course, when persons who are sympathetic to us are concerned, we willingly decide in agreement with them; but if on the other hand, the people are unsympathetic to us, then we are predisposed from the first to do exactly the opposite to that which we observe in them. These sympathies and antipathies play a most important part in the sexual life. We are always anxious to attach a particularly sympathetic person to ourselves; we are always happy to do whatever will please him, especially if it should bring us both future happiness.