How The Sexual Passion Developed
( Originally Published 1940 )
There probably exists no substance which chemically and physically is so sensitive as living albumen which, biologically considered, is by far the most important constituent of the living cell. In Chapter 34 we have already seen how even in the lowest organisms, the contractability of albumen and the consequent mobility indicate an almost incredible sensitiveness of the albumen to external influences. But in the higher organisms far keener sensitiveness is displayed by those groups of cells in the interior of the body which as nerve centres are exclusively differentiated for sensation.
The common sensibility of the skin retains its primary importance as long as we live; as we perceive easily in the magic effect of water-, air- and sun-baths, massage, etc. (see chapter 55), by means of which we feel our youth renewed. We only enter into relation with the outer world around us through this sensibility of the skin, but it is through the local elaborations of our so-called sensory organs, that the number of our impressions is infinitely increased, while our mental development keeps pace with them and enhances its value.
So we like all these impressions from the outer world very much; especially if they are endowed with movement, and above all the stimulating touch of our fellow beings, in so far as we find them sympathetic. Thus there arises in us the longing for companionship, friendship and love.
In the evolution of the species, mutual approach and mutual contact first assumed importance in the warm-blooded animals, on account of both the range of variability of temperature and the variety of the massage motives. The mutual approach is hence-forward felt to be a permanent delight, and thus the sexual impulse of these species has developed into the love-life.
In the higher species this love-life assumes a form that is constantly more comprehensive and manifold, with the constant addition of more spiritual motives full of joy and charm, until finally in man love becomes something so spiritual that the material impulse not infrequently recedes entirely into the background. Also if we carefully observe our individual development from childhood to manhood, we can trace the same process of evolution, and can still distinctly perceive how greatly the sexual feeling is really only a special development of the sensibility of the skin.
The passionate feelings which we adults commonly experience almost exclusively in the sexual sensations, express themselves in children just as intensely, long before puberty, as a general sensibility of the skin.
The smallest child likes being tickled and caressed, on any part of the body, and soon forms sympathies or antipathies in consequence. Young children play as heedlessly together as kittens or puppies; they roll over each other and tease each other; sometimes they will put up with anything from each other and sometimes the contrary. Bigger children wrestle and fight fiercely as though their lives depended upon it. Thus manhood approaches.
Gradually through force of habit all parts of the skin have become insensitive or less sensitive to this local contact, but some of the more intimate parts of the skin still remain sensitive, because they are more concealed, and so far have been more protected on account of the proprieties, so that they preserved the whole of their original sensibility. We now come to a critical point in our lives; the awakening of our sexual impulse. Prototypes of these very sensitive parts of our bodies, are all those portions of the skin which are constantly sheltered from all rough handling by clothing, such as the neck, the armpits and the soles of the feet, but especially the regions where our urinary and sexual canals terminate.
These portions of skin were predestined to be the foci of all contraction impulses as soon as the sexual impulse should be awakened.
So here too, we are dealing primarily with a skin-sensibility. For, to be exact, it is not the erectile tissue that is so sensitive, but those portions of the skin that are alternately congested and depleted through the ebb and flow of the blood in the erectile tissue. From the period of puberty onwards this sensibility is appreciably increased through the stimulating effect of the sexual organochemical substances to which we have frequently alluded.
Thus one might well say that we have a sixth sensory organ, for here also we have an increased local sensibility of the skin combined with a complicated special apparatus. Only with this difference: in other sensory organs the normal stimulus comes from without, and only the abnormal from within; while in the sexual apparatus the normal stimulus comes from within and the artificial stimulation from without. We are here at the excretory pole of the body.
In the prime of our life we are often so governed by our sexual impulse, that for the time being all other emotional impulses are obliterated. But because the sexual sense is only a partial manifestation of the general sensibility of the skin, the need of sexual contact still remains a special case of the general impulse to individual contractation. Sexual abstinence may certainly be a great misery, but one feels much more unhappy if one fails to find satisfaction even of the primary longing for companionship and affection. How many men who have been living for years in rooms, alone, without family connections and home comforts, have drifted at last into torrents of vice, not because their sexual impulse was so overpowering, but simply because the feelink of loneliness and neglect became at last intolerable. One also realises why solitary confinement drives men mad, and why masturbation is so degrading.
We can now understand, too, just as we saw in the compensation of some of the lost sense-organs by other organs, to what a great extent sexual affection and general affection can replace each other, and this point is of practical importance. Lovers. feel for the time being absolutely no need of the affection of the outer world; they are happiest when alone with each other, and intoxicated with sexual delight. But when we are inconsolable for the loss of a loved one, a husband or wife, words are useless, only a silent grip of the hand, or a gentle embrace can bring us, with the warm tears of sympathy, a measure of consolation. And even if one is almost demented from the effects of sexual abstinence or the loss of one's partner, the gentle touch of loving hands and companionship by day and night always gives the most relief.
For we should not lose sight of the fact that even in the prime of our lives the sexual impulse only takes possession of us for a moment; there is an ebb and flow. Even during the honeymoon the actual connection forms only a small fraction of all the caresses which then render us so happy. The general need of affection is far more fundamental; only this need is felt by some people much more keenly than by others, and finds its expression in one more by bodily contact and in another by psychic sympathy. And when with advancing years, sexuality itself fades, the need for affection is by no means extinguished, but is often only felt more strongly. When we are ill or perhaps on our death-bed it assumes its greatest importance, and is our only consolation.
So it is a fundamental error, though one very commonly made, to try to trace a sexual element in every case of affection.
In our relation with the other sex, the sexual factor often plays only a secondary part. Sometimes even the difference of sex directly restrains expressions of further affection; although in this case the danger itself may possess a special charm. In reality it is wholly and solely our own exaggerated sexuality, which leads us to assume a sexual basis and fail to recognise the non-sexual.
Through this erroneous idea a natural friendship between two young people of the opposite sex may often be grossly misunderstood and the purest and finest feelings wilfully stifled. In this way a sort of crude and animal sexuality is constantly encouraged, as though the satisfying of the sexual passions was the final object of all affection; although in love there exist a hundred no less intimate and passionate ways of showing affection.
The tender attachment of childhood, the romantic idealism of adolescence, the vows of eternal friendship in early manhood, are no less true and sincere than the sexual life that occurs later on; the first kiss is sometimes no less passionate than the first conjugal connection; the time of engagement is quite as sweet as the subsequent married life.
And yet in the most prosaic conjugal life, the sharing of all joys and sorrows may cause both partners in the course of time to feel united by sacred bonds of mutual devotion; and this found symbolic expression centuries ago in the sacramental marriage under the blessing of the church.
In all religions we find this innate connection of the religious with the sexual feelings, the two primitive and typically impulsive manifestations of our psychic life; human love and heavenly love. In the different epochs of history, however, this connection has been manifested in very different ways; in paganism often frankly sensually; in the Middle Ages mystically, and nowadays more idealistically. And the more religion develops as the cult of the higher ideals which slumber in every human breast, the more manifest will be the union between these higher aspirations and sexual love.
After these three chapters in which we have traced the origin of our sexuality, our intellect, and our affections, we shall in the eight following chapters review the manner in which the animal impulse has gradually evolved into the higher love-life, that is to say a historical description of the mutual behaviour of the two sexes both in men and in animals.