An Introduction to Social Psychology
Supplementary Chapter 5: The Sex Instinct
IN previous editions of this book the sex instinct was dismissed with a few words only, partly because of the difficulty of treating of it satisfactorily in a book designed to appeal to the general reader, partly because it had been discussed at great length by several able writers, and because it seemed that in respect to this one department of human conduct the main thesis of my book was already generally accepted; the thesis, namely, that human activities, both mental and bodily, are only to be explained or understood by tracing them back to a number of innate dispositions, tendencies to feel and act in certain more or less specific ways, in certain situations; tendencies which manifest themselves in each normal individual of the species independently of previous experience of such situations and which, like the similar innate tendencies of the animals, may properly be called instinctive.
But I have found that to obtain general acceptance of this theory of human action is not so easy a task as I had supposed it to be. And, since the consideration of sexual experience and conduct affords the clearest illustrations and the most obvious support of the theory, I feel that it would be foolish to neglect to make good this serious omission.
The addition of this supplementary chapter seems to be called for also by the widespread interest in and lively controversies over questions of mental pathology which have sprung up in recent years and in which the question of the rôle of sex has figured very prominently.
Throughout the greater part, and more especially throughout the higher part, of the animal kingdom, the members of each species are of two kinds, male and female, and reproduction is sexual — that is to say, reproduction depends upon the fusion of a living cell formed in the body of a male (the sperm cell) with one formed in the body of a female (the egg) to form the germ which evolves into the new individual. This fusion, together with the processes by which the two cells are brought together, is the process of fertilization. In plants, among many species of which sexual reproduction is also the rule, fertilization is left as it were to chance; the plant does nothing more than produce a quantity of male or female germ cells, or both (pollen and ovules), and set these in such positions that external forces of nature (generally insects or the wind) bring together cells of the two kinds. But in the animal kingdom it is the rule that a great economy of germ cells is effected by the operation of the sex instinct, an instinct which impels individuals of opposite sex to approach one another at the time when their germ cells are ready to take part in the process of fertilization. In many species of fish we see the operation of the sex instinct at its simplest; the male merely swims close to a female and ejects a cloud of sperm cells into the water, at the same time as the female extrudes into the water a number of eggs; and the final approximation and fusion of the egg and sperm cells is effected by the active approach of the latter to the former and by a process of penetration of
(476) the egg by the sperm, when contact has been effected. This active approach of the sperm cell to the egg and its penetration of it remain very obscure. We are not concerned with it here, further than to note that it strikes the keynote of male and of female sexuality throughout the animal scale — namely, the active seeking of the female by the male and the relatively passive or merely attractive rôle of the female. Apart from this final act of the germ cells, the process of fertilization consists essentially in the two stages of the operation of the sex instinct : first, the near approach of two individuals of opposite sex; secondly, the discharge of the reproductive cells in such a way that they come into near neighbourhood of one another.
The sex instinct is Nature's provision for the effecting of these first two stages of the process of fertilization, the process which initiates the development of each new individual. Like other instincts it is a complex, innately organized, psycho-physical disposition, consisting of three parts, each subserving one of the three phases that we distinguish in every complete mental or psycho-physical process, namely the cognitive, the affective, and the conative; three parts which, from the point of view of nervous function and structure, we may call the afferent or sensory, the central, and the efferent or motor.
It is important to note that, even at the simple level
( 477) of sex activity displayed by the fishes, the operation of the instinct implies or presupposes a differentiation of the two sexes in respect of external or perceptible characters which serve as recognition-marks of sex. For, in the absence of such perceptible differences between the sexes (commonly called secondary sex characters), it would be impossible for the male to distinguish the female of his species from his fellow males, and hence impossible to achieve that first stage of the process of fertilization, the approach of the male to the female. Accordingly we find that in all bisexual animal species the two sexes are differentiated by the possession of such recognition-marks of sex; marks which may be perceptible by any one of the senses, but which in the higher animals most commonly appeal to the eye, though not infrequently to the other great organs of perception at a distance, namely, the ear and the nose.
It is still more important to note that this first stage of the fertilization process, the approach of the male to the female, presupposes (on the part of the male at least) an innate capacity to recognize the female, i.e. to distinguish the female from the male, to perceive her as different by reason of her recognition-marks of sex. For, though it may seem plausible to suppose that, in the more intelligent and social species, the male learns through experience to distinguish the female, this cannot be maintained of the less intelligent species, and is clearly inadmissible of the many species in which the male, on first encountering the adult female, is attracted by her in a way in which he is not attracted by males. The innate capacity or disposition to recognize the other sex by aid of the recognition-marks of sex is, then, an essential feature or part of the complex innate disposition which is the sex instinct. Without this perceptual side
( 478) the instinct would be well-nigh useless to the animals; it would achieve the first essential step of the process of fertilization but very wastefully and uncertainly. The sex instinct, then, illustrates very clearly a much-neglected fact of instinct on which I have insisted in the earlier chapters of this volume, the fact, namely, that an instinct is not only an innate disposition to act and to feel in a more or less specific manner, but is also an innate disposition to perceive or perceptually discriminate those things towards which such reactions are demanded by the welfare of the species.
In many species it is not sufficient that the cognitive side of the instinct should enable the perceptual discrimination of one sex from the other. A further differentiation of it is required. For the second stage of the process of fertilization, the extrusion of the germ cells at the required place and time, is also accomplished instinctively. In the simplest cases the mere proximity of two individuals of opposite sex seems to suffice to produce or excite this further reaction; as when the male fish or frog merely pours out his germ cells into the water in which the female is laying her eggs. But in many species the second stage of the process involves a more complex action or train of actions, that is to say, as in so many other cases, the motor issue of the excitement of the instinct is not a single reaction or a single or repeated movement of one kind, but a chain or series of reactions, each step of which brings about a new situation that evokes the next step.
In mammals the second stage of the process of fertilization is complicated by the necessity of bringing the sperm cells into the near neighbourhood of the egg, while the egg still remains within the womb of the female; this being the only place in which the fertilized egg
( 479) finds the conditions necessary to the earlier stages of its development. In order that the sperm cells may be brought into such a position that they may of their own feeble powers of locomotion reach the egg in the womb, the male is provided with the organ of intromission, and the female with the antechamber to the womb. And to the same end the sex instinct is modified and complicated in such a way that the second stage of the process of fertilization, the emission of the sperm cells by the male, is no longer excited by the mere proximity to, or by mere contact with, the female. It is necessary that the organ of the male shall enter the antechamber of the womb, and that emission of the sperm cells shall not take place until this is accomplished. In order that the second stage of fertilization shall be completed in this manner, the sex instinct of the male requires to be complicated on its perceptive as well as on its executive side. The male accordingly is endowed, not only with the capacity of recognizing the female, but also with the capacity of singling out the entrance to the womb. And on its executive side the male's instinct is complicated in such a way that he is impelled to embrace the female in the appropriate manner. The sex instinct of the mammalian female requires less specialization than that of the male; for, her rôle being passive and receptive rather than active and aggressive, she does not need to be innately endowed with any tendency to participate actively in the second stage of the process of fertilization (a point of some importance for the understanding of the difference between male and female sexuality). Nevertheless, in some species the instinct seems to impel her to respond to the movements of the male with appropriate corresponding behaviour. In both sexes the activity of the sex instinct is supported by a powerful impulse and
(480) accompanied by an emotional excitement, which, when the process of fertilization runs its normal course, waxes throughout, attains its climax, and then suddenly subsides. And the whole activity seems normally to be highly pleasurable, in accordance with the general law that the natural and unimpeded progress of any instinctive activity towards its natural end is pleasurably toned.
This brief and general description of the nature and operation of the sex instinct in mammals holds good for the human species; and, although the operation of the instinct is often (especially among persons of culture and refinement) very much complicated and obscured by the influence of the will, and of personal sentiments and ideals, it nevertheless is often displayed in relatively uncomplicated and direct fashion. Indeed, a principal source of the difficulties and dramas of civilized life is to be found in the fact that, owing to the great strength of the impulse of this instinct, men, and even women, who have attained a high level of character and culture are liable to be swept away by a flood of sexual passion, and, the restraints normally maintained by their higher sentiments being temporarily broken through, to be impelled to yield to the prompting of the instinct in a manner almost as simple and direct as the mating of the animals.
As in most species of the higher animals, the sex instinct in man does not attain its full development until the period of youth, the period of growth and acquisition, is well-nigh completed. The questions of the age at which the instinct normally comes into operation in man, and of the course of its development, are still in dispute; and in respect to them opinions still differ very widely. These very important topics will be discussed in a final section of this chapter. At present we may confine our attention
(481) to some special features and problems of the fully developed instinct in man.
It is maintained by some high authorities on the psychology of sex that the activities which I have described in the foregoing paragraphs as constituting the first and second stages of the process of fertilization are respectively the expressions of two impulses which they denote by the terms impulses of " contrectation " and of " detumescence." But it would be a mistake to attribute these two stages of the sexual act to separate instincts. In the animal world we may observe numerous instances of " chain instincts," instincts, that is to say, each of which manifests itself in a chain of activities; each step of such a chain prepares the way for a further step, the new situation created by each step modifying in detail the direction and operation of the impulse, while yet the impulse towards the one biological end seems to dominate and to supply the conative energy of the whole process. As examples of such chain instincts we may cite those which impel most of the constructive efforts of animals (the nest-building of birds, the web-weaving of spiders), and such actions as those by which a squirrel buries a nut in the ground, or a bird first lays eggs in some chosen spot and then broods over them. Just as in these instances the first step of the instinctive process creates a situation which excites the second step, so the first stage in the process of fertilization in man prepares in a double manner the situation which excites the activities of the second stage. The perception of a suitable individual of the opposite sex evokes the impulse of approach, and at the same time tends to bring about that
(482) state of tumescence or turgescence of the sex organs which (in the male at least) is a necessary preliminary to the second stage of the process. But though the bodily activities of the two stages are different, the quality of the affective excitement that accompanies the activities is recognizably the same throughout both stages.
This sexual excitement, when it occurs uncomplicated by other emotions and tendencies, is properly called " lust." It is unfortunate that this word has lost its respectability owing to the opprobrium heaped upon lust by Christian moralists. But, for the purposes of psychology, it is a necessary and useful word. We must frankly recognize that, in spite of all the hard things that have been said about lust, it is an essential element in the emotional conative attitude of human lovers towards one another; and that, no matter how much the attitude and the feeling of refined lovers may be modified and complicated by other tendencies, lust nevertheless strikes the ground tone and supplies the chief part of the mental and bodily energy which is put forth so recklessly and copiously in the service of sex love.
But, while it is necessary to recognize that lust enters into and colours the emotions evoked in the lover by the presence or the thought of the beloved one, we must avoid the mistake (not infrequently made) of assuming that the mere direction of the sex impulse towards a particular person in itself constitutes sexual love. Such habitual direction of the sex impulse towards one person is certainly an essential condition or feature of sex love; but an habitual lusting for a particular person would be a crude sentiment not worthy of the name of love. Sex love is a complex sentiment, and in its operation the protective impulse and tender emotion of the parental
( 483) instinct are normally combined with the affect of the sex instinct, restraining, softening, and ennobling the purely egoistic and somewhat brutal tendency of lust.
The presence of the maternal element in the attitude of a woman towards her lover has been recognized by countless writers of romance. And that the tender protective element commonly enters into the sentiment of the man for the beloved woman is equally obvious. That sex love should thus combine the most purely altruistic with the most ruthlessly egoistic tendency of human nature, seems sufficiently accounted for in the case of the woman by the great strength of the maternal impulse and the ease with which it is aroused in her in all personal relations; and in the man it is perhaps sufficiently accounted for by the fact that woman, especially at the age at which she is most strongly attractive to man, resembles in many respects, both mental and physical, the child, the normal object of the parental or protective impulse.
It is, then, a mistake to attribute to the sex instinct all the manifestations of sex love; for this sentiment is commonly highly complex, and involves not only the affective dispositions of the sexual and parental instincts, but those of other instincts also, notably those of the instincts of self-display and submission. The importance of distinguishing between the sex instinct and the sentiment of sex love, and of recognizing the complex constitution of the latter, is well illustrated by the controversies raised among the mental pathologists by the doctrines of Professor Sigmund Freud. Freud proposes to extend very greatly the sphere commonly attributed to sexuality in human life, assigning a sexual root to mental and nervous disorders of almost every kind, as well as to all dreams and to other processes of normal mental life
( 484) that have no obvious connection with sex. It seems to me that this immense extension of the sphere of sexuality (which has excited acute opposition to Freud's doctrines and obscures for many the important and valuable truths contained in them) is in large part an error due to the neglect of the distinction insisted upon in the foregoing paragraph. For Freud and his disciples, taking the sentiment of sex love as the type of all love, regard as manifestations of sexuality all modes of behaviour and of feeling that are of the same kind as those that occur as phases in the life-history of this sentiment. They are thus led to regard as sexual, or as containing a sexual element, the love of parents for their children and of children for their parents, as well as every other variety of love and every manifestation of tender emotion. Expressions of other affective dispositions that commonly enter into the composition of the sentiment of sex love have been, in a similar way and for the same reason, regarded by writers of this school as indicative of the presence of the sexual tone in relations in which they are displayed, or spoken of as components of the normal sexuality of man and woman. If we carefully observe this distinction between the sex instinct and the complex acquired sentiment of sex love, we shall find no reason to regard the sex instinct as comprising
(485) any tendencies other than those which are directly concerned in effecting the first and second stages of the process of fertilization.
If we adopt this relatively restricted view of the scope of the sex instinct in man, it still appears as one of considerable complexity on its executive side; and on its perceptual side it is certainly more complex than has commonly been assumed. In earlier chapters of this book I have urged, in opposition to a widely held view, that the structure of an instinct generally involves one or more perceptual dispositions which render the possessor of the instinct capable of attentively singling out and discriminatively perceiving objects or situations of the kind that demand the instinctive reaction. The sex instinct is no exception to this rule. We have seen that in the animals the presence of the recognition-marks of sex implies that the sex instinct renders them capable of distinguishing the members of the opposite sex from those of their own, and that this truth is especially obvious in the case of those animals which react sexually on the first occasion of encountering a member of the other sex. In man, since the sexual instinct does not normally ripen or become excitable until the individual has greatly developed both his perceptual capacities and his power of self-direction, no such direct evidence of the innate perceptual organization of the instinct can be cited; but there is no reason to believe that in this respect the sex instinct of the human species has under-gone any considerable degree of degeneration or involution. And we have indirect evidence supporting the view here maintained. In the first place, the great emotional effect and aesthetic value of the human form, especially of the female form for man, can hardly be accounted for without this assumption. But of greater
(486) evidential value is the fact that the boy or youth who knows nothing of the facts of sex may, and often does, experience the strong and for him altogether mysterious attraction and emotional influence of the female form, and may find that his imagination is strongly occupied by it, even against his will. If we reject the view I am urging, we are compelled to regard the direction of the sex impulse towards the opposite sex as determined by experience of sexual pleasure obtained through contact with the other sex; or as resulting from the acquired knowledge that the other sex is the natural object of the impulse and that only through a member of that sex can the sexual impulse, craving, or desire, obtain full satisfaction. Attempts have been made to explain the fact in both these ways. The former way is a special application of the pleasure-pain theory of action, the fallacy of which has been exposed in a foregoing chapter. Both kinds of attempt break down in face of the fact that the sex attraction is sometimes felt and displayed prior to all experience of sexual pleasure and to all knowledge of the facts of sex.
It is true that perverted example, or early acquaintance with perverse modes of obtaining sex pleasure, may and too often does pervert the direction of the sex impulse, in the ways denoted by the terms " sexual inversion " and " sexual fetishism "; but the fact that the normal direction of the sex impulse so often asserts
( 487) itself in spite of early acquired experience and knowledge of these unfortunate kinds is strong evidence that the impulse is innately directed to the opposite sex. And such innate direction necessarily implies that the instinct is innately organized on its afferent side for the perceptual discrimination of the opposite sex by aid of the secondary sex characters.
Consideration of the sex instinct thus affords very strong support to the view of the nature of instinct adopted and maintained throughout this volume, the view, namely, that an instinct is an innately organized capacity, not only to act and feel in a certain manner, but also to perceive the object upon which the action and the feeling are directed. Psychologists are very slow to accept this view, although much of the behaviour of animals, especially of the higher insects, implies it in the most obvious and unmistakable fashion. Their reluctance seems to be due to the fact that " innate ideas " are out of fashion and that to admit innate dispositions to perceive objects of special kinds is perilously near to admitting " innate ideas "; for it is but a small step from an innate perceptual disposition to an innate disposition to represent, or think of, an object apart from its presentation to the senses. In my view there are good grounds for believing that dispositions of both kinds are inheritable and innate; and in any case we ought to be guided in this question by impartial consideration of
(488) the facts, rather than by the prevailing philosophical fashions.
The principal thesis of this book is that each instinct is a great source or spring of the psycho-physical energy that supports our bodily and mental activities. This principle is illustrated very vividly by the sex instinct.
It is generally recognized that in men and animals alike the sex impulse is apt to manifest itself in very vigorous and sustained efforts towards its natural end; and that in ourselves it may determine very strong desire, in the control of which all the organized forces of the developed personality, all our moral sentiments and ideals, and all the restraining influences of religion, law, custom, and convention too often are confronted with a task beyond their strength.
It is generally recognized also how the energy of this impulse may quicken and animate the whole organism, and how it sustains and invigorates all activities which are entered upon as steps or means towards the attainment of the end of the instinct. In this connection the sex instinct is especially interesting in two respects. First, it illustrates, better than any other, the fact that
( 489) the instinct may work strongly within us, impelling us to actions that bring us nearer to the end of the instinct, while yet that end remains undefined in consciousness. Thus a youth, though totally inexperienced in and ignorant of sexual relations, nevertheless may feel very strongly attracted to a member of the other sex, impelled to seek her neighbourhood, to follow her, and to find enormous emotional value and significance in the slightest contact. In such a person the sex impulse may be nothing more than a vague restlessness, a blind craving for some object or impression or experience that he cannot define to himself ; yet under favouring conditions the impulse may carry him on irresistibly to the accomplishment of the actions which constitute both the first and second stages of the process of fertilization.
Secondly, the social consequences of the sexual act are so serious that great hindrances are opposed to its completion, both by the constitution of human nature (especially female nature) and by the customs and conventions, the traditions and ideals, which a moralized society imposes upon its developing members. Yet the conditions that tend to excite the instinct are very frequently realized in normal social intercourse. Hence it follows that in most members of a civilized society (especially in the younger celibate members) the instinct is frequently excited in some degree, but only comparatively rarely (in some cases never) permitted to accomplish its end. The impulse of this instinct therefore, in addition to subserving the primary function of reproduction of the species, plays a large part (in co-operation with other tendencies) in determining the forms and maintaining the activities of social intercourse. In the games of children and young people, in their dances and social gatherings, the mingling of the sexes gives a zest to the enjoyment
(490) and adds to the vigour of both bodily and mental activity, through the appeal to the sex instinct ; even though the gathering be of the most decorous, and though no single participant be capable of defining the end of the instinct or be aware of the source of his special animation. And in such games as kiss-in-the-ring, in the sophisticated dances of modern society, in flirtations of all degrees, and in the more or less self-conscious efforts of deliberate courtship, the operation of the sex impulse is obvious enough.
Dance and song and the writing of love letters, which figure so largely in the arts of courtship, connect the large fields of social activity in which the influence of the sex impulse is very obvious, with an equally extensive and perhaps even more important province of human activity in which the influence of the sex instinct is more obscure but undoubtedly present, namely, the production and enjoyment of works of art.
The dance and song and literary composition which are used more or less deliberately in courtship may clearly be brought under the general principle that the conative energy of the instinct maintains all activities that appear to be means towards the attainment of the instinctive end. In this respect they are comparable to the efforts of the young man to secure an economic position which will enable him to marry the girl of his choice; efforts which, as we know, are often very energetic and long sustained.
But this principle will hardly explain the part of the sex impulse in those aesthetic activities whose clearly envisaged and sufficient goal seems to be the completed work of art. Perhaps we may partially explain the influence of the sex instinct in such works by invoking the principle that the means to a goal tend, when that
( 491) goal is long pursued, to become desired as ends in them-selves; and where the goal of an instinct is not explicitly defined in consciousness, as is so frequently the case with the sex instinct, this conversion of means into ends or goals is no doubt especially apt to occur.
But the connection between the sex instinct and artistic production is probably more direct in many instances. The stirring of the sex impulse may suffuse the body with energy and the mind with a vague emotion and a longing for something indefinable; and this surplus energy, not being consciously directed to any goal, and being denied the opportunity and the conditions which would lead on the impulse to define itself in action and in thought, vents itself in spontaneous and self-sufficing, i.e. purely lyrical, activities, such as mere gambollings, dance, or song. If this be admitted, it remains a very difficult problem to explain how and why these modes of expending the sex energy assume the forms which we regard as specifically artistic. This is perhaps the most fundamental problem of aesthetics. No doubt much is due to example and tradition; but I do not think that the full answer can be given, unless we recognize far more fully than is usual with psychologists the innate organization of the perceptual side of the sex instinct. If we consider the facts on the comparatively simple plane of animal life, we find, I think, the key to the understanding of the relation of sex to art. Who can doubt that the female nightingale is thrilled by the music of the male as by no other sound; that the evolutions of the male pigeon are pleasing to the hen bird; and that in both cases this is true because the sex instinct is so organized as to be excited by these impressions? That the stimulation of the sex instinct in men and women yields a pleasurable excitement even when there is no anticipation of further
( 492) indulgence of it, is sufficiently shown by the extent to which the lower forms of art, literature, and public entertainment rely upon a titillation of the sex impulse in making their appeal to the public. When the plastic and pictorial arts represent beautiful human forms, they make appeal to the same element ; but in their higher expressions they present these objects in such a way as to evoke also wonder and admiration, a respectful or even reverential attitude which prevents the dominance of the sex impulse over the train of thought, and, arresting its bodily manifestations, diverts its energy to other channels. This diverted energy then serves to reinforce the intellectual activity required for the apprehension of the various subtle harmonies of line and light and colour; that is to say; the energy liberated by the appeal to the sex instinct is utilized in enhancing the activity of purely aesthetic apprehension.
But, even though this account be in the main correct, it seems probable that we still have not exhausted the indirect influences of the sex instinct. It is widely held, and though it is difficult to adduce any convincing or crucial evidence, the view appears well founded, that the energy of the sex impulse, if it is not expended wholly in its own channels of expression, may function as a re-enforcer of purely intellectual activities in situations that make no appeal to the instinct. If this be true, we can hardly hope to find any psychological explanation of the facts, though physiology may render them in some degree intelligible.
Such indirect utilization of the sex instinct as a great fund of energy available for other than purely sexual activities is the process which Freud has proposed to call " sublimation "; and we may conveniently adopt this term and recognize the general truth of the notion,
( 493) without committing ourselves to the acceptance of all, or indeed of any other, of the Freudian doctrines.
The regulation of the sex instinct always has been and must ever continue to be a difficult problem for the human race. And the difficulty of the problem increases, rather than diminishes, with every forward step of civilization and every increase of the control of far-sighted intelligence over the more immediate promptings of our instinctive nature. For the intellect of man, being superimposed upon this strong animal tendency, whose exercise, because of its great strength, is attended by such intense pleasure or gratification, leads him to seek to obtain the greatest possible amount of this pleasure, and at the same time to seek, with ever more success as intellect and knowledge increase, to frustrate the end for the service of which this strong instinct was evolved. This is a fundamental disharmony of human nature which not only endangers the happiness of individuals of all times and places, but also threatens every advancing civilization with stagnation and decay. Nature cannot solve the problem for us by altering the innate constitution of the human race; for to weaken either factor of this discord would be fatal to humanity; the weakening of the instinct would mean the extinction of the race; the weakening of the intellect would mean the loss of human attributes and of all that renders human life of more value than the animals'.
The system of sexual morality represents the cumulative effort of society to control and counteract this inevitable result of Nature's supreme achievement, the superposition of man's higher moral and intellectual capacities upon a basis of animal instincts; it is the attempt to solve this problem which Nature has left unsolved, to harmonize the life of intellect and the development of
(494) self-conscious moral personality with the needs of the race and the promptings of the instinct which at lower levels of evolution effectively serves life's most fundamental law, namely propagation and increase. And so we find that in societies of all levels of culture the operation of this most powerful instinct is more or less success-fully regulated by an array of laws and conventions, supported by the strongest sanctions of custom and public opinion, of religion and of superstition. And, apart from its primary operations, the great strength of the sex impulse gives it, as we have seen a wide range of secondary functions of great importance for the higher life of man-kind. The problem before every civilization that aspires to attain and maintain a high level of culture is, therefore, not merely so to regulate the sex instinct as to prevent its exerting an influence injurious to the interests of the higher culture, while it performs its all-important primary function; but also to direct it in such a fashion that its immense energy shall be brought as freely as possible into the service of the higher culture. Hence the importance of a knowledge of the nature and working of the instinct and of its normal course of development.
Among those who have recognized the existence of the sex instinct in man, it has been usual to regard it as lying latent in the child up to the age of puberty, and as then rapidly maturing, and attaining its full strength in the course of a year or two.
But in recent years a very different view of the course of sexual development has been vigorously propagated by the school of medical psychologists of which Professor Freud is the leader and inspirer. It is not yet possible to form a decided opinion upon the doctrines of this school. I incline strongly to the view that they have extended to normal individuals generalizations which
( 495) are true only of a certain number of persons of somewhat abnormal constitution, from among whom their patients have been drawn. But, since it is possible that their views are in the main true of the normal constitution, and since, even, if as I suggest, they are true only of a minority, this minority may be numerous, it seems necessary to give here some brief outline of them.
Freud's doctrine differs from generally received views in maintaining that the sexual life of the individual begins its development at or even before birth. Freud asserts that the child's sexuality, although awake from earliest infancy, is not at first an impulse definitely directed towards any object, but consists rather in a capacity for finding pleasure in a variety of modes of sensory stimulation and bodily movement. Without going so far as to maintain (with some authors) that all pleasure is sexual, he regards the pleasure found in these stimulations and movements as essentially sexual. The thumb-sucking of infants is regarded as the type of such infantile sexual processes. Freud sees in this habit a blind seeking of sexual gratification; he regards it as the source of a number of peculiar hysterical troubles of later life and believes that it always involves the risk of the development of such troubles. He describes the mucous membrane of the lips, therefore, as an " erogenous zone," i. e., a sensory area stimulation of which may give rise to sexual excitement. And he believes that every infant possesses, in addition to the primary erogenous zone (which consists of the external sex organs them-selves), a number of such zones, any one of which may
(496) become unduly prominent, if in any way it is unduly stimulated, thus bringing about a perversion of the sex impulse; for normal development can only take place if all these zones become duly subordinated to the primary one. Accordingly, he describes the normal infant as " polymorphous perverse," and believes that accidents of development leading to perversion very frequently occur.
This initial stage of objectless sexual excitement or " auto-erotism " is said normally to persist throughout the period of infancy proper; until, about the age of seven years, there begin to operate certain tendencies which repress or keep in check the crude sex impulses, namely, shame, loathing, and disgust. Under favor-able conditions of environment and training, the sex tendencies remain more or less completely repressed throughout the period of childhood proper. At puberty they increase in strength; but, if the repressing forces are now re-enforced by moral training and aesthetic ideals, they manifest themselves only in sublimated forms; that is to say, the energy of the sex impulse is diverted from the channels of direct sexual expression and is " long-circuited " into channels in which it supports and intensifies intellectualized and refined modes of concern with the natural object of the impulse, namely, persons of the opposite sex. The processes of repression and sublimation are regarded as somewhat precarious, and as liable at every stage to suffer interferences which will lead to crude and direct manifestations of a normal or perverted kind. It is said, for example, that the sex impulse of the boy normally and properly becomes directed towards the opposite sex by the pleasure that he obtains from the tender ministrations of his mother; but that there is great danger in encouraging the boy's
(497) affection towards his mother and in her lavishing caresses upon him, because such treatment is apt to result in his sex impulse becoming too strongly fixed upon this its first object, a result which may afterwards lead to troubles of various kinds. The impulse, thus directed, becomes, it is said, repressed, driven into subconsciousness, where it works in a subterraneous fashion, and expresses itself in indirect and symbolical ways in the youth's thoughts, feelings, and conduct. It is said, for example, that the youth grows jealous of his father; but that this jealousy, being repressed, may show itself only in an exaggerated deference towards him. If this state of affairs continues, no great harm is done, save that the youth is rendered incapable of falling in love in a normal manner with a girl of his own age. But in some cases, it is said, this state of things issues in the most awful domestic tragedies of which " Hamlet " and " OEdipus Rex " are the type. This school of psycho-pathology describes such a repressed but sub-consciously operating tendency as a " complex "; it speaks of a repressed sexual attraction to the mother with a consequent repressed jealousy of the father, as of the type of the " OEdipus complex "; and it claims to have traced the influence of complexes of this type in the forms of many myths, legends, and works of literature.
In attempting to form an opinion on this Freudian doctrine of infantile sexuality, it is important to remember that, even if we find ourselves compelled to reject it for the normal majority, it may be at least partially true of a minority. For, in regard to the most fundamental point at issue, namely, the age at which sexuality is to be attributed to the child, general biological considerations prepare us to find that individuals differ widely in this respect. It may well be that in an unknown proportion of human beings the sex instinct begins to be excitable
( 498) at a very early age, while in others, probably the great majority, this occurs at a much later stage of development; and it is not improbable that the neurotic patients, on the study of whom the Freudian doctrine is chiefly based, belong to the minority, and that it is just this peculiarity of constitution that renders them liable to their disorders. In considering the question of infantile sexuality, we must therefore attach but little weight to the evidence of it drawn from the study of psycho-neurotic patients, and must rather weigh the positive indications for and against it provided by healthy persons.
I have already indicated the fallacy of one piece of reasoning advanced in support of the Freudian view, namely, the acceptance of all manifestations of personal love or affection as evidence of sexuality; for this, as was said, is due to the confusion of the sexual instinct with the sentiment of love. Only one other piece of evidence on this side seems deserving of serious consideration; the fact, namely, that a considerable number of infants acquire the habit of playing with their sex organs in a manner which implies that such stimulation is pleasurable. If this were the rule with the majority of infants the argument would be very weighty. But that is by no means true. And we must remember that the infants who acquire this habit may belong to the minority of abnormal innate constitution whose existence we have admitted to be probable. It is very possible also that, by undue stimulation of the sex organs of a normal infant (an act of which unscrupulous persons are some-times guilty), the sex instinct may be forced to a precocious and partial development. In these two ways we may account for the autoerotism which seems to be manifested by some infants, without regarding it as a normal stage in the development of the sex instinct.
(499) It may be added that most of the other arguments adduced by Freud in support of his doctrine of infantile sexuality (such as e.g. the prevalence of thumb-sucking) may be dismissed on the ground that the doctrine of erogenous zones, with which they are bound up, is in itself very obscure, seems incapable of being rendered clear and self-consistent, and betrays a conception of the nature of the sex instinct which is vague, chaotic, and elusive, uncontrolled by consideration of the facts of animal instinct and inconsistent with these facts. In support of this last point of this indictment, it may suffice to point out that the Freudian conception of the nature and development of sexuality is radically incompatible with the view that the sex impulse is directed towards the opposite sex by the innate organization of the instinct— a view which is certainly true of many of the animals and which in its application to the human species is, as we have seen, very strongly based.
On the other side, two strong arguments may be adduced. First, a large number of auto-biographical accounts of sexual development have been published. Examination of these reveals the fact that, in a very large proportion of cases, the first stirrings and promptings of sex feeling that can be remembered by the subject were experienced in or about the eighth year of life. Freud maintains that infantile sex experiences are not remembered by the adult because the memory of them is actively repressed. But he entirely fails to explain why those which he supposes to occur before the eighth year should be forgotten, while those which occur between that age and puberty are remembered. It is also very important to note in this connection that a certain number
( 500) of these auto-biographers can distinctly remember having been made in infancy (i.e., before the eighth year) the victims of unscrupulous persons who have deliberately attempted, but without success, to excite them sexually; while their accounts show that similar attempts made a few years later have been or, if repeated, would undoubtedly have been successful.
Secondly, the observation of the behaviour of children gives strong support to this view. It is at about the age of eight years that the behaviour of children commonly begins to exhibit indications of their attraction towards and a new interest and feeling towards members of the other sex. Before this age some children display warm personal affection; but such displays commonly involve nothing that implies the operation of the sex instinct. And one feature of them constitutes indirect but weighty evidence of the absence of the sex element, namely, the complete absence of any reserve or bashfulness in their relations with the objects of their affection, although in other circumstances bashfulness may be strongly displayed. On the other hand, as soon as the sex instinct begins to be operative (i.e. from about the eighth year onwards) bashfulness is apt to dominate the attitude of the child in his relations to persons of the other sex (especially, perhaps, in relations of the boy to girls whose attraction for him is strong). This change of attitude and expression takes place, then, at about the age to which adult reminiscence agrees in attributing the first promptings of the sex impulse; and it can, I submit, only be explained by the assumption that a new and powerful factor normally comes into operation
( 501) about this age, a factor which can be assigned to no other source than the sex instinct, and which, if we identify it with the sex impulse, affords adequate explanation of the facts.
The manifestations of the sex instinct are intimately related with and modified by modes of behaviour which are popularly attributed to a vaguely conceived function or faculty termed modesty. But the attribution of them to " modesty " is by no means an explanation of them. " Modesty " and " modest " are terms properly used to denote the quality of character or of conduct characterized by such behaviour. Some authors assume that the tendency to such behaviour is a component of the sex instinct ; but, since this quality is displayed in a variety of situations that make no appeal to the sex instinct, that way of accounting for it is hardly justifiable.
It seems clear that modesty is closely allied to bashfulness. We may confine our attention to the modesty displayed in sex relations, and it is convenient to denote this form of modesty by the special term " pudor." We may, I think, regard pudor, together with all other forms of modesty and of humility, and the element of shrinking in bashfulness, as all alike expressions under different circumstances and at different levels of intellectualization, of one fundamental tendency, namely, the shrinking impulse of the instinct of self-abasement.
The behaviour of the females of many animal species, as well as the human, in the presence of the male is apt to be coy; this coyness of the female is essentially a refusal and avoidance of the sexual approaches of the male in spite of the excitement of her sex instinct. If, as Darwin and Wallace and other biologists have maintained, sexual selection has been an important factor of evolution, female coyness has had a great biological
( 502) rôle to play. For, by necessitating the active pursuit and the courtship of the female by the male, female coyness gives scope for the operation of sexual selection; the male better endowed with strength or skill to over-come his rivals, or with beauty of voice or form or color to excite more strongly the attention of the female, is given scope for the exercise or display of these advantages and opportunities to profit by them which he would hardly enjoy to the same extent, if the females of his species yielded at once to the advances of every male. The probability that female coyness plays this important rôle in evolution affords some ground for the view that it is the expression of a special instinct whose function it is to give scope for sexual selection. But the principle of economy of hypothesis forbids us to make this assumption, if the facts can be otherwise explained. And it is, I think, possible to regard coyness as but the manifestation of pudor under the special circumstances of the approach and pursuit of the ardent male. In fact, it would, perhaps, be more correct to describe coyness as essentially bashfulness displayed by the female under these circumstances. For bashfulness, as we have seen (Chapter V), seems to be essentially the expression of a conflict between the opposed instincts of self-display and self-abasement. And, in the coy behavior of the female pursued by the male, her movements of retreat and avoidance, which are attributable to the latter instinct, are commonly varied at moments by movements of self-display; the dominance of one or other tendency being determined from moment to moment by the increase or diminution of the male's aggressiveness.
That the impulses of self-display and self-abasement should habitually complicate the operation of the sex impulse is an inevitable consequence of the nature of
( 503) the three instincts from which they respectively spring. For the sex impulse necessarily intensifies self-consciousness, at the same time that it impels the individual to seek the presence of his or her fellows and to become attentive to their regards; that is to say, it brings members of the two sexes into just such relations to one another as are best fitted to lead to the excitement of the instincts of self-display and self-abasement. And, in order to account for the greater prominence of pudor and of coyness in the female than in the male, we have only to assume that the impulse of the instinct of self-abasement is in general stronger in woman than in man, an assumption which is borne out by many other peculiarities of feminine behaviour and feeling. In both the pudor and the coyness of the adult woman, the direct operation of this impulse is commonly complicated by other more intellectualized tendencies, notably by the desire to avoid transgressing the conventions of her society and the shrinking from the possibility of inducing disgust in the male. For we must recognize that disgust is primarily and specially excited by the secreta and excrementa of the body. And Nature, with an utter disregard for the dignity and high potentialities of the sexual functions, has placed our organs of reproduction in the closest anatomical and even physiological association with the body's principal channels of excretion.
The intimate connection of the operation of these two impulses with that of the sex instinct is clearly illustrated by the fashions of dress of almost every country and every age, and especially clearly perhaps by contemporary fashions in women's dress. It is a disputed question whether clothing was primarily used for the concealment or for the display of the body. The former view has been commonly accepted; but of late several authors have
(504) argued that the primitive function of clothing was to adorn 'and to draw attention to the sex characters of the body. But there is, I think, little room for doubt that clothing has from the first served both purposes, as it certainly does at the present time. In many subtle ways woman's dress manages, without transgressing the limits set by convention, to draw attention to and to accentuate her secondary sex characters; and that it serves at the same time to conceal the body is also obvious. And many masculine fashions of dress serve the same two opposed purposes.
The foregoing remarks on pudor, coyness, and bashfulness in sex relations bear out the view that their almost sudden onset or increase at about the eighth or ninth year is due to the awakening of the sex instinct. These considerations justify us in accepting as well founded the view that in the normal child the sex instinct first begins to make itself felt about the eighth year, though it is possible that even in normally constituted children it may be precociously awakened in some degree by improper influences. The most positive evidence that the instinct is commonly functional in the period of childhood proper is afforded by the frequency of cases in which children, through lack of control, bad example, and only too frequently the malpractices of older persons upon them, are led to exercise or to attempt to exercise the bodily activities of sex, not only under the form of self-abuse, but also as more or less successful efforts at connection with one another.
During this period (from the eighth year to puberty) the sex impulse is commonly weak and but very vaguely directed ; though it is, I think, an overstatement to say (with Dessoir and Moll) that the instinct is at this age quite undifferentiated or not at all directed to the opposite
( 505) rather than towards the same sex. During this period the maturation and extrusion of the germ cells does not normally occur in either sex, even if sexual connection takes place. This is only one of many facts which indicate that the excitation of the bodily manifestations of sex is highly undesirable at this age. During this period the inexperience, the ignorance, the curiosity, the natural suggestibility and plasticity of the child, and the weak differentiation or direction of its sex impulse towards the opposite sex, while stimulation &f it is nevertheless capable of yielding a pleasurable excitement; all these combine to render the child peculiarly susceptible to perversion of the instinct. It follows that initiation into perverted practices of any kind is peculiarly dangerous at this age; and there can be little doubt that many cases of homosexuality or inversion, and of " fetishism " (the fixation of the sex impulse upon unnatural objects) are determined by unfortunate experiences at this age. That the sex instinct so frequently turns towards its proper object and undergoes a normal development at puberty, in spite of influences which tend to its perversion during childhood, is strong evidence that its direction towards the opposite sex is determined by its innate constitution.
Reflection upon these special conditions and dangers of the child in respect to its sexual development must force us to the conclusion that the strong condemnation of pederasty which is common to most of the higher civilizations is entirely justifiable. There is among us a considerable number of persons who would defend the practice of sexual love between persons of the same sex; asserting that this is purely a private concern of individual taste and feeling; and that the present state of the law and of public opinion in this country inflicts
( 506) grievous hardship upon a number of persons whose sex impulse is innately directed to their own sex. The answer to all such pleas must be that, while we may pity the misfortune of such persons, they must, like others born with mental and bodily malformations still harder to bear, learn to adapt themselves as best they may to the social institutions formed for the regulation of the lives of normally constituted men and women, and must, if necessary, suffer in silence. If sexual inversion were always and only a purely innate peculiarity, there would be much to be said on the side of those who plead for individual freedom in this matter. But, so far from this being the case, it seems to be clearly proved that the example and influence of sexual perverts may and actually does determine the perversion of many individuals who, if shielded from such influences, would develop in a normal manner. This being so, it follows that social approval of homosexuality (even in its milder and less ignoble forms) tends to set up a vicious circle, the operation of which misdirects the sex impulse of increasing numbers of the successive generations, and therefore (as in ancient Greece) tends to the decay of the normal relations between the sexes and to the destruction of the society which has taken this false step.
The peculiar condition of the sex instinct in the child, with its liability to perversion, provides a weighty argument against the too strict segregation of the sexes at this age. For there can be little doubt that, although excitation of sexual feeling and activity to crude and direct expressions is very undesirable at this age, the awakening of the instinct in such a way that its impulse remains subdued and severely restricted in expression, while directed towards the opposite sex, is a safeguard against perversion; and it is probable that even at this age the
(507) energy of its impulse may be " sublimated " in the service of intellectual, moral, and aesthetic development.
The foregoing paragraph may not be interpreted with-out reserve as a justification of " co-education of the sexes "; but it does support the view that the normal family, containing several boys and girls and maintaining friendly relations with other similar families, provides the best environment for the child. The repression and sublimation of the sex impulse during childhood and youth is an essential condition for the development and maintenance in any society of a high level of culture. And of such repression and sublimation, respect of the boy for woman is the principal condition. It is here that the influence of good mothers and pure sisters is of so much importance. If woman were by nature nothing more for man than an object capable of stimulating his " erogenous zones " more effectively than objects of any other class, she would be merely the chief of many " fetish objects," and an unrestrained and excessive indulgence of the sexual appetite would be the inevitable rule for both sexes from childhood to old age. Hence it is supremely important that women should be presented to the boy and youth only in fair and noble and dignified forms; that he should learn, before his sex impulse attains its full strength, to regard women with respect as personalities.
We may enforce this point by imagining a normal boy subjected to influences of either of two extreme types. On the one hand, he may at an early age be led to regard woman as an animal endowed with a strong sex impulse, always seeking its gratification, and ever ready
( 508) to co-operate with him in obtaining sensual pleasures. There could be no " long-circuiting " or sublimation of the sex energy in such a case. On the other hand, the boy who knows women, and who knows of them only as beings superior to himself that deserve his profoundest respect and admiration, and who, when he learns the facts of sex and feels the powerful and mysterious attraction of a woman's body, believes that he cannot approach any one woman with the least hope of intimacy, unless he preserves an attitude of the utmost delicacy and respect, and then only by way of a long course of devoted service by which he may show his worth and his superiority to rival suitors; in such a boy the repression of the immediate promptings of the sex instinct are as inevitable as their free indulgence in the former case; and the energy of its impulse will lend itself to re-enforce all those activities which appear to him as the indispensable means towards the attainment of the natural end of this, the strongest tendency of his nature.
The alternatives may be stated still more crudely and forcibly. If a boy grew up in a society in which he might obtain possession of any female by knocking her down with a club, or by making a lewd gesture before her, his sex energy would inevitably expend itself in the main in crude sexual acts. On the other hand, in a society in which all women were noble and beautiful and chaste, there would be no sexual problem and disorder; for the development of the sex impulse of men would be compelled to follow the higher course. But the truth about women lies somewhere between the extremes we have imagined, and women, like men, differ widely in these respects.
Here we may see a warning against the extreme policy
(509) of sex enlightenment in youth. There is coming into fashion a strong tendency to carry this policy too far. It is too often assumed that mere knowledge of the facts of sex and of what is most desirable and admirable in /the conduct of the sex life is all-important and all-sufficient. But knowledge may be more dangerous than ignorance; ignorance of some of the facts is a great and necessary safeguard of youth; a second-hand familiarity with the facts of sexual vice cannot fail to be injurious to youth, and even a full insight into the psychology of sex is highly dangerous. Surely the boy should know only part of the facts! Surely it is permissible to lead him to believe that all women are more or less as we would have them be in an ideal world, and to allow men to appear to him as rather better in these respects than they actually are! The tree of knowledge cannot be robbed of its dangers, though it be draped in the driest of scientific jargon.
At puberty the child becomes the adolescent, and the transformation involves many profound changes of mind and body. In regard to puberty the great question of theoretical interest is — Are all or most of the characteristic mental changes to be regarded as direct and indirect effects of the maturing of the sex instinct and its organs, and of the increase of strength of its impulse? Or must we infer that a number of other innate tendencies that have been latent throughout infancy and childhood become active at this time? The second alternative has
(510) been widely taught or implied in writings on this topic. But the former is the simpler hypothesis, and we ought to explain the facts as far as possible by means of it, before we go on to make the other assumption. And it will go a long way towards explaining the facts. But first, something may be said against the other view.
We know that extirpation of the sex glands in infancy prevents the development of all the characteristic bodily changes of puberty, and it seems, though here the facts cannot be so easily observed, that it prevents also the characteristic mental changes. We should hardly expect these effects, if these changes depend upon the maturing at puberty of a number of more or less independent innate tendencies.
Again, those who take this second view have never succeeded in defining the nature of these tendencies whose existence and operation they assume. There is no theoretical objection to be made against the assumption; but as a principle of psychological method we must set our faces against the easy ad hoc postulation of innate tendencies, whenever we are confronted with a problem of conduct or of mental development.
The mental change most generally recognized as characteristic of puberty is, of course, an increased interest in the opposite sex and in one's own sex stirrings and sex characters. All this we may confidently attribute to the increase of strength and excitability of the sex impulse. We have to recognize that, in respect of mental changes at puberty that go beyond these most constant and direct effects, individuals differ widely. These differences seem to be determined largely by differences
( 511) of the degree to which the repressive or inhibitory influences are brought into effective play.
If we tried to imagine a case in which these influences were not effectively applied, we should, I think, expect, as the principal and perhaps the sole secondary result of the increase of strength of the sex impulse, an intensification of self-consciousness, which, as we have seen (Chapter VII), is always at the same time a consciousness of the social setting and relations of the self. This intensification of self-consciousness may obviously be determined in two ways: (1) as a consequence of new and exciting bodily functions, and of more intense feelings and cravings than any before experienced; (2) through an increase of interest in other persons, which results in part from the direct attraction exerted by persons of the opposite sex, and in part from the enrichment of one's conception of other personalities achieved by reading into them one's own new experiences.
This enrichment of consciousness of self and of the self-in-relation-to-others naturally increases the frequency and strength of excitation of the two great self-regarding impulses, those of self-display and self-abasement, and of those conflicts between them which we call states of bashfulness. That is to say, the adolescent becomes more sensitive to the regards of other persons, he is more elated or depressed by them, according as they are favourable or unfavourable; and his mind is more frequently and more intensely occupied with the process of self-display. This is evinced in the crudest way by his increased interest in his personal appearance, and, in girls more especially, perhaps; by attention to dress. In boys the self-display takes more varied forms, display of bodily strength and skill and achievement being, no doubt, the primary and fundamental form.
I see no reason to think that, in the absence of the repressive influences that are brought to bear in some degree on almost all adolescents, puberty would produce any further mental changes of importance. I see no evidence that any further changes occur in those communities and in those individuals (e.g. the savages of our great cities) in which the repressive influences are not brought to bear.
Among true savages, measures, prescribed by custom and rigidly enforced (often in the form of initiation ceremonies), impress upon the adolescent, in the strongest manner, the code of sexual prohibitions and penalties, and serve as repressive influences. Among ourselves the code is impressed in many ways (generally less direct than those of savage peoples) which greatly re-enforce the repressive influence of modesty and that exerted by the respect previously acquired for members of the opposite sex (especially the mother) and, perhaps, for the sex in general.
The result of the repression of the sex impulse effected by these influences may be described in the most general terms as an increase of seriousness and intensity in almost all fields of thought, feeling, and action, especially in all that concerns personal and social relations and the conduct of life, and therefore in all questions of morality and religion. This may be regarded as an effect of a generalized " sublimation " of the sex energy.
But, beside this, there often occur " sublimations " of the more specialized kinds to which the term is more usually applied. The intensification of thought and feeling may affect principally the religious interests, and then becomes a main condition of the conversion which is so characteristic of adolescence. In this, no doubt, the sex instinct plays its part in another way
( 513) also, namely, by giving rise to a " consciousness of sin" or an awareness of a powerful temptation to wrong-doing, of a for within one that one cannot control unaided. Or the sublimation may result, most frequently and naturally perhaps, in a quickening of interest in romance or poetry or other form of art.