The Sexual Question - A Scientific, psychological, hygienic and sociological study
by August Forel
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Prudery. Modesty.—The sentiment of modesty originates in the fear of everything which is novel and unusual, and is complicated by natural timidity. This sentiment is especially strong in children. The sentiment of sexual modesty in man thus rests on timidity and on the fear of not doing as others do. It betrays itself toward women by awkwardness and bashfulness behind which eroticism is often ill concealed. The timid and bashful man carefully endeavors to hide his sexual feelings from others. The object of modesty is in itself immaterial to the psychology of this sentiment, and shame is sometimes inspired not only by very different things but even by opposite things. One youth is ashamed of appearing erotic, another of appearing too little erotic, according to the opinion of his neighbors.

Modesty depends on the custom of covering or exposing certain parts of the body, and people who live in a state of nature are as much ashamed of clothes as we are ashamed of nudity. Moreover, man soon becomes accustomed to fashion, and the same English girl who blushes at the sight of a few inches of bare skin in her own country, finds it quite natural to see naked negroes in the tropics.

The artificial and systematic cultivation of an exaggerated sentiment of modesty produces prudery, the bad results of which are, however, less than those of pornography. There are young people so modest that the simple thought of sexual matters overexcites them terribly. By associating their own erotic feelings, of which they feel ashamed, with sexual ideas, they invest these with terrifying attributes, and become quite unhappy; in this way they are often led to masturbation. They are, however, excessively frightened at this also and imagine its effects so terrible that they think themselves lost. Their exaggerated feelings of modesty often prevent them confiding in some charitable person. However, they rarely find reasonable consolers; some ridicule them, while others regard them as iniquitous, which only increases their terror and drives them to extremes.

The sexual sentiment of modesty very often becomes unhealthy, and is then easily combined with pathological sexual conditions.

Prudery is, so to speak, sexual modesty codified and dogmatized. It is indeterminate, because the object of modesty is purely conventional, and man has no valid reason to regard any part of his body as shameful. Normal man ought only to be ashamed of bad thoughts and actions, contrary to his moral conscience. The latter should be based on natural human altruism only, and not artificially misled by dogma.

The Old Bachelor.—The importance of the psychic irradiations of love is shown perhaps more clearly from the results of their presence in old bachelors than from any other consideration. In our time, no doubt, the state of the old bachelor rarely means the renunciation of the satisfaction of sexual appetite, although it generally entails the renunciation of love. There are, no doubt, two kinds of old bachelors, those who are chaste and those who are not. The old bachelor no doubt leads a less empty existence than the old maid, but the void exists none the less. Man also needs compensation for the absence of love and family, but his brain is more capable than that of woman of finding this compensation in hard intellectual work or in some other employment.

The old bachelor is generally pessimistic and morose. He easily becomes the slave of his fads and hobbies, and the peculiarities of his character are proverbial. His egoism knows no bounds, and his altruistic impulses usually find too few objects or echoes.

The chastity of some old bachelors conceals sexual anomalies. But even apart from this, the old celibate easily becomes shy, affected, misanthropic or misogynistic, at least if some energetic friend does not induce him to utilize his power of work in some useful sphere. At other times he lavishes exaggerated admiration on women and worships them in a pompous manner.

In a separate category come those old bachelors who are chaste and celibate for high moral reasons, and whose life is spent in social work, although they are only men and cannot for this reason free themselves from all the peculiarities we have mentioned. In a word, the object of life is partly wanting in the best of old bachelors, and this void not only affects his sentiments but his whole mental being. His general tendency to pessimism and egoism would be sufficient alone to provoke an energetic protest against the abandonment of social power to celibates.

The old bachelor who is not chaste generally descends to pornography, only becoming acquainted with the worst side of woman. He becomes a misogynist because he wrongly attributes to all women the character of those only with whom he has intimate relations. We have already pointed out this phenomenon in speaking of male eroticism. The philosopher, Schopenhauer, was an example of this kind.


In speaking of love in man we have already touched on many points which differentiate it from that of woman. In the latter, the most prominent peculiarity is the dominant role which it plays in the brain. Without love woman abjures her nature and ceases to be normal.

The Old Maid.—What we have said of old bachelors applies in a still more marked degree, to old maids. Still more than men they have need of compensation for sexual love, to avoid losing their natural qualities and becoming dried-up beings or useless egoists. But, if the void left by love is greater in her, woman possesses such natural energy and perseverance, combined with such great power of devotion, that on the whole she is more capable than man of accomplishing the work which the void in her existence requires. Unfortunately, many women do not understand this. On the other hand, those who devote themselves to social philanthropic works, to art or literature, to nursing the sick or to other useful occupations, instead of amusing themselves with futile things, may greatly distinguish themselves in such social pursuits, and thus obtain real compensation for the loss of love.

In this respect woman was formerly misunderstood. The modern movement of her emancipation shows more and more what she is capable of and promises much more in the future.

As to the old maid who lives alone with her egoism, her whims and fancies generally exceed those of the old bachelor. She has not the faculty of creating anything original by her own intellect, so that, having lost love, all her mental power shrinks up. Her cat, her little dog, and the daily care of her person and small household occupy her whole mind. It is not surprising that such persons generally create a pitiable and ridiculous impression.

Between these two extremes there exists a category of unmarried women whose sexual love finds compensation in the love they bear for a parent or a friend (male or female), which although not sexual is none the less ardent. Such occupation for their sentiments improves their state of mind and partially fills the void; however, it is not sufficient as a rule and only constitutes a last resource. This kind of devotion, by its exclusiveness, often produces bad results, for its horizon is too limited. If the object of love, which is generally too pampered, dies or abandons her, she loses her head; grief, bitterness and pessimism never leave her, unless she finds consolation in religious exaltation, which is often observed in other women deprived of love. This last peculiarity is met with, moreover, in all classes of women, even among the married.

Passiveness of Woman. Sexual Appetite.—Ideal love should never be dual egoism. What happens when two persons live exclusively for each other, if one of them dies? The survivor sinks into inconsolable despair, all that his heart was attached to is dead, because his love did not extend to other human beings, nor to social works. Widows then become as pitiable as old maids, although in another way, when they have lost the object of their exclusive love. This is why we recommend social work, not only for celibates, but also for loving couples.

I again emphasize the fact that in normal women, especially young girls, the sexual appetite is subordinate to love. In the young girl love is a mixture of exalted admiration for masculine courage and grandeur, and an ardent desire for affection and maternity. She wishes to be outwardly dominated by a man, but to dominate him by her heart. This sentimentalism of the young girl, joined to the passive role of her sex, produces in her a state of exaltation which often borders on ecstasy and then overcomes all the resistance of will and reason. The woman surrenders herself to the man of whom she is enamored, or who has conquered or hypnotized her. She is vanquished by his embraces and follows him submissively, and in such a state of mind she is capable of any folly.

Although more violent and impetuous in his love, man loses his sang-froid on the whole much less than woman. We can therefore say that the relative power of sentiment is on the average greater in woman, in spite of her passive role.

I cannot protest too strongly against the way in which men of the day disparage women and misunderstand them. In the way in which a young girl abandons herself to their sexual appetites, in caresses, and in the ecstasy of her love, they think they see the proof of a purely sensual eroticism, identical to their libidinous desire for coitus, while in reality she usually does not think of it, at any rate at first. The first coitus is usually painful to woman, often repugnant. Many are the cases where young girls, even when they knew the terrible social and individual dangers of their weakness, even when they have perhaps once already experienced the consequences, let the man abuse them without a word of complaint, without a trace of sexual pleasure or venereal orgasm, simply to please the one who desires them, because he is so good and amiable, and because refusal would give him so much pain. In his violent passion and in his egoism, man is generally incapable of understanding the power of this stoicism of a mind which surrenders itself in spite of all dangers and all its interests. He confounds his own appetites with the sentiments of the woman, and finds in this false interpretation of feminine psychology the excuses for the cowardice of which he gives proof when he yields to his passions. The psychology of the young girl who surrenders herself has been admirably depicted by Goethe in Gretchen ("Faust"), as well as by de Maupassant on several occasions.

It is necessary to know all these facts in order to estimate at its true value the ignominy of our social institutions and their bearing on woman's life. If men did not so misunderstand women, and especially if they were aware of the deep injustice of our customs and laws with regard to them, the better ones, at least, would think twice before seducing young girls, to abandon them afterward with their children. I am only speaking now of true love and not of the extortion so often practiced by women of low character, or those already educated in vice.

I shall say no more concerning eroticism, which really exists in many women, especially in those who are already experienced in sexual matters. On the other hand there are women who deceive their husbands and allow themselves to be seduced by any Don Juan, even when they have never had the least sexual appetite, or felt a single venereal orgasm. They allow themselves to be dragged in the mud and lose their reputation, their fortune and their family; they even let their seducer trample them under foot; they become defamed and treated as women without character, without honor and without any notion of duty. They are simply poor feeble creatures incapable of resisting masculine proposals. With good psychological training they would often become better women, active, devoted and full of life. It seems hardly credible, but it is true, that one sometimes finds in this category women who are highly gifted. It is then said that they are wanting in moral sense, but this is not always correct. In other respects they may be faithful to their duty, devoted, sometimes even energetic and heroic; but they submit to masculine influence to such a degree that they cannot conceive how to resist it. They find it quite natural to give way to it and their mind does not understand that the complete abandonment of their body to the man they love should not necessarily follow immediately after the abandonment of their heart, or even after the first kiss. It is impossible for them to make distinctions or to trace limits.

Idealism in Woman.—The cases I have just described are extreme, although very common; they give the note of a general phenomenon of feminine love in its exaltation. It is needless to say that reasonable women of high character behave themselves in quite another manner, however profound their love. Nevertheless the trait which we have just described is nearly always found at the bottom of all true love in woman, however much it may be veiled, dissimulated or conquered.

It is not always audacity or heroic deeds like those of the bold cavaliers of former days which excite love in woman. The external qualities of man, such as beauty and elegance, etc., also play a part, although their effect may be less decisive than that of the bodily charms of woman in exciting love in man. Intellectual superiority, high moral actions, and mental qualities in general, easily affect the heart of woman, which becomes exalted under their influence. But every man who becomes famous either for good or evil, the fashionable actor, the celebrated tenor, etc., has the power of exciting love in women. Women without education or those of inferior mental quality are naturally more easily affected by the bodily strength of man, and by his external appearance in general. Many women are especially liable to succumb under the influence of all that is mystic. These become infatuated by preachers, and religious enthusiasts, to say nothing of hypocrites.

Nothing is sadder than the contrast between the exalted love of a virtuous and chaste young girl, and the debauched life, with its traits of cynical pornography, of the majority of young men. Guy de Maupassant has described this contrast in a most striking manner in his romance entitled "Une Vie." I know a number of cases in which the complete ignorance of young married women with regard to sexual relations, combined with the cynical lewdness of their husbands, has transformed the exalted love of a young girl into profound disgust, and has sometimes even caused mental disorders. Although not very common, the psychoses resulting from the deception and shock of the nuptial night are not very rare. But what is much worse than this douche of cold water which suddenly substitutes the reality of coitus for the ideal exaltation of sentiment, are the subsequent discoveries made by the young wife, when the cynical mind of her husband on the subject of sexual connection and love is unveiled to her in all its grossness, resulting from his previous life of debauchery. Torn and sullied in its deepest fibers, the feminine mind then becomes the seat of a desperate struggle between reality full of deceptions and the illusions of a dream of happiness.

If it is only a question of bad habits, or want of tact in the husband, behind which there exists perhaps true love, the wounds in the woman's sentiment may heal and intimacy may develop; but when the cynicism is too marked, when the habits of sexual debauchery are too inveterate, the love of a virtuous woman is soon stifled, and is changed to resignation and disgust, often to martyrdom or hatred.

In other cases the woman is weak and ill-developed and allows herself to sink to the level of her husband's sentiments. Sometimes, the crisis is accentuated and leads to divorce. In de Maupassant's "Une Vie," he describes with profound insight the continuous deceptions of a young innocent and sentimental girl who marries an egoistic roue, and whose life is transformed into martyrdom and completely ruined. De Maupassant's romances contain such true psychology of sexual life and love in all their forms, often even in their exceptional aberrations, that they furnish an admirable illustration to the present chapter.

Petticoat Government.—A series of most important irradiations of love in woman results from the need she feels of being, if not dominated, at least protected by her husband. To be happy, a woman must be able to respect her husband and even regard him with more or less veneration; she must see in him the realization of an ideal, either of bodily strength, courage, unselfishness or superior intellect. If this is not the case, the husband easily falls under the petticoat government, or indifference and antipathy may develop in the wife, at least if misfortune or illness in the husband does not excite her pity and transform her into a resigned nurse.

Petticoat government can hardly make a household truly happy, for here the positions are reversed and the wife rules because the husband is weak. But the normal instinct of woman is to rule over the heart of man, not over his intelligence or on his will. Ruling in these last domains may flatter a woman's vanity and render it dominating, but it never satisfies her heart, and this is why the woman who rules is so often unfaithful to her husband, if not in deed, at least in thought.

In such a union she has not found the true love which she sought, and for this reason, if her moral principles are weak, she looks for compensation in some Don Juan. If the woman in question has a strong character, or if she is sexually cold, she may easily become sour and bitter. These women, who are not rare, are to be dreaded; their plighted love is transformed into hatred, bad temper or jealousy, and only finds satisfaction in the torment of others.

The psychology of this kind of woman is interesting. They are not usually conscious of their malice. The chronic bitterness resulting from an unfortunate hereditary disposition in their character, as much as from their outraged feelings, makes them take a dislike to the world and renders them incapable of seeing anything but the worst side of people. They become accustomed to disparage everything automatically, to take offense at everything and to speak ill of everything on every occasion. They are unhappy, but they find a diabolical joy in all misfortune where they see the confirmation of their somber prophecies, the only satisfaction which is capable of exalting them.

We have just said that a certain constitutional disposition is necessary for such a deplorable change in feminine sentiments to be produced; but this disposition is often only developed under the influence of circumstances which we have indicated or analogous ones.

It is impossible for the life in common of two conjoints not to reveal their reciprocal failings. But true love generally suffices to definitely cement a union, provided that the wife finds a support in the steadfast nature of her husband, which then serves as her ideal. It is also necessary that the husband, finding sentiments of devoted love in his wife, should reciprocate them. These conditions are sufficient, if both devote their efforts to the maintenance of their family and the social welfare.

Maternal Love.—The most profound and most natural irradiation of the sexual appetite in woman is maternal love. A mother who does not love her children is an unnatural being, and a man who does not understand the desires of maternity in his wife, and does not respect them, is not worthy of her love. Sometimes egoism renders a man jealous of the love which his wife bears to his children. At other times, the father may show more love for the children than their mother; such exceptions only prove the rule.

The most beautiful and most natural of the irradiations of love is the joy of parents at the birth of their children, a joy which is one of the strongest bonds of conjugal affection, and which helps the couple in triumphing over the conflicting elements in their characters, and in raising the moral level of their reciprocal sentiments, for it realizes the natural object of sexual union.

A true woman rejoices at the progress of her pregnancy. The last pains of childbirth have hardly ceased before she laughs with joy, and pride, at hearing the first cries of the newly born. The instinctive outburst of maternal love toward the new-born child corresponds to a natural imprescriptible right of the child, for it needs the continual care of its mother. Nothing is so beautiful in the world as the radiant joy of a young mother nursing her child, and no sign of degeneration is more painful than that of mothers who abandon their children without absolute necessity, to strange hands.

On the other hand reason must intervene. The instructive transports of maternal love soon require a counterpoise. It is important to prevent them from degenerating into unreasonable spoiling, by scientific and medical education of the infants. Modern medical art has made great progress in this direction, but unfortunately, egoism, negligence, routine, the desire of enjoyment, or often the poverty of many mothers prevent them from benefiting from this progress and applying it as they should. Instead of looking after their children they leave them to nurses. The latter may be necessary to help and instruct young wives during their first childbirth; but a natural mother will profit by these instructions and will herself become an excellent nurse, because she will feel her natural ties and will consecrate herself to them with the devotion of a maternal love heightened and refined by reason and knowledge. Among the lower classes the poverty and ignorance of mothers, often also their thoughtlessness and indolence, are an obstacle to the rational education of infants.

"Monkey's Love."—Maternal love thus constitutes the most important irradiation of the sexual instincts in woman. It very easily degenerates into weakness, that is to say into unreasonable passion and blind compliance with all the faults of the child, which the mother excuses and transforms into virtues. The foibles of maternal love do much harm to the child and are often the origin of bitter deceptions. Hereditary weakness of character here plays a great, or even the principal part. Nevertheless, maternal foibles have other causes—riches, absence of culture, idleness, too few children, etc.

The best antidote for this unreasonable maternal love, which the Germans call "monkey's love" consists in active occupations for the mother, combined with a healthy education of her character. Work alone is not sufficient, if the mother has limited ideas, and if she is not freed from routine, ignorance, superstition and weakness of will.

Sentiments and Perseverance.—The power of love in woman does not rest alone on the varied harmony of her sentiments of sympathy for her husband and children, and on the extraordinary finesse and natural tact which she adds to it; such qualities make her, no doubt, the ray of sunshine in the family life, but more powerful still are the tenacity and perseverance of her love.

In general, it is by will-power that woman is superior to man, and it is in the domain of love that this superiority shines in all its glory. As a general rule it is the wife who sustains the family. Among the common people, it is she who economizes, she who watches carefully over all and corrects the failings, the passionate and impulsive acts, the discouragements, so frequent with the husband. How often do we see the father abandon the children, waste his earnings and leave his situation under some futile pretext, while his courageous wife, although suffering from hunger and destitution, holds firm and manages to save the debris which has escaped the excesses and egoism of the husband.

The husband of a feeble or alcoholic wife sometimes becomes the sole support of the family, but such exceptions only prove the rule, that where the normal love and courage of woman are wanting, the family becomes broken up, for man very rarely possesses the necessary faculties for its preservation.

It follows from these facts that the modern tendency of women to become pleasure-seekers, and to take a dislike to maternity, leads to complete degeneration of society. This is a grave social evil, which rapidly changes the qualities and power of expansion of a race, and which must be cured in time, or the race affected by it will be supplanted by others.

If the feminine mind is generally wanting in intellectual imagination and power of combination, it is all the more powerful in the practical intuition of its judgment and in sentimental imagination. The finesse of its moral and aesthetic sentiments, its natural tact, its instructive desire to put some element of poetry into all the details of life, contribute to form true family happiness, a happiness which the husband and children too often enjoy without fully realizing the devoted labor, the love and the pains which the mother has given to create it.

Routine.—The reverse of the irradiations of love in woman is constituted by her failings, which we have already partly indicated. We may add that her intelligence is usually superficial, that she attributes an exaggerated importance to trifles, that she often does not understand the object of ideal conceptions, and remains attached by routine to all her hobbies. This routine represents in feminine psychology the excess of a tenacious will applied only to the repetition of what has been taught. In the family, woman constitutes the conservative element because sentiment in her much more than in man, combined with persevering tenacity, predominates over intelligence; but sentiments represent everywhere and always the conservative element in the human mind.

This is why woman is the strongest supporter of dogmas, customs, fashions, prejudices and mysticism. It is not that she herself is more disposed than man to mystic beliefs, but these when once dogmatized dazzle the eyes of the suffering with visions of compensation in a better world. In this way a number of unhappy or disappointed women are affected with religious exaltation and thus cling to the hope of happiness after death which they believe will compensate them for the vicissitudes of their existence.

The other reverses of the feminine character, such as want of logic, obstinacy, love of trinkets, etc., result from the fundamental weakness of the feminine mind which we have just analyzed. Moreover, the social dependence in which man has placed woman, both from the legal and educational points of view, tend to increase her failings. Many people fear that women's suffrage would hinder progress, for the reasons we have just indicated, but they forget that the actual suffrage of men is to a great extent exercised by their wives, indirectly and unconsciously. This fact alone shows that the education, and legal emancipation of women can only be beneficial to progress, especially as they would contribute to the education of men, too prone to degenerate on account of their presumptuous and tyrannical autocracy.

Woman has an instinctive admiration for men of high intellect and lofty sentiments, and strives to imitate those who provoke her admiration, and carry out their ideas. Let us therefore give women their proper rights, equal to ours, at the same time giving them a higher education and the same free instruction as ourselves; we shall then see them abandon the obscure paths of mysticism, to devote themselves to social progress.

Jealousy in Woman.—Other irradiations of love in woman are similar to those of man. Jealousy is perhaps not much less developed in woman than in man. It is less brutal and violent but more instinctive and persevering; it manifests itself by quarrels, needle pricks, chicanery, petty tyrannies and all kinds of tricks which poison existence as much as man's jealousy, and are quite as inefficient against infidelity. In the highest degree of passion the jealous man uses violence or resorts to firearms, while the woman scratches, poisons or stabs. Among savages, jealous women bite off their rivals' noses; in civilized countries they throw sulphuric acid in the face. The object is the same in both cases—to disfigure.

Amorous illusions produced in woman by the sexual appetite are analogous to those of man, but are modified by feminine attributes. It is the same with hypocrisy. The passive role of woman in sexual life obliges her only to betray her feelings to the object of her desires in a reserved and prudent manner. She cannot make advances toward man without contravening the conventions and risking her reputation. She therefore has to be more skillful in the art of dissimulation. This gives us no right to accuse her of falseness, for this art is natural, instinctive and imposed by custom. Her desire for love and maternity unconsciously urges her to make herself as desirable as possible to man by her grace and allurements. Her stolen glances and sighs, and the play of her expression serve to betray her ardor as through a veil. Behind this furtive play, especially calculated to excite the passions of man, are hidden, in the natural and good woman, a world of delicate feelings, ideal aspirations, energy and perseverance, which are much more loyal and honest than the motives revealed by the more brusque and daring manner in which man expresses his desires. The fine phrases by which man's love is expressed generally cover sentiments which are much less pure and calculations much more egoistic than the relatively innocent play of the young girl. No doubt there are false women whose amorous wiles are only a spider's web, but we are speaking here of the average, and not of exceptions.

Coquetry.—The sexual braggardism of man is only found in some prostitutes; it is replaced in woman by coquetry and the desire to please. Vain women profit by the natural grace and beauty of their sex and person, not only to attract and please men, but also to shine among their fellows, to make other women pale before their brilliance and their elegance. Coquettes take infinite pains in this art. All their efforts and all their thoughts are directed only to increase their charm by the brilliancy of their toilette, the refinement of their attire, the arrangement of their hair, their perfumes, paint and powder, etc. It is here that the narrowness of the mind of woman is revealed in all its meanness.

To describe feminine coquetry would oblige me to descend to banality. If we go to a ball or a fashionable soiree, if we observe women at the theater, their toilettes, their looks and expressions, or if we read a novel by Guy de Maupassant, "Fort Comme la Mort," or "Notre Coeur," for example, we can study all the degrees and all the degeneration of this part of the sexual psychology of women. Many of them have such bad taste that they transform themselves into caricatures; dye their hair, paint their eyebrows and lips to give themselves the appearance of what they are not, or to make themselves appear young and beautiful.

These artifices of civilized countries resemble the tattooing, nose-rings, etc., with which savage women adorn themselves. The latter are represented by earrings, bracelets and necklaces. All these customs constitute irradiations of the sexual appetite or the desire to please men. Male sexual inverts (vide Chap. VIII) also practice them, and often also certain dandies with otherwise normal sexual instincts.

The Pornographic Spirit in Woman.—This is absolutely contrary to the normal feminine nature, which cannot be said of eroticism. Among prostitutes, as we have seen, the pornographic spirit is only the echo of their male companions, and in spite of this, we still find a vestige of modesty even in them. No doubt, in very erotic women, sexual excitations may lead to indecent acts and expressions, but these are rare exceptions and of a pathological nature.

Natural feminine eroticism, not artificially perverted, only shows itself openly in complete intimacy, and even here modesty and the aesthetic sense of woman correct and attenuate it. Normally, all obscenity and cynicism disgusts women and only inspires them with contempt for the male sex. On the other hand, they are easily stimulated to eroticism by pictures or novels, if they are sufficiently aesthetic, or even moral. This is a great danger for both sexes, especially for woman—eroticism dissimulated under hypocritical forms, and intended to idealize dishonest intentions (vide de Maupassant: "Ce Cochon de Morin").

Modesty and Prudery in Woman.—In woman the sentiments of modesty and prudery have a peculiar character, which results from her natural disgust for pornography on the one hand, and also from her attachment to fashion and prejudice. Many women have a perfect terror of exposing certain parts of their body, even to a medical man. This fact depends on convention, and sometimes on the absence or perversion of sexual feelings. Brought up to prudery, sometimes to an absurd extent as in England, these women lose their natural feeling and often suffer from the excitation, indignation, and perpetual fright, which result from it. The exaggerations of prudery, moreover, easily lead to opposite excesses, or else degenerate into hypocrisy. The prude is ashamed of the most natural things, and undergoes continual torment.

Prudery can be created or cured by education in childhood. It may be created by isolation, by covering all parts of the body, and especially by making children regard nudity as shameful. On the other hand, it may be cured by mixed bathing, by accustoming the child to consider the human body, in all its parts and functions, as something natural of which one need not be ashamed, lastly by giving instruction on the relations of the sexes, in due time and in a serious manner, instead of replying to ingenuous questions by pious falsehoods, by equivocation, or by an air of mystery.

The chapter on love is infinite, and its relations to the sexual appetite make it still more complex. We shall confine ourselves to indicating two more of its irradiations, peculiar to each sex, but having for each a physionomy corresponding to its own mentality.


"We understand by fetiches, objects, portions of objects, or even simply the qualities of objects which, from their association with a certain person or with the idea of this person, produce a kind of charm or at least a profound impression, which in no way corresponds to the nature of the object itself."—(Krafft-Ebing.) The fetich thus symbolizes a person in whom we have such a profound interest that everything connected with her disturbs our feelings. It is we ourselves who place in the fetich the charm arising from the person whom it symbolizes for us.

In many religions fetichism plays an important part, so much so that fetiches such as amulets or relics produce ecstasy in the faithful.

Binet, Krafft-Ebing and others give the name erotic fetichism to the charm which certain objects or certain parts of the body exercise in a similar way on the sexual desires or even on love, in the sense that their simple representation is powerfully associated with the erotic image of a person of the other sex, or with a particular variety of sexual excitation. In both man and woman certain portions of the clothes or the body, the hair, the foot and hand, or certain odors of the person desired, may take the character of fetiches. It is the same with certain intellectual peculiarities and certain expressions of the features. In man, the woman's hair, her hands or feet, her handkerchief, perfumes, etc., often play the part of erotic fetiches.

We may call anti-fetiches certain objects or certain qualities which, on the contrary, destroy eroticism. Certain odors, the tone of a voice, an ugly nose, a garment in bad taste, an awkward manner, often suffice to destroy eroticism by causing disgust for a person, and their simple representation is enough to make her unbearable. Symbolizing disgust, the anti-fetich paralyzes the sexual appetite and love.

In normal love, it is especially by association of ideas in calling to mind the image of the person loved that the fetich plays the part of an exciting agent. It often, however, becomes itself the more special object of the sexual appetite, while the anti-fetich produces the opposite effect. But, in degenerates (vide Chap. VIII) it is sometimes exclusively to the fetich itself that an irresistible sexual appetite is addressed, the irradiation of which becomes a ridiculous caricature of love.

We thus see that normal love is based on an extremely complex synthesis, on a symphony of harmonious sensations, sentiments and conceptions, combined in all kinds of tones and shades. The pathological aberrations of which we shall speak, demonstrate this by forcing one tone or another to the more or less marked exclusion of the rest.


Love and eroticism play a great part in religion, and many derivatives of religious sentiment are intimately associated with the sexual appetite. As Krafft-Ebing says, religious ecstasy is closely related to amorous ecstasy, and very often appears in the guise of consolation and compensation for an unhappy or disappointed love, or even in the absence of sexual love. In the insane, religion and eroticism are combined in a very characteristic manner. Among a number of peoples certain cruel religious customs are the result of transformed erotic conceptions.

As in religion, there is something mystical in love; the ineffable dream of eternal ecstasy. This is why the two kinds of mystic and erotic exaltation become blended in religions.

Krafft-Ebing attributes the cruelty found in many religions to sadism (sexual lust excited by the sufferings of others). (Vide Chap. VIII.)

"The relationship so often established between religion, lust and cruelty can be reduced almost to the following formula: at the acme of their development, the religious and sexual passions show a concordance in quality and in quantity of excitation, and may consequently replace each other, under certain circumstances. Under special pathological influences, both may be transformed into cruelty."—(Krafft-Ebing.)

We shall return to this subject in Chapters VIII and XII.


[3] This tendency of man has been analyzed with a very refined psychology by Labiche, in one of his most celebrated comedies: "Le voyage de M. Perichon."



In the study of the sexual question it is absolutely necessary to guard against subjectiveness and all preconceived theory, and to avoid sentimentalism as well as eroticism. These two dangers play a considerable part in the study of human sexual life. Presented in a conscientious and scientific way the history of marriage furnishes us the most trustworthy material for the study of the sexual relations of man in social life. It is from this material that we can learn the relative importance of the different psychological and psycho-pathological factors in social evolution. But, to furnish valid material, history must not only be based on trustworthy and veracious sources; it must also give a comparative study of the sexual relations which exist in most, if not all, of the peoples actually existing. The present savage tribes no doubt resemble more closely the primitive peoples than our hybrid agglomeration of the civilized world. Moreover, the modern study of ethnology gives us more certain information than the uncertain, incomplete and often fabulous statements of ancient documents. I am speaking here of primitive history, and not of the Greek and Roman civilizations. Unfortunately the correctness of ethnological observations, and especially their interpretation, still leave much to be desired.

Edward Westermark, professor at Helsingfors, in his "History of Human Marriage," has given us a monumental work, which is remarkable, not only for the richness and exactness of its material, but also for the clearness and good sense of its criticism. I shall give a resume of Westermark's results, as the subject is beyond the domain of my special studies. The author has collected a great number of observations in order to avoid erroneous conclusions. He warns the reader against a hasty generalization, which attributes without proof certain customs of living savage tribes to our primitive ancestors.


In the previous chapter we have considered the phylogeny of love in general. We have seen that some of the lower animals, such as the ants and bees, give evidence of an instinctive social altruism much greater than that of man, while other animals, such as birds, are superior to us as regards monogamous conjugal fidelity. But it is a question here of analogies due to phenomena of convergence, and these animals are of interest to us only as remote objects of comparison.

As regards marriage in primitive man, we can only compare ourselves with the living animals most closely allied to us, viz. the anthropoid apes.

In most mammals, marriage (if we may give this name to their sexual union) is only of very short duration, depending on the time necessary for the procreation of a single brood of young. After copulation the male generally pays little attention to the female, beyond protecting her for a certain time. In the anthropoid apes (orang-utan, chimpanzee, gorilla and gibbon) however, we find monogamous marriage and the institution of family life. The male protects the female and the young, and the latter are often of different ages, showing the existence of conjugal fidelity extending beyond one birth. While the female and the young remain in their nest, perched on a tree, the male takes his place at the foot of the tree and watches over the safety of the family.

According to Westermark this was probably the same in primitive man. Formed by the father, the mother and the children, the family was in primitive man a general institution, based on monogamy, polygamy or polyandry. The wife looked after the children, and the husband protected the family. No doubt, the husband was not particularly anxious for the welfare of his wife and children, but concerned himself chiefly in the satisfaction of his sexual appetite and his pride. He was useful, however, in building the nest, or hut, in procuring the necessary food, and in defending his family.

Most legends relate that primitive man lived in promiscuity with women, without marriage, and that marriage was instituted by some god or by some law. But this opinion, which is still held by most modern authors, is quite erroneous, as Westermark has demonstrated in a masterly manner, by the aid of documents which are absolutely conclusive.

The duty of the husband to provide food for the family is a general law among savage peoples. A confirmation of this law is found in the fact that most often in polygamous races the man has only the right to as many wives as he can support. Every man must give proof that he is capable of feeding his family. Even after divorce the husband's duties continue, and may even be transmitted to his heirs. For example, among certain peoples, his brother is obliged to marry his widow. The husband's duties appear to be inherited from the higher apes, among whom conjugal fidelity lasts longer than the sexual appetite. This fidelity has therefore deep phylogenetic roots in our nature, and we shall see later on that we cannot neglect it without compromising our social state (Chap. XIII).

The following is the definition of marriage as given by Westermark: Marriage is a sexual union of variable duration between men and women, a union which is continued after copulation, at least till the birth of the child.

According to this definition, there may be monogamous, polygamous and polyandrous marriages, as well as marriage in groups and limited marriage. It is evident that permanent monogamous unions, such as occur in birds and the higher apes, are, according to this definition, true marriages, of better quality even than those of many men.

Among animals which have a definite rutting period, marriage cannot depend solely on the sexual appetite, or egoistic eroticism, without ceasing with the rut. It follows from this that natural selection and the mneme (engraphia) have derived from the sexual appetite certain social or altruistic instincts, with the object of preserving the species by protection of the young. Although not the only means of preserving the species, such instincts are certainly important.

The family is thus the root of marriage. This explains the custom, among certain races, of marriage only becoming valid after the birth of a child. In many forms of marriage by purchase, the wife is even bound to return to her husband the sum paid for her if she remains sterile, and among many savages the marriage is only celebrated after the birth of the first child. In Borneo, relations between the sexes are free till pregnancy occurs, and it is this which determines the duties of marriage. In this respect, these savages are more just and wiser than us.

In man, a special reason in favor of marriage is the fact that he has no rutting period. In animals the rutting period is generally regulated so that the young are born exactly at the time of year when they will find food most abundant. For example, the muscardin copulates in July and brings forth young in August, at the time when nuts are ripe, while elephants, whales and certain monkeys, who find food at all seasons, do not copulate at any definite period.

The anthropoid apes, however, have a rutting period, and something analogous is found among certain human races (Californians, Hindus and certain Australians) in the spring, when sexual orgies are indulged in. In man there is no particular correlation between eroticism and the possibility of easily obtaining food for the children at the time of birth. Nevertheless, a recrudescence of the sexual appetite is generally observed in the spring and beginning of summer, with a corresponding increase in the number of conceptions. This is probably explained by the fact that infants born in the autumn or winter are more robust. Moreover, natural selection has almost entirely ceased in civilized peoples, owing to the artificial means used to rear children, and to the diminution which results from their mortality.

We thus see that the institution of marriage in man does not depend on the excitation of the sexual appetite, for this is, on the whole, continuous.


The fact that the anthropoid apes produce feeble and dependent young, whose infancy is long, has probably been the origin of marriage. Kautsky says that in primitive man the child belongs to the clan; but this is an error. Originally, human societies were composed of families, or rather associations of families. In primitive man, these families play the fundamental role and constitute the nucleus of society. In the anthropoid ape we already find the family, but not the clan. This must also have been the case with the pithecanthropoids and other extinct transitory forms. In fact, the lowest savages still live as isolated families like the carnivorous mammals, rather than in clans or tribes. This is the case, for example, with the Weddas of Ceylon, the indigenes of Terra del Fuego, the aboriginal Australians, the Esquimaux and certain Indians of Brazil. In this way they have better conditions for subsistence.

In primitive times therefore, man lived in families, on the produce of the chase. Later on, the spirit of discovery, the more abundant food obtained by traps and by the cultivation of plants allowed men to live in tribes. Thus, intellectual development was the first cause of social life in man, and Lubbock is certainly wrong in considering that the establishment of clans dates further back than the first beginning of civilization. Westermark's conclusions are as follows:

(1). At no period of human existence has family life been replaced by clan life.

(2). Conjugal life is a heritage from ancestors who lived in a similar way to the anthropoid apes of the present day.

(3). Although less intimately and less constantly bound to the children than to the mother, the father has always been in man the protector of the family.


Most sociologists believe with Lubbock, Bachofen, MacLennan, Bastian, Giraud-Teulon, Wilkens, and others that primitive man lived in sexual promiscuity. If we agree with Westermark that the term marriage includes polygamy, polyandry and limited marriage, the opinion of these authors is wrong. What they have considered as promiscuity can always be included in one of these forms of marriage, even among the indigenes of Hayti, whose life is the most debauched. The author who has most confused the question is Fison, with his dogmatic theories concerning the Australians. Obliged to admit that promiscuity does not exist among these people, he still maintains that it existed formerly. Curr, who was better acquainted than Fison with the Australians, has proved that they are normally monogamous.

Similar statements of Bastian, Wilkens and others concerning the Kustchins, the natives of Terra del Fuego, are also incorrect. In none of the African tribes is there communion of women, the men, on the other hand, are extremely jealous. Promiscuity is not observed among savage and primitive races, but among people already civilized, such as the Buddhist Butias, in whom man knows neither honor nor jealousy. The savage Weddas are monogamous, and one of their proverbs says: "Death alone can separate woman from man."

There is in reality only one true form of promiscuity—the prostitution of modern civilized races, who have introduced it among savages, subjecting them to gratify their own lust. Among many savage races there exists, on the contrary, a very severe monogamy, and they punish with death every seducer and illegitimate child, as well as the mother. Among others, however, considerable sexual freedom is allowed before or after marriage. It is impossible to lay down definite rules, but one thing may be regarded as universal, viz., that the sexual depravity of savage races most often arises from the influence of civilized people who immigrate among them and systematically introduce immorality and debauchery. It is the white colonists who appropriate the women of savage races and train them in the worst forms of prostitution. It is the white colonists who introduce alcoholic drink which disorganizes the most virtuous and loyal habits, and ends with ruin.

Certain Arab clans exploit European habits of prostitution by sending their young girls to brothels for purposes of gain. When they have accumulated a sufficient fortune they return home and marry one of their fellow countrymen. Similar customs are observed among other races.

In this connection Westermark points out that the more advanced is civilization, the greater is the number of illegitimate births, and the more widespread is prostitution. In Europe, the proportion of natural children and of prostitutes is nearly double in the towns what it is in the country. This shows the absurdity of regarding promiscuity as a primitive state; on the contrary, it is a rotten fruit of civilization, and especially of semi-civilization. Primitive customs are generally chaste, and it is civilization which corrupts them. In Europe, prostitution is increasing, while marriage is becoming less frequent; it is the latter which constitutes the primitive and normal state.

Westermark admits, as we have mentioned above, that sexual liberty before or after marriage exists among certain tribes; but in spite of this the custom of careful choice always exists among these people, and this renders their unions comparatively lasting. He cites as an example the Tounghtas of India, who practice sexual connection before marriage, but among whom these connections nearly always lead to marriage; this race considers prostitution as dishonorable.

We must, however, make one objection to Westermark. Promiscuity in itself is not necessarily prostitution, for the latter signifies especially the sale of the body, which is not the case in promiscuity. The fundamental fact which prevents us admitting the existence of primitive promiscuity among savage races is the following: As soon as the two sexes are free, the monogamous instinct of the woman and jealousy of both sexes combine to reestablish marriage. True promiscuity can only exist by means of a sort of legal obligation, such as exists in the colony of Oneidas in New York. In this colony the members formally agree to mutual and free sexual intercourse. We must not forget that prostitution is only kept up in women by the thirst for lucre, and ceases immediately this element disappears.

Before the Reformation there existed in Scotland a singular custom called "hand-fasting," by which young men had the right to choose a companion for a year, at the end of which time they could either separate or become married according to their inclination.

On the other hand, Lubbock mentions certain customs in Greece and India, the worship of phallus, for example, which obliged young girls to give themselves to all men. But these customs were not among primitive races but resulted from the eroticism of highly civilized nations. Thus, Lubbock's argument concerning the existence of primitive promiscuity falls to the ground.

Certain savage nations offer their daughters or their servants, rarely their wives, to their guests. A jus primae nocti (right to the first night) has also existed and will sometimes exist in some tribes, but this right is reserved for the chiefs, kings or priests, and allows them to have sexual intercourse before the husband with every newly married woman during the first night of the nuptials. This is a barbarous custom based on the right of the stronger, and analogous to the privileges claimed by the European nobles from their serfs or peasants. But such abuses do not constitute promiscuity, as Lubbock maintains.

In many countries the courtesans and concubines were held in high esteem, and are so even at the present day, more than is supposed; but this again is not a question of promiscuity.

Morgan has deduced his theories of promiscuity from terms employed in certain savage dialects to designate relationship. These conclusions are false and Morgan, like others, has been led into error by the obscurity of the language of these people. The simple fact that paternal parentage is recognised among them proves the absurdity of Morgan's reasoning, for promiscuity cannot recognize paternal parentage.

In 1860 Bachofen drew attention to the ancient custom of naming the children after the maternal side, and it is now certain that this custom has existed among many primitive races, while in others children were named after the paternal side. The term matriarchy is given to denomination after the maternal side. MacLennan maintains the existence of matriarchy in promiscuity, but this is inadmissible. Maternity is self-evident, while paternity can only be proved indirectly by the aid of reasoning. No doubt all nations appear to have recognized the real part which the father takes in every conception, and from this results the singular custom among certain tribes, in which the husband retires to his couch and fasts during the accouchement of his wife.

Westermark explains matriarchy in a simpler and more natural way, by the intimate relations of the child to the mother. Children, especially when they are still young, follow the mother when she separates from the father. Matriarchy is quite natural in marriages of short duration, with change of wives, and in polygamy; while, in monogamous nations, it is patriarchy, or denomination after the paternal line, which dominates.

Among nations where the denomination of uncles exists, and where the married woman lives with her family till she has a child, matriarchy results quite naturally from this fact. In Japanese families who have only daughters, the husband of the eldest takes his wife's family name. Among savages in general, the name has a great importance. When rank and property are only inherited in the female line, the children are always named after this line. We are thus concerned here with very complex questions which have nothing to do with promiscuity.

Maine has proved that prostitution and promiscuity lead to sterility and decadence. Among the few tribes in which polyandry is the rule, especially in Thibet, several brothers generally have the same wife. But they usually alternate, and never dwell together. In the fifteenth century, in the Canary Islands, every woman had three husbands, each of whom lived with her for a month, and the one who was to possess her during the following month had to work both for her and for the other two husbands. Polyandry has always originated in scarcity of women.

The jealousy of men, which has never ceased to exist, gives the clearest proof of the impossibility of promiscuity. Polyandry is only possible among a few feeble and degenerate races who ignore jealousy. These tribes are diminishing and tend to disappear. The jealousy of savages is generally so terrible that among them a woman who commits adultery is usually put to death along with her seducer. Sometimes they are content with cutting off her nose or inflicting other chastisement. It is from jealousy that results the obligation of chastity in the woman.

Religious ideas on the future of man after death are often combined with these ideas; this is why chastity, death, or even all kinds of torture are, in certain countries, imposed on the woman after death of the husband.

It must not be forgotten that among most savages the wife is regarded as the property of her husband. If the latter lends his wife to a guest, he offers her as part of a feast. This is not, however, promiscuity, and we must understand that these people have quite different sentiments to ours. In clans or tribes the most powerful men have always had the youngest and most beautiful wives.

To sum up, there is not the shadow of proof in support of the doctrine of primitive promiscuity, a doctrine which is based on purely hypothetical grounds.


Among animals the voluntary celibate exists only among the females of certain birds which have become widowed, and even then the case is rare. In savage man, nearly every individual marries, and the women look upon celibacy or widowhood almost in the same way as death. The savage despises celibates as thieves or sorcerers. In his opinion a man without a wife is not a man. He therefore marries at a much earlier age than civilized man, sometimes even (in Greenland) before fecundation is possible. Among certain Indians men sometimes marry at the age of nine or ten years, generally between fourteen and eighteen; the girls between nine and twelve. In some comparatively civilized nations the celibate is so much despised that they go as far as marrying the spirits of departed children! Among the Greeks, celibates were punished, and among the Romans they were taxed heavily. Celibacy becomes more rare the further we go back in the history of the human race; celibacy increases with the corruption of morals. It is civilization which does most harm to marriage, especially in the large towns, and the age at which people marry becomes more and more advanced, although in Europe there are more women than men. Want of money and insufficient salaries diminish more and more the number of marriages in the large centers, while among savages, and also among our peasants, the women and children are one of the principal sources of wealth, because they work and have few needs. Among the middle classes, on the contrary, the wife is a source of expense, as well as the education of the children. For men, the length of intellectual and professional education (and military service in many countries) cause marriage to be postponed and celibacy is obligatory at the time when the sexual appetite is most powerful. Thus, the more civilization advances, the longer is marriage postponed. The refinement and the multiplicity of pleasures also diminish the attractions of marriage.

Lastly, intellectual culture exalts the desire for the ideal, so that men and women well suited to each other meet less frequently, as their mutual adaptation becomes more complicated.

Nevertheless, I must repeat here what I have already said concerning the way in which novelists present us with the extreme passions of ill-balanced people and describe them as types, the normal man being too prosaic to attract their readers. Rotten as it is with neurotic degenerates, our modern society is certainly not wanting in pathological models for the novelists, but it is nevertheless false to always put these into prominence. The cultured man of well-balanced mind, adapts himself to marriage on the whole very well, and is not always so difficult to please. However, it must be recognized that marriage becomes less easy if a too high ideal is expected from it. With characteristic prudence, Westermark does not answer the question whether marriage will progressively diminish in the future.

The Cult of Virgins. Sanctity of the Celibate.—Among many savages the singular idea obtains that there is something impure in sexual intercourse. The celibacy ordained by several religions originates from ideas of this kind.

Many nations have worshiped virgins, for instance the vestal virgins of the Romans. The mother of Buddha was declared to be holy and pure, Buddha having been conceived supernaturally, according to the legend. A Buddhist monk is forbidden to have sexual intercourse, even with animals! Celibacy among certain priests exists also in China.

Among the Hebrews, the idea of the impurity of marriage had got a footing, and this no doubt powerfully influenced Christianity. St. Paul thus places celibacy higher than marriage, and this is how the idea became established among the fathers of the Church that the repression of all sensuality was a cardinal virtue, and that God had contemplated in paradise an asexual reproduction of the human species, which was annulled by the fall of Adam. Men who remained pure were to be immortal. "The earth is filled with marriage and the heavens with virginity," says Jeremiah. Such are the ideas which have given rise to the obligation of celibacy for priests.

Westermark thinks that the idea of impurity attached to sexual intercourse is possibly derived from the instinctive repugnance experienced by members of the same family to have sexual intercourse between themselves. Banished from the family circle this intercourse was tainted with a stigma which offended modesty, and by the association of ideas so common in man, this stigma was extended to legal marriage outside the family. Moreover, religious celibacy is complicated by ascetic conceptions, and the idea of the impurity of sexual intercourse is by no means general.

For my part, I think rather that the jealousy natural to both sexes has gradually compelled them to limit their sexual intercourse to intimacy and to conceal it. But man is ashamed of everything which he conceals, and we shall soon see that the sentiment of modesty concerns all parts of the body which are concealed. This simple fact is sufficient to give rise to the idea that coitus is impure, and I do not think it necessary to seek any further explanation.


A natural law compels the male germinal cell to move toward the egg; exceptions to this law are rare, the female germinal cells being larger and produced in less number. It follows that in copulation, or the union of individual sexual entities, man included, it is the male which is the active party and makes the advances. Among certain tribes (Paraguayans, Garos, Moquis), however, it is the female who makes the advances. Everyone knows the combats for the female which takes place between the male of animals, cocks and stags for example. Among certain Indians similar struggles are also observed, after which the vanquished has to surrender his wife to the conqueror. The same custom obtained among the ancient Greeks, as we see in the suitors for Penelope. In Ireland similar customs prevailed up to the last few centuries.

On the other hand, we often see among savages and among birds the favors of the female obtained by assiduous courtship rather than by combat. In some savage tribes struggles take place between the females for possession of the male. However, it is usually coquetry in all its degrees which furnishes woman with the basis for her advances. In many nations, if not in most, women have the right to refuse a demand for marriage.


Adornment in the Two Sexes.—Vanity is older than man, for it is found in many animals. The lowest and most savage peoples adorn themselves. Tattooing, staining the skin, rings on the arms and feet, in the lips, nose and ears serve to attract one sex toward the other. A Santal woman may carry as much as fifteen kilogrammes of ornaments on her body. Vanity leads to incredible eccentricities, certain tribes, for example, pull out their teeth to increase their attractions. Absurdities of this kind are often associated with religious ideas, although the latter generally play a secondary part. The true origin of these customs lies in vanity, combined with the sexual desire to captivate. In hot climates, at any rate, the savages only commenced to cover their bodies with clothes with the object of pleasing by personal adornment. The religious observances attached to the custom of adornment are not primitive. The latter is derived from the sexual appetite and from vanity, and has only been incorporated in the dogmas of religious mysticism after being first established in the habits of the people.

Among savages the men are more inclined to personal adornment and to coquetry than the women. This is not due to the inferior social position of the women, for those who enjoy the greatest liberty are often less extensively tattooed than those who are reduced to slavery. The true reason is that the man risks much more than the woman by remaining celibate, and this obliges him to take more pains than the women to make himself fascinating. As a rule the wives of savages attach less importance to their personal appearance than to that of their husbands, and the vanity of the latter is guided chiefly by the taste of their wives. The objects with which savages adorn themselves are generally trophies.

Among civilized people, on the contrary, the men have a much wider choice and many women remain celibate. This is one of the reasons which compel women to study their personal appearance and the art of flirtation. In Europe, earrings represent the last vestige of the savage methods of adornment.

Sentiment of Shame of the Genital Organs. Nudity.—What is the origin of the fact that man is ashamed of his genital organs? Nothing of the kind occurs in animals. The psychologist, Wundt, maintains that man has always had a sexual sentiment of modesty. This is not correct, for many races present no trace of it, and sometimes cover all parts of their body except the genital organs. In some, the men, and in others the women go absolutely naked. Originally, clothes were only worn for adornment or for protection against the cold. The Massais would be ashamed to hide their penis, and it is their custom to exhibit it. Other savages cover the glans penis only with a small cap; they retire to pass water, but regard themselves as fully dressed so long as the glans penis is covered. The girdles and other garments of savage women are intended for ornament, and as a means of attraction; they have nothing to do with modesty. In a society where every one goes naked, nudity seems quite natural, and provokes neither shame nor eroticism. The custom of adorning the sexual organs then serves as a means of attraction, both in men and women. The short transparent skirts of a ballet dancer are in reality much more immodest than the nudity of the female savages. A great naturalist has said that veiled forms provoke the sexual appetite more than nudity. Snow remarks that association with naked savages excites much less sensuality than the society of fashionably dressed women in our salons. Read also remarks "Nothing is more moral or less calculated to excite the passions than nudity." It is needless to say that this statement is only correct when nudity is a matter of custom, for in sexual matters it is always novelty which attracts. Pious persons have tried to make savages modest by clothing them, but have only produced the contrary effect. Savage women regard it as shameful to cover their sexual organs. The naturalist, Wallace, found in one tribe a young girl who possessed a dress, but who was quite as much ashamed of clothing herself with it as one of our ladies would be of undressing before strangers.

It is only owing to the custom of wearing clothes that nudity provokes the sexual appetite. This custom develops artificially a sentiment of modesty with regard to nudity, which increases progressively in intensity and is especially marked in aged women. It is not so much habit, as to the feeling of progressive deterioration of their charms, which leads the latter to cover themselves as they grow older, and is part of the instinctive aesthetic sentiment of woman.

At the orgies and fetes held among savages the women cover their sexual organs with certain objects, as a means to excite the men. Complete nudity is found more often in savage women than in the men.

Later on when it became the custom to wear clothes, nudity became attractive and was considered shameful. This is why the Chinese feel shame at exposing their feet, the Mahometans their faces, and some savages even the ends of their fingers.

Certain customs, like circumcision among the Jews, Polynesians and Australians; the artificial elongation of the lips of the vulva in Hottentots, Malays, and North American Indians, originated, according to Westermark, in the intention of exciting the sexual appetite, or of introducing variety into its satisfaction. Later on routine, which sanctions everything, transferred these customs into religious cult. It is possible, however, that among the Jews, who are a practical race, the hygienic advantage of circumcision took a part in its transformation into a rite.

To resume, everything derogatory to established custom excites the sentiment of shame or modesty, not only in sexual matters but in others. Most children are ashamed of not behaving exactly as their comrades or their brothers and sisters, and are very uncomfortable if they are obliged to behave otherwise. All sentiments of morality and modesty rest on conventionalities. The savage women burst into laughter when the naked companions of Livingstone turned their backs from modesty. The sentiment of modesty or shame thus depends only on exceptional violation of an old custom. This is why unconventional ways in one of the sexes (especially in woman) tend to offend the sentiments of modesty, and usually excite the sexual appetite of the other sex.


Among savages, the women sometimes have the right of giving their hand in marriage, sometimes not. The latter case is not surprising in countries where women are considered as merchandise. Among the Esquimaux every girl is betrothed from birth. Among the Boschimans, Ashantis, etc., the unborn girl is even betrothed while she is in her mother's womb! These betrothals are generally arranged by the maternal parents together with the mother.

Very often, however, the consent of the woman is required; or, the marriage may be only valid after the birth of the first child on condition of the woman's consent.

Among the American Indians, if the woman is not a consenting party she elopes with her lover and thus escapes the would-be-husband. In this way elopement has gradually become a recognized institution among certain races. I was told by a Bulgarian that the peasants in his country buy their wives from the father, generally for two or three hundred francs, but if the father demands too much, the women are raped. After this marriage becomes indispensable and the father receives nothing, for, in Bulgaria, which is not yet spoiled by civilization, unions apart from marriage are considered as a terrible disgrace.

In certain races, the woman has a free choice among several men and her wish becomes law, so that the parents have no voice in the matter; this occurs among the natives of the Celebes. The bridegroom is nevertheless obliged to pay the dowry demanded. Similar customs prevail among other races.

Westermark comes to the conclusion that in the primitive state of humanity the women had a much freer choice than afterward. Marriage by purchase developed later and constituted an intermediate stage. When the first civilizations became more complicated and recognized the value of woman's labor, the fathers began to sell their daughters, as we now see savage tribes abandon their women to prostitution with the white man. But in primitive times, when there was neither civilization, money, nor labor, properly so-called, each individual fought for his life and the father had no more possibility of selling his daughter as a slave than a gorilla or an orang-utan would have to-day.

Marriage by rape, which occurred after wars when the women were abducted and married against their will, must not be confounded with marriage by elopement which takes place with the woman's consent, and of which the latest fashion is elopement by automobile.

Among savages, the boys are also most often the property of the father, who has the right to sell them and even to put them to death. But they become free at the age of puberty and then have the right to marry according to their inclination without being forced by their parents.

There existed and still exist many patriarchal races (certain Indians and Asiatics, for example) among whom the father possesses unlimited power. The older he is the more he is honored, and the more his power is uncontested. All the children and grandchildren, with their wives and children, eat at his table; none of his descendants can marry without his consent, etc. The effects of patriarchism are deplorable and very immoral. The patriarch abuses his power—gives his old wives to his children and takes the young ones, for example. The purest and most virtuous Japanese girl is obliged to go to a brothel if her father orders it. The patriarch has the power of life and death over both sexes, and from this is derived the cult of ancestors. At the present day we see immorality of this kind in the Russian patriarchism among the peasants; the fathers have the custom of misusing their sons' wives. Patriarchism thus degenerates into atrocious tyranny on the part of the chief of the family, who becomes looked upon as a god.

A law which is common in the Latin races, which forbids marriage before the age of thirty, without the consent of the father, is a vestige of patriarchism.

We see, therefore, that quite primitive savage races approached our most modern ideas in liberty of choice in marriage. Between these two periods humanity was under the yoke of a barbarous error—the intermediate stage of marriage by purchase and patriarchal autocracy. There has existed and still exists more than one aberration of this kind in the intermediate stages of civilization; for instance, torture, slavery and the use of narcotic substances, such as alcohol.


By sexual selection we mean union by choice among males and females. In the vertebrates, the female chooses much more commonly than the male, the latter being more disposed to pair with all the females than the females with all the males. We may certainly admit that this was also the case in primitive man, especially when there existed a rutting period, for then the sexual appetite was more violent. Moreover, even at the present day, women are on the average more difficult to please and more strict in their choice than men.

In the case of hybrids it is generally the male which violates the law of instinct. Female slaves often flee from their free husbands, but we never see male slaves abandon their free wives. Among savage races the woman is always more difficult to please than the man. Among half-breeds, it is nearly always the father who belongs to a higher race. The inverse rarely occurs; it is exceptional for a white woman to marry a negro. The same thing is reproduced among ourselves; we often see a cultured man marry an uneducated woman, but a cultured woman seldom marries a laborer.

It is especially among savages that the woman prefers the man who is strongest, most skillful, most ardent, and most audacious. Heroes always haunt the minds of women, who love to throw themselves at the head of conquerors. The ideal of certain women in Borneo is a husband who has killed many enemies and possesses their heads (head-hunters of Borneo). This psychological trait responds to natural selection, for the women obtain by this custom better protectors and stronger children.

On the other hand, man looks instinctively for a young, healthy and well-developed woman. It is on this basis that Greek art formed Eros and Aphrodite, designating the latter as goddess of both love and beauty.

Conception of Beauty.—The conception of beauty is very relative. The Australians laugh at our long noses and the natives of Cochin-China at our white teeth and red cheeks. Certain savage women bind their legs below the knees to make them swell, this effect being part of their idea of beauty. The Chinese admire the deformed feet of their women and their prominent cheek bones. In each nation the conception of beauty generally corresponds to the ideal type of the race, for both sexes. As a general rule muscle is admired in man and fullness of figure in woman. The Hottentots like women's breasts to be so pendulous that they can throw them over shoulder, and suckle the infants carried on their backs; they also admire the elongated lips of the vulva.

There are, therefore, few general typical characters of sexual preference; these are especially the ideal type of the race and the health of both sexes, voluptuous forms and grace in women, muscular strength and dexterity in men. Everything else is relative and variable, and depends on the local point of view, customs, race, individual taste, etc.

Thus, according to the conception of aesthetics, tattooing, the arrangement of the hair and beard, deformations of the nose, cranium, or feet, are admired by different peoples. Each race extols its own peculiarities; the European compares a woman's breasts to snow, the Malay to gold, etc. The natives of Coromandel paint their gods black and their devils white, while in Europe it is the reverse.

The association of love with beauty is not based on aesthetic sentiments, for the latter are disinterested, while the original instinct of love is interested. The association of the two things depends on the instinctive necessity of health, combined with the sexual appetite, although custom has produced numerous aberrations. Everything which differs markedly from the type of the race is more or less pathological. This is why instinct, determined by natural selection, repels it.

Fashion also rules among savages, but is less changeable among them than with us, and their taste for adornment only varies in the narrow circle of their customs.

Climate has a powerful action on the types of races, the latter being generally adapted to the climate in which they live. Thus, the European becomes darker in the tropics while negroes and Indians become paler in the north.


Every animal species has an instinctive repugnance to pair with another. Even where they are possible, natural hybrids are rare, and only become a little more frequent in domestic animals and plants. The fecundity of hybrids diminishes when they have connection among themselves, and this explains why the instinct for such connections tends to gradually disappear.

In his book on "The Mneme," Semon explains the infecundity of hybrids in a very plausible manner, by the disorder that a too large quantity of dissimilar hereditary engrams causes in the hereditary mneme of two conjugated cells. When the parents differ from each other only in a moderate degree homophony may still be reestablished, and then the divergencies have a very favorable effect on the product, by the new combinations which they furnish in the course of its development.

Moral ideas follow the course of instincts, and this explains why sexual connection with animals is regarded as a horrible crime. This is especially produced by pathological aberration, or when one sex is completely isolated from the other. There is also a certain degree of aversion to copulation between different races, in animals as well as man; for example, between sheep and horses of different races, and between white men, negroes and Indians. There are, however, many hybrids or half-breeds in South America, and in Mexico they even constitute two-thirds of the population.

Broca maintained that human hybrids produced by the crossing of remote races, for example, between English and negroes or Australians, were usually sterile. Westermark disputes this, but agrees that these hybrids become enfeebled in a few generations. It has also been established that mixed marriage between Jews and Aryans are generally less fecund; but this fact is not yet sufficiently explained. Mulattoes, or hybrids between negroes and whites, constitute a degenerate race and hardly viable, at any rate if their descendants do not return entirely to one of the original races. Half-breeds between whites and American Indians, also called Ladinos, seem on the contrary to form a viable race, but one of little valor.


Sexual union between near relations nearly always causes a feeling of repugnance in man, and has been stigmatized by the term incest. Coitus between mother and son especially excites disgust. Sexual connection between parents and children, as well as between brothers and sisters is, however, common among certain tribes. Many other races allow marriage between brothers and sisters, but this is elsewhere generally condemned.

Among the Weddas, marriage between an elder brother and his younger sister is considered normal, while that between a younger brother and his elder sister, or between a nephew and his aunt, is regarded as unnatural. The latter simply shows that unions between young men and old women are not natural. Unions between brothers and sisters, and especially between half-brothers and half-sisters were licit among the Persians, Egyptians, Syrians, Athenians and ancient Jews. Those between uncles and nieces (more rarely between aunts and nephews) are sometimes permitted, sometimes prohibited. With the exception of Spain and Russia marriages between first cousins are allowed in Europe.

Exogamy and Endogamy.—Among many savages the prohibition of consanguineous marriage may be extended to relationship of the third degree. Marriage may even be prohibited among all members of the same tribe or clan, even when they are not related. This is called exogamous marriage, and reaches its extreme development among the Australians, who are only allowed to marry into remote clans.

We thus see that the great majority of savages extend their idea of incest much further than we do. The reason of this has been much discussed. It was formerly said that consanguineous marriage was contrary to the commandments of God; that it offended the natural sentiment of modesty; that it obscures relationship, etc. Nowadays, it is said to be injurious to posterity. Ethnography teaches us, however, that these statements are of little value.

Along with the exogamy of many tribes there is among other savages a system of endogamy, described by MacLennan; this is the prohibition of marriage between different clans. Spencer and MacLennan have different explanations of this custom which seem hardly natural. Westermark appears to be nearer the truth in remarking as follows: The sexual appetite, especially in man, is excited by new impressions and cooled by habit. It is not the fact of a man and woman being related, but intimate companionship since youth, which produces in them a repugnance to sexual union. We find the same repugnance between adopted brothers and sisters and between friends who have been intimate since childhood. When, on the contrary, brothers and sisters or near relatives have been separated from each other since an early age, they often fall in love with each other when they meet later on. There is, therefore, no innate or instinctive repugnance to incest in itself, but only against sexual union between individuals who have lived together since childhood. As it is parents and their children who are usually in this situation, everything is explained simply and clearly.

The causes of exogamy are explained in the same way, by the fact that members of the same clan often live together in close intimacy. It is the small clans, formed of thirty or fifty individuals of a few families living together, which have the most severe laws against incest or endogamy. Where the families live in separate homes, such prohibitions do not exist. The Maoris, who are endogamous, inhabit villages which are widely separated, and marriage between relations is allowed. Endogamy generally exists where the clan life is little developed, and where relatives know and see little of each other. The aversion to marriage between persons living together has thus created prohibition of marriage between relations as well as that of marriage between members of the same clan. It is the same reason which has led to the prohibition of marriage between brothers-and sisters-in-law, between brothers and adopted sisters, etc. In people living in small communities, endogamy does not appear to have ever existed.

Incest between relatives living together appears to have everywhere the same natural cause—the scarcity of women in isolated families living in remote districts. There is also a psycho-pathological form of incest associated with morbid appetites in the families of degenerates. In animals living alone and whose families break up very rapidly (cats for example) incestuous unions, between parents and young, for instance, are quite common.

Let us now consider the scientific side of the question. We see everywhere that sexual union between quite distinct animal species gives no result. At the most, certain closely allied species, such as the ass and the horse, the rabbit and the hare, give progeny which are themselves sterile (mules, etc.). The feebleness and sterility of hybrids derived from widely separated races or nearly allied different species proves the deficiency in vital force of the offspring of fundamentally dissimilar procreators. But, on the other hand, the dangers of continuous consanguineous reproduction are no less evident. Perpetual unions between brothers and sisters for several generations, lead to degeneration of the race. For example, the still-births will be 25 per cent. instead of 8 per cent., which is the figure in ordinary crossings. The prejudice against consanguineous unions may, however, depend on the accumulation of certain pathological defects.

Westermark admits that it is difficult to show clearly that consanguineous marriages are prejudicial in man. The consanguinity which causes evil effects in animals concerns long-continued unions between parents and children or brothers and sisters. But this never occurs in man. Animals and plants may be perpetuated for many years in the closest consanguinity without degeneration resulting. Among the Persians and Egyptians, intimate unions have existed for a long time without producing degeneration.

On the other hand, breeders of animals tell us that a single drop of new blood (or rather sperm) is enough to counteract all the evil effects of consanguinity. In man the most frequent incests are always interrupted by some other union. The Ptolemies, who nearly always married their sisters, nieces or cousins, lived long and were far from being sterile. In Ceylon, the Weddas perpetuate their consanguineous unions; insanity is rare among them, but they are small, unfruitful and tend to become extinct.

In Europe, the question of marriages between first cousins has been much discussed, and it has been constantly attempted to prove that they are injurious. Nevertheless, when we examine the question impartially, we always find that the prejudices against them do not arrive from consanguinity, but from certain pathological defects, such as insanity, hemophilia, etc., which are naturally perpetuated by consanguineous unions when they are accumulated in one family, as well as when two insane persons of different families marry. Therefore it is not consanguineous unions in themselves (which are always accidental in man and interrupted by others) but the hereditary reproduction of pathological defects, often of blastophthoric origin, which are the real cause of the evil. Statistics have clearly proved that marriage between first cousins plays no part in the causes of insanity.

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