Discussing the question of the sexual impulse in womenby@havelock

Discussing the question of the sexual impulse in women

by Havelock EllisApril 16th, 2023
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Special Characters of the Sexual Impulse in Women—The More Passive Part Played by Women in Courtship—This Passivity only Apparent—The Physical Mechanism of the Sexual Process in Women More Complex—The Slower Development of Orgasm in Women—The Sexual Impulse in Women More Frequently Needs to be Actively Aroused—The Climax of Sexual Energy Falls Later in Women's Lives than in Men's—Sexual Ardor in Women Increased After the Establishment of Sexual Relationships—Women bear Sexual Excesses better than Men—The Sexual Sphere Larger and More Diffused in Women—The Sexual Impulse in Women Shows a Greater Tendency to Periodicity and a Wider Range of Variation. So far I have been discussing the question of the sexual impulse in women on the ground upon which previous writers have usually placed it. The question, that is, has usually presented itself to them as one concerning the relative strength of the impulse in men and women. When so considered, not hastily and with prepossession, as is too often the case, but with a genuine desire to get at the real facts in all their aspects, there is no reason, as we have seen, to conclude that, on the whole, the sexual impulse in women is lacking in strength.
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Studies in the Psychology of Sex, Volume 3 by Havelock Ellis is part of the HackerNoon Books Series. You can jump to any chapter in this book here. THE SEXUAL IMPULSE IN WOMEN - II


Special Characters of the Sexual Impulse in Women—The More Passive Part Played by Women in Courtship—This Passivity only Apparent—The Physical Mechanism of the Sexual Process in Women More Complex—The Slower Development of Orgasm in Women—The Sexual Impulse in Women More Frequently Needs to be Actively Aroused—The Climax of Sexual Energy Falls Later in Women's Lives than in Men's—Sexual Ardor in Women Increased After the Establishment of Sexual Relationships—Women bear Sexual Excesses better than Men—The Sexual Sphere Larger and More Diffused in Women—The Sexual Impulse in Women Shows a Greater Tendency to Periodicity and a Wider Range of Variation.

So far I have been discussing the question of the sexual impulse in women on the ground upon which previous writers have usually placed it. The question, that is, has usually presented itself to them as one concerning the relative strength of the impulse in men and women. When so considered, not hastily and with prepossession, as is too often the case, but with a genuine desire to get at the real facts in all their aspects, there is no reason, as we have seen, to conclude that, on the whole, the sexual impulse in women is lacking in strength.

But we have to push our investigation of the matter further. In reality, the question as to whether the sexual impulse is or is not stronger in one sex than in the other is a somewhat crude one. To put the question in that form is to reveal ignorance of the real facts of the matter. And in that form, moreover, no really definite and satisfactory answer can be given.

It is necessary to put the matter on different ground. Instead of taking more or less insolvable questions as to the strength of the sexual impulse in the two sexes, it is more profitable to consider its differences. What are the special characters of the sexual impulse in women?

There is certainly one purely natural sexual difference of a fundamental character, which lies at the basis of whatever truth may be in the assertion that women are not susceptible of sexual emotion. As may he seen when considering the phenomena of modesty, the part played by the female in courtship throughout nature is usually different from that played by the male, and is, in some respects, a more difficult and complex part. Except when the male fails to play his part properly, she is usually comparatively passive; in the proper playing of her part she has to appear to shun the male, to flee from his approaches—even actually to repel them.[169]

Courtship resembles very closely, indeed, a drama or game; and the aggressiveness of the male, the coyness of the female, are alike unconsciously assumed in order to bring about in the most effectual manner the ultimate union of the sexes. The seeming reluctance of the female is not intended to inhibit sexual activity either in the male or in herself, but to increase it in both. The passivity of the female, therefore, is not a real, but only an apparent, passivity, and this holds true of our own species as much as of the lower animals. "Women are like delicately adjusted alembics," said a seventeenth-century author. "No fire can be seen outside, but if you look underneath the alembic, if you place your hand on the hearts of women, in both places you will find a great furnace."[170] Or, as Marro has finely put it, the passivity of women in love is the passivity of the magnet, which in its apparent immobility is drawing the iron toward it. An intense energy lies behind such passivity, an absorbed preoccupation in the end to be attained.

Tarde, when exercising magistrate's functions, once had to inquire into a case in which a young man was accused of murder. In questioning a girl of 18, a shepherdess, who appeared before him as a witness, she told him that on the morning following the crime she had seen the footmarks of the accused up to a certain point. He asked how she recognized them, and she replied, ingenuously but with assurance, that she could recognize the footprints of every young man in the neighborhood, even in a plowed field.[171] No better illustration could be given of the real significance of the sexual passivity of women, even at its most negative point.

"The women I have known," a correspondent writes, "do not express their sensations and feelings as much as I do. Nor have I found women usually anxious to practise 'luxuries.' They seldom care to practice fellatio; I have only known one woman who offered to do fellatio because she liked it. Nor do they generally care to masturbate a man; that is, they do not care greatly to enjoy the contemplation of the other person's excitement. (To me, to see the woman excited means almost more than my own pleasure.) They usually resist cunnilinctus, although they enjoy it. They do not seem to care to touch or look at a man's parts so much as he does at theirs. And they seem to dislike the tongue-kiss unless they feel very sexual or really love a man." My correspondent admits that his relationships have been numerous and facile, while his erotic demands tend also to deviate from the normal path. Under such circumstances, which not uncommonly occur, the woman's passions fail to be deeply stirred, and she retains her normal attitude of relative passivity.

It is owing to the fact that the sexual passivity of women is only an apparent, and not a real, passivity that women are apt to suffer, as men are, from prolonged sexual abstinence. This, indeed, has been denied, but can scarcely be said to admit of doubt. The only question is as to the relative amount of such suffering, necessarily a very difficult question. As far back as the fourteenth century Johannes de Sancto Amando stated that women are more injured than men by sexual abstinence. In modern times Maudsley considers that women "suffer more than men do from the entire deprivation of sexual intercourse" ("Relations between Body and Mind," Lancet, May 28, 1870). By some it has been held that this cause may produce actual disease. Thus, Tilt, an eminent gynecologist of the middle of the nineteenth century, in discussing this question, wrote: "When we consider how much of the lifetime of woman is occupied by the various phases of the generative process, and how terrible is often the conflict within her between the impulse of passion and the dictates of duty, it may be well understood how such a conflict reacts on the organs of the sexual economy in the unimpregnated female, and principally on the ovaria, causing an orgasm, which, if often repeated, may possibly be productive of subacute ovaritis." (Tilt, On Uterine and Ovarian Inflammation, 1862, pp. 309-310.) Long before Tilt, Haller, it seems, had said that women are especially liable to suffer from privation of sexual intercourse to which they have been accustomed, and referred to chlorosis, hysteria, nymphomania, and simple mania curable by intercourse. Hegar considers that in women an injurious result follows the nonsatisfaction of the sexual impulse and of the "ideal feelings," and that symptoms thus arise (pallor, loss of flesh, cardialgia, malaise, sleeplessness, disturbances of menstruation) which are diagnosed as "chlorosis." (Hegar, Zusammenhang der Geschlechtskrankheiten mit nervösen Leiden, 1885, p. 45.) Freud, as well as Gattel, has found that states of anxiety (Angstzustände) are caused by sexual abstinence. Löwenfeld, on careful examination of his own cases, is able to confirm this connection in both sexes. He has specially noticed it in young women who marry elderly husbands. Löwenfeld believes, however, that, on the whole, healthy unmarried women bear sexual abstinence better than men. If, however, they are of at all neuropathic disposition, ungratified sexual emotions may easily lead to various morbid conditions, especially of a hysteroneurasthenic character. (Löwenfeld, Sexualleben und Nervenleiden, second edition, 1899, pp. 44, 47, 54-60.) Balls-Headley considers that unsatisfied sexual desires in women may lead to the following conditions: general atrophy, anemia, neuralgia and hysteria, irregular menstruation, leucorrhea, atrophy of sexual organs. He also refers to the frequency of myoma of the uterus among those who have not become pregnant or who have long ceased to bear children. (Balls-Headley, art. "Etiology of Diseases of Female Genital Organs," Allbutt and Playfair, System of Gynæcology, 1896, p. 141.) It cannot, however, be said that he brings forward substantial evidence in favor of these beliefs. It may be added that in America, during recent years, leading gynecologists have recorded a number of cases in which widows on remarriage have shown marked improvement in uterine and pelvic conditions.

The question as to whether men or women suffer most from sexual abstinence, as well as the question whether definite morbid conditions are produced by such abstinence, remains, however, an obscure and debated problem. The available data do not enable us to answer it decisively. It is one of those subtle and complex questions which can only be investigated properly by a gynecologist who is also a psychologist. Incidentally, however, we have met and shall have occasion to meet with evidence bearing on this question. It is sufficient to say here, briefly, that it is impossible to believe, even if no evidence were forthcoming, that the exercise or non-exercise of so vastly important a function can make no difference to the organism generally. So far as the evidence goes, it may be said to indicate that the results of the abeyance of the sexual functions in healthy women in whom the sexual emotions have never been definitely aroused tend to be diffused and unconscious, as the sexual impulse itself often is, but that, in women in whom the sexual emotions have been definitely aroused and gratified, the results of sexual abstinence tend to be acute and conscious.

These acute results are at the present day very often due to premature ejaculation by nervous or neurasthenic husbands, the rapidity with which detumescence is reached in the husband allowing insufficient time for tumescence in the wife, who consequently fails to reach the orgasm. This has of late been frequently pointed out. Thus Kafemann (Sexual-Probleme, March, 1910, p. 194 et seq.) emphasizes the prevalence of sexual incompetence in men. Ferenczi, of Budapest (Zentralblatt für Psychoanalyse, 1910, ht. 1 and 2, p. 75), believes that the combination of neurasthenic husbands with resultantly nervous wives is extraordinarily common; even putting aside the neurasthenic, he considers it may be said that the whole male sex in relation to women suffer from precocious ejaculation. He adds that it is often difficult to say whether the lack of harmony may not be due to retarded orgasm in the woman. He regards the influence of masturbation in early life as tending to quicken orgasm in man, while when practised by the other sex it tends to slow orgasm, and thus increases the disharmony. He holds, however, that the chief cause lies in the education of women with its emphasis on sexual repression; this works too well and the result is that when the external impediments to the sexual impulse are removed the impulse has become incapable of normal action. Porosz (British Medical Journal, April 1, 1911) has brought forward cases of serious nervous trouble in women which have been dispersed when the sexual weakness and premature ejaculation of the husband have been cured.

The true nature of the passivity of the female is revealed by the ease with which it is thrown off, more especially when the male refuses to accept his cue. Or, if we prefer to accept the analogy of a game, we may say that in the play of courtship the first move belongs to the male, but that, if he fails to play, it is then the female's turn to play.

Among many birds the males at mating time fall into a state of sexual frenzy, but not the females. "I cannot call to mind a single case," states an authority on birds (H. E. Howard, Zoölogist, 1902, p. 146), "where I have seen anything approaching frenzy in the female of any species while mating."

Another great authority on birds, a very patient and skillful observer, Mr. Edmund Selous, remarks, however, in describing the courting habits of the ruffs and reeves (Machetes pugnax) that, notwithstanding the passivity of the females beforehand, their movements during and after coitus show that they derive at least as much pleasure as the males. (E. Selous, "Selection in Birds," Zoölogist, Feb. and May, 1907.)

The same observer, after speaking of the great beauty of the male eider duck, continues: "These glorified males—there were a dozen of these, perhaps, to some six or seven females—swam closely about the latter, but more in attendance upon them than as actively pursuing them, for the females seemed themselves almost as active agents in the sport of being wooed as were their lovers in wooing them. The male bird first dipped down his head till his beak just touched the water, then raised it again in a constrained and tense manner,—the curious rigid action so frequent in the nuptial antics of birds,—at the same time uttering his strange haunting note. The air became filled with it; every moment one or other of the birds—sometimes several together—with upturned bill would softly laugh or exclaim, and while the males did this, the females, turning excitedly, and with little eager demonstrations from one to another of them, kept lowering and extending forward the head and neck in the direction of each in turn.... I noticed that a female would often approach a male bird with her head and neck laid flat along the water as though in a very 'coming on' disposition, and that the male bird declined her advances. This, taken in conjunction with the actions of the female when courted by the male, appears to me to raise a doubt as to the universal application of the law that throughout nature the male, in courtship, is eager, and the female coy. Here, to all appearances, courtship was proceeding, and the birds had not yet mated. The female eider ducks, however,—at any rate, some of them,—appeared to be anything but coy." (Bird Watching, pp. 144-146.)

Among moor-hens and great-crested grebes sometimes what Selous terms "functional hermaphroditism" occurs and the females play the part of the male toward their male companions, and then repeat the sexual act with a reversion to the normal order, the whole to the satisfaction of both parties. (E. Selous, Zoölogist, 1902, p. 196.)

It is not only among birds that the female sometimes takes the active part, but also among mammals. Among white rats, for instance, the males are exceptionally eager. Steinach, who has made many valuable experiments on these animals (Archiv für die Gesammte Physiologie, Bd. lvi, 1894, p. 319), tells us that, when a female white rat is introduced into the cage of a male, he at once leaves off eating, or whatever else he may be doing, becomes indifferent to noises or any other source of distraction, and devotes himself entirely to her. If, however, he is introduced into her cage the new environment renders him nervous and suspicious, and then it is she who takes the active part, trying to attract him in every way. The impetuosity during heat of female animals of various species, when at length admitted to the male, is indeed well known to all who are familiar with animals.

I have referred to the frequency with which, in the human species,—and very markedly in early adolescence, when the sexual impulse is in a high degree unconscious and unrestrainedly instinctive,—similar manifestations may often be noted. We have to recognize that they are not necessarily abnormal and still less pathological. They merely represent the unseasonable apparition of a tendency which in due subordination is implied in the phases of courtship throughout the animal world. Among some peoples and in some stages of culture, tending to withdraw the men from women and the thought of women, this phase of courtship and this attitude assume a prominence which is absolutely normal. The literature of the Middle Ages presents a state of society in which men were devoted to war and to warlike sports, while the women took the more active part in love-making. The medieval poets represent women as actively encouraging backward lovers, and as delighting to offer to great heroes the chastity they had preserved, sometimes entering their bed-chambers at night. Schultz (Das Höfische Leben, Bd. i, pp. 594-598) considers that these representations are not exaggerated. Cf. Krabbes, Die Frau im Altfranzösischen Karls-Epos, 1884, p. 20 et seq.; and M. A. Potter, Sohrab and Rustem, 1902, pp. 152-163.

Among savages and barbarous races in various parts of the world it is the recognized custom, reversing the more usual method, for the girl to take the initiative in courtship. This is especially so in New Guinea. Here the girls almost invariably take the initiative, and in consequence hold a very independent position. Women are always regarded as the seducers: "Women steal men." A youth who proposed to a girl would be making himself ridiculous, would be called a woman, and be laughed at by the girls. The usual method by which a girl proposes is to send a present to the youth by a third party, following this up by repeated gifts of food; the young man sometimes waits a month or two, receiving presents all the time, in order to assure himself of the girl's constancy before decisively accepting her advances. (A. C. Haddon, Cambridge Expedition to Torres Straits, vol. v, ch. viii; id., "Western Tribes of Torres Straits," Journal of the Anthropological Institute, vol. xix, February, 1890, pp. 314, 356, 394, 395, 411, 413; id., Head Hunters, pp. 158-164; R. E. Guise, "Tribes of the Wanigela River," Journal of the Anthropological Institute, new series, vol. i, February-May, 1899, p. 209.) Westermarck gives instances of races among whom the women take the initiative in courtship. (History of Marriage, p. 158; so also Finck, Primitive Love and Love-stories, 1899, p. 109 et seq.; and as regards Celtic women, see Rhys and Brynmor Jones, The Welsh People.)

There is another characteristic of great significance by which the sexual impulse in women differs from that in men: the widely unlike character of the physical mechanism involved in the process of coitus. Considering how obvious this difference is, it is strange that its fundamental importance should so often be underrated. In man the process of tumescence and detumescence is simple. In women it is complex. In man we have the more or less spontaneously erectile penis, which needs but very simple conditions to secure the ejaculation which brings relief. In women we have in the clitoris a corresponding apparatus on a small scale, but behind this has developed a much more extensive mechanism, which also demands satisfaction, and requires for that satisfaction the presence of various conditions that are almost antagonistic. Naturally the more complex mechanism is the more easily disturbed. It is the difference, roughly speaking, between a lock and a key. This analogy is far from indicating all the difficulties involved. We have to imagine a lock that not only requires a key to fit it, but should only be entered at the right moment, and, under the best conditions, may only become adjusted to the key by considerable use. The fact that the man takes the more active part in coitus has increased these difficulties; the woman is too often taught to believe that the whole function is low and impure, only to be submitted to at her husband's will and for his sake, and the man has no proper knowledge of the mechanism involved and the best way of dealing with it. The grossest brutality thus may be, and not infrequently is, exercised in all innocence by an ignorant husband who simply believes that he is performing his "marital duties." For a woman to exercise this physical brutality on a man is with difficulty possible; a man's pleasurable excitement is usually the necessary condition of the woman's sexual gratification. But the reverse is not the case, and, if the man is sufficiently ignorant or sufficiently coarse-grained to be satisfied with the woman's submission, he may easily become to her, in all innocence, a cause of torture.

To the man coitus must be in some slight degree pleasurable or it cannot take place at all. To the woman the same act which, under some circumstances, in the desire it arouses and the satisfaction it imparts, will cause the whole universe to shrivel into nothingness, under other circumstances will be a source of anguish, physical and mental. This is so to some extent even in the presence of the right and fit man. There can be no doubt whatever that the mucus which is so profusely poured out over the external sexual organs in woman during the excitement of sexual desire has for its end the lubrication of the parts and the facilitation of the passage of the intromittent organ. The most casual inspection of the cold, contracted, dry vulva in its usual aspect and the same when distended, hot, and moist suffices to show which condition is and which is not that ready for intercourse, and until the proper condition is reached it is certain that coitus should not be attempted.

The varying sensitiveness of the female parts again offers difficulties. Sexual relations in women are, at the onset, almost inevitably painful; and to some extent the same experience may be repeated at every act of coitus. Ordinary tactile sensibility in the female genitourinary region is notably obtuse, but at the beginning of the sexual act there is normally a hyperesthesia which may be painful or pleasurable as excitement culminates, passing into a seeming anesthesia, which even craves for rough contact; so that in sexual excitement a woman normally displays in quick succession that same quality of sensibility to superficial pressure and insensibility to deep pressure which the hysterical woman exhibits simultaneously.

Thus we see that a highly important practical result follows from the greater complexity of the sexual apparatus in women and the greater difficulty with which it is aroused. In coitus the orgasm tends to occur more slowly in women than in men. It may easily happen that the whole process of detumescence is completed in the man before it has begun in his partner, who is left either cold or unsatisfied. This is one of the respects in which women remain nearer than men to the primitive stage of humanity.

In the Hippocratic treatise, Of Generation, it is stated that, while woman has less pleasure in coitus than man, her pleasure lasts longer. (Œuvres d'Hippocrate, edition Littré, vol. vii, p. 477.)

Beaunis considers that the slower development of the orgasm in women is the only essential difference in the sexual process in men and women. (Beaunis, Les Sensations Internes, 1889, p. 151.) This characteristic of the sexual impulse in women, though recognized for so long a period, is still far too often ignored or unknown. There is even a superstition that injurious results may follow if the male orgasm is not effected as rapidly as possible. That this is not so is shown by the experiences of the Oneida community in America, who in their system of sexual relationship carried prolonged intercourse without ejaculation to an extreme degree. There can be no doubt whatever that very prolonged intercourse gives the maximum amount of pleasure and relief to the woman. Not only is this the very decided opinion of women who have experienced it, but it is also indicated by the well-recognized fact that a woman who repeats the sexual act several times in succession often experiences more intense orgasm and pleasure with each repetition.

This point is much better understood in the East than in the West. The prolongation of the man's excitement, in order to give the woman time for orgasm, is, remarks Sir Richard Burton (Arabian Nights, vol. v, p. 76), much studied by Moslems, as also by Hindoos, who, on this account, during the orgasm seek to avoid overtension of muscles and to preoccupy the brain. During coitus they will drink sherbet, chew betel-nut, and even smoke. Europeans devote no care to this matter, and Hindoo women, who require about twenty minutes to complete the act, contemptuously call them "village cocks." I have received confirmation of Burton's statements on this point from medical correspondents in India.

While the European desires to perform as many acts of coitus in one night as possible, Breitenstein remarks, the Malay, as still more the Javanese, wishes, not to repeat the act many times, but to prolong it. His aim is to remain in the vagina for about a quarter of an hour. Unlike the European, also, he boasts of the pleasure he has given his partner far more than of his own pleasure. (Breitenstein, 21 Jahre in India, theil i, "Borneo," p. 228.)

Jäger (Entdeckung der Seele, second edition, vol. i, 1884, p. 203), as quoted by Moll, explains the preference of some women for castrated men as due, not merely to the absence of risk of impregnation, but to the prolonged erections that take place in the castrated. Aly-Belfàdel remarks (Archivio di Psichiatria, 1903, p. 117) that he knows women who prefer old men in coitus simply because of their delay in ejaculation which allows more time to the women to become excited.

A Russian correspondent living in Italy informs me that a Neapolitan girl of 17, who had only recently ceased to be a virgin, explained to him that she preferred coitus in ore vulvæ to real intercourse because the latter was over before she had time to obtain the orgasm (or, as she put it, "the big bird has fled from the cage and I am left in the lurch"), while in the other way she was able to experience the orgasm twice before her partner reached the climax. "This reminds me," my correspondent continues, "that a Milanese cocotte once told me that she much liked intercourse with Jews because, on account of the circumcised penis being less sensitive to contact, they ejaculate more slowly then Christians. 'With Christians,' she said, 'it constantly happens that I am left unsatisfied because they ejaculate before me, while in coitus with Jews I sometimes ejaculate twice before the orgasm occurs in my partner, or, rather, I hold back the second orgasm until he is ready.' This is confirmed," my correspondent continues, "by what I was told by a Russian Jew, a student at the Zürich Polytechnic, who had a Russian comrade living with a mistress, also a Russian student, or pseudostudent. One day the Jew, going early to see his friend, was told to enter by a woman's voice and found his friend's mistress alone and in her chemise beside the bed. He was about to retire, but the young woman bade him stay and in a few minutes he was in bed with her. She told him that her lover had just gone away and that she never had sexual relief with him because he always ejaculated too soon. That morning he had left her so excited and so unrelieved that she was just about to masturbate—which she rarely did because it gave her headache—when she heard the Jew's voice, and, knowing that Jews are slower in coitus than Christians, she had suddenly resolved to give herself to him."

I am informed that the sexual power of negroes and slower ejaculation (see Appendix A) are the cause of the favor with which they are viewed by some white women of strong sexual passions in America, and by many prostitutes. At one time there was a special house in New York City to which white women resorted for these "buck lovers"; the women came heavily veiled and would inspect the penises of the men before making their selection.

It is thus a result of the complexity of the sexual mechanism in women that the whole attitude of a woman toward the sexual relationship is liable to be affected disastrously by the husband's lack of skill or consideration in initiating her into this intimate mystery. Normally the stage of apparent repulsion and passivity, often associated with great sensitiveness, physical and moral, passes into one of active participation and aid in the consummation of the sexual act. But if, from whatever cause, there is partial arrest on the woman's side of this evolution in the process of courtship, if her submission is merely a mental and deliberate act of will, and not an instinctive and impulsive participation, there is a necessary failure of sexual relief and gratification. When we find that a woman displays a certain degree of indifference in sexual relationships, and a failure of complete gratification, we have to recognize that the fault may possibly lie, not in her, but in the defective skill of a lover who has not known how to play successfully the complex and subtle game of courtship. Sexual coldness due to the shock and suffering of the wedding-night is a phenomenon that is far too frequent.[172] Hence it is that many women may never experience sexual gratification and relief, through no defect on their part, but through the failure of the husband to understand the lover's part. We make a false analogy when we compare the courtship of animals exclusively with our own courtships before marriage. Courtship, properly understood, is the process whereby both the male and the female are brought into that state of sexual tumescence which is a more or less necessary condition for sexual intercourse. The play of courtship cannot, therefore, be considered to be definitely brought to an end by the ceremony of marriage; it may more properly be regarded as the natural preliminary to every act of coitus.

Tumescence is not merely a more or less essential condition for proper sexual intercourse. It is probably of more fundamental significance as one of the favoring conditions of impregnation. This has, indeed, been long recognized. Van Swieten, when consulted by the childless Maria Theresa, gave the opinion "Ego vero censeo, vulvam Sacratissimæ Majestatis ante coitum diutius esse titillandam," and thereafter she had many children. "I think it very nearly certain," Matthews Duncan wrote (Goulstonian Lectures on Sterility in Woman, 1884, p. 96), "that desire and pleasure in due or moderate degree are very important aids to, or predisposing causes of, fecundity," as bringing into action the complicated processes of fecundation. Hirst (Text-book of Obstetrics, 1899, p. 67) mentions the case of a childless married woman who for six years had had no orgasm during intercourse; then it occurred at the same time as coitus, and pregnancy resulted.

Kisch is very decidedly of the same opinion, and considers that the popular belief on this point is fully justified. It is a fact, he states, that an unfaithful wife is more likely to conceive with her lover than with her husband, and he concludes that, whatever the precise mechanism may be, "sexual excitement on the woman's part is a necessary link in the chain of conditions producing impregnation." (E. H. Kisch, Die Sterilität des Weibes, 1886, p. 99.) Kisch believes (p. 103) that in the majority of women sexual pleasure only appears gradually, after the first cohabitation, and then develops progressively, and that the first conception usually coincides with its complete awakening. In 556 cases of his own the most frequent epoch of first impregnation was found to be between ten and fifteen months after marriage.

The removal of sexual frigidity thus becomes a matter of some importance. This removal may in some cases be effected by treatment through the husband, but that course is not always practicable. Dr. Douglas Bryan, of Leicester, informs me that in several cases he has succeeded in removing sexual coldness and physical aversion in the wife by hypnotic suggestion. The suggestions given to the patient are "that all her womanly natural feelings would be quickly and satisfactorily developed during coitus; that she would experience no feeling of disgust and nausea, would have no fear of the orgasm not developing; that there would be no involuntary resistance on her part." The fact that such suggestions can be permanently effective tends to show how superficial the sexual "anesthesia" of women usually is.

Not only, therefore, is the apparatus of sexual excitement in women more complex than in men, but—in part, possibly as a result of this greater complexity—it much more frequently requires to be actively aroused. In men tumescence tends to occur almost spontaneously, or under the simple influence of accumulated semen. In women, also, especially in those who live a natural and healthy life, sexual excitement also tends to occur spontaneously, but by no means so frequently as in men. The comparative rarity of sexual dreams in women who have not had sexual relationships alone serves to indicate this sexual difference. In a very large number of women the sexual impulse remains latent until aroused by a lover's caresses. The youth spontaneously becomes a man; but the maiden—as it has been said—"must be kissed into a woman."

One result of this characteristic is that, more especially when love is unduly delayed beyond the first youth, this complex apparatus has difficulty in responding to the unfamiliar demands of sexual excitement. Moreover, delayed normal sexual relations, when the sexual impulse is not absolutely latent, tend to induce all degrees of perverted or abnormal sexual gratification, and the physical mechanism when trained to respond in other ways often fails to respond normally when, at last, the normal conditions of response are presented. In all these ways passivity and even aversion may be produced in the conjugal relationship. The fact that it is almost normally the function of the male to arouse the female, and that the greater complexity of the sexual mechanism in women leads to more frequent disturbance of that mechanism, produces a simulation of organic sexual coldness which has deceived many.

An instructive study of cases in which the sexual impulse has been thus perverted has been presented by Smith Baker ("The Neuropsychical Element in Conjugal Aversion," Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, vol. xvii, September, 1892). Raymond and Janet, who believes that sexual coldness is extremely frequent in marriage, and that it plays an important part in the causation of physical and moral troubles, find that it is most often due to masturbation. (Les Obsessions, vol. ii, p. 307.) Adler, after discussing the complexity of the feminine sexual mechanism, and the difficulty which women find in obtaining sexual gratification in normal coitus, concludes that "masturbation is a frequent, perhaps the most frequent, cause of defective sexual sensibility in women." (Op. cit., p. 119.) He remarks that in women masturbation usually has less resemblance to normal coitus than in men and involves very frequently the special excitation of parts which are not the chief focus of excitement in coitus, so that coitus fails to supply the excitation which has become habitual (pp. 113-116). In the discussion of "Auto-erotism" in the first volume of these Studies, I had already referred to the divorce between the physical and the ideal sides of love which may, especially in women, be induced by masturbation.

Another cause of inhibited sexual feeling has been brought forward. A married lady with normal sexual impulse states (Sexual-Probleme, April, 1912, p. 290) that she cannot experience orgasm and sexual satisfaction when the intercourse is not for conception. This is a psychic inhibition independent of any disturbance due to the process of prevention. She knows other women who are similarly affected. Such an inhibition must be regarded as artificial and abnormal, since the final result of sexual intercourse, under natural and normal conditions, forms no essential constituent of the psychic process of intercourse.

As a result of the fact that in women the sexual emotions tend not to develop great intensity until submitted to powerful stimulation, we find that the maximum climax of sexual emotion tends to fall somewhat later in a woman's life than in a man's. Among animals generally there appears to be frequently traceable a tendency for the sexual activities of the male to develop at a somewhat earlier age than those of the female. In the human, species we may certainly trace the same tendency. As the great physiologist, Burdach, pointed out, throughout nature, with the accomplishment of the sexual act the part of the male in the work of generation comes to an end; but that act represents only the beginning of a woman's generative activity.

A youth of 20 may often display a passionate ardor in love which is very seldom indeed found in women who are under 25. It is rare for a woman, even though her sexual emotions may awaken at puberty or earlier, to experience the great passion of her life until after the age of 25 has been passed. In confirmation of this statement, which is supported by daily observation, it may be pointed out that nearly all the most passionate love-letters of women, as well as their most passionate devotions, have come from women who had passed, sometimes long passed, their first youth. When Heloise wrote to Abelard the first of the letters which have come down to us she was at least 32. Mademoiselle Aissé's relation with the Chevalier began when she was 32, and when she died, six years later, the passion of each was at its height. Mary Wollstonecraft was 34 when her love-letters to Imlay began, and her child was born in the following year. Mademoiselle de Lespinasse was 43 when she began to write her letters to M. de Guibert. In some cases the sexual impulse may not even appear until after the period of the menopause has been passed.[173]

In Roman times Ovid remarked (Ars Amatoria, lib. ii) that a woman fails to understand the art of love until she has reached the age of 35. "A girl of 18," said Stendhal (De l'Amour, ch. viii), "has not the power to crystallize her emotions; she forms desires that are too limited by her lack of experience in the things of life, to be able to love with such passion as a woman of 28." "Sexual needs," said Restif de la Bretonne (Monsieur Nicolas, vol. xi, p. 221), "often only appears in young women when they are between 26 and 27 years of age; at least, that is what I have observed."

Erb states that it is about the middle of the twenties that women begin to suffer physically, morally, and intellectually from their sexual needs. Nyström (Das Geschlechtsleben, p. 163) considers that it is about the age of 30 that a woman first begins to feel conscious of sex needs. In a case of Adler's (op. cit., p. 141), sexual feelings first appeared after the birth of the third child, at the age of 30. Forel (Die Sexuelle Frage, 1906, p. 219) considers that sexual desire in woman is often strongest between the ages of 30 and 40. Leith Napier (Menopause, p. 94) remarks that from 28 to 30 is often an important age in woman who have retained their virginity, erotism then appearing with the full maturity of the nervous system. Yellowlees (art. "Masturbation," Dictionary of Psychological Medicine), again, states that at about the age of 33 some women experience great sexual irritability, often resulting in masturbation. Audiffrent (Archives d'Anthropologie Criminelle, Jan. 15, 1902, p. 3) considers that it is toward the age of 30 that a woman reaches her full moral and physical development, and that at this period her emotional and idealizing impulses reach a degree of intensity which is sometimes irresistible. It has already been mentioned that Matthews Duncan's careful inquiries showed that it is between the ages of 30 and 34 that the largest proportion of women experience sexual desire and sexual pleasure. It may be remarked, also, that while the typical English novelists, who have generally sought to avoid touching the deeper and more complex aspects of passion, often choose very youthful heroines, French novelists, who have frequently had a predilection for the problems of passion, often choose heroines who are approaching the age of 30.

Hirschfeld (Von Wesen der Liebe, p. 26) was consulted by a lady who, being without any sexual desires or feelings, married an inverted man in order to live with him a life of simple comradeship. Within six months, however, she fell violently in love with her husband, with the full manifestation of sexual feelings and accompanying emotions of jealousy. Under all the circumstances, however, she would not enter into sexual relationship with her husband, and the torture she endured became so acute that she desired to be castrated. In this connection, also, I may mention a case, which has been communicated to me from Glasgow, of a girl—strong and healthy and menstruating regularly since the age of 17—who was seduced at the age of 20 without any sexual desire on her part, giving birth to a child nine months later. Subsequently she became a prostitute for three years, and during this period had not the slightest sexual desire or any pleasure in sexual connection. Thereafter she met a poor lad with whom she has full sexual desire and sexual pleasure, the result being that she refuses to go with any other man, and consequently is almost without food for several days every week.

The late appearance of the great climax of sexual emotion in women is indicated by a tendency to nervous and psychic disturbances between the ages of 25 and about 33, which has been independently noted by various alienists (though it may be noted that 25 to 30 is not an unusual age for first attacks of insanity in men also). Thus, Krafft-Ebing states that adult unmarried women between the ages of 25 and 30 often show nervous symptoms and peculiarities. (Krafft-Ebing, "Ueber Neurosen und Psychosen durch Sexuelle Abstinenz," Jahrbücher für Psychiatrie, Bd. viii, ht. 1-4, 1888.) Pitres and Régis find also (Comptes-rendus XIIe Congrès International de Médecine, Moscow, 1897, vol. iv, p. 45) that obsessions, which are commoner in women than in men and are commonly connected in their causation with strong moral emotion, occur in women chiefly between the ages of 26 and 30, though in men much earlier. The average age at which in England women inebriates begin drinking in excess is 26. (British Medical Journal, Sept. 2, 1911, p. 518.)

A case recorded by Sérieux is instructive as regards the development of the sexual impulse, although it comes within the sphere of mental disorder. A woman of 32 with bad heredity had in childhood had weak health and become shy, silent, and fond of solitude, teased by her companions and finding consolation in hard work. Though very emotional, she never, even in the vaguest form, experienced any of those feelings and aspirations which reveal the presence of the sexual impulse. She had no love of dancing and was indifferent to any embraces she might chance to receive from young men. She never masturbated or showed inverted feelings. At the age of 23 she married. She still, however, experienced no sexual feelings; twice only she felt a faint sensation of pleasure. A child was born, but her home was unhappy on account of her husband's drunken habits. He died and she worked hard for her own living and the support of her mother. Then at the age of 31 a new phase occurs in her life: she falls in love with the master of her workshop. It was at first a purely psychic affection, without any mixture of physical elements; it was enough to see him, and she trembled when she touched anything that belonged to him. She was constantly thinking about him; she loved him for his eyes, which seemed to her those of her own child, and especially for his intelligence. Gradually, however, the lower nervous centers began to take part in these emotions; one day in passing her the master chanced to touch her shoulder; this contact was sufficient to produce sexual turgescence. She began to masturbate daily, thinking of her master, and for the first time in her life she desired coitus. She evoked the image of her master so constantly and vividly that at last hallucinations of sight, touch, and hearing appeared, and it seemed to her that he was present. These hallucinations were only with difficulty dissipated. (P. Sérieux, Les Anomalies de L'Instinct Sexuel, 1888, p. 50.) This case presents in an insane form a phenomenon which is certainly by no means uncommon and is very significant. Up to the age of 31 we should certainly have been forced to conclude that this woman was sexually anesthetic to an almost absolute degree. In reality, we see this was by no means the case. Weak health, hard work, and a brutal husband had prolonged the latency of the sexual emotions; but they were there, ready to explode with even insane intensity (this being due to the unsound heredity) in the presence of a man who appealed to these emotions.

In connection with the late evolution of the sexual emotions in women reference may be made to what is usually termed "old maid's insanity," a condition not met with in men. In these cases, which are not, indeed, common, single women who have led severely strict and virtuous lives, devoting themselves to religious or intellectual work, and carefully repressing the animal side of their natures, at last, just before the climacteric, experience an awakening of the erotic impulse; they fall in love with some unfortunate man, often a clergyman, persecute him with their attentions, and frequently suffer from the delusion that he reciprocates their affections.

When once duly aroused, there cannot usually be any doubt concerning the strength of the sexual impulse in normal and healthy women. There would, however, appear to be a distinct difference between the sexes at this point also. Before sexual union the male tends to be more ardent; after sexual union it is the female who tends to be more ardent. The sexual energy of women, under these circumstances, would seem to be the greater on account of the long period during which it has been dormant.

Sinibaldus in the seventeenth century, in his Geneanthropeia, argued that, though women are cold at first, and aroused with more difficulty and greater slowness than men, the flame of passion spreads in them the more afterward, just as iron is by nature cold, but when heated gives a great degree of heat. Similarly Mandeville said of women that "their passions are not so easily raised nor so suddenly fixed upon any particular object; but when this passion is once rooted in women it is much stronger and more durable than in men, and rather increases than diminishes by enjoying the person of the beloved." (A Modest Defence of Public Stews, 1724, p. 34.) Burdach considered that women only acquire the full enjoyment of their general strength after marriage and pregnancy, while it is before marriage that men have most vigor. Schopenhauer also said that a man's love decreases with enjoyment, and a woman's increases. And Ellen Key has remarked (Love and Marriage) that "where there is no mixture of Southern blood it is a long time, sometimes indeed not till years after marriage, that the senses of the Northern women awake to consciousness."

Even among animals this tendency seems to be manifested. Edmund Selous (Bird Watching, p. 112) remarks, concerning sea-gulls: "Always, or almost always, one of the birds—and this I take to be the female—is more eager, has a more soliciting manner and tender begging look than the other. It is she who, as a rule, draws the male bird on. She looks fondly up at him, and, raising her bill to his, as though beseeching a kiss, just touches with it, in raising, the feathers of the throat—an action light, but full of endearment. And in every way she shows herself the most desirous, and, in fact, so worries and pesters the poor male gull that often, to avoid her importunities, he flies away. This may seem odd, but I have seen other instances of it. No doubt, in actual courting, before the sexes are paired, the male bird is usually the most eager, but after marriage the female often becomes the wooer. Of this I have seen some marked instances." Selous mentions especially the plover, kestrel hawk, and rook.

In association with the fact that women tend to show an increase of sexual ardor after sexual relationships have been set up may be noted the probably related fact that sexual intercourse is undoubtedly less injurious to women than to men. Other things being equal, that is to say, the threshold of excess is passed very much sooner by the man than by the woman. This was long ago pointed out by Montaigne. The ancient saying, "Omne animal post coitum triste," is of limited application at the best, but certainly has little reference to women.[174] Alacrity, rather than languor, as Robin has truly observed,[175] marks a woman after coitus, or, as a medical friend of my own has said, a woman then goes about the house singing.[176] It is, indeed, only after intercourse with a woman for whom, in reality, he feels contempt that a man experiences that revulsion of feeling described by Shakespeare (sonnet cxxix). Such a passage should not be quoted, as it sometimes has been quoted, as the representation of a normal phenomenon. But, with equal gratification on both sides, it remains true that, while after a single coitus the man may experience a not unpleasant lassitude and readiness for sleep, this is rarely the case with his partner, for whom a single coitus is often but a pleasant stimulus, the climax of satisfaction not being reached until a second or subsequent act of intercourse. "Excess in venery," which, rightly or wrongly, is set down as the cause of so many evils in men, seldom, indeed, appears in connection with women, although in every act of venery the woman has taken part.[177]

That women bear sexual excesses better than men was noted by Cabanis and other early writers. Alienists frequently refer to the fact that women are less liable to be affected by insanity following such excesses. (See, e.g., Maudsley, "Relations between Body and Mind," Lancet, May 28, 1870; and G. Savage, art. "Marriage and Insanity" in Dictionary of Psychological Medicine.) Trousseau remarked on the fact that women are not exhausted by repeated acts of coitus within a short period, notwithstanding that the nervous excitement in their case is as great, if not greater, and he considered that this showed that the loss of semen is a cause of exhaustion in men. Löwenfeld (Sexualleben und Nervenleiden, pp. 74, 153) states that there cannot be question that the nervous system in women is less influenced by the after-effects of coitus than in men. Not only, he remarks, are prostitutes very little liable to suffer from nervous overstimulation, and neurasthenia and hysteria when occurring in them be easily traceable to other causes, but "healthy women who are not given to prostitution, when they indulge in very frequent sexual intercourse, provided it is practised normally, do not experience the slightest injurious effect. I have seen many young married couples where the husband had been reduced to a pitiable condition of nervous prostration and general discomfort by the zeal with which he had exercised his marital duties, while the wife had been benefited and was in the uninterrupted enjoyment of the best health." This experience is by no means uncommon.

A correspondent writes: "It is quite true that the threshold of excess is less easily reached by women than by men. I have found that women can reach the orgasm much more frequently than men. Take an ordinary case. I spend two hours with ——. I have the orgasm 3 times, with difficulty; she has it 6 or 8, or even 10 or 12, times. Women can also experience it a second or third time in succession, with no interval between. Sometimes the mere fact of realizing that the man is having the orgasm causes the woman to have it also, though it is true that a woman usually requires as many minutes to develop the orgasm as a man does seconds." I may also refer to the case recorded in another part of this volume in which a wife had the orgasm 26 times to her husband's twice.

Hutchinson, under the name of post-marital amblyopia (Archives of Surgery, vol. iv, p. 200), has described a condition occurring in men in good health who soon after marriage become nearly blind, but recover as soon as the cause is removed. He mentions no cases in women due to coitus, but finds that in women some failure of sight may occur after parturition.

Näcke states that, in his experience, while masturbation is, apparently, commoner in insane men than in insane women, masturbation repeated several times a day is much commoner in the women. (P. Näcke, "Die Sexuellen Perversitäten in der Irrenanstalt," Psychiatrische Bladen, 1899, No. 2.)

Great excesses in masturbation seem also to be commoner among women who may be said to be sane than among men. Thus, Bloch (New Orleans Medical Journal, 1896) records the case of a young married woman of 25, of bad heredity, who had suffered from almost life-long sexual hyperesthesia, and would masturbate fourteen times daily during the menstrual periods.

With regard to excesses in coitus the case may be mentioned of a country girl of 17, living in a rural district in North Carolina where prostitution was unknown, who would cohabit with men almost openly. On one Sunday she went to a secluded school-house and let three or four men wear themselves out cohabiting with her. On another occasion, at night, in a field, she allowed anyone who would to perform the sexual act, and 25 men and boys then had intercourse with her. When seen she was much prostrated and with a tendency to spasm, but quite rational. Subsequently she married and attacks of this nature became rare.

Mr. Lawson made an "attested statement" of what he had observed among the Marquesan women. "He mentions one case in which he heard a parcel of boys next morning count over and name 103 men who during the night had intercourse with one woman." (Medico-Chirurgical Review, 1871, vol. ii, p. 360, apparently quoting Chevers.) This statement seems open to question, but, if reliable, would furnish a case which must be unique.

There is a further important difference, though intimately related to some of the differences already mentioned, between the sexual impulse in women and in men. In women it is at once larger and more diffused. As Sinibaldus long ago said, the sexual pleasure of men is intensive, of women extensive. In men the sexual impulse is, as it were, focused to a single point. This is necessarily so, for the whole of the essentially necessary part of the male in the process of human procreation is confined to the ejaculation of semen into the vagina. But in women, mainly owing to the fact that women are the child-bearers, in place of one primary sexual center and one primary erogenous region, there are at least three such sexual centers and erogenous regions: the clitoris (corresponding to the penis), the vaginal passage up to the womb, and the nipple. In both sexes there are other secondary and reflex centers, but there is good reason for believing that these are more numerous and more widespread in women than in men.[178] How numerous the secondary sexual centers in women may be is indicated by the case of a woman mentioned by Moraglia, who boasted that she knew fourteen different ways of masturbating herself.

This great diffusion of the sexual impulse and emotions in women is as visible on the psychic as on the physical side. A woman can find sexual satisfaction in a great number of ways that do not include the sexual act proper, and in a great number of ways that apparently are not physical at all, simply because their physical basis is diffused or is to be found in one of the outlying sexual zones.

It is, moreover, owing to the diffused character of the sexual emotions in women that it so often happens that emotion really having a sexual origin is not recognized as such even by the woman herself. It is possible that the great prevalence in women of the religious emotional state of "storm and stress," noted by Professor Starbuck,[179] is largely due to unemployed sexual impulse. In this and similar ways it happens that the magnitude of the sexual sphere in woman is unrealized by the careless observer.

A number of converging facts tend to indicate that the sexual sphere is larger, and more potent in its influence on the organism, in women than in men. It would appear that among the males and females of lower animals the same difference may be found. It is stated that in birds there is a greater flow of blood to the ovaries than to the testes.

In women the system generally is more affected by disturbances in the sexual sphere than in men. This appears to be the case as regards the eye. "The influence of the sexual system upon the eye in man," Power states, "is far less potent, and the connection, in consequence, far less easy to trace than in woman." (H. Power, "Relation of Ophthalmic Disease to the Sexual Organs," Lancet, November 26, 1887.)

The greater predominance of the sexual system in women on the psychic side is clearly brought out in insane conditions. It is well known that, while satyriasis is rare, nymphomania is comparatively common. These conditions are probably often forms of mania, and in mania, while sexual symptoms are common in men, they are often stated to be the rule in women (see, e.g., Krafft-Ebing, Psychopathia Sexualis, tenth edition, English translation, p. 465). Bouchereau, in noting this difference in the prevalence of sexual manifestations during insanity, remarks that it is partly due to the naturally greater dependence of women on the organs of generation, and partly to the more active, independent, and laborious lives of men; in his opinion, satyriasis is specially apt to develop in men who lead lives resembling those of women. (Bouchereau, art. "Satyriasis," Dictionnaire Encyclopédique des Sciences Médicales.) Again, postconnubial insanity is very much commoner in women than in men, a fact which may indicate the more predominant part played by the sexual sphere in women. (Savage, art. "Marriage and Insanity," Dictionary of Psychological Medicine.)

Insanity tends to remove the artificial inhibitory influences that rule in ordinary life, and there is therefore significance in such a fact as that the sexual appetite is often increased in general paralysis and to a notable extent in women. (Pactet and Colin, Les Aliénés devant la Justice, 1902, p. 122.)

Näcke, from his experiences among the insane, makes an interesting and possibly sound distinction regarding the character of the sexual manifestations in the two sexes. Among men he finds these manifestations to be more of a reflex and purely spinal nature and chiefly manifested in masturbation; in women he finds them to be of a more cerebral character, and chiefly manifested in erotic gestures, lascivious conversation, etc. The sexual impulse would thus tend to involve to a greater extent the higher psychic region in women than in men.

Forel likewise (Die Sexuelle Frage, 1906, p. 276), remarking on the much greater prevalence of erotic manifestations among insane women than insane men (and pointing out that it is by no means due merely to the presence of a male doctor, for it remains the same when the doctor is a woman), considers that it proves that in women the sexual impulse resides more prominently in the higher nervous centers and in men in the lower centers. (As regards the great prevalence of erotic manifestations among the female insane, I may also refer to Claye Shaw's interesting observations, "The Sexes in Lunacy," St. Bartholomew's Hospital Reports, vol. xxiv, 1888; also quoted in Havelock Ellis, Man and Woman, p. 370 et seq.) Whether or not we may accept Näcke's and Forel's interpretation of the facts, which is at least doubtful, there can be little doubt that the sexual impulse is more fundamental in women. This is indicated by Näcke's observation that among idiots sexual manifestations are commoner in females than in males. Of 16 idiot girls, of the age of 16 and under, 15 certainly masturbated, sometimes as often as fourteen times a day, while the remaining girl probably masturbated; but of 25 youthful male idiots only 1 played with his penis. (P. Näcke, "Die Sexuellen Perversitäten in der Irrenanstalt," Psychiatrische Bladen, 1899, No. 2, pp. 9, 12.) On the physical side Bourneville and Sollier found (Progrès médical, 1888) that puberty is much retarded in idiot and imbecile boys, while J. Voisin (Annales d'Hygiène Publique, June, 1894) found that in idiot and imbecile girls, on the contrary, there is no lack of full sexual development or retardation of puberty, while masturbation is common. In women, it may be added, as Ball pointed out (Folie érotique, p. 40), sexual hallucinations are especially common, while under the influence of anesthetics erotic manifestations and feelings are frequent in women, but rare in men. (Havelock Ellis, Man and Woman, p. 256.)

The fact that the first coitus has a much more profound moral and psychic influence on a woman than on a man would also seem to indicate how much more fundamental the sexual region is in women. The fact may be considered as undoubted. (It is referred to by Marro, La Pubertà, p. 460.) The mere physical fact that, while in men coitus remains a merely exterior contact, in women it involves penetration into the sensitive and virginal interior of the body would alone indicate this difference.

We are told that in the East there was once a woman named Moârbeda who was a philosopher and considered to be the wisest woman of her time. When Moârbeda was once asked: "In what part of a woman's body does her mind reside?" she replied: "Between her thighs." To many women,—perhaps, indeed, we might even say to most women,—to a certain extent may be applied—and in no offensive sense—the dictum of the wise woman of the East; in a certain sense their brains are in their wombs. Their mental activity may sometimes seem to be limited; they may appear to be passing through life always in a rather inert or dreamy state; but, when their sexual emotions are touched, then at once they spring into life; they become alert, resourceful, courageous, indefatigable. "But when I am not in love I am nothing!" exclaimed a woman when reproached by a French magistrate for living with a thief. There are many women who could truly make the same statement, not many men. That emotion, which, one is tempted to say, often unmans the man, makes the woman for the first time truly herself.

"Women are more occupied with love than men," wrote De Sénancour (De l'Amour, vol. ii, p. 59); "it shows itself in all their movements, animates their looks, gives to their gestures a grace that is always new, to their smiles and voices an inexpressible charm; they live for love, while many men in obeying love feel that they are forgetting themselves."

Restif de la Bretonne (Monsieur Nicolas, vol. vi, p. 223) quotes a young girl who well describes the difference which love makes to a woman: "Before I vegetated; now all my actions have a motive, an end; they have become important. When I wake my first thought is 'Someone is occupied with me and desires me.' I am no longer alone, as I was before; another feels my existence and cherishes it," etc.

"One is surprised to see in the south," remarks Bonstetten, in his suggestive book, L'Homme du Midi et l'Homme du Nord (1824),—and the remark by no means applies only to the south,—"how love imparts intelligence even to those who are most deficient in ideas. An Italian woman in love is inexhaustible in the variety of her feelings, all subordinated to the supreme emotion which dominates her. Her ideas follow one another with prodigious rapidity, and produce a lambent play which is fed by her heart alone. If she ceases to love, her mind becomes merely the scoria of the lava which yesterday had been so bright."

Cabanis had already made some observations to much the same effect. Referring to the years of nubility following puberty, he remarks: "I have very often seen the greatest fecundity of ideas, the most brilliant imagination, a singular aptitude for the arts, suddenly develop in girls of this age, only to give place soon afterward to the most absolute mental mediocrity." (Cabanis, "De l'Influence des Sexes," etc., Rapports du Physique et du Morale de l'Homme.)

This phenomenon seems to be one of the indications of the immense organic significance of the sexual relations. Woman's part in the world is less obtrusively active than man's, but there is a moment when nature cannot dispense with energy and mental vigor in women, and that is during the reproductive period. The languidest woman must needs be alive when her sexual emotions are profoundly stirred. People often marvel at the infatuation which men display for women who, in the eyes of all the world, seem commonplace and dull. This is not, as we usually suppose, always entirely due to the proverbial blindness of love. For the man whom she loves, such a woman is often alive and transformed. He sees a woman who is hidden from all the world. He experiences something of that surprise and awe which Dostoieffsky felt when the seemingly dull and brutish criminals of Siberia suddenly exhibited gleams of exquisite sensibility.

In women, it must further be said, the sexual impulse shows a much more marked tendency to periodicity than in men; not only is it less apt to appear spontaneously, but its spontaneous manifestations are in a very pronounced manner correlated with menstruation. A woman who may experience almost overmastering sexual desire just before, during, or after the monthly period may remain perfectly calm and self-possessed during the rest of the month. In men such irregularities of the sexual impulse are far less marked. Thus it is that a woman may often appear capricious, unaccountable, or cold, merely because her moments of strong emotion have been physiologically confined within a limited period. She may be one day capable of audacities of which on another the very memory might seem to have left her.

Not only is the intensity of the sexual impulse in women, as compared to men, more liable to vary from day to day, or from week to week, but the same greater variability is marked when we compare the whole cycle of life in women to that of men. The stress of early womanhood, when the reproductive functions are in fullest activity, and of late womanhood, when they are ceasing, produces a profound organic fermentation, psychic as much as physical, which is not paralleled in the lives of men. This greater variability in the cycle of a woman's life as compared with a man's is indicated very delicately and precisely by the varying incidence of insanity, and is made clearly visible in a diagram prepared by Marro showing the relative liability to mental diseases in the two sexes according to age.[180] At the age of 20 the incidence of insanity in both sexes is equal; from that age onward the curve in men proceeds in a gradual and equable manner, with only the slightest oscillation, on to old age. But in women the curve is extremely irregular; it remains high during all the years from 20 to 30, instead of falling like the masculine curve; then it falls rapidly to considerably below the masculine curve, rising again considerably above the masculine level during the climacteric years from 40 to 50, after which age the two sexes remain fairly close together to the end of life. Thus, as measured by the test of insanity, the curve of woman's life, in the sudden rise and sudden fall of its sexual crisis, differs from the curve of man's life and closely resembles the minor curve of her menstrual cycle.

The general tendency of this difference in sexual life and impulse is to show a greater range of variation in women than in men. Fairly uniform, on the whole, in men generally and in the same man throughout mature life, sexual impulse varies widely between woman and woman, and even in the same woman at different periods.

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