"Oh! for that Being whom I can conceive to be in the world, though I shall not live to prove it. One to whom I might have recourse in all my Humors and Dispositions: in all my Distempers of Mind, visionary Causes of Mortification, and Fairy Dreams of Pleasure. I have been trying to train up a Lady or two for these good offices of Friendship, but hitherto I must not boast of my success."
WHAT is the fate of the average man who marries, happily and hopefully, a girl well suited to him? He desires with his whole heart a mutual, lifelong happiness. He marries with the intention of fulfilling every injunction given him by father, doctor, and friend. He is considerate in trifles, he speaks no harsh words, he and his bride go about together, walk together, read together, and perhaps, if they are very advanced, even work together. But after a few months, or maybe a few years, of marriage they seem to have drifted apart, and he finds her often cold and incomprehensible. If he is a nice man, he will not acknowledge this even to his best friend. But his heart knows its own pain.
He may at times laugh, and in the friendliest spirit tease her about her contrariness. That is taken by every one to mean nothing but a playful concealment of his profound love. Probably it is. But gnawing at the very roots of his love is a hateful little worm – the sense that she is contrary. He feels that she is at times inexplicably cold; that, sometimes, when he has "done nothing" she will have tears in her eyes, irrational tears which she cannot explain.
He observes that one week his tender love-making and romantic advances win her to smiles and joyous yielding, and then perhaps a few days later the same, or more impassioned, tenderness on his part is met by coldness or a forced appearance of warmth, which, while he may make no comment upon it, hurts him acutely. And this deep, inexplicable hurt is often the beginning of the end of love. Men like to feel that they understand their beloved, and that she is a rational being.
After this has continued for some time, if the man is of at all a jealous nature he will search among his wife's acquaintances for some one whom she may have met, for some one who may momentarily have diverted her attention. For the natural man at once seeks the explanation of his own ill-success in a rival. On some occasion when her coldness puzzles him he is conscious that his love, his own desires, are as ardent as they were a few days before. Knowing so intimately his own heart, he is sure of the steadiness of its love, and he feels acutely the romantic passion to which her beauty stirs him. He remembers perhaps that a few days earlier his ardor had awakened a response in her. Therefore he reaches what appears to him to be the infallible logical deduction: that either there must be some rival – or his bride's nature is incomprehensible, contrary, capricious. Both – thoughts to madden.
With capriciousness, man in general has little patience. Caprice renders his best efforts null and void. Woman's caprice is, or appears to be, a negation of reason. And as reason is man's most precious and hard-won faculty, the one which has raised mankind from the ranks of brute creation, he cannot bear to see it apparently flouted.
That his bride should lack logic and sweet reasonableness – is a flaw it hurts him to recognize in her. He has to crush the thought down.
It may then happen that the young man, himself pained and bewildered at having pained his bride by the very ardor of his affection, may strive to please her by placing restraint upon himself. He may ask himself: Do not books on sex preach restraint to the man? He reads the books written for the guidance of youth, and finds "restraint," "self-control," generally, and often irrationally, urged in them all. His next step may then then be to curtail the expression of his tender feelings, and to work hard and late in the evenings instead of kissing his bride's fingers and playing with the lace of her dress.
And then, if he is at all observant, he may be aggrieved and astonished to find her again wistful or hurt. With the tender longing to understand, which is so profound a characteristic in all the best of our young men, he begs, implores, or pets her into telling him some part of the reason for her fresh grievance. He discovers to his amazement that this time she is hurt because he had not made those very advances which so recently had repelled her, and had been with such difficulty repressed by his intellectual efforts.
He asks himself in despair: What is a man to do? If he is intelligent, he probably devours all the books on sex he can obtain. But in them he is not likely to find much real guidance. He learns from them that "restraint" is advised by practically every author, but according to the character of the author he will find that "restraint" means having the marriage relation with his wife not more than three times a week, or once a month – or never at all except for the protection of children. He finds no rational guidance based on natural law.
According to his temperament then, he may begin to practice "restraint."
But it may happen, and indeed it has probably happened in every marriage once or many times, that the night comes when the man who has heroically practiced restraint, accidentally discovers his wife's tears on her solitary pillow.
He seeks for advice indirectly from his friends, perhaps from his doctor. But can his local doctor or his friends tell him more than the chief European authorities on this subject? In Forel's "The Sexual Question," he reads the following advice: "The reformer, Luther, who was a practical man, laid down the average rule of two or three connections a week in marriage, at the time of highest sexual power. I may say that my numerous observations as a physician have generally confirmed this rule, which seems to me to conform very well to the normal state to which man has become gradually adapted during thousands of years. Husbands who would consider this average as an imprescriptible right would, however, make wrong pretensions, for it is quite possible for a normal man to contain himself much longer, and it is his duty to do so, not only when his wife is ill, but also during menstruation and pregnancy."
Many men will not be so considerate as to follow this advice, which represents a high standard of living; but, on the other hand, there are many who are willing to go not only so far, but further than this in their self-suppression in order to attain their heart's desire, the happiness of their mate, and consequently their own life's joy.
However willing they may be to go further, the great question for the man is: How far?
There are innumerable leaders anxious to lead in many different directions. The young husband may try first one and then the other, and still find his wife unsatisfied, incomprehensible – capricious. Then it may be that, disheartened, he gets tired and she sinks into the dull apathy of acquiescence in her "wifely duty." He is left with an echo of resentment in his heart; if only she had not been so capricious, they would still have been happy, he fancies.
Many writers, novelists, poets and dramatists have represented the uttermost tragedy of human life as due to the incomprehensible contrariness of the feminine nature. The kindly ones smile, perhaps a little patronizingly, and tell us that women are more instinctive, more child-like, less reasonable than men. The bitter ones sneer or reproach or laugh at this "contrariness" in women they do not understand, and which, baffling their intellect, appears to them to be irrational folly.
It seems strange that those who search for natural law in every domain of the universe should have so neglected the most vital subject, the one which concerns us all infinitely more than the naming of planets or the collecting of insects. Woman is not essentially capricious. Some of the laws of her being might have been discovered long ago had the existence of law been suspected. But it has been easier, has suited the general structure of society much better, for men to shrug their shoulders and smile at women as irrational and capricious creatures.
Vaguely, perhaps, men have realized that much of the charm of life lies in the sex-differences between men and women; so they have snatched at the easy theory that women differ from themselves by being capricious. Moreover, by attributing to mere caprice the coldness which at times comes over the most ardent woman, man was unconsciously justifying himself by coercing her to suit himself.
Conditions have been such that hitherto the explorers and scientific investigators, the historians and statisticians, the poets and artists have been mainly men. Consequently woman's side of the sexual life has found little or no expression. Woman has been content to mold herself to the shape desired by man wherever possible, and she has stifled her natural feelings and her own deep thoughts as they welled up.
Most women have never realized intellectually, but many have been dimly half-conscious, that woman's nature is set to rhythms over which man has almost no more control than he has over the tides of the sea. While the ocean can subdue and dominate man and laugh at his attempted restrictions, woman has bowed to man's desire over her body, and, regardless of its pulses, he approaches her or not as is his will. Some of her rhythms defy him – the moon-month tide of menstruation, the cycle of ten moon-months of bearing the growing child and its birth at the end of the tenth wave – these are essentials too strong to be mastered by man. But the subtler ebb and flow of woman's sex has escaped man's observation or his care.
If a swimmer comes to a sandy beach when the tide is out and the waves have receded, leaving sand where he had expected deep blue water – does he, balked of his bath, angrily call the sea "capricious"?
But the tenderest bridegroom finds only caprice in his bride's coldness when she yields her sacrificial body while her sex-tide is at the ebb.
There is another side to this problem, one perhaps even less considered by society. There is the case of the loving woman whose love-tide is at the highest, and whose husband does not recognize the signs of her ardor. In our anæmic artificial days it often happens that the man's desire is a surface need, quickly satisfied, colorless, and lacking beauty, and that he has no knowledge of the rich complexities of love-making which an initiate of love's mysteries enjoys. To such a man his wife may indeed seem petulant, capricious, or resentful without reason.
Welling up in her are the wonderful tides, scented and enriched by the myriad experiences of the human race from its ancient days of leisure and flower-wreathed love-making, urging her to transports and to self-expressions, were the man but ready to take the first step in the initiative, or to recognize and welcome it in her. Seldom dare any woman, still more seldom dare a wife, risk the blow at her heart which would be given were she to offer charming love-play to which the man did not respond. To the initiate she will be able to reveal that the tide is up by a hundred subtle signs, upon which he will seize with delight. But if her husband is blind to them there is for her nothing but silence, self-suppression, and their inevitable sequence of self-scorn, followed by resentment towards the man who places her in such a position while talking of his "love."
So little of the elements of the Art of Love do many men know that the case of Mrs. G. is not exceptional. Her husband was accustomed to pet her and to have relations with her frequently, but yet he never took any trouble to rouse her sex-feelings. She had married as a very innocent girl, but often vaguely felt a sense of something lacking in her husband's love. Her husband had never kissed her except on the lips or cheeks, but once at the crest of the wave of her sex-tide (all unconscious that it was so) she felt a yearning to feel his head, his lips, pressed against her bosom. The sensitive interrelation between a woman's breasts and the rest of her sex-life is a well-established fact, and there is a world of poetic beauty in the longing of a loving woman for the unconceived child, which melts in mists of tenderness toward her lover, the soft touch of whose lips can thus rouse her mingled joy. Because she shyly asked him, Mrs. G.'s husband impressed one short kiss on her bosom, and never repeated it. He was so ignorant that he did not know that the kissing and the tender fondling with his lips of a woman's breasts is one of the first and surest ways to make her ready for complete and satisfactory union. In this way he inhibited her natural desire, and as he never did anything to stir it, she never had any physical pleasure in their relation. Such prudish or careless husbands, content with their own satisfaction, little know the pent-up aching, or even resentment, which may eat into their wife's joy.
In many cases, however, the man is also the victim of the social customs which make sex-knowledge for women taboo.
It has become a tradition of our social life that the ignorance of woman about her own body and that of her future husband is a flower-like innocence. And to such an extreme is this sometimes pushed, that not seldom is a girl married unaware that married life will bring her into physical relations with her husband, fundamentally different from those with her brother. When she discovers the true nature of his body, and learns the part she has to play as a wife, she may refuse utterly to agree to her husband's wishes. I know a case in which the husband, chivalrous and loving, had to wait years before his bride recovered from the shock of the discovery of the meaning of marriage and was able to allow him a natural relation. There are known not a few cases in which the horror of the first night of marriage with a man less considerate, has driven the bride to suicide or insanity.
That girls can reach a marriageable age without some knowledge of the realities of sex would seem incredible: but it is a fact. One highly educated lady whom I know intimately told me that when she was about eighteen she suffered many months of agonizing apprehension that she was about to have a baby, because a man had snatched a kiss from her lips at a dance.
When girls so brought up are married it is rape for the husband to insist on his "marital rights" at once. It will be difficult or impossible for such a bride ever after to experience the joys of sex-union, for such a beginning must imprint upon her consciousness the view that the man's animal nature dominates him.
In a magazine I came across a poem which vividly expresses this peculiarly feminine sorrow:
" . . . To mate with men who have no soul about
Earth grubbing; who, the bridal night, forsooth,
Killed sparks that rise from instinct fires of life,
And left us frozen things, alone to fashion
Our souls to dust, masked with the name of wife –
Long years of youth – love years – the years of passion
Yawning before us. So, shamming to the end,
All shriveled by the side of him we wed,
Hoping that peace may riper years attend,
Mere odalisques are we – well housed, well fed."
Many men who enter marriage sincerely and tenderly, may yet have some previous experience of bought "love." It is then not unlikely that they may fall into the error of explaining their wife's experiences in terms of the reactions of the prostitute. They argue that, because the prostitute showed physical excitement and pleasure in the sexual act, if the bride or wife does not do so, then she is "cold" or "undersexed." They may not realize that often all the bodily movements of the prostitute are studied and simulated because her client enjoys his orgasm best when he imagines that the woman in his arms has one simultaneously.
As Forel says: "The company of prostitutes often renders men incapable of understanding feminine psychology, for prostitutes are hardly more than automata trained for the use of male sensuality. When men look among these for the sexual psychology of woman they find only their own mirror."
Fate is often cruel to men, too. It may be that after years of fighting with his hot young blood a man has given up, and gone now and then for relief to prostitutes, and then later in life has met the woman who is his mate, and whom, after remorse for his soiled past, he marries. Then, unwittingly, he may make the wife suffer either by interpreting her in the light of the other women, or perhaps (though this happens less frequently) by setting her absolutely apart from them. I know of a man who, after a loose life, met a woman whom he reverenced and adored. He married her, but to preserve her "purity," her difference from the others, he never had sexual relations with her. She was strangely unhappy, for she loved him passionately and longed for children. She appeared to him to be pining "capriciously" when she became thin and neurotic.
Perhaps if this man had known that some female animals suffer severely and may even die if denied sexual union, he might have seen his own behaviour in a truer light.
The idea that woman is lowered or "soiled" by sexual intercourse is still deeply rooted in some strata of our society. Many sources have contributed to this mistaken idea, not the least powerful being the ascetic ideal of the early church, and the fact that man has used woman as his instrument so often regardless of her wishes. Women's education and the trend of social feeling have largely been in the direction of encouraging the idea that sex-life is a low, physical, and degrading necessity which a pure woman is above enjoying.
In marriage the husband has used his "marital right" of intercourse when he wished it. Both law and custom have strengthened the view that he has the right to approach his wife whenever he wishes, and that she has no wishes and no fundamental needs in the matter at all.
That woman has a rhythmic sex-tide which if its seasons were obeyed would ensure not only her enjoyment, but would explode the myth of her capriciousness, seems not to be suspected. We have studied the wave-lengths of water, of sound, of light; but when will the sons and daughters of men study the sex-tide in woman and learn the laws of her Periodicity of Recurrence of Desire?
- The italics are mine. – M. C. S. This pronouncement of an exceptionally advanced and broad-minded thinker serves to show how little attention has hitherto been paid to the woman's side of this question, or to ascertaining her natural requirements.
- To our blasé men and women about town, this statement may appear ridiculous, fantastic or exaggerated. But it represents a true state of affairs. Girls who get married in complete ignorance of what the marriage relation implies still exist to-day, in the year 1918. – W. J. R.
- Such cases while rare are not altogether mythical, but the cause is generally to be found elsewhere. In some cases the abstinence is due to nothing more nor less than acquired impotence, the man's inability to perform the act. In other cases the reason may be found in a previous venereal disease and the man's consequent fear to infect his wife. Consciously or unconsciously the man makes a virtue out of necessity.
- See Marshall, Quarterly Journal Microscopic Science, Vol. 48, 1904, p. 323.
- "Conjugal Rights," Notes and Queries, May 16, 1891, p. 383. "S. writes from the Probate Registry, Somerset House: 'Previous to 1733 legal proceedings were recorded in Latin, and the word then used where we now speak of rights was obsequies. For some time after the substitution of English for Latin the term rites was usually, if not invariably adopted; rights would appear to be a comparatively modern error.'"