Married Love/Chapter 5

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"Love worketh no ill to his neighbour."
St. Paul

IN the average man of our race desire knows no seasons beyond the slight slackening of the winter months and the heightening of spring. Some men have observed in themselves a faintly-marked monthly rhythm, but in the majority of men desire, even if held in stern check, is merely slumbering. It is always present, ever ready to wake at the lightest call, and often so spontaneously insistent as to require perpetual conscious repression.

It would go ill with the men of our race had women retained the wild animals' infrequent seasonal rhythm, and with it her inviolable rights in her own body save at the mating season. Woman, too, has acquired a much more frequent rhythm; but, as it does not equal man's, he has tended to ignore and override it, coercing her at all times and seasons, either by force, or by the even more compelling power of "divine" authority and social tradition.

If man's desire is perpetual and woman's intermittent; if man's desire naturally wells up every day or every few days, and woman's only every fortnight or every month, it may appear at first sight impossible for the unwarped needs of both natures to be mutually satisfied.

The sense that a satisfactory mutual adjustment is not within the realms of possibility has, indeed, obsessed our race for centuries. The result has been that the supposed need of one of the partners has tended to become paramount, and we have established the social traditions of a husband's "rights" and wifely "duty." As one man quite frankly said to me: "As things are it is impossible for both sexes to get what they want. One must be sacrificed. And it is better for society that it should be the woman."

Nevertheless, the men who consciously sacrifice the women are in a minority. Most men act in ignorance. Our code, however, has blindly sacrificed not only the woman, but with her the happiness of the majority of men, who, in total ignorance of its meaning and results, have grown up thinking that women should submit to regularly frequent, or even nightly, intercourse. For the sake of a few moments of physical pleasure they lose realms of ever-expanding joy and tenderness; and while men and women may not realize the existence of an untrodden paradise, they both suffer, if only half consciously, from being shut out from it.

Before making some suggestions which may help married people to find not only a via media of mutual endurance, but a via perfecta of mutual joy, it is necessary to consider a few points about the actual nature of man's "desire." In the innumerable books addressed to the young which I have read, I have not found one which gives certain points regarding the meaning of the male sex-phenomena which must be grasped before it is possible to give rational guidance to intelligent young men.

The general physiology of our body is given to us in youth and in a clean scientific way. But the physiology of our most profoundly disturbing functions is ignored – in my opinion, criminally ignored.

Every mating man and woman should know at least the essential facts:

The sex-organs of a man consist not only of the testicles which give rise to the living, moving, ciliated cells, the spermatozoa, and of the channel or tube in the center of the penis through which they pass and by means of which they are directed into the proper place for their deposition, the woman's vagina. Associated with these primary and essential structures there are other tissues and glands which play subsidiary but yet very important parts. Man's penis, when quiet and unstimulated, is soft, small and drooping. But when stimulated, either by physical touch which acts through the nerves and muscles directly, or by the sight or nearness, or thought of some one lovely and beloved, which acts indirectly through messages from the brain, it increases greatly in size, and becomes stiff, turgid and erect. Many men imagine that the turgid condition of an erection is due to the local accumulation of semen, and that these can only be naturally got rid of by an ejaculation. This is entirely wrong. The enlargement of the penis is not at all due to the presence of actual semen, but is due to the effects of the nervous reaction on the blood vessels, leading to the filling, principally, of the veins, and of the arteries. As the blood enters but does not leave the penis, the venous cavities in it fill up with venous blood until the whole is rigid. When rigid this organ is able to penetrate the female entrance, and there the further stimulation calls out the semen from their storehouses, the seminal vesicles, the testes and the prostate, and they pass down the channel within the penis (the urethra) and are expelled.

If this is clear, it will be realized that the stiffening and erection does not necessarily call for relief in the ejaculation of semen. If the veins can empty themselves, as they naturally do when the nervous excitement which constricted them locally passes, the erection will subside without any loss of semen, by the mere passing back of the locally excessive blood into the ordinary circulatory system. This can happen quite naturally and healthily when the nerves are soothed, either physically or as a result of a sense of mental peace and exaltation. When on the other hand the local excitement culminates in the calling up and expulsion of the semen, after it has once started the ejaculation becomes quite involuntary and the spermatozoa and the secretions associated with them pass out of the system and are entirely lost.

Of what does this loss consist? It is estimated that there are about two hundred and fifty million spermatozoa in a single average ejaculation.[1] Each single one of these (in healthy men) is capable of fertilizing a woman's egg-cell and giving rise to a new human being. (Thus by a single ejaculation one man might fertilize nearly all the marriageable women in the world.)[2] Each single one of those minute spermatozoa carries countless hereditary traits, and each consists very largely of nuclear plasm – the most highly specialized and richest substance in our bodies.

It is therefore the greatest mistake to imagine that the semen is something to be got rid of frequently – all the vital energy and the precious chemical substances which go to its composition can be better utilized by being transformed into other creative work on most days of the month. And so mystic and wonderful are the chemical transformations going on in our bodies that the brain can often set this alchemy in motion, particularly if the brain is helped by knowledge. A strong will can often calm the nerves which regulate the blood supply, and order the distended veins of the penis to retract and subside without wasting the semen in an ejaculation.

But while it is good that a man should be able to do this often, it is not good to try to do it always. The very restraint which adds to a man's strength up to a certain point, taxes his strength when carried beyond it. It is my belief that just sufficient restraint to carry him through the ebb-tides of his wife's sex-rhythm is usually the right amount to give the best strength, vigor, and joy to a man, if both are normal people. If the wife has, as I think the majority of healthy well-fed young women will be found to have, a fortnightly consciousness or potentiality of desire, then the two should find a perfect mutual adjustment in having fortnightly unions; for this need not be confined to only a single union on each occasion. Many men who can well practice restraint for twelve or fourteen days, will find that one union only will not then thoroughly satisfy them; and if they have the good fortune to have healthy wives, they will find that the latter, too, have the desire for several unions in the course of a day or two. If the wave-crests on our charts are studied it will be seen that they spread over two or three days and show several small minor crests. This is what happens when a woman is thoroughly well and vital; her desire bubbles up during a day or two, sometimes even every few hours if it does not, and sometimes even if it does, receive satisfaction.

Expressed in general terms (which, of course, will not fit everybody) my view may be formulated thus: The mutually best regulation of intercourse in marriage is to have three or four days of repeated unions, followed by about ten days without any unions at all, unless some strong external stimulus has stirred a mutual desire.

I have been interested to discover that the people known to me who have accidentally fixed upon this arrangement of their lives are happy: and it should be noted that it fits in with the charts I give which represent the normal, spontaneous feeling of so many women.

There are many women, however, who do not feel, or who may not at first recognize, a second, but have only one time of natural pleasure in sex in each moon-month. Many men of strong will and temperate lives will be able so to control themselves that they can adjust themselves to this more restrained sex-life, as do some with whom I am acquainted. On the other hand, there will be many who find this period too long to live through without using a larger amount of energy in restraining their impulse than is justifiable. It seems to me never justifiable to spend so much energy and will power on restraining natural impulses, that valuable work and intellectual power and poise are made to suffer. If, then, a strongly sexed husband, who finds it a real loss to his powers of work to endure through twenty-six days of abstinence, should find himself married to a wife whose vitality is so low that she can only take pleasure in physical union once in her moon-month (in some it will be before, in some a little time after, her menstrual flow), he should note carefully the time she is spontaneously happy in their union, and then at any cost restrain himself through the days immediately following, and about a fortnight after her time of desire he should set himself ardently to woo her. Unless she is actually out of health he is more likely then than at any other time to succeed not only in winning her compliance, but also in giving her enjoyment and attaining mutual ecstasy.

The husband who so restrains himself, even if it is hard to do it, will generally find that he is a thousandfold repaid – not only by the increasing health and happiness of his wife, and the much intenser pleasure he gains from their mutual intercourse, but also by his own added vitality and sense of self-command. A fortnight is not too long for a healthy man to restrain himself with advantage.

Sir Thomas Clouston says ("Before I Wed," p. 84): "Nature has so arranged matters that the more constantly control is exercised the more easy and effective it becomes. It becomes a habit. The less control is exercised, the greater tendency there is for a desire to become a craving of an uncontrollable kind, which is itself of the nature of disease, and means death sooner or later." This conclusion is not only the result of the intellectual and moral experience of our race, but is supported by physiological experiments.

While a knowledge of the fundamental laws of our being should in the main regulate our lives, so complex are we, so sensitive to a myriad impressions, that clock-work regularity can never rule us.

Even where the woman is strongly sexed, with a well-marked recurrence of desire, which is generally satisfied by fortnightly unions, it may not infrequently happen that, in between these periods, there may be additional special occasions when there springs up a mutual longing to unite. These will generally depend on some event in the lovers' lives which stirs their emotions; some memory of past passion, such as an anniversary of their wedding, or perhaps will be due to a novel, poem, or picture which moves them deeply. If the man she loves plays the part of tender wooer, even at times when her passion would not spontaneously arise, a woman can generally be stirred so fundamentally as to give a passionate return. But at the times of her ebb-tides the stimulus will have to be stronger than at the high tides, and it will then generally be found that the appeal must be made even more through her emotional and spiritual nature and less through the physical than usual.

The supreme law for husbands is: Remember that each act of union must be tenderly wooed for and won, and that no union should ever take place unless the woman also desires it and is made physically ready for it.

While in most marriages the husband has to restrain himself to meet the wife's less frequently recurrent rhythm, there are, on the other hand, marriages in which the husband is so under-sexed that he cannot have ordinary union save at very infrequent intervals without a serious effect on his health. If such a man is married to a woman who has inherited an unusually strong and over-frequent desire, he may suffer by union with her, or may cause her suffering by refusing to unite. In such cases we are helpless. We have to deal with one of the many marital tragedies. Unfortunately, the variations in the sex-need of different healthy people is immense, far greater than can be suggested in this book.[3] Indeed the "normal" is rarer than the variations upon it.

Ellis states that the Queen of Aragon ordained that six times a day was the proper rule in legitimate marriage. So abnormally sexed a woman would to-day probably succeed in killing by exhaustion a succession of husbands, for the man who could match such a desire is very rare now-a-days.

Though the timing and the frequency of union are the points about which questions are oftenest asked by the ignorant and well-meaning, and are most misunderstood, yet there are other fundamental facts concerning coitus about which even medical men seem surprisingly ignorant. Regarding these, a simple statement of the physiological facts is essential.

An impersonal and scientific knowledge of the structure of our bodies is the surest safeguard against prurient curiosity and lascivious gloating. This knowledge at the back of the minds of the lovers, though not perhaps remembered as such, may also spare the unintentioned cruelty of handling which so readily injures one whose lover is ignorant.

What actually happens in an act of union should be known. After the preliminaries of love-play, the stimulated penis, erect, enlarged and stiffened, is pressed into the woman's vagina. Ordinarily when a woman is not stimulated, the walls of this canal, as well as the exterior lips of soft tissue surrounding its exit, are dry and rather crinkled, and the vaginal opening is smaller than the man's extended organ. But when the woman is what is physiologically called tumescent (that is, when she is ready for union and has been profoundly stirred), these parts are all flushed by the internal blood supply and to some extent are turgid like those of the man, while there is a plentiful secretion of mucus, which lubricates the channel of the vagina. In a really ardent woman the vagina may even spontaneously open and close as though panting with longing. (So powerful is the influence of thought on our bodily structure, that in some people all these physical results may be brought about by the thought of the loved one, by the enjoyment of tender words and kisses, and the beautiful subtleties of wooing.) It can therefore be readily imagined that when the man tries to enter a woman whom he has not wooed to the point of stimulating her natural physical reactions of preparation, he is endeavoring to force his entry through a dry-walled opening too small for it. He may thus cause the woman actual pain, apart from the mental revolt and loathing she is likely to feel for a man who so regardlessly uses her. On the other hand, in the tumescent woman the opening, already naturally expanded, is lubricated by a flow of mucus, and all the nerves and muscles are ready to react and easily draw in the man's entering organ.

This account is of the meeting of two who have been already married. The first union of a virgin girl differs, of course, from all others, for on that occasion the hymen is broken. One would think that every girl who was about to be married would be told of this necessary rupturing of the membrane and the temporary pain it will cause her; but even still large numbers of girls are allowed to marry in complete and cruel ignorance.

It should be realized that a man does not woo and win a woman once for all when he marries her: he must woo her before every separate act of coitus; for each act corresponds to a marriage, as the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air know it. Wild animals are not so foolish as man; a wild animal does not unite with his female without the wooing characteristic of his race, whether by stirring her by a display of his strength in fighting another male, or by exhibiting his beautiful feathers or song. And we must not forget that the wild animals are assisted by nature; they generally only woo just at the season when the female is beginning to feel natural desire. But man, who wants his mate all out of season as well as in it, has a double duty to perform, and must himself rouse, charm, and stimulate her to the local readiness which would have been to some extent naturally prepared for him had he waited till her own desire welled up.

To render a woman ready before uniting with her is not only the merest act of humanity to save her pain, but is of value from the man's point of view, for (unless he is one of those relatively few abnormal and diseased variants who delight only in rape) the man gains an immense increase of sensation from the mutuality thus attained. [See note at end of book.]

When the two have met and united, the usual result is that, after a longer or shorter interval, the man's mental and physical stimulation reaches a climax in sensory intoxication and in the ejaculation of semen. Where the two are perfectly adjusted, the woman simultaneously reaches the crisis of nervous reactions and muscular convulsions similar to his. This mutual orgasm is extremely important, but in distressingly many cases the man's climax comes so swiftly that the woman's reactions are not nearly ready, and she is left without it.

Though in some instances the woman may have one or more crises before the man achieves his, it is perhaps hardly an exaggeration to say that 70 or 80 per cent. of our married women (in the middle and intellectual classes) are deprived of the full orgasm through the excessive speed of the husband's reactions, i.e., through premature ejaculation (ejaculatio precox) or through some mal-adjustment of the relative shapes and positions of the organs. So complex, so profound, are woman's sex-instincts that in rousing them the man is rousing her whole body and soul. And this takes time. More time indeed than the average husband dreams of spending upon it. Yet woman has at the surface a small vestigial organ called the clitoris, which corresponds morphologically to the man's penis, and which, like it, is extremely sensitive to touch-sensations. This little crest, which lies anteriorly between the inner lips round the vagina, erects itself when the woman is really tumescent, and by the stimulation of movement it is intensely roused and transmits this stimulus to every nerve in her body. But even after a woman's dormant sex-feeling is aroused and all the complex reactions of her being have been set in motion, it may take from ten to twenty minutes of actual physical union to consummate her feeling, while one, two or three minutes of actual union often satisfies a man who is ignorant of the art of controlling his reactions so that he may experience the added enjoyment of a mutual simultaneous orgasm.

A number of well-meaning people demand from men absolute "continence" save for procreation only. They overlook the innumerable physiological reactions concerned in the act, as well as the subtle spiritual alchemy of it, and propound the view that "the opposition to continence, save for procreation only, has but one argument to put forward, and that is appetite, selfishness." (Mary Teats, "The Way of God in Marriage.")

It should be realized, however, that the complete act of union is a triple consummation. It symbolizes, and at the same time actually enhances, the spiritual union; there are a myriad subtleties of soul-structure which are compounded in this alchemy. At the same time the act gives the most intense physical pleasure which the body can experience, and it is a mutual, not a selfish, pleasure, more calculated than anything else to draw out an unspeakable tenderness and understanding in both partakers of this sacrament; while, thirdly, it is the act which gives rise to a new life by rendering possible the fusion of one of the innumerable male spermatozoa with the female egg-cell.

It often happens, now-a-days, that dreading the expense and the physical strain of child-bearing for his wife, the husband practices what is called coitus interruptus: that is, he withdraws just before the ejaculation, but when he is already so stimulated that the ejaculation has become involuntary. In this way the semen is spent, but, as it does not enter the wife's body, fertilization and consequently procreation cannot take place. This practice, while it may have saved the woman the anguish of bearing unwanted children, is yet very harmful to her, and is to be deprecated. It tends to leave the woman in "mid-air" as it were; to leave her stimulated and unsatisfied, and therefore it has a very bad effect on her nerves and general health, particularly if it is done frequently. The woman, too, loses the advantage (and I am convinced that it is difficult to overstate the physiological advantage) of the partial absorption of the man's secretions, which must take place through the large tract of internal epithelium with which they come in contact. If, as physiology has already proved to be the case, the internal absorption of secretions from the sex organs plays so large a part in determining the health and character of remote parts of the body, it is extremely likely that the highly stimulating secretion of man's semen can and does penetrate and affect the woman's whole organism. Actual experiment has shown that iodine placed in the vagina in solution is so quickly absorbed by the epithelial walls that in an hour it has penetrated the system and is even being excreted. It still remains, however, for scientific experiments to be devised which will enable us to study the effects of the absorption of substances from the semen. On the other hand, coitus interruptus is not always harmful for the man, for he has the complete sex-act, though a good many men think its effects on them are undesirable, and it may lead to lack of desire or even impotence. It is certainly bad when its safety from consequences induces him to frequent indulgence, for thus wastefully to scatter what should be creative power is to reduce his own vitality and power of work. By those who have a high appreciation of the value of their creative impulse, and who wish to enjoy the mutual pleasure and enhancement of sex-union without wasting it, this method should not be practiced.

[Personal experience with thousands of men and hundreds of women who have been the victims of coitus interruptus, coitus incompletus or coitus prolongatus entitles the editor to speak with authority on the subject. It is hard to determine who, the man or the woman, is more seriously, more extensively injured by the practice; but my own impression is that it is the man. While, as a result of the practice, both may become afflicted with a lack of libido, or even a distaste and loathing of sex relations, tachycardia, neurasthenia, etc., there is one condition which may and often does affect the man, but from which the woman remains free, and that is: impotentia coeundi. Atony and congestion of the prostate are also conditions from which the man alone suffers.

As to absorption of the semen by the female genitals, no scientific proof exists that even absorption takes place. Of the absorption by the vaginal epithelium there can be no question; there is some likelihood of absorption by the epithelium of the lining membrane of the uterus. But even here scientific proof is still lacking. The absorption of one's own internal secretions is not an analogous case: Here the secretion is poured directly into one's own blood or lymph stream. But it is a fact that many women suffer intensely when in their sex relations they are deprived of the semen, either through the practice of coitus interruptus or through the use of a condom. W. J. R.]

It should never be forgotten that without the discipline of control there is no lasting delight in erotic feeling. The fullest delight, even in a purely physical sense, can only be attained by those who curb and direct their natural impulses.

Dr. Saleeby's words are appropriate in this connection (Introduction to Forel's "Sexual Ethics"): "Professor Forel speaks of subduing the sexual instinct. I would rather speak of transmuting it. The direct method of attack is often futile, always necessitous of effort, but it is possible for us to transmute our sex-energy into higher forms in our individual lives, thus justifying the evolutionary and physiological contention that is the source of the higher activities of man, of moral indignation, and of the 'restless energy' which has changed the surface of the earth."

Forel says ("The Sexual Question"): "Before engaging in a life-long union, a man and woman ought to explain to each other their sexual feelings so as to avoid deception and incompatibility later on." This would be admirable advice were it possible for a virgin girl to know much about the reactions and effects upon her mind and body of the act of coitus, but she does not. Actually it often takes several years for eager and intelligent couples fully to probe themselves and to discover the extent and meaning of the immensely profound physiological and spiritual results of marriage. Yet it is true that a noble frankness would save much misery when, as happens not infrequently, one or other of the pair marries with the secret determination not to have any children.

So various are we all as individuals, so complex all the reactions and later-reactions of sex relations, that no hard and fast rule can be laid down. Each couple, after marriage, must study themselves, and the lover and the beloved must do what best serves them both and gives them the highest degree of mutual joy and power. There are, however, some laws which should be inviolable. Their details can be gathered from the preceding pages, and they are summed up in the words: "Love worketh no ill to the beloved."


  1. See Pflüger's Archiv., 1891.
  2. This is less utterly fantastic than it may sound, now that science has taught us how to fertilize females by semen from males they may never have seen.
  3. On this point the reader may consult Dr. Robinson's "Treatise on Sexual Impotence and Other Sexual Disorders in Men and Women."