Married Love/Chapter 6

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"He giveth His beloved sleep.

THE healing magic of sleep is known to all.

Sleeplessness is a punishment for so many different violations of nature's laws, that it is perhaps one of the most prevalent of humanity's innumerable sufferings. While most of the aspects of sleep and sleeplessness have received much attention from specialists in human physiology, the relation between sleep and coitus appears to be but little realized. Yet there is an intimate, profound and quite direct relation between the power of sleep, naturally and refreshingly, and the harmonious relief of the whole system in the perfected sex-act.

We see this very clearly in the case of the ordinary healthy man. If, for some reason, he has to live unsatisfied for some time after the acute stirring of his longing for physical contact with his wife, he tends in the interval to be wakeful, restless, and his nerves are on edge.

Then, when the propitious hour arrives, and after the love-play, the growing passion expands, until the transports of rapture find their ending in the explosive completion of the act, at once the tension of his whole system relaxes, and his muscles fall into gentle, easy attitudes of languorous content, and in a few moments the man is sleeping like a child.

This excellent and refreshing sleep falls like a soft curtain of oblivion and saves the man's consciousness from the jar and disappointment of an anti-climax. But not only is this sleep a restorative after the strenuous efforts of the transport, it has peculiarly refreshing powers, and many men feel that after such a sleep their whole system seems rejuvenated.

But how fare women in this event? When they too have had complete satisfaction they similarly relax and sink into a peaceful refreshing slumber.

But as things are to-day it is scarcely an exaggeration to say that the majority of wives are left wakeful and nerve-racked to watch with tender motherly brooding, or with bitter and jealous envy, the slumbers of the men who, through ignorance and carelessness, have neglected to see that they too received full satisfaction.

Many married women have told me that after relations with their husbands they are restless, either for some hours or for the whole night; and I feel sure that the prevalent neglect on the part of men to see that their wives have orgasms at each congress, must be a very common source of the sleeplessness and nervous diseases of so many married women.

The relation between the completion of the sex-act and sleep in woman is well indicated in the case of Mrs. A. who is typical of a large class of wives. She married a man with whom she was passionately in love. Neither she nor her husband had ever had connection with any one else, and, while they were both keen and intelligent people with some knowledge of biology, neither knew anything of the details of human sex union. For several years her husband had unions with her which gave him some satisfaction and left him ready at once to sleep. Neither he nor she knew that women should have an orgasm, and after every union she was left so "on edge," restless and wakeful, so that several hours would generally elapse before she could sleep at all, and often she remained wakeful the whole night.

After her husband's death her health improved, and in a year or two she entered into a new relation with a man who was aware of woman's needs and gave sufficient time and attention to them to ensure a successful orgasm for her as well as for himself. The result was that she soon became a good sleeper, with the attendant benefits of restored nerves and health.

Sleep is so complex a process, and sleeplessness the resultant of so many different mal-adjustments, that it is, of course, possible that the woman may sleep well enough, even if she be deprived of the relief and pleasure of perfect union. But in so many married women sleeplessness and a consequent nervous condition are coupled with a lack of the complete sex relation, that one of the first questions a physician should put to those of his women patients who are worn and sleepless is whether her husband really fulfills his marital duty in their physical relation.

From their published statements, and their admissions to me, it appears that many practicing doctors are either almost unaware of the very existence of orgasm in women, or look upon it as a superfluous and accidental phenomenon. Yet to have had a moderate number of orgasms at some time at least, is a necessity for the full development of a woman's health and all her powers.

As this book is written for those who are married, I say nothing here about the lives of those who are still unmarried, though, particularly after the age of thirty has been reached, their case may be very sad and need much study and consideration. It is, however, worth noticing how prevalent sleeplessness is among a class of women who have never practiced any self-indulgence or allowed any relief to their desires. There is little doubt that the complete lack of normal sex relations is one of the several factors which render many middle-aged unmarried women nervous and sleepless.

Yet for the unmarried woman the lack is not so acute nor so localized as it is for the married woman who is thwarted in the natural completion of her sex-functions after they have been directly stimulated.

The unmarried woman, unless she be in love with some particular man, has no definite stimulus to her sex desires beyond the natural upwelling of the sex urge. The married woman, however, is not only diffusely stirred by the presence of the man she loves, but is also acutely, locally and physically, stimulated by his relation with her. And if she is then left in mid air, without natural relief to her tension, she is in this respect far worse off than her unmarried sister.

Nevertheless, many unmarried women suffer from sleeplessness as a result of their celibacy, quite unconscious of its cause.

We are, however, only concerned here with the married woman. When she is left sleepless through the neglect of the mate who slumbers soundly by her side, it is not surprising if she spends the long hours reviewing their mutual position; and the review cannot yield her much pleasure or satisfaction. For deprived of the physical delight of mutual orgasm (though, perhaps, like so many wives, quite unconscious of all it can give), she sees in the sex act an arrangement where pleasure, relief and subsequent sleep are all on her husband's side, while she is merely the passive instrument of his enjoyment. Nay, more than that: if following every union she has long hours of wakefulness, she then sees clearly the encroachment on her own health of an arrangement in which she is not merely passive, but is actively abused.

Another of the consequences of the incomplete relation is that often, stirred to a point of wakefulness and vivacity by the preliminary sex-stimulation (of the full meaning of which she may be unconscious), a romantic and thoughtful woman is then most able to talk intimately and tenderly – to speak of the things most near and sacred to her heart. And she may then be terribly wounded by the inattention of her husband, which, coming so soon after his ardent demonstrations of affection, appears peculiarly callous. It makes him appear to her to be indifferent to the highest side of marriage – the spiritual and romantic intercourse. Thus she may see in the man going off to sleep in the midst of her love-talk, a gross and inattentive brute – and all because she has never shared the climax of his physical tension, and does not know that its natural reaction is sleep.

These thoughts are so depressing even to the tenderest and most loving woman, and so bitter to one who has other causes of complaint, that in their turn they act on the whole system and increase the damage done by the mere sleeplessness.

The older school of physiologists dealt in methods too crude to realize the physiological results of our thoughts, but it is now well known that anger and bitterness have experimentally recognizable physiological effects, and are injurious to the whole system.

It requires little imagination to see that after months or years of such embittered sleeplessness, the woman tends not only to become neurasthenic but also resentful towards her husband. She is probably too ignorant and unobservant of her own physiology to realize the full meaning of what is taking place, but she feels vaguely that he is to blame, and that she is being sacrificed for what, in her still greater ignorance of his physiology, seems to her to be his mere pleasure and self-indulgence.

He, with his health maintained by the natural outlet followed by recuperative sleep, is not likely to be ready to look into the gloomy and shadowy land of vague reproach and inexplicable trivial wrongs which are all the expression she gives to her unformulated physical grievance. So he is likely to set down any resentment she may show to "nerves" or "captiousness", and to be first solicitous of and then impatient towards her apparently irrelevant complaints.

If he is, as many men are, tender and considerate, he may try to remedy matters by restricting to the extreme limit of what is absolutely necessary for him, the number of times they come together. Unconsciously he thus only makes matters worse; for as a general rule, he is quite unaware of his wife's rhythm, and does not arrange to coincide with it in his infrequent tender embraces. As he is now probably sleeping in another room and not daring to come for the nightly talks and tenderness which are so sweet a privilege of marriage, here, as in other ways, his well-meaning but wrongly conceived efforts at restraint only tend to drive the pair still further apart.

To make plain the reasonableness of my view regarding sleep, it is necessary to mention some of the immensely profound influences which it is now known that sex exerts, even when not stimulated to its specific use.

In those who are deprived of their sex-organs, particularly when young, many of the other features and organs of the body develop abnormally or fail to appear. Castrated boys (Eunuchs) when grown up, tend to have little or no beard, or mustache, to have high-pitched voices and several other characters which separate them from normal men.

The growth of organs and structures so remote from the sex-organs, as, e.g., the larynx have been found to be influenced by the chemical stimulus of secretions from the sex-organs and their subsidiary glands. These secretions are not passed out through external ducts but enter the blood-system directly. Such secretions passing straight from the ductless glands into the vascular system are of very great importance in almost all our bodily functions. They have been deeply studied of late, and the general name of Hormones given to them by Starling.[1] The idea that some particular secretions or "humors" are connected with each of the internal organs of the body, is a very ancient one; but we have even yet only the vaguest and most elementary knowledge of a few of the many miracles performed by these subtle chemical substances. Thus we know that the stimulus of food in the stomach sends a chemical substance from one ductless gland in the digestive system chasing through the blood to another gland which prepares a different digestive secretion further on. We know that the thyroid gland in the neck swells and contracts in very sensitive relation with the sex organs; we know that some chemical secretion from the developing embryo, or the tissue in which it grows, sends its chemical stimulus to the distant mammary glands of the mother; we know that if the ovaries of a girl or the testes of a boy are completely cut out, the far-reaching influences their hormones would have exerted are made evident by the numerous changes in the system and departures from the normal, which result from their lack.

But we do not know, for physiologists have not yet studied the degree and character of the immense stimulus of sex-life and experience on the glands of the sex-organs, or how they affect the whole of the human being's life and powers.

The "Mendelians" and the "Mutationists," who both tend to lay so much (and I think such undue) stress on morphological hereditary factors, seem at present to have the ear of the public more than the physiologists. But it is more important that every grown up man and woman should know that through the various chemical substances or "messengers" (which Starling calls the hormones) there is an extremely rapid, almost immediate, effect on the activities of organs in remote parts of the body, due to the influences exerted on one or other internal organ.

It is therefore clear that any influences exerted on such profoundly important organs as those connected with sex, must have far-reaching results in many unexpected fields.

What must be taking place in the female system as a result of the completed sex act?

It is true that in coitus woman has but a slight external secretion, and that principally of mucus. But we have no external signs of all the complex processes and reactions going on in digestion and during the production of digestive secretions. When, as is the case in orgasm, we have such intense and apparent nervous, vascular and muscular reactions, it seems inevitable that there must be correspondingly profound internal correlations. Is it conceivable that organs so fundamental, whose mere existence we know affects the personal characters of women, could escape physiological result, from the intense preliminary stimulus and acute sensations of an orgasm?

To ask this question is surely to answer it. It is to my mind inconceivable that the orgasm in woman as in man should not have profound physiological effects. Did we know enough about the subject, many of the "nervous breakdowns" and neurotic tendencies of the modern woman could be directly traced to the partial stimulation of sexual intercourse without its normal completion which is so prevalent in modern marriage.

This subject, and its numerous ramifications, are well worth the careful research of the most highly trained physiologists. There is nothing more profound, or of more vital moment to modern humanity as a whole, than is the understanding of the sex nature and sex needs of men and women.

I may point out as a mere suggestion that the man's sex organs give rise to external and also to internal secretions. The former only leave the glands which secrete them as a result of definite stimulus; the latter appear to be perpetually exuded in small quantities and always to be entering and influencing the whole system. In woman we know there are corresponding perpetual internal secretions, and it seems evident to me that there must be some internal secretions which are only released under the definite stimulus of the whole sex act.

The English and American peoples, who lead the world in so many ways, have an almost unprecedentedly high proportion of married women who get no satisfaction from physical union with their husbands, though they bear children, and may in every other respect appear to be happily married.

The modern civilized neurotic woman has become a by-word in the Western world. Why?

I am certain that much of this suffering is caused by the ignorance of both men and women regarding not only the inner physiology, but even the obvious outward expression, of the complete sex-act.

Many medical men now recognize that numerous nervous and other diseases are associated with the lack of physiological relief for natural or stimulated sex feelings in women. Ellis ("Sex in Relation to Society," 1910, p. 551) quotes the opinion of an Austrian gynecologist who said that, "of every hundred women who come to him with uterine troubles, seventy suffer from congestion of the womb, which he regarded as due to incomplete coitus." While a writer in the British Medical Journal (April 1, 1911, p. 784) published some cases in which quite serious nervous diseases in wives were put right when their husbands were cured of too hasty ejaculation.

Sleep, concerning which I began this chapter, is but one of innumerable indications of inner processes intimately bound up with the sex-reactions. When the sex-rite is, in every sense, rightly performed, the healing wings of sleep descend both on the man and on the woman in his arms. Every organ in their bodies is influenced and stimulated to play its part, while their spirits, after soaring in the dizzy heights of rapture, are wafted to oblivion, thence to return gently to the ordinary plains of daily consciousness.


  1. "See Prof. Ernest H. Starling's Croonian Lecture to the Royal Society, 1905.