The Sexual Question/Preface to the Second Edition

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The text of the first edition has been revised and corrected, but, apart from some points of detail, the subject matter has not been changed. The examples at the end of Chapter V (First Edition) no longer form a special appendix; they have been included in the parts of the book which specially concern them; some of them have been omitted as being superfluous.

In that domain with which we are concerned the French public are too much afraid, I think, of crudities and of calling things by their proper name. By veiled words and by indirect locution one may say anything, but I have decided not to employ such subterfuges in treating of such a vital social question with the seriousness that it requires. It seems that there is a fear of young people hearing the sexual question spoken of freely and openly; but it is not taken into account that in hiding these things under half-understood words one only excites their curiosity, and, owing to their being blindfolded, they are delivered into the snares and surprises of debauchery.

I cannot better illustrate the error that I have just pointed out than by quoting, among several others of the same kind, a letter which I have received from a young girl, aged 21 years, intelligent, virtuous, educated, and well brought up, but without restraint.

Having read my book she put several questions to me to which I replied. On my part I requested her to tell me frankly:

(1). If, in her opinion, I had been mistaken in my judgement of the sexual psychology of the normal young girl; (2). If my book had done her the least harm, moral or otherwise.

I begged her to criticise me without pity, for I wished above all things to be clear on the effect produced by my book. This is her letter:

"I must thank you for the deep and unalterable impression which your book has produced on me. I am a young girl of 21 years, and you know how difficult it is for us to see clearly into those natural things which so closely concern us. I cannot, therefore, thank you too much for the calm enlightenment which has been produced in me, and for the just and humane words which you devote to the education of our sex. I hope one day to have the good fortune to apply to my children the ideas on education with which you have inspired me.

"You ask me for the impression which your book has made on me. It is true that I am still very young, but I have read much. My mother has brought me up very freely, so that I can count myself among the young girls who are free from prejudice. In spite of this, a sort of internal anxiety or false shame has hindered me from shaking of all the things of which you treat. All that I knew I had read in books or derived by instinct. Although I knew very well that my mother would always answer my questions I never asked any.

"I declare that latterly my mind had been in a state of veritable chaos. I was obsessed and tormented by a fear of everything of which I was ignorant and some day ought to learn. This is why I was anxious to read your book which a friend showed me. I will now express myself more clearly.

"The first chapters were difficult for me, not because I could not understand them, but owing to the strange and novel experience which the truth made in me when plainly and scientifically expounded. Wishing to read everything I applied myself to the book laboriously. My first impression was that of disgust for all human beings and mistrust of everything. But I was soon glad to find that I was a very normal young girl, so that this impression soon passed away. I was no longer excited over conversations which I heard, but took a real interest in them, and I was happy to have become acquainted with some one who understood us young girls.

"I am, therefore, a young girl whose sensations are neither cold nor perverse, and I am always rejoiced, in reading your book, to see with what truth you describe our sexual impressions. Those who maintain that we feel in this way the same as men make me smile. In your book ("Hygiene of Marriage," p. 479) you say that the idea of marriage awakens in a normal young girl a kind of anguish and disgust, and that this feeling disappears as soon as she has found some one whom she loves. This is extremely true and well observed. I am in complete agreement with a friend with whom I have often discussed your book; we young girls are very little attracted by the purely sexual side of marriage, and we should prefer to see children come into the world by some other way than that ordained by Nature. This will, perhaps, make you laugh. However, I think you will understand my feelings.

"When I had finished reading your book I became absolutely tranquil, and my ideas were enlightened. It goes without saying that is no longer possible for me to be ingenuous, but I should like to know what one gains by such naïvety. It is very easy to be innocent when one knows nothing, and this is of no account. I never thought for a moment to find your book immoral, and that is why I do not think you have done me any harm. Excuse me for having written at such length, but I could not abbreviate when dealing with such a serious question."

The author of this letter has, at my request, authorised me to publish it anonymously. I think that the candor, the loyalty and immaturity of judgment of the sentiments expressed by this young girl are of much more value and are much more healthy than all the prudishness and false shame of our conventional morality.

Dr. A. Forel.

Chigny près Morges (Suisse).