Studies in the Psychology of Sex, Volume 4 (of 6)
by Havelock Ellis
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Sexual Selection In Man I. Touch. Ii. Smell. Iii. Hearing. Iv. Vision.





As in many other of these Studies, and perhaps more than in most, the task attempted in the present volume is mainly of a tentative and preliminary character. There is here little scope yet for the presentation of definite scientific results. However it may be in the physical universe, in the cosmos of science our knowledge must be nebulous before it constellates into definitely measurable shapes, and nothing is gained by attempting to anticipate the evolutionary process. Thus it is that here, for the most part, we have to content ourselves at present with the task of mapping out the field in broad and general outlines, bringing together the facts and considerations which indicate the direction in which more extended and precise results will in the future be probably found.

In his famous Descent of Man, wherein he first set forth the doctrine of sexual selection, Darwin injured an essentially sound principle by introducing into it a psychological confusion whereby the physiological sensory stimuli through which sexual selection operates were regarded as equivalent to aesthetic preferences. This confusion misled many, and it is only within recent years (as has been set forth in the "Analysis of the Sexual Impulse" in the previous volume of these Studies) that the investigations and criticisms of numerous workers have placed the doctrine of sexual selection on a firm basis by eliminating its hazardous aesthetic element. Love springs up as a response to a number of stimuli to tumescence, the object that most adequately arouses tumescence being that which evokes love; the question of aesthetic beauty, although it develops on this basis, is not itself fundamental and need not even be consciously present at all. When we look at these phenomena in their broadest biological aspects, love is only to a limited extent a response to beauty; to a greater extent beauty is simply a name for the complexus of stimuli which most adequately arouses love. If we analyze these stimuli to tumescence as they proceed from a person of the opposite sex we find that they are all appeals which must come through the channels of four senses: touch, smell, hearing, and, above all, vision. When a man or a woman experiences sexual love for one particular person from among the multitude by which he or she is surrounded, this is due to the influences of a group of stimuli coming through the channels of one or more of these senses. There has been a sexual selection conditioned by sensory stimuli. This is true even of the finer and more spiritual influences that proceed from one person to another, although, in order to grasp the phenomena adequately, it is best to insist on the more fundamental and less complex forms which they assume. In this sense sexual selection is no longer a hypothesis concerning the truth of which it is possible to dispute; it is a self-evident fact. The difficulty is not as to its existence, but as to the methods by which it may be most precisely measured. It is fundamentally a psychological process, and should be approached from the psychological side. This is the reason for dealing with it here. Obscure as the psychological aspects of sexual selection still remain, they are full of fascination, for they reveal to us the more intimate sides of human evolution, of the process whereby man is molded into the shapes we know.


Carbis Water,

Lelant, Cornwall, England.



The External Sensory Stimuli Affecting Selection in Man. The Four Senses Involved.



The Primitive Character of the Skin. Its Qualities. Touch the Earliest Source of Sensory Pleasure. The Characteristics of Touch. As the Alpha and Omega of Affection. The Sexual Organs a Special Adaptation of Touch. Sexual Attraction as Originated by Touch. Sexual Hyperaesthesia to Touch. The Sexual Associations of Acne.


Ticklishness. Its Origin and Significance. The Psychology of Tickling. Laughter. Laughter as a Kind of Detumescence. The Sexual Relationships of Itching. The Pleasure of Tickling. Its Decrease with Age and Sexual Activity.


The Secondary Sexual Skin Centres. Orificial Contacts. Cunnilingus and Fellatio. The Kiss. The Nipples. The Sympathy of the Breasts with the Primary Sexual Centres. This Connection Operative both through the Nerves and through the Blood. The Influence of Lactation on the Sexual Centres. Suckling and Sexual Emotion. The Significance of the Association between Suckling and Sexual Emotion. The Association as a Cause of Sexual Perversity.


The Bath. Antagonism of Primitive Christianity to the Cult of the Skin. Its Cult of Personal Filth. The Reasons which Justified this Attitude. The World-wide Tendency to Association between Extreme Cleanliness and Sexual Licentiousness. The Immorality Associated with Public Baths in Europe down to Modern Times.


Summary. Fundamental Importance of Touch. The Skin the Mother of All the Other Senses.



The Primitiveness of Smell. The Anatomical Seat of the Olfactory Centres. Predominance of Smell among the Lower Mammals. Its Diminished Importance in Man. The Attention Paid to Odors by Savages.


Rise of the Study of Olfaction. Cloquet. Zwaardemaker. The Theory of Smell. The Classification of Odors. The Special Characteristics of Olfactory Sensation in Man. Smell as the Sense of Imagination. Odors as Nervous Stimulants. Vasomotor and Muscular Effects. Odorous Substances as Drugs.


The Specific Body Odors of Various Peoples. The Negro, etc. The European. The Ability to Distinguish Individuals by Smell. The Odor of Sanctity. The Odor of Death. The Odors of Different Parts of the Body. The Appearance of Specific Odors at Puberty. The Odors of Sexual Excitement. The Odors of Menstruation. Body Odors as a Secondary Sexual Character. The Custom of Salutation by Smell. The Kiss. Sexual Selection by Smell. The Alleged Association between Size of Nose and Sexual Vigor. The Probably Intimate Relationship between the Olfactory and Genital Spheres. Reflex Influences from the Nose. Reflex Influences from the Genital Sphere. Olfactory Hallucinations in Insanity as Related to Sexual States. The Olfactive Type. The Sense of Smell in Neurasthenic and Allied States. In Certain Poets and Novelists. Olfactory Fetichism. The Part Played by Olfaction in Normal Sexual Attraction. In the East, etc. In Modern Europe. The Odor of the Armpit and its Variations. As a Sexual and General Stimulant. Body Odors in Civilization Tend to Cause Sexual Antipathy unless some Degree of Tumescence is Already Present. The Question whether Men or Women are more Liable to Feel Olfactory Influences. Women Usually more Attentive to Odors. The Special Interest in Odors Felt by Sexual Inverts.


The Influence of Perfumes. Their Aboriginal Relationship to Sexual Body Odors. This True even of the Fragrance of Flowers. The Synthetic Manufacture of Perfumes. The Sexual Effects of Perfumes. Perfumes perhaps Originally Used to Heighten the Body Odors. The Special Significance of the Musk Odor. Its Wide Natural Diffusion in Plants and Animals and Man. Musk a Powerful Stimulant. Its Widespread Use as a Perfume. Peau d'Espagne. The Smell of Leather and its Occasional Sexual Effects. The Sexual Influence of the Odors of Flowers. The Identity of many Plant Odors with Certain Normal and Abnormal Body Odors. The Smell of Semen in this Connection.


The Evil Effects of Excessive Olfactory Stimulation. The Symptoms of Vanillism. The Occasional Dangerous Results of the Odors of Flowers. Effects of Flowers on the Voice.


The Place of Smell in Human Sexual Selections. It has given Place to the Predominance of Vision largely because in Civilized Man it Fails to Act at a Distance. It still Plays a Part by Contributing to the Sympathies or the Antipathies of Intimate Contact.



The Physiological Basis of Rhythm. Rhythm as a Physiological Stimulus. The Intimate Relation of Rhythm to Movement. The Physiological Influence of Music on Muscular Action, Circulation, Respiration, etc. The Place of Music in Sexual Selection among the Lower Animals. Its Comparatively Small Place in Courtship among Mammals. The Larynx and Voice in Man. The Significance of the Pubertal Changes. Ancient Beliefs Concerning the Influence of Music in Morals, Education and Medicine. Its Therapeutic Uses. Significance of the Romantic Interest in Music at Puberty. Men Comparatively Insusceptible to the Specifically Sexual Influence of Music. Rarity of Sexual Perversions on the Basis of the Sense of Hearing. The Part of Music in Primitive Human Courtship. Women Notably Susceptible to the Specifically Sexual Influence of Music and the Voice.


Summary. Why the Influence of Music in Human Sexual Selection is Comparatively Small.



Primacy of Vision in Man. Beauty as a Sexual Allurement. The Objective Element in Beauty. Ideals of Feminine Beauty in Various Parts of the World. Savage Women sometimes Beautiful from European Point of View. Savages often Admire European Beauty. The Appeal of Beauty to some Extent Common even to Animals and Man.


Beauty to Some Extent Consists Primitively in an Exaggeration of the Sexual Characters. The Sexual Organs. Mutilations, Adornments, and Garments. Sexual Allurement the Original Object of Such Devices. The Religious Element. Unaesthetic Character of the Sexual Organs. Importance of the Secondary Sexual Characters. The Pelvis and Hips. Steatopygia. Obesity. Gait. The Pregnant Woman as a Mediaeval Type of Beauty. The Ideals of the Renaissance. The Breasts. The Corset. Its Object. Its History. Hair. The Beard. The Element of National or Racial Type in Beauty. The Relative Beauty of Blondes and Brunettes. The General European Admiration for Blondes. The Individual Factors in the Constitution of the Idea of Beauty. The Love of the Exotic.


Beauty Not the Sole Element in the Sexual Appeal of Vision. Movement. The Mirror. Narcissism. Pygmalionism. Mixoscopy. The Indifference of Women to Male Beauty. The Significance of Woman's Admiration of Strength. The Spectacle of Strength is a Tactile Quality made Visible.


The Alleged Charm of Disparity in Sexual Attraction. The Admiration for High Stature. The Admiration for Dark Pigmentation. The Charm of Parity. Conjugal Mating. The Statistical Results of Observation as Regards General Appearance, Stature, and Pigmentation of Married Couples. Preferential Mating and Assortative Mating. The Nature of the Advantage Attained by the Fair in Sexual Selection. The Abhorrence of Incest and the Theories of its Cause. The Explanation in Reality Simple. The Abhorrence of Incest in Relation to Sexual Selection. The Limits to the Charm of Parity in Conjugal Mating. The Charm of Disparity in Secondary Sexual Characters.


Summary of the Conclusions at Present Attainable in Regard to the Nature of Beauty and its Relation to Sexual Selection.


The Origins of the Kiss.


Histories of Sexual Development.


The External Sensory Stimuli Affecting Selection in Man—The Four Senses Involved.

Tumescence—the process by which the organism is brought into the physical and psychic state necessary to insure conjugation and detumescence—to some extent comes about through the spontaneous action of internal forces. To that extent it is analogous to the physical and psychic changes which accompany the gradual filling of the bladder and precede its evacuation. But even among animals who are by no means high in the zooelogical scale the process is more complicated than this. External stimuli act at every stage, arousing or heightening the process of tumescence, and in normal human beings it may be said that the process is never completed without the aid of such stimuli, for even in the auto-erotic sphere external stimuli are still active, either actually or in imagination.

The chief stimuli which influence tumescence and thus direct sexual choice come chiefly—indeed, exclusively—through the four senses of touch, smell, hearing, and sight. All the phenomena of sexual selection, so far as they are based externally, act through these four senses.[1] The reality of the influence thus exerted may be demonstrated statistically even in civilized man, and it has been shown that, as regards, for instance, eye-color, conjugal partners differ sensibly from the unmarried persons by whom they are surrounded. When, therefore, we are exploring the nature of the influence which stimuli, acting through the sensory channels, exert on the strength and direction of the sexual impulse, we are intimately concerned with the process by which the actual form and color, not alone of living things generally, but of our own species, have been shaped and are still being shaped. At the same time, it is probable, we are exploring the mystery which underlies all the subtle appreciations, all the emotional undertones, which are woven in the web of the whole world as it appeals to us through those sensory passages by which alone it can reach us. We are here approaching, therefore, a fundamental subject of unsurpassable importance, a subject which has not yet been accurately explored save at a few isolated points and one which it is therefore impossible to deal with fully and adequately. Yet it cannot be passed over, for it enters into the whole psychology of the sexual instinct.

Of the four senses—touch, smell, hearing, and sight—with which we are here concerned, touch is the most primitive, and it may be said to be the most important, though it is usually the last to make its appeal felt. Smell, which occupies the chief place among many animals, is of comparatively less importance, though of considerable interest, in man; it is only less intimate and final than touch. Sight occupies an intermediate position, and on this account, and also on account of the very great part played by vision in life generally as well as in art, it is the most important of all the senses from the human sexual point of view. Hearing, from the same point of view, is the most remote of all the senses in its appeal to the sexual impulse, and on that account it is, when it intervenes, among the first to make its influence felt.


[1] Taste must, I believe, be excluded, for if we abstract the parts of touch and smell, even in those abnormal sexual acts in which it may seem to be affected, taste could scarcely have any influence. Most of our "tasting," as Waller puts it, is done by the nose, which, in man, is in specially close relationship, posteriorly, with the mouth. There are at most four taste sensations—sweet, bitter, salt, and sour—if even all of these are simple tastes. What commonly pass for taste sensations, as shown by some experiments of G.T.W. Patrick (Psychological Review, 1898, p. 160), are the composite results of the mingling of sensations of smell, touch, temperature, sight, and taste.



The Primitive Character of the Skin—Its Qualities—Touch the Earliest Source of Sensory Pleasure—The Characteristics of Touch—As the Alpha and Omega of Affection—The Sexual Organs a Special Adaptation of Touch—Sexual Attraction as Originated by Touch—Sexual Hyperaesthesia to Touch—The Sexual Associations of Acne.

We are accustomed to regard the skin as mainly owing its existence to the need for the protection of the delicate vessels, nerves, viscera, and muscles underneath. Undoubtedly it performs, and by its tough and elastic texture is well fitted to perform, this extremely important service. But the skin is not merely a method of protection against the external world; it is also a method of bringing us into sensitive contact with the external world. It is thus, as the organ of touch, the seat of the most widely diffused sense we possess, and, moreover, the sense which is the most ancient and fundamental of all—the mother of the other senses.

It is scarcely necessary to insist that the primitive nature of the sensory function of the skin with the derivative nature of the other senses, is a well ascertained and demonstrable fact. The lower we descend in the animal scale, the more varied we find the functions of the skin to be, and if in the higher animals much of the complexity has disappeared, that is only because the specialization of the various skin regions into distinct organs has rendered this complexity unnecessary. Even yet, however, in man himself the skin still retains, in a more or less latent condition, much of its varied and primary power, and the analysis of pathological and even normal phenomena serves to bring these old powers into clear light.

Woods Hutchinson (Studies in Human and Comparative Pathology, 1901, Chapters VII and VIII) has admirably set forth the immense importance of the skin, as in the first place "a tissue which is silk to the touch, the most exquisitely beautiful surface in the universe to the eye, and yet a wall of adamant against hostile attack. Impervious alike, by virtue of its wonderful responsive vitality, to moisture and drought, cold and heat, electrical changes, hostile bacteria, the most virulent of poisons and the deadliest of gases, it is one of the real Wonders of the World. More beautiful than velvet, softer and more pliable than silk, more impervious than rubber, and more durable under exposure than steel, well-nigh as resistant to electric currents as glass, it is one of the toughest and most dangerproof substances in the three kingdoms of nature" (although, as this author adds, we "hardly dare permit it to see the sunlight or breathe the open air"). But it is more than this. It is, as Woods Hutchinson expresses it, the creator of the entire body; its embryonic infoldings form the alimentary canal, the brain, the spinal cord, while every sense is but a specialization of its general organic activity. It is furthermore a kind of "skin-heart," promoting the circulation by its own energy; it is the great heat-regulating organ of the body; it is an excretory organ only second to the kidneys, which descend from it, and finally it still remains the seat of touch.

It may be added that the extreme beauty of the skin as a surface is very clearly brought out by the inadequacy of the comparisons commonly used in order to express its beauty. Snow, marble, alabaster, ivory, milk, cream, silk, velvet, and all the other conventional similes furnish surfaces which from any point of view are incomparably inferior to the skin itself. (Cf. Stratz, Die Schoenheit des Weiblichen Koerpers, Chapter XII.)

With reference to the extraordinary vitality of the skin, emphasized by Woods Hutchinson, it may be added that, when experimenting on the skin with the electric current, Waller found that healthy skin showed signs of life ten days or more after excision. It has been found also that fragments of skin which have been preserved in sterile fluid for even as long as nine months may still be successfully transplanted on to the body. (British Medical Journal, July 19, 1902.)

Everything indicates, remark Stanley Hall and Donaldson ("Motor Sensations in the Skin," Mind, 1885), that the skin is "not only the primeval and most reliable source of our knowledge of the external world or the archaeological field of psychology," but a field in which work may shed light on some of the most fundamental problems of psychic action. Groos (Spiele der Menschen, pp. 8-16) also deals with the primitive character of touch sensations.

Touch sensations are without doubt the first of all the sensory impressions to prove pleasurable. We should, indeed, expect this from the fact that the skin reflexes have already appeared before birth, while a pleasurable sensitiveness of the lips is doubtless a factor in the child's response to the contact of the maternal nipple. Very early memories of sensory pleasure seem to be frequently, perhaps most frequently, tactile in character, though this fact is often disguised in recollection, owing to tactile impression being vague and diffused; there is thus in Elizabeth Potwin's "Study of Early Memories" (Psychological Review, November, 1901) no separate group of tactile memories, and the more elaborate investigation by Colegrove ("Individual Memories," American Journal of Psychology, January, 1899) yields no decisive results under this head. See, however, Stanley Hall's valuable study, "Some Aspects of the Early Sense of Self," American Journal of Psychology, April, 1898. Kuelpe has a discussion of the psychology of cutaneous sensations (Outlines of Psychology [English translation], pp. 87 et seq.)

Harriet Martineau, at the beginning of her Autobiography, referring to the vivid character of tactile sensations in early childhood, remarks, concerning an early memory of touching a velvet button, that "the rapture of the sensation was really monstrous." And a lady tells me that one of her earliest memories at the age of 3 is of the exquisite sensation of the casual contact of a cool stone with the vulva in the act of urinating. Such sensations, of course, cannot be termed specifically sexual, though they help to furnish the tactile basis on which the specifically sexual sensations develop.

The elementary sensitiveness of the skin is shown by the fact that moderate excitation suffices to raise the temperature, while Heidenhain and others have shown that in animals cutaneous stimuli modify the sensibility of the brain cortex, slight stimulus increasing excitability and strong stimulus diminishing it. Fere has shown that the slight stimulus to the skin furnished by placing a piece of metal on the arm or elsewhere suffices to increase the output of work with the ergograph. (Fere, Comptes Rendus Societe de Biologie, July 12, 1902; id., Pathologic des Emotions, pp. 40 et seq.)

Fere found that the application of a mustard plaster to the skin, or an icebag, or a hot-water bottle, or even a light touch with a painter's brush, all exerted a powerful effect in increasing muscular work with the ergograph. "The tonic effect of cutaneous excitation," he remarks, "throws light on the psychology of the caress. It is always the most sensitive parts of the body which seek to give or to receive caresses. Many animals rub or lick each other. The mucous surfaces share in this irritability of the skin. The kiss is not only an expression of feeling; it is a means of provoking it. Cataglottism is by no means confined to pigeons. The tonic value of cutaneous stimulation is indeed a commonly accepted idea. Wrestlers rub their hands or limbs, and the hand-shake also is not without its physiological basis.

"Cutaneous excitations may cause painful sensations to cease. Many massage practices which favor work act chiefly as sensorial stimulants; on this account many nervous persons cannot abandon them, and the Greeks and Romans found in massage not only health, but pleasure. Lauder Brunton regards many common manoeuvres, like scratching the head and pulling the mustache, as methods of dilating the bloodvessels of the brain by stimulating the facial nerve. The motor reactions of cutaneous excitations favor this hypothesis." (Fere, Travail et Plaisir, Chapter XV, "Influence des Excitations du Toucher sur le Travail.")

The main characteristics of the primitive sense of touch are its wide diffusion over the whole body and the massive vagueness and imprecision of the messages it sends to the brain. This is the reason, why it is, of all the senses, the least intellectual and the least aesthetic; it is also the reason why it is, of all the senses, the most-profoundly emotional. "Touch," wrote Bain in his Emotions and Will, "is both the alpha and the omega of affection," and he insisted on the special significance in this connection of "tenderness"—a characteristic emotional quality of affection which is directly founded on sensations of touch. If tenderness is the alpha of affection, even between the sexes, its omega is to be found in the sexual embrace, which may be said to be a method of obtaining, through a specialized organization of the skin, the most exquisite and intense sensations of touch.

"We believe nothing is so exciting to the instinct or mere passions as the presence of the hand or those tactile caresses which mark affection," states the anonymous author of an article on "Woman in her Psychological Relations," in the Journal of Psychological Medicine, 1851. "They are the most general stimuli in lower animals. The first recourse in difficulty or danger, and the primary solace in anguish, for woman is the bosom of her husband or her lover. She seeks solace and protection and repose on that part of the body where she herself places the objects of her own affection. Woman appears to have the same instinctive impulse in this respect all over the world."

It is because the sexual orgasm is founded on a special adaptation and intensification of touch sensations that the sense of touch generally is to be regarded as occupying the very first place in reference to the sexual emotions. Fere, Mantegazza, Penta, and most other writers on this question are here agreed. Touch sensations constitute a vast gamut for the expression of affection, with at one end the note of minimum personal affection in the brief and limited touch involved by the conventional hand-shake and the conventional kiss, and at the other end the final and intimate contact in which passion finds the supreme satisfaction of its most profound desire. The intermediate region has its great significance for us because it offers a field in which affection has its full scope, but in which every road may possibly lead to the goal of sexual love. It is the intimacy of touch contacts, their inevitable approach to the threshold of sexual emotion, which leads to a jealous and instinctive parsimony in the contact of skin and skin and to the tendency with the increased sensitiveness of the nervous system involved by civilization to restrain even the conventional touch manifestation of ordinary affection and esteem. In China fathers leave off kissing their daughters while they are still young children. In England the kiss as an ordinary greeting between men and women—a custom inherited from classic and early Christian antiquity—still persisted to the beginning of the eighteenth century. In France the same custom existed in the seventeenth century, but in the middle of that century was beginning to be regarded as dangerous,[2] while at the present time the conventional kiss on the cheek is strictly differentiated from the kiss on the mouth, which is reserved for lovers. Touch contacts between person and person, other than those limited and defined by custom, tend to become either unpleasant—as an undesired intrusion into an intimate sphere—or else, when occurring between man and woman at some peculiar moment, they may make a powerful reverberation in the emotional and more specifically sexual sphere. One man falls in love with his future wife because he has to carry her upstairs with a sprained ankle. Another dates his love-story from a romp in which his cheek accidentally came in contact with that of his future wife. A woman will sometimes instinctively strive to attract the attention of the man who appeals to her by a peculiar and prolonged pressure of the hand—the only touch contact permitted to her. Dante, as Penta has remarked, refers to "sight or touch" as the two channels through which a woman's love is revived (Purgatorio, VIII, 76). Even the hand-shake of a sympathetic man is enough in some chaste and sensitive women to produce sexual excitement or sometimes even the orgasm. The cases in which love arises from the influence of stimuli coming through the sense of touch are no doubt frequent, and they would be still more frequent if it were not that the very proximity of this sense to the sexual sphere causes it to be guarded with a care which in the case of the other senses it is impossible to exercise. This intimacy of touch and the reaction against its sexual approximations leads to what James has called "the antisexual instinct, the instinct of personal isolation, the actual repulsiveness to us of the idea of intimate contact with most of the persons we meet, especially those of our own sex." He refers in this connection to the unpleasantness of the sensation felt on occupying a seat still warm from the body of another person.[3] The Catholic Church has always recognized the risks of vuluptuous emotion involved in tactile contacts, and the facility with which even the most innocent contacts may take on a libidinous character.[4]

The following observations were written by a lady (aged 30) who has never had sexual relationships: "I am only conscious of a very sweet and pleasurable emotion when coming in contact with honorable men, and consider that a comparison can be made between the idealism of such emotions and those of music, of beauties of Nature, and of productions of art. While studying and writing articles upon a new subject I came in contact with a specialist, who rendered me considerable aid, and, one day, while jointly correcting a piece of work, he touched my hand. This produced a sweet and pure sensation of thrill through the whole system. I said nothing; in fact, was too thrilled for speech; and never to this day have shown any responsive action, but for months at certain periods, generally twice a month, I have experienced the most pleasurable emotions. I have seen this friend twice since, and have a curious feeling that I stand on one side of a hedge, while he is on the other, and, as neither makes an approach, pleasure of the highest kind is experienced, but not allowed to go beyond reasonable and health-giving bounds. In some moments I feel overcome by a sense of mastery by this man, and yet, feeling that any approach would be undignified, some pleasure is experienced in restraining and keeping within proper bounds this passional emotion. All these thrills of pleasurable emotion possess a psychic value, and, so long as the nervous system is kept in perfect health, they do not seem to have the power to injure, but rather one is able to utilize the passionate emotions as weapons for pleasure and work."

Various parts of the skin surface appear to have special sexual sensitiveness, peculiarly marked in many individuals, especially women; so that, as Fere remarks (L'Instinct Sexuel, second edition, 1902, p. 130), contact stimulation of the lips, lobe of ear, nape of neck, little finger, knee, etc., may suffice even to produce the orgasm. Some sexually hyperaesthetic women, as has already been noted, experience this when shaking hands with a man who is attractive to them. In some neurotic persons this sensibility, as Fere shows, may exist in so morbid a degree that even the contact of the sensitive spot with unattractive persons or inanimate objects may produce the orgasm. In this connection reference may be made to the well-known fact that in some hysterical subjects there are so-called "erogenous zones" simple pressure on which suffices to evoke the complete orgasm. There is, perhaps, some significance, from our present point of view, in the fact that, as emphasized by Savill ("Hysterical Skin Symptoms," Lancet, January 30, 1904), the skin is one of the very best places to study hysteria.

The intimate connection between the skin and the sexual sphere is also shown in pathological conditions of the skin, especially in acne as well as simple pimples on the face. The sexual development of puberty involves a development of hair in various regions of the body which previously were hairless. As, however, the sebaceous glands on the face and elsewhere are the vestiges of former hairs and survive from a period when the whole body was hairy, they also tend to experience in an abortive manner this same impulse. Thus, we may say that, with the development of the sexual organs at puberty, there is correlated excitement of the whole pilo-sebaceous apparatus. In the regions where this apparatus is vestigial, and notably in the face, this abortive attempt of the hair-follicles and their sebaceous appendages to produce hairs tends only to disorganization, and simple comedones or pustular acne pimples are liable to occur. As a rule, acne appears about puberty and dies out slowly during adolescence. While fairly common in young women, it is usually much less severe, but tends to be exacerbated at the menstrual periods; it is also apt to appear at the change of life. (Stephen Mackenzie, "The Etiology and Treatment of Acne Vulgaris," British Medical Journal, September 29, 1894. Laycock [Nervous Diseases of Women, 1840, p. 23] pointed out that acne occurs chiefly in those parts of the surface covered by sexual hair. A lucid account of the origin of acne will be found in Woods Hutchinson's Studies in Human and Comparative Pathology, pp. 179-184. G.J. Engelmann ["The Hystero-neuroses," Gynaecological Transactions, 1887, pp. 124 et seq.] discusses various pathological disorders of the skin as reflex disturbances originating in the sexual sphere.)

The influence of menstruation in exacerbating acne has been called in question, but it seems to be well established. Thus, Bulkley ("Relation between Certain Diseases of the Skin and the Menstrual Function," Transactions of the Medical Society of New York, 1901, p. 328) found that, in 510 cases of acne in women, 145, or nearly one-third, were worse about the monthly period. Sometimes it only appeared during menstruation. The exacerbation occurred much more frequently just before than just after the period. There was usually some disturbance of menstruation. Various other disorders of the skin show a similar relationship to menstruation.

It has been asserted that masturbation is a frequent or constant cause of acne at puberty. (See, e.g., discussion in British Medical Journal, July, 1882.) This cannot be accepted. Acne very frequently occurs without masturbation, and masturbation is very frequently practiced without producing acne. At the same time we may well believe that at the period of puberty, when the pilo-sebaceous system is already in sensitive touch with the sexual system, the shock of frequently repeated masturbation may (in the same way as disordered menstruation) have its repercussion on the skin. Thus, a lady has informed me that at about the age of 18 she found that frequently repeated masturbation was followed by the appearance of comedones.


[2] A. Franklin, Les Soins de Toilette, p. 81.

[3] W. James, Principles of Psychology, vol. ii. p. 347.

[4] Numerous passages from the theologians bearing on this point are brought together in Moechialogia, pp. 221-220.


Ticklishness—Its Origin and Significance—The Psychology of Tickling—Laughter—Laughter as a Kind of Detumescence—The Sexual Relationships of Itching—The Pleasure of Tickling—Its Decrease with Age and Sexual Activity.

Touch, as has already been remarked, is the least intellectual of the senses. There is, however, one form of touch sensation—that is to say, ticklishness—which is of so special and peculiar a nature that it has sometimes been put aside in a class apart from all other touch sensations. Scaliger proposed to class titillation as a sixth, or separate, sense. Alrutz, of Upsala, regards tickling as a milder degree of itching, and considers that the two together constitute a sensation of distinct quality with distinct end-organs, for the mediation of that quality.[5] However we may regard this extreme view, tickling is certainly a specialized modification of touch and it is at the same time the most intellectual mode of touch sensation and that with the closest connection with the sexual sphere. To regard tickling as an intellectual manifestation may cause surprise, more especially when it is remembered that ticklishness is a form of sensation which reaches full development very early in life, and it has to be admitted that, as compared even with the messages that may be sent through smell and taste, the intellectual element in ticklishness remains small. But its presence here has been independently recognized by various investigators. Groos points out the psychic factor in tickling as evidenced by the impossibility of self-tickling.[6] Louis Robinson considers that ticklishness "appears to be one of the simplest developments of mechanical and automatic nervous processes in the direction of the complex functioning of the higher centres which comes within the scope of psychology,"[7] Stanley Hall and Allin remark that "these minimal touch excitations represent the very oldest stratum of psychic life in the soul."[8] Hirman Stanley, in a somewhat similar manner, pushes the intellectual element in ticklishness very far back and associates it with "tentacular experience." "By temporary self-extension," he remarks, "even low amoeboid organisms have slight, but suggestive, touch experiences that stimulate very general and violent reactions, and in higher organisms extended touch-organs, as tentacles, antennae, hair, etc., become permanent and very delicately sensitive organs, where minimal contacts have very distinct and powerful reactions." Thus ticklishness would be the survival of long passed ancestral tentacular experience, which, originally a stimulation producing intense agitation and alarm, has now become merely a play activity and a source of keen pleasure.[9]

We need not, however, go so far back in the zooelogical series to explain the origin and significance of tickling in the human species. Sir J.Y. Simpson suggested, in an elaborate study of the position of the child in the womb, that the extreme excitomotory sensibility of the skin in various regions, such as the sole of the foot, the knee, the sides, which already exists before birth, has for its object the excitation and preservation of the muscular movements necessary to keep the foetus in the most favorable position in the womb.[10] It is, in fact, certainly the case that the stimulation of all the ticklish regions in the body tends to produce exactly that curled up position of extreme muscular flexion and general ovoid shape which is the normal position of the foetus in the womb. We may well believe that in this early developed reflex activity we have the basis of that somewhat more complex ticklishness which appears somewhat later.

The mental element in tickling is indicated by the fact that even a child, in whom ticklishness is highly developed, cannot tickle himself; so that tickling is not a simple reflex. This fact was long ago pointed out by Erasmus Darwin, and he accounted for it by supposing that voluntary exertion diminishes the energy of sensation.[11] This explanation is, however, inadmissible, for, although we cannot easily tickle ourselves by the contact of the skin with our own fingers, we can do so with the aid of a foreign body, like a feather. We may perhaps suppose that, as ticklishness has probably developed under the influence of natural selection as a method of protection against attack and a warning of the approach of foreign bodies, its end would be defeated if it involved a simple reaction to the contact of the organism with itself. This need of protection it is which involves the necessity of a minimal excitation producing a maximal effect, though the mechanism whereby this takes place has caused considerable discussion. We may, it is probable, best account for it by invoking the summation-irradiation theory of pain-pleasure, the summation of the stimuli in their course through the nerves, aided by capillary congestion, leading to irradiation due to anastomoses between the tactile corpuscles, not to speak of the much wider irradiation which is possible by means of central nervous connections.

Prof. C.L. Herrick adopts this explanation of the phenomena of tickling, and rests it, in part, on Dogiel's study of the tactile corpuscles ("Psychological Corollaries of Modern Neurological Discoveries," Journal of Comparative Neurology, March, 1898). The following remarks of Prof. A. Allin may also be quoted in further explanation of the same theory: "So far as ticklishness is concerned, a very important factor in the production of this feeling is undoubtedly that of the summation of stimuli. In a research of Stirling's, carried on under Ludwig's direction, it was shown that reflex contractions only occur from repeated shocks to the nerve-centres—that is, through summation of successive stimuli. That this result is also due in some degree to an alternating increase in the sensibility of the various areas in question from altered supply of blood is reasonably certain. As a consequence of this summation-process there would result in many cases and in cases of excessive nervous discharge the opposite of pleasure, namely: pain. A number of instances have been recorded of death resulting from tickling, and there is no reason to doubt the truth of the statement that Simon de Montfort, during the persecution of the Albigenses, put some of them to death by tickling the soles of their feet with a feather. An additional causal factor in the production of tickling may lie in the nature and structure of the nervous process involved in perception in general. According to certain histological researches of recent years we know that between the sense-organs and the central nervous system there exist closely connected chains of conductors or neurons, along which an impression received by a single sensory cell on the periphery is propagated avalanchelike through an increasing number of neurons until the brain is reached. If on the periphery a single cell is excited the avalanchelike process continues until finally hundreds or thousands of nerve-cells in the cortex are aroused to considerable activity. Golgi, Ramon y Cajal, Koelliker, Held, Retzius, and others have demonstrated the histological basis of this law for vision, hearing, and smell, and we may safely assume from the phenomena of tickling that the sense of touch is not lacking in a similar arrangement. May not a suggestion be offered, with some plausibility, that even in ideal or representative tickling, where tickling results, say, from someone pointing a finger at the ticklish places, this avalanchelike process may be incited from central centres, thus producing, although in a modified degree, the pleasant phenomena in question? As to the deepest causal factor, I should say that tickling is the result of vasomotor shock." (A. Allin, "On Laughter," Psychological Review, May, 1903.)

The intellectual element in tickling conies out in its connection with laughter and the sense of the comic, of which it may be said to constitute the physical basis. While we are not here concerned with laughter and the comic sense,—a subject which has lately attracted considerable attention,—it may be instructive to point out that there is more than an analogy between laughter and the phenomena of sexual tumescence and detumescence. The process whereby prolonged tickling, with its nervous summation and irradiation and accompanying hyperaemia, finds sudden relief in an explosion of laughter is a real example of tumescence—as it has been defined in the study in another volume entitled "An Analysis of the Sexual Impulse"—resulting finally in the orgasm of detumescence. The reality of the connection between the sexual embrace and tickling is indicated by the fact that in some languages, as in that of the Fuegians,[12] the same word is applied to both. That ordinary tickling is not sexual is due to the circumstances of the case and the regions to which the tickling is applied. If, however, the tickling is applied within the sexual sphere, then there is a tendency for orgasm to take place instead of laughter. The connection which, through the phenomena of tickling, laughter thus bears to the sexual sphere is well indicated, as Groos has pointed out, by the fact that in sexually-minded people sexual allusions tend to produce laughter, this being the method by which they are diverted from the risks of more specifically sexual detumescence.[13]

Reference has been made to the view of Alrutz, according to which tickling is a milder degree of itching. It is more convenient and probably more correct to regard itching or pruritus, as it is termed in its pathological forms, as a distinct sensation, for it does not arise under precisely the same conditions as tickling nor is it relieved in the same way. There is interest, however, in pointing out in this connection that, like tickling, itching has a real parallelism to the specialized sexual sensations. Bronson, who has very ably interpreted the sensations of itching (New York Neurological Society, October 7, 1890; Medical News, February 14, 1903, and summarized in the British Medical Journal, March 7, 1903; and elsewhere), regards it as a perversion of the sense of touch, a dysaesthesia due to obstructed nerve-excitation with imperfect conduction of the generated force into correlated nervous energy. The scratching which relieves itching directs the nervous energy into freer channels, sometimes substituting for the pruritus either painful or voluptuous sensations. Such voluptuous sensations may be regarded as a generalized aphrodisiac sense comparable to the specialized sexual orgasm. Bronson refers to the significant fact that itching occurs so frequently in the sexual region, and states that sexual neurasthenia is sometimes the only discoverable cause of genital and anal pruritus. (Cf. discussion on pruritus, British Medical Journal, November 30, 1895.) Gilman, again (American Journal of Psychology, vi, p. 22), considers that scratching, as well as sneezing, is comparable to coitus.

The sexual embrace has an intimate connection with the phenomena of ticklishness which could not fail to be recognized. This connection is, indeed, the basis of Spinoza's famous definition of love,—"Amor est titillatio quaedam concomitante idea causae externae,"—a statement which seems to be reflected in Chamfort's definition of love as "l'echange de deux fantaisies, et le contact de deux epidermes." The sexual act, says Gowers, is, in fact, a skin reflex.[14] "The sexual parts," Hall and Allin state, "have a ticklishness as unique as their function and as keen as their importance." Herrick finds the supreme illustration of the summation and irradiation theory of tickling in the phenomena of erotic excitement, and points out that in harmony with this the skin of the sexual region is, as Dogiel has shown, that portion of the body in which the tactile corpuscles are most thoroughly and elaborately provided with anastomosing fibres. It has been pointed out[15] that, when ordinary tactile sensibility is partially abolished,—especially in hemianaesthesia in the insane,—some sexual disturbance is specially apt to be found in association.

In young children, in girls even when they are no longer children, and occasionally in men, tickling may be a source of acute pleasure, which in very early life is not sexual, but later tends to become so under circumstances predisposing to the production of erotic emotion, and especially when the nervous system is keyed up to a high tone favorable for the production of the maximum effect of tickling.

"When young," writes a lady aged 28, "I was extremely fond of being tickled, and I am to some extent still. Between the ages of 10 and 12 it gave me exquisite pleasure, which I now regard as sexual in character. I used to bribe my younger sister to tickle my feet until she was tired."

Stanley Hall and Allin in their investigation of the phenomena of tickling, largely carried out among young women teachers, found that in 60 clearly marked cases ticklishness was more marked at one time than another, "as when they have been 'carrying on,' or are in a happy mood, are nervous or unwell, after a good meal, when being washed, when in perfect health, when with people they like, etc." (Hall and Allin, "Tickling and Laughter," American Journal of Psychology, October, 1897.) It will be observed that most of the conditions mentioned are such as would be favorable to excitations of an emotionally sexual character.

The palms of the hands may be very ticklish during sexual excitement, especially in women, and Moll (Kontraere Sexualempfindung, p. 180) remarks that in some men titillation of the skin of the back, of the feet, and even of the forehead evokes erotic feelings.

It may be added that, as might be expected, titillation of the skin often has the same significance in animals as in man. "In some animals," remarks Louis Robinson (art. "Ticklishness," Dictionary of Psychological Medicine), "local titillation of the skin, though in parts remote from the reproductive organs, plainly acts indirectly upon them as a stimulus. Thus, Harvey records that, by stroking the back of a favorite parrot (which he had possessed for years and supposed to be a male), he not only gave the bird gratification,—which was the sole intention of the illustrious physiologist,—but also caused it to reveal its sex by laying an egg."

The sexual significance of tickling is very clearly indicated by the fact that the general ticklishness of the body, which is so marked in children and in young girls, greatly diminishes, as a rule, after sexual relationships have been established. Dr. Gina Lombroso, who investigated the cutaneous reflexes, found that both the abdominal and plantar reflexes, which are well marked in childhood and in young people between the ages of 15 and 18, were much diminished in older persons, and to a greater extent in women than in men, to a greater extent in the abdominal region than on the soles of the feet;[16] her results do not directly show the influence of sexual relationship, but they have an indirect bearing which is worth noting.

The difference in ticklishness between the unmarried woman and the married woman corresponds to their difference in degree of modesty. Both modesty and ticklishness may be said to be characters which are no longer needed. From this point of view the general ticklishness of the skin is a kind of body modesty. It is so even apart from any sexual significance of tickling, and Louis Robinson has pointed out that in young apes, puppies, and other like animals the most ticklish regions correspond to the most vulnerable spots in a fight, and that consequently in the mock fights of early life skill in defending these spots is attained.

In Iceland, according to Margarethe Filhes (as quoted by Max Bartels, Zeitschrift fuer Ethnologie, 1900, ht. 2-3, p. 57), it may be known whether a youth is pure or a maid is intact by their susceptibility to tickling. It is considered a bad sign if that is lost.

I am indebted to a medical correspondent for the following communication: "Married women have told me that they find that after marriage they are not ticklish under the arms or on the breasts, though before marriage any tickling or touching in these regions, especially by a man, would make them jump or get hysterical or 'queer,' as they call it. Before coitus the sexual energy seems to be dissipated along all the nerve-channels and especially along the secondary sexual routes,—the breasts, nape of neck, eyebrows, lips, cheeks, armpits, and hair thereon, etc.,—but after marriage the surplus energy is diverted from these secondary channels, and response to tickling is diminished. I have often noted in insane cases, especially mania in adolescent girls, that they are excessively ticklish. Again, in ordinary routine practice I have observed that, though married women show no ticklishness during auscultation and percussion of the chest, this is by no means always so in young girls. Perhaps ticklishness in virgins is Nature's self-protection against rape and sexual advances, and the young girl instinctively wishing to hide the armpits, breasts, and other ticklish regions, tucks herself up to prevent these parts being touched. The married woman, being in love with a man, does not shut up these parts, as she reciprocates the advances that he makes; she no longer requires ticklishness as a protection against sexual aggression."


[5] Alrutz's views are summarized in Psychological Review, Sept., 1901.

[6] Die Spiele der Menschen, 1899, p. 206.

[7] L. Robinson, art. "Ticklishness," Tuke's Dictionary of Psychological Medicine.

[8] Stanley Hall and Allin, "Tickling and Laughter," American Journal of Psychology, October, 1897.

[9] H.M. Stanley, "Remarks on Tickling and Laughter," American Journal of Psychology, vol. ix, January, 1898.

[10] Simpson, "On the Attitude of the Foetus in Utero," Obstetric Memoirs, 1856, vol. ii.

[11] Erasmus Darwin, Zooenomia, Sect. XVII, 4.

[12] Hyades and Deniker, Mission Scientifique du Cap Horn, vol. vii. p. 296.

[13] Such an interpretation is supported by the arguments of W. McDougall ("The Theory of Laughter," Nature, February 5, 1903), who contends, without any reference to the sexual field, that one of the objects of laughter is automatically to "disperse our attention."

[14] Even the structure of the vaginal mucous membrane, it may be noted, is analogous to that of the skin. D. Berry Hart, "Note on the Development of the Clitoris, Vagina, and Hymen," Transactions of the Edinburgh Obstetrical Society, vol. xxi, 1896.

[15] W.H.B. Stoddart, "Anaesthesia in the Insane," Journal of Mental Science, October, 1899.

[16] Gina Lombroso, "Sur les Reflexes Cutanes," International Congress of Criminal Anthropology, Amsterdam, Comptes Rendus, p. 295.


The Secondary Sexual Skin Centres—Orificial Contacts—Cunnilingus and Fellatio—The Kiss—The Nipples—The Sympathy of the Breasts with the Primary Sexual Centres—This Connection Operative both through the Nerves and through the Blood—The Influence of Lactation on the Sexual Centres—Suckling and Sexual Emotion—The Significance of the Association between Suckling and Sexual Emotion—This Association as a Cause of Sexual Perversity.

We have seen that the skin generally has a high degree of sensibility, which frequently tends to be in more or less definite association with the sexual centres. We have seen also that the central and specific sexual sensation, the sexual embrace itself, is, in large measure, a specialized kind of skin reflex. Between the generalized skin sensations and the great primary sexual centre of sensation there are certain secondary sexual centres which, on account of their importance, may here be briefly considered.

These secondary centres have in common the fact that they always involve the entrances and the exits of the body—the regions, that is, where skin merges into mucous membrane, and where, in the course of evolution, tactile sensibility has become highly refined. It may, indeed, be said generally of these frontier regions of the body that their contact with the same or a similar frontier region in another person of opposite sex, under conditions otherwise favorable to tumescence, will tend to produce a minimum and even sometimes a maximum degree of sexual excitation. Contact of these regions with each other or with the sexual region itself so closely simulates the central sexual reflex that channels are set up for the same nervous energy and secondary sexual centres are constituted.

It is important to remember that the phenomena we are here concerned with are essentially normal. Many of them are commonly spoken of as perversions. In so far, however, as they are aids to tumescence they must be regarded as coming within the range of normal variation. They may be considered unaesthetic, but that is another matter. It has, moreover, to be remembered that aesthetic values are changed under the influence of sexual emotion; from the lover's point of view many things are beautiful which are unbeautiful from the point of view of him who is not a lover, and the greater the degree to which the lover is swayed by his passion the greater the extent to which his normal aesthetic standard is liable to be modified. A broad consideration of the phenomena among civilized and uncivilized peoples amply suffices to show the fallacy of the tendency, so common among unscientific writers on these subjects, to introduce normal aesthetic standards into the sexual sphere. From the normal standpoint of ordinary daily life, indeed, the whole process of sex is unaesthetic, except the earlier stages of tumescence.[17]

So long as they constitute a part of the phase of tumescence, the utilization of the sexual excitations obtainable through these channels must be considered within the normal range of variation, as we may observe, indeed, among many animals. When, however, such contacts of the orifices of the body, other than those of the male and female sexual organs proper, are used to procure not merely tumescence, but detumescence, they become, in the strict and technical sense, perversions. They are perversions in exactly the same sense as are the methods of intercourse which involve the use of checks to prevent fecundation. The aesthetic question, however, remains the same as if we were dealing with tumescence. It is necessary that this should be pointed out clearly, even at the risk of misapprehension, as confusions are here very common.

The essentially sexual character of the sensitivity of the orificial contacts is shown by the fact that it may sometimes be accidentally developed even in early childhood. This is well illustrated in a case recorded by Fere. A little girl of 4, of nervous temperament and liable to fits of anger in which she would roll on the ground and tear her clothes, once ran out into the garden in such a fit of temper and threw herself on the lawn in a half-naked condition. As she lay there two dogs with whom she was accustomed to play came up and began to lick the uncovered parts of the body. It so happened that as one dog licked her mouth the other licked her sexual parts. She experienced a shock of intense sensation which she could never forget and never describe, accompanied by a delicious tension of the sexual organs. She rose and ran away with a feeling of shame, though she could not comprehend what had happened. The impression thus made was so profound that it persisted throughout life and served as the point of departure of sexual perversions, while the contact of a dog's tongue with her mouth alone afterward sufficed to evoke sexual pleasure. (Fere, Archives de Neurologie, 1903, No. 90.)

I do not purpose to discuss here either cunnilingus (the apposition of the mouth to the female pudendum) or fellatio (the apposition of the mouth to the male organ), the agent in the former case being, in normal heterosexual relationships, a man, in the latter a woman; they are not purely tactile phenomena, but involve various other physical and psychic elements. Cunnilingus was a very familiar manifestation in classic times, as shown by frequent and mostly very contemptuous references in Aristophanes, Juvenal, and many other Greek and Roman writers; the Greeks regarded it as a Phoenician practice, just as it is now commonly considered French; it tends to be especially prevalent at all periods of high civilization. Fellatio has also been equally well known, in both ancient and modern times, especially as practiced by inverted men. It may be accepted that both cunnilingus and fellatio, as practiced by either sex, are liable to occur among healthy or morbid persons, in heterosexual or homosexual relationships. They have little psychological significance, except to the extent that when practiced to the exclusion of normal sexual relationships they become perversions, and as such tend to be associated with various degenerative conditions, although such associations are not invariable.

The essentially normal character of cunnilingus and fellatio, when occurring as incidents in the process of tumescence, is shown by the fact that they are practiced by many animals. This is the case, for instance, among dogs. Moll points out that not infrequently the bitch, while under the dog, but before intromission, will change her position to lick the dog's penis—apparently from an instinctive impulse to heighten her own and his excitement—and then return to the normal position, while cunnilingus is of constant occurrence among animals, and on account of its frequency among dogs was called by the Greeks skylax (Rosenbaum, Geschichte der Lustseuche im Altertume, fifth edition, pp. 260-278; also notes in Moll, Untersuchungen ueber pie Libido Sexualis, Bd. I, pp. 134, 369; and Bloch, Beitraege zur AEtiologie der Psychopathia Sexualis, Teil II, pp. 216 et seq.)

The occurrence of cunnilingus as a sexual episode of tumescence among lower human races is well illustrated by a practice of the natives of the Caroline Islands (as recorded by Kubary in his ethnographic study of this people and quoted by Ploss and Bartels, Das Weib, vol. i). It is here customary for a man to place a piece of fish between the labia, while he stimulates the latter by his tongue and teeth until under stress of sexual excitement the woman urinates; this is regarded as an indication that the proper moment for intercourse has arrived. Such a practice rests on physiologically sound facts whatever may be thought of it from an aesthetic standpoint.

The contrast between the normal aesthetic standpoint in this matter and the lover's is well illustrated by the following quotations: Dr. A.B. Holder, in the course of his description of the American Indian bote, remarks, concerning fellatio: "Of all the many varieties of sexual perversion, this, it seems to me, is the most debased that could be conceived of." On the other hand, in a communication from a writer and scholar of high intellectual distinction occurs the statement: "I affirm that, of all sexual acts, fellatio is most an affair of imagination and sympathy." It must be pointed out that there is no contradiction in these two statements, and that each is justified, according as we take the point of view of the ordinary onlooker or of the impassioned lover eager to give a final proof of his or her devotion. It must be added that from a scientific point of view we are not entitled to take either side.

Of the whole of this group of phenomena, the most typical and the most widespread example is certainly the kiss. We have in the lips a highly sensitive frontier region between skin and mucous membrane, in many respects analogous to the vulvo-vaginal orifice, and reinforcible, moreover, by the active movements of the still more highly sensitive tongue. Close and prolonged contact of these regions, therefore, under conditions favorable to tumescence sets up a powerful current of nervous stimulation. After those contacts in which the sexual regions themselves take a direct part, there is certainly no such channel for directing nervous force into the sexual sphere as the kiss. This is nowhere so well recognized as in France, where a young girl's lips are religiously kept for her lover, to such an extent, indeed, that young girls sometimes come to believe that the whole physical side of love is comprehended in a kiss on the mouth; so highly intelligent a woman as Madam Adam has described the agony she felt as a girl when kissed on the lips by a man, owing to the conviction that she had thereby lost her virtue. Although the lips occupy this highly important position as a secondary sexual focus in the sphere of touch, the kiss is—unlike cunnilingus and fellatio—confined to man and, indeed, to a large extent, to civilized man. It is the outcome of a compound evolution which had its beginning outside the sphere of touch, and it would therefore be out of place to deal with the interesting question of its development in this place. It will be discussed elsewhere.[18]

There is yet another orificial frontier region which is a highly important tactile sexual focus: the nipple. The breasts raise, indeed, several interesting questions in their intimate connection with the sexual sphere and it may be worth while to consider them at this point.

The breasts have from the present point of view this special significance among the sexual centres that they primarily exist, not for the contact of the lover, but the contact of the child. This is doubtless, indeed, the fundamental fact on which all the touch contacts we are here concerned with have grown up. The sexual sensitivity of the lover's lips to orificial contacts has been developed from the sensitivity of the infant's lips to contact with his mother's nipple. It is on the ground of that evolution that we are bound to consider here the precise position of the breasts as a sexual centre.

As the great secreting organs of milk, the function of the breasts must begin immediately the child is cut off from the nutrition derived from direct contact with his mother's blood. It is therefore essential that the connection between the sexual organs proper, more especially the womb, and the breasts should be exceedingly intimate, so that the breasts may be in a condition to respond adequately to the demand of the child's sucking lips at the earliest moment after birth. As a matter of fact, this connection is very intimate, so intimate that it takes place in two totally distinct ways—by the nervous system and by the blood.

The breasts of young girls sometimes become tender at puberty in sympathy with the evolution of the sexual organs, although the swelling of the breasts at this period is not normally a glandular process. At the recurring periods of menstruation, again, sensations in the breasts are not uncommon.

It is not, however, until impregnation occurs that really decisive changes take place in the breasts. "As soon as the ovum is impregnated, that is to say within a few days," as W.D.A. Griffith states it ("The Diagnosis of Pregnancy," British Medical Journal, April 11, 1903), "the changes begin to occur in the breast, changes which are just as well worked out as are the changes in the uterus and the vagina, which, from the commencement of pregnancy, prepare for the labor which ought to follow nine months afterward. These are changes in the direction of marked activity of function. An organ which was previously quite passive, without activity of circulation and the effects of active circulation, begins to grow and continues to grow in activity and size as pregnancy progresses."

The association between breasts and womb is so obvious that it has not escaped many savage peoples, who are often, indeed, excellent observers. Among one primitive people at least the activity of the breast at impregnation seems to be clearly recognized. The Sinangolo of British New Guinea, says Seligmann (Journal of the Anthropological Institute, July-December, 1902, p. 298) believe that conception takes place in the breasts; on this account they hold that coitus should never take place before the child is weaned or he might imbibe semen with the milk.

It is natural to assume that this connection between the activity of the womb and the glandular activity of the breasts is a nervous connection, by means of the spinal cord, and such a connection certainly exists and plays a very important part in the stimulating action of the breasts on the sexual organs. But that there is a more direct channel of communication even than the nervous system is shown by the fact that the secretion of milk will take place at parturition, even when the nervous connection has been destroyed. Mironoff found that, when the mammary gland is completely separated from the central nervous system, secretion, though slightly diminished, still continued. In two goats he cut the nerves shortly before parturition and after birth the breasts still swelled and functioned normally (Archives des Sciences Biologiques, St. Petersburg, 1895, summarized in L'Annee Biologique; 1895, p. 329). Ribbert, again, cut out the mammary gland of a young rabbit and transplanted it into the ear; five months after the rabbit bore young and the gland secreted milk freely. The case has been reported of a woman whose spinal cord was destroyed by an accident at the level of the fifth and sixth dorsal vertebrae, yet lactation was perfectly normal (British Medical Journal, August 5, 1899, p. 374). We are driven to suppose that there is some chemical change in the blood, some internal secretion from the uterus or the ovaries, which acts as a direct stimulant to the breasts. (See a comprehensive discussion of the phenomena of the connection between the breasts and sexual organs, though the conclusions are not unassailable, by Temesvary, Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology of the British Empire, June, 1903). That this hypothetical secretion starts from the womb rather than the ovaries seems to be indicated by the fact that removal of both ovaries during pregnancy will not suffice to prevent lactation. In favor of the ovaries, see Beatson, Lancet, July, 1896; in favor of the uterus, Armand Routh, "On the Interaction between the Ovaries and the Mammary Glands," British Medical Journal, September 30, 1899.

While, however, the communications from the sexual organs to the breast are of a complex and at present ill understood character, the communication from the breasts to the sexual organs is without doubt mainly and chiefly nervous. When the child is put to the breast after birth the suction of the nipple causes a reflex contraction of the womb, and it is held by many, though not all, authorities that in a woman who does not suckle her child there is some risk that the womb will not return to its normal involuted size. It has also been asserted that to put a child to the breast during the early months of pregnancy causes so great a degree of uterine contraction that abortion may result.

Freund found in Germany that stimulation of the nipples by an electrical cupping apparatus brought about contraction of the pregnant uterus. At an earlier period it was recommended to irritate the nipple in order to excite the uterus to parturient action. Simpson, while pointing out that this was scarcely adequate to produce the effect desired, thought that placing a child to the breast after labor had begun might increase uterine action. (J.Y. Simpson, Obstetric Memoirs, vol. i, p. 836; also Fere, L'Instinct Sexuel, second edition, p. 132).

The influence of lactation over the womb in preventing the return of menstruation during its continuance is well known. According to Remfry's investigation of 900 cases in England, in 57 per cent. of cases there is no menstruation during lactation. (L. Remfry, in paper read before Obstetrical Society of London, summarized in the British Medical Journal, January 11, 1896, p. 86). Bendix, in Germany, found among 140 cases that in about 40 per cent. there was no menstruation during lactation (paper read before Duesseldorf meeting of the Society of German Naturalists and Physicians, 1899). When the child is not suckled menstruation tends to reappear about six months after parturition.

It is possible that the divergent opinions of authorities concerning the necessarily favorable influence of lactation in promoting the return of the womb to its normal size may be due to a confusion of two distinct influences: the reflex action of the nipple on the womb and the effects of prolonged glandular secretion of the breasts in debilitated persons. The act of suckling undoubtedly tends to promote uterine contraction, and in healthy women during lactation the womb may even (according to Vineberg) be temporarily reduced to a smaller size than before impregnation, thus producing what is known as "lactation atrophy." In debilitated women, however, the strain of milk-production may lead to general lack of muscular tone, and involution of the womb thus be hindered rather than aided by lactation.

On the objective side, then, the nipple is to be regarded as an erectile organ, richly supplied with nerves and vessels, which, under the stimulation of the infant's lips—or any similar compression, and even under the influence of emotion or cold,—becomes firm and projects, mainly as a result of muscular contraction; for, unlike the penis and the clitoris, the nipple contains no true erectile tissue and little capacity for vascular engorgement.[19] We must then suppose that an impetus tends to be transmitted through the spinal cord to the sexual organs, setting up a greater or less degree of nervous and muscular excitement with uterine contraction. These being the objective manifestations, what manifestations are to be noted on the subjective side?

It is a remarkable proof of the general indifference with which in Europe even the fairly constant and prominent characteristics of the psychology of women have been treated until recent times that, so far as I am aware,—though I have made no special research to this end,—no one before the end of the eighteenth century had recorded the fact that the act of suckling tends to produce in women voluptuous sexual emotions. Cabanis in 1802, in the memoir on "Influence des Sexes" in his Rapports du Physique et du Moral de l'Homme, wrote that several suckling women had told him that the child in sucking the breast made them experience a vivid sensation of pleasure, shared in some degree by the sexual organs. There can be no doubt that in healthy suckling women this phenomenon is exceedingly common, though in the absence of any methodical and precise investigation it cannot be affirmed that it is experienced by every woman in some degree, and it is highly probable that this is not the case. One lady, perfectly normal, states that she has had stronger sexual feelings in suckling her children than she has ever experienced with her husband, but that so far as possible she has tried to repress them, as she regards them as brutish under these circumstances. Many other women state generally that suckling is the most delicious physical feeling they have ever experienced. In most cases, however, it does not appear to lead to a desire for intercourse, and some of those who make this statement have no desire for coitus during lactation, though they may have strong sexual needs at other times. It is probable that this corresponds to the normal condition, and that the voluptuous sensations aroused by suckling are adequately gratified by the child. It may be added that there are probably many women who could say, with a lady quoted by Fere,[20] that the only real pleasures of sex they have ever known are those derived from their suckling infants.

It is not difficult to see why this normal association of sexual emotion with suckling should have come about. It is essential for the preservation of the lives of young mammals that the mothers should have an adequate motive in pleasurable sensation for enduring the trouble of suckling. The most obvious method for obtaining the necessary degree of pleasurable sensation lay in utilizing the reservoir of sexual emotion, with which channels of communication might already be said to be open through the action of the sexual organs on the breasts during pregnancy. The voluptuous element in suckling may thus be called a merciful provision of Nature for securing the maintenance of the child.

Cabanis seems to have realized the significance of this connection as the basis of the sympathy between mother and child, and more recently Lombroso and Ferrero have remarked (La Donna Delinquente, p. 438) on the fact that maternal love has a sexual basis in the element of venereal pleasure, though usually inconsiderable, experienced during suckling. Houzeau has referred to the fact that in the majority of animals the relation between mother and offspring is only close during the period of lactation, and this is certainly connected with the fact that it is only during lactation that the female animal can derive physical gratification from her offspring. When living on a farm I have ascertained that cows sometimes, though not frequently, exhibit slight signs of sexual excitement, with secretion of mucus, while being milked; so that, as the dairymaid herself observed, it is as if they were being "bulled." The sow, like some other mammals, often eats her own young after birth, mistaking them, it is thought, for the placenta, which is normally eaten by most mammals; it is said that the sow never eats her young when they have once taken the teat.

It occasionally happens that this normal tendency for suckling to produce voluptuous sexual emotions is present in an extreme degree, and may lead to sexual perversions. It does not appear that the sexual sensations aroused by suckling usually culminate in the orgasm; this however, was noted in a case recorded by Fere, of a slightly neurotic woman in whom intense sexual excitement occurred during suckling, especially if prolonged; so far as possible, she shortened the periods of suckling in order to prevent, not always successfully, the occurrence of the orgasm (Fere, Archives de Neurologie No. 30, 1903). Icard refers to the case of a woman who sought to become pregnant solely for the sake of the voluptuous sensations she derived from suckling, and Yellowlees (Art. "Masturbation," Dictionary of Psychological Medicine) speaks of the overwhelming character of "the storms of sexual feeling sometimes observed during lactation."

It may be remarked that the frequency of the association between lactation and the sexual sensations is indicated by the fact that, as Savage remarks, lactational insanity is often accompanied by fancies regarding the reproductive organs.

When we have realized the special sensitivity of the orificial regions and the peculiarly close relationships between the breasts and the sexual organs we may easily understand the considerable part which they normally play in the art of love. As one of the chief secondary sexual characters in women, and one of her chief beauties, a woman's breasts offer themselves to the lover's lips with a less intimate attraction than her mouth only because the mouth is better able to respond. On her side, such contact is often instinctively desired. Just as the sexual disturbance of pregnancy is accompanied by a sympathetic disturbance in the breasts, so the sexual excitement produced by the lover's proximity reacts on the breasts; the nipple becomes turgid and erect in sympathy with the clitoris; the woman craves to place her lover in the place of the child, and experiences a sensation in which these two supreme objects of her desire are deliciously mingled.

The powerful effect which stimulation of the nipple produces on the sexual sphere has led to the breasts playing a prominent part in the erotic art of those lands in which this art has been most carefully cultivated. Thus in India, according to Vatsyayana, many authors are of the opinion that in approaching a woman a lover should begin by sucking the nipples of her breasts, and in the songs of the Bayaderes of Southern India sucking the nipple is mentioned as one of the natural preliminaries of coitus.

In some cases, and more especially in neurotic persons, the sexual pleasure derived from manipulation of the nipple passes normal limits and, being preferred even to coitus, becomes a perversion. In girls' schools, it is said, especially in France, sucking and titillation of the breasts are not uncommon; in men, also, titillation of the nipples occasionally produces sexual sensations (Fere, L'Instinct Sexuel, second edition, p. 132). Hildebrandt recorded the case of a young woman whose nipples had been sucked by her lover; by constantly drawing her breasts she became able to suck them herself and thus attained extreme sexual pleasure. A.J. Bloch, of New Orleans, has noted the case of a woman who complained of swelling of the breasts; the gentlest manipulation produced an orgasm, and it was found that the swelling had been intentionally produced for the sake of this manipulation. Moraglia in Italy knew a very beautiful woman who was perfectly cold in normal sexual relationships, but madly excited when her husband pressed or sucked her breasts. Lombroso (Archivio di Psichiatria, 1885, fasc. IV) has described the somewhat similar case of a woman who had no sexual sensitivity in the clitoris, vagina, or labia, and no pleasure in coitus except in very strange positions, but possessed intense sexual feelings in the right nipple as well as in the upper third of the thigh.

It is remarkable that not only is suckling apt to be accompanied by sexual pleasure in the mother, but that, in some cases, the infant also appears to have a somewhat similar experience. This is, at all events, indicated in a remarkable case recorded by Fere (L'Instinct Sexuel, second edition, p. 257). A female infant child of slightly neurotic heredity was weaned at the age of 14 months, but so great was her affection for her mother's breasts, though she had already become accustomed to other food, that this was only accomplished with great difficulty and by allowing her still to caress the naked breasts several times a day. This went on for many months, when the mother, becoming again pregnant, insisted on putting an end to it. So jealous was the child, however, that it was necessary to conceal from her the fact that her younger sister was suckled at her mother's breasts, and once at the age of 3, when she saw her father aiding her mother to undress, she became violently jealous of him. This jealousy, as well as the passion for her mother's breasts, persisted to the age of puberty, though she learned to conceal it. At the age of 13, when menstruation began, she noticed in dancing with her favorite girl friends that when her breasts came in contact with theirs she experienced a very agreeable sensation, with erection of the nipples; but it was not till the age of 16 that she observed that the sexual region took part in this excitement and became moist. From this period she had erotic dreams about young girls. She never experienced any attraction for young men, but eventually married; though having much esteem and affection for her husband, she never felt any but the slightest sexual enjoyment in his arms, and then only by evoking feminine images. This case, in which the sensations of an infant at the breast formed the point of departure of a sexual perversion which lasted through life, is, so far as I am aware, unique.


[17] Jonas Cohn (Allgemeine AEsthetik, 1901, p. 11) lays it down that psychology has nothing to do with good or bad taste. "The distinction between good and bad taste has no meaning for psychology. On this account, the fundamental conceptions of aesthetics cannot arise from psychology." It may be a question whether this view can be accepted quite absolutely.

[18] See Appendix A: "The Origins of the Kiss."

[19] See J.B. Hellier, "On the Nipple Reflex," British Medical Journal, November 7, 1896.

[20] Fere, L'Instinct Sexuel, second edition, p. 147.


The Bath—Antagonism of Primitive Christianity to the Cult of the Skin—Its Cult of Personal Filth—The Reasons which Justified this Attitude—The World-wide Tendency to Association between Extreme Cleanliness and Sexual Licentiousness—The Immorality Associated with Public Baths in Europe down to Modern Times.

The hygiene of the skin, as well as its special cult, consists in bathing. The bath, as is well known, attained under the Romans a degree of development which, in Europe at all events, it has never reached before or since, and the modern visitor to Rome carries away with him no more impressive memory than that of the Baths of Caracalla. Since the coming of Christianity the cult of the skin, and even its hygiene, have never again attained the same general and unquestioned exaltation. The Church killed the bath. St. Jerome tells us with approval that when the holy Paula noted that any of her nuns were too careful in this matter she would gravely reprove them, saying that "the purity of the body and its garments means the impurity of the soul."[21] Or, as the modern monk of Mount Athos still declares: "A man should live in dirt as in a coat of mail, so that his soul may sojourn more securely within."

Our knowledge of the bathing arrangements of Roman days is chiefly derived from Pompeii. Three public baths (two for both men and women, who were also probably allowed to use the third occasionally) have so far been excavated in this small town, as well as at least three private bathing establishments (at least one of them for women), while about a dozen houses contain complete baths for private use. Even in a little farm house at Boscoreale (two miles out of Pompeii) there was an elaborate series of bathing rooms. It may be added that Pompeii was well supplied with water. All houses but the poorest had flowing jets, and some houses had as many as ten jets. (See Man's Pompeii, Chapters XXVI-XXVIII.)

The Church succeeded to the domination of imperial Rome, and adopted many of the methods of its predecessor. But there could be no greater contrast than is presented by the attitude of Paganism and of Christianity toward the bath.

As regards the tendencies of the public baths in imperial Rome, some of the evidence is brought together in the section on this subject in Rosenbaum's Geschichte der Lustseuche im Alterthume. As regards the attitude of the earliest Christian ascetics in this matter I may refer the reader to an interesting passage in Lecky's History of European Morals (vol. ii, pp. 107-112), in which are brought together a number of highly instructive examples of the manner in which many of the most eminent of the early saints deliberately cultivated personal filth.

In the middle ages, when the extreme excesses of the early ascetics had died out, and monasticiam became regulated, monks generally took two baths a year when in health; in illness they could be taken as often as necessary. The rules of Cluny only allowed three towels to the community: one for the novices, one for the professed, and one for the lay brothers. At the end of the seventeenth century Madame de Mazarin, having retired to a convent of Visitandines, one day desired to wash her feet, but the whole establishment was set in an uproar at such an idea, and she received a direct refusal. In 1760 the Dominican Richard wrote that in itself the bath is permissible, but it must be taken solely for necessity, not for pleasure. The Church taught, and this lesson is still inculcated in convent schools, that it is wrong to expose the body even to one's own gaze, and it is not surprising that many holy persons boasted that they had never even washed their hands. (Most of these facts have been taken from A. Franklin, Les Soins de Toilette, one of the Vie Privee d'Autrefois series, in which further details may be found.)

In sixteenth-century Italy, a land of supreme elegance and fashion, superior even to France, the conditions were the same, and how little water found favor even with aristocratic ladies we may gather from the contemporary books on the toilet, which abound with recipes against itch and similar diseases. It should be added that Burckhardt (Die Cultur der Renaissance in Italien, eighth edition, volume ii, p. 92) considers that in spite of skin diseases the Italians of the Renaissance were the first nation in Europe for cleanliness.

It is unnecessary to consider the state of things in other European countries. The aristocratic conditions of former days are the plebeian conditions of to-day. So far as England is concerned, such documents as Chadwick's Report on the Sanitary Condition of the Laboring Population of Great Britain (1842) sufficiently illustrate the ideas and the practices as regards personal cleanliness which prevailed among the masses during the nineteenth century and which to a large extent still prevail.

A considerable amount of opprobrium has been cast upon the Catholic Church for its direct and indirect influence in promoting bodily uncleanliness. Nietzsche sarcastically refers to the facts, and Mr. Frederick Harrison asserts that "the tone of the middle ages in the matter of dirt was a form of mental disease." It would be easy to quote many other authors to the same effect.

It is necessary to point out, however, that the writers who have committed themselves to such utterances have not only done an injustice to Christianity, but have shown a lack of historical insight. Christianity was essentially and fundamentally a rebellion against the classic world, against its vices, and against their concomitant virtues, against both its practices and its ideals. It sprang up in a different part of the Mediterranean basin, from a different level of culture; it found its supporters in a new and lower social stratum. The cult of charity, simplicity, and faith, while not primarily ascetic, became inevitably allied with asceticism, because from its point of view: sexuality was the very stronghold of the classic world. In the second century the genius of Clement of Alexandria and of the great Christian thinkers who followed him seized on all those elements in classic life and philosophy which could be amalgamated with Christianity without, as they trusted, destroying its essence, but in the matter of sexuality there could be no compromise, and the condemnation of sexuality involved the condemnation of the bath. It required very little insight and sagacity for the Christians to see—though we are now apt to slur over the fact—that the cult of the bath was in very truth the cult of the flesh.[22] However profound their ignorance of anatomy, physiology, and psychology might be, they had before them ample evidence to show that the skin is an outlying sexual zone and that every application which promoted the purity, brilliance, and healthfulness of the skin constituted a direct appeal, feeble or strong as the case might be, to those passions against which they were warring. The moral was evident: better let the temporary garment of your flesh be soaked with dirt than risk staining the radiant purity of your immortal soul. If Christianity had not drawn that moral with clear insight and relentless logic Christianity would never have been a great force in the world.

If any doubt is felt as to the really essential character of the connection between cleanliness and the sexual impulse it may be dispelled by the consideration that the association is by no means confined to Christian Europe. If we go outside Europe and even Christendom altogether, to the other side of the world, we find it still well marked. The wantonness of the luxurious people of Tahiti when first discovered by European voyagers is notorious. The Areoi of Tahiti, a society largely constituted on a basis of debauchery, is a unique institution so far as primitive peoples are concerned. Cook, after giving one of the earliest descriptions of this society and its objects at Tahiti (Hawkesworth, An Account of Voyages, etc., 1775, vol. ii, p. 55), immediately goes on to describe the extreme and scrupulous cleanliness of the people of Tahiti in every respect; they not only bathed their bodies and clothes every day, but in all respects they carried cleanliness to a higher point than even "the politest assembly in Europe." Another traveler bears similar testimony: "The inhabitants of the Society Isles are, among all the nations of the South Seas, the most cleanly; and the better sort of them carry cleanliness to a very great length"; they bathe morning and evening in the sea, he remarks, and afterward in fresh water to remove the particles of salt, wash their hands before and after meals, etc. (J.R. Forster, "Observations made during a Voyage round the World," 1798, p. 398.) And William Ellis, in his detailed description of the people of Tahiti (Polynesian Researches, 1832, vol. i, especially Chapters VI and IX), while emphasizing their extreme cleanliness, every person of every class bathing at least once or twice a day, dwells on what he considers their unspeakable moral debasement; "notwithstanding the apparent mildness of their disposition and the cheerful vivacity of their conversation, no portion of the human race was ever perhaps sunk lower in brutal licentiousness and moral degradation."

After leaving Tahiti Cook went on to New Zealand. Here he found that the people were more virtuous than at Tahiti, and also, he found, less clean.

It is, however, a mistake to suppose that physical uncleanliness ruled supreme through mediaeval and later times. It is true that the eighteenth century, which saw the birth of so much that marks our modern world, witnessed a revival of the old ideal of bodily purity. But the struggle between two opposing ideals had been carried on for a thousand years or more before this. The Church, indeed, was in this matter founded on an impregnable rock. But there never has been a time when influences outside the Church have not found a shelter somewhere. Those traditions of the classic world which Christianity threw aside as useless or worse quietly reappeared. In no respect was this more notably the case than in regard to the love of pure water and the cult of the bath. Islam adopted the complete Roman bath, and made it an institution of daily life, a necessity for all classes. Granada is the spot in Europe where to-day we find the most exquisite remains of Mohammedan culture, and, though the fury of Christian conquest dragged the harrow over the soil of Granada, even yet streams and fountains spring up there and gush abundantly and one seldom loses the sound of the plash of water. The flower of Christian chivalry and Christian intelligence went to Palestine to wrest the Holy Sepulchre from the hands of pagan Mohammedans. They found there many excellent things which they had not gone out to seek, and the Crusaders produced a kind of premature and abortive Renaissance, the shadow of lost classic things reflected on Christian Europe from the mirror of Islam.

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