The present volume contains three studies which seem to me to be necessary _prolegomena_ to that analysis of the sexual instinct which must form the chief part of an investigation into the psychology of sex.
The first sketches the main outlines of a complex emotional state which is of fundamental importance in sexual psychology; the second, by bringing together evidence from widely different regions, suggests a tentative explanation of facts that are still imperfectly known; the third attempts to show that even in fields where we assume our knowledge to be adequate a broader view of the phenomena teaches us to suspend judgment and to adopt a more cautious attitude.
So far as they go, these studies are complete in themselves; their special use, as an introduction to a more comprehensive analysis of sexual phenomena, is that they bring before us, under varying aspects, a characteristic which, though often ignored, is of the first importance in obtaining a clear understanding of the facts: the tendency of the sexual impulse to appear in a spontaneous and to some extent periodic manner, affecting women differently from men.
This is a tendency which, later, I hope to make still more apparent, for it has practical and social, as well as psychological, implications. Here–and more especially in the study of those spontaneous solitary manifestations which I call auto-erotic—I have attempted to clear the ground, and to indicate the main lines along which the progress of our knowledge in these fields may best be attained.
It may surprise many medical readers that in the third and longest study I have said little, save incidentally, either of treatment or prevention.
The omission of such considerations at this stage is intentional. It may safely be said that in no other field of human activity is so vast an amount of strenuous didactic morality founded on so slender a basis of facts. In most other departments of life we at least make a pretence of learning before we presume to teach; in the field of sex we content ourselves with the smallest and vaguest minimum of information, often ostentatiously second-hand, usually unreliable.
I wish to emphasize the fact that before we can safely talk either of curing or preventing these manifestations we must know a great deal more than we know at present regarding their distribution, etiology, and symptomatology; and we must exercise the same coolness and caution as–if our work is to be fruitful—we require in any other field of serious study.
We must approach these facts as physicians, it is true, but also as psychologists, primarily concerned to find out the workings of such manifestations in fairly healthy and normal people. If we found a divorce-court judge writing a treatise on marriage we should smile.
But it is equally absurd for the physician, so long as his knowledge is confined to disease, to write regarding sex at large; valuable as the facts he brings forward may be, he can never be in a position to generalize concerning them. And to me, at all events, it seems that we have had more than enough pictures of gross sexual perversity, whether furnished by the asylum or the brothel.
They are only really instructive when they are seen in their proper perspective as the rare and ultimate extremes of a chain of phenomena which we may more profitably study nearer home.
Yet, although we are, on every hand, surrounded by the normal manifestations of sex, conscious or unconscious, these manifestations are extremely difficult to observe, and, in those cases in which we are best able to observe them, it frequently happens that we are unable to make any use of our knowledge.
Moreover, even when we have obtained our data, the difficulties–at all events, for an English investigator–are by no means overcome. He may take for granted that any serious and precise study of the sexual instinct will not meet with general approval; his work will be misunderstood; his motives will be called in question; among those for whom he is chiefly working he will find indifference.
Indeed, the pioneer in this field may well count himself happy if he meets with nothing worse than indifference.
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Studies in the Psychology of Sex by Havelock Ellis, Volume 1 (PDF)