EARLY RESEARCH ON MARITAL SEX

The intellectual climate which made sex research possible appeared during the 1890s with the work of Freud and Ellis. A major contribution of theirs was to remove sexuality from its status of alienation and discontinuity in other areas of life, bringing it into the cultural consciousness of the late nineteenth-century—an act of inclusion, as Gagnon (1975) described it.

They exposed and brought forward deeply held cultural beliefs about sexuality. The act of including the sexual into life not only as a pathological manifestation but also as it informed and shaped conventional lives was a profound challenge to that elite for whom the sexual existed outside the normal social order (Gagnon).

Although sexuality was a central concern for both Freud and Ellis, neither gave marital sex a special place separate from sex in general. Freud was more interested in psychosexual development and its effect on personality than he was in the sexual lives of married people. Ellis, less interested in distinctions between pathologies and normal behavior, was an unsparing and exhaustive observer of sex in natural settings— what real people really do, all over the world.

Although Freud himself had a conventional marriage in the patriarchal tradition, he was quite aware of its typical constraints, particularly as they affected women. In a 1908 paper, “‘Civilized’ Sexual Morality and Modern Nervousness,” he showed how the double standard of morality, the Victorian ideal of abstinence, and women’s sexual frustrations in marriage brought about neurosis:

Marriage under the present cultural standard has long since ceased to be a panacea for the nervous sufferings of women; even if we physicians in such cases still advise matrimony, we are nevertheless aware that a girl must be very healthy to “stand” marriage. . . . Marital unfaithfulness would … be a much more probable cure for the neurosis resulting from marriage; the more strictly a wife has been brought up, the more earnestly she has submitted to the demands of civilization, the more docs she fear this way of escape, and in conflict between her desires and her sense of duty she again will seek refuge in a neurosis.

Ellis was highly progressive in his attitudes about sexuality. He favored sex education, birth control, trial marriage, and lifting legal and social restrictions against sexual acts of all kinds between consenting adults, and opposed the rigid and narrow definition of marriage in his time. His studies, drawing on anthropological data, case histories and correspondence with friends and other scholars, and his own observations and enormous erudition are unmatched examples of the cultural relativism of sexual behavior and sexual standards. The first essay in the Studies, “The Evolution of Modesty,” was named by Brecher (1971) as “the best introduction I have found to the scientific study of sex”.

Ellis had no illusions about the state of sexual knowledge and of the art of love in his society. “At times one feels hopeless at the thought that civilization in this supremely intimate field of life has achieved so little”. In an essay on “The Play-Function of Sex”, he wrote that the average man had two ideals regarding sex: his wish to prove himself a man, to experience his virility, and to enjoy the pleasurable relief from sexual tension. Both of these, said Ellis, are essentially self-regarding. But “love is not primarily self-regarding. It is the intimate, harmonious, combined play … of two personalities”. Because of these male values, the woman typically attains neither pride in her womanliness nor physical satisfaction. Though she may appear in her role as wife and mother to be playing her proper part in the home and in the world, she remains as emotionally immature and virginal as a schoolgirl (Ellis).

*72/187/5*

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, March 25th, 2009 at 9:12 am and is filed under Men's Health-Erectile Dysfunction. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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