The Element of Sex in Life

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The Element of Sex in Life


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Truth will out some day. But in general it is the lie that endures for long. Truth is naked, straightforward. It will have no smirking, subterfuge or compromise. See lies adorned in silk and jewels. It is smooth, ingratiating and deceptive. The many, all too many, are dazzled by the pomp and self-importance of lies and follow gladly, unaware of the grinning face beneath the fancy mask.

It is, therefore, not surprising that the most elemental force in human life, sex, should still be degraded and denied.

The two institutions that have for centuries tried to subdue sex, to drive it out by the most fiendish methods, have been the church and morality—the traducers of all that is fine and wholesome in life. But the more the church and morality have attempted to subdue sex, burn it out from the needs of man, the more consumingly and devastatingly sex asserted itself.

It is comparatively of recent years that the truth about sex has broken through the network of falsehood, delusion and snare that have so long haunted man’s mind.


And all [leaders and pioneers in the field of sex psychology] prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that phobias, terrors, neuroses and their mental derangement all have the same sexual origin. More than this, our simplest actions are entirely dependent upon our sexual impulses. The dissimulation imposed by long moral restraint prevented us from recognizing this fundamental truth. But since it is impossible to resist sucg a powerful natural force with impunity, most people were becoming more or less insane: some were completely so, some expressed their sexual aspirations by transitory phobias or monstrous dreams; others, in order to free themselves from them passed almost their whole existence in a waking dream, indifferent to ordinary life. Finally, those who were strongest satisfied their propensities by the aid of a calculating hypocrisy which enabled them to conceal them from the eye of the crowd.

The growing accumulation of Freudian research, the ever-widening consequences of the application of the original doctrines, supply explanations of many problems which used to puzzle us, and often enable us to find material proof of the theory of the unity of energy: we thus see that dream, sleep, normal state of consciousness and psychoses form an integral part of human personality, which reacts by one or other of these manifestations to an external influence, according to the actual phase in the evolution of this force. We note that among these forces acting upon us, the most important, if not the only one, which we can almost always find under the most varied disguises, is the sex impulse:

We have to admit that we cannot deny an actual fact, even if we do not like it, and it is therefore indispensible to recognize this much-maligned sex impulse as the great psychological motive force of humanity.


The late Prof. Dorsey, in “Why We Behave Like Human Beings,” pointed out that psychology has diagnosed the “impurity complex” and shows us what is back of the blatant prude who advertises his or her “purity.” It has also shown that purity of the ignorant when purchased at a price of a stifled natural curiosity is not safe and sane. Prof. Dorsey went on to say that, on the other hand, the study of biology has begun to break down this impurity complex and the unholy, unnatural doctrine begun by early Christian monks that the sex impulse is man’s sign of degradation and the source of his most devilish energy. Nature knows better.


Sex is a primary biological function of all life above the lowest. Its characters and qualities have an ancient lineage. Its impulse is as real as is the force which makes the tides to ebb and flow. It has profoundly influenced structure and behavior. It is a fundamental element of all higher life, its external characters a neat advertising dodge of nature by which she sells her wares and thereby insures her family.

To sex we owe more than poetry; we owe the song of birds, all vocal music and the voice itself, the plumage that comes to supreme glory in the bird of paradise, the mane of the lion, the blush of the maiden, the beard of man, and all higher forms of life in plant and animal worlds. It is woven into every fabric of human life and lays its fingers on every custom. To the debit side of the sex account we must charge many silly stupidities and some of the foulest injustices which go to make the thing we call human culture the amazing and variegated mosaic that it is.

We are more enlightened than we were, but we have not yet reached the stage where the mere mention of sex will not provoke someone to respond with a reproach or an insult. Whole blocks on Main Street assume that “sex knowledge” is of questionable propriety, or, at best, to be kept dark in “doctor books;” or regard it as the banal possession of the frankly shameless. As a result, most pseudo-scientific “sex” literature slops over into the emotions and lets facts alone, or presents facts under disguises. Much of it has no biological background or anything of the laws of life which govern man no less than every living thing. It is fear (sometimes called “reverence”) that makes us “let sex alone.” It is mock modesty and foolish shame, masquerading under the name “decency,” that compels museums to clothe marble fauns and cover Joves and bronze Cupids with plaster-of-Paris fig leaves, often awry or nicked at the corner. Much mawkishness abroad on the question of sex.

Man is “high,” animals are “low”—without minds and or course can have no “souls.” We have. Ours is a “divine” parentage. Hence art, from phidian sculpture to sophomoric poem, tends to the greater glory of man: men and women more like goddesses; gods and goddesses glorified men and women.

And so it came about that the commonest thing in nature next to keeping alive became invested with the sanctity of heaven. Love [missing page?]


[Edward Carpenter quotation]


All the modern writers on sex have proven that the old notion of sex as beginning with puberty is false. The sex impulse like all our impulses begins at birth and ends with death. Though in opposition to other animals, man cannot interpret his sexual appetites by action before the end of a respectable number of years (a wonderful cause of nervous disorders from which animals faithful to the periodic returns of sexual excitement are free), it nonetheless seems as though there was an awakening of sexuality in him from the earliest days of his life; for Freud and school, sexual ideas come into being the time the child is given the breast.

It seems it is not alone the sensation of the satisfaction of appetite which impels the new-born child to seize the breast of his mother or nurse. In this little shapeless ball, in whom the whole range of sensations has not yet come into being, a special, anticipatory imagination causes the pleasure of satisfied appetites to be already complicated by a more specialized enjoyment.

And late it will be from the earliest years that the child’s imagination is turned towards sexual images. Isolated from the world, knowing as yet nothing but family life, already possessed of desires which nature will not allow him to satisfy till a distant future the child will turn his sexual imagination towards the nearest objects, the only ones which he can have in sight. There will be in early infancy an imaginative crisis which will often have a distant reaction upon the sentimental life of the adult.

Psychologists ask us to note:

That the sexual development of the child may take place in three ways:

(1) Appearance of the first phenomena at the very time of birth;

(2) Crisis in later infancy, from four to seven years old, with inversion of normal sentiments, incest, etc;

(3) Crisis of puberty, from about ten to fourteen years of age, followed by a return of the sensations to normal channels.

These psychological manifestations are, no doubt, closely connected with modifications of the internal secretion organs, and, in particular, with sexual development, which is only one department of these glandular activities.

Formerly all these manifestations were met with dense ignorance and stupidity. Over and over again, mothers have whipped and still whip their hapless children when they see the least manifestation of sex. Or they terrorize them and put the stigma of depravity on their children. I could cite hundreds of examples from my own experience as a trained nurse.


Society demands that the young adult man and woman (especially woman) shall repress the sex-impulse for a number of years—often for the whole of their life. The thwarting of such an instinctive urge cannot be achieved in the normal person without interference with health—all sorts of mental and physical disorders may result; and often the impulse, too strong to be thwarted, finds an outlet in some infantile and perverse channel.


In point of truth, many wives dare not give themselves to the uttermost for fear that their husbands would find them too aggressive, lacking in the right kind of femininity. Most men are brought up to believe that woman must be taken and not give herself gladly and joyously in love and passion.

That also prevents the more sensitive of the male species to give themselves freely—they are afraid to outrage and shock the sensibilities and innocence of their wives. You would be surprised how frequent wives do feel shocked and outraged.

Laura, the wife of the captain in Strindberg’s “Father,” gives us the key to the thoughts and feelings of a great many women. She tells her husband, When I first came into your life I was like a second mother to you. I loved you like my child. But when the nature of your feelings changed and you appeared as my lover, I blushed and your embrace was joy that was followed by remorseful conscience as if my blood were ashamed.” That is the tragedy of many women.


What is commonly called incompatibility of temperaments is nearly always the direct result of lack of sexual harmony—the dissatisfaction and friction which arises when the chemical nature of sex in the man and wife fail to blend harmoniously.

Take frigidity in some women largely due to the deadening effect of the sex taboo. Such women cannot even if they try desperately respond to the sex urge in the man. In fact, the very thought of the sexual embrace to such women is torture. Even if the man lacks refinement and imposes his needs on his wife, he will find satisfaction. In the end he seeks gratification elsewhere. Sex is more powerful than all decisions. The man will grow indifferent and in the end insist on divorce, or if he can afford it provide for another ménage for his mistress.


Both the Jewish and Christian religion have imposed the notion of the function of sex as only permissible for the act of procreation. That they may be fruitful, multiply, and replenish the earth, Jehovah permitted the Jews to have many wives. The Christian religion while not permitting many wives and imposing sexual gratification only to bring children into the world is yet perfectly aware of the fact that whether inside or out of marriage sex is being expressed without much regard to procreation. But while religionists and purists cling to their fetish that sex must not be “indulged” in as they term the perfectly natural expression modern biologists and psychologists have torn the veil from all the nonsense pertaining to sex. Whole libraries have been filled with works that treat the subject with understanding and depth and show that there has been an inadequate realization of the tremendous energy back of the sex instinct on the one hand, and, on the other hand, of the biological provisions for the release of this energy along channels not specifically sexual. It is probably absolutely correct to speak of the sex instinct as the creative instinct, and it is equally true that any outlet which offers the emotional satisfaction that comes from creative endeavor has the capability of neutralizing the needs back of the creative craving.

The import of this viewpoint must be fully realized by parents and by their children, for the children reflect them not merely through inheritance, but also by the assimilating of their ideas and ideals. Both must understand and learn to utilize the essentials for developing and satisfying the emotional cravings arising from the sex instinct. It is in this relation that the release of energy long recreational and occupational lines yields the most satisfactory results.

However, the creative spirit is not an antidote to the sex instinct, but a part of its forceful expression. It acts in a conservative manner and utilizes the instinct for forms of satisfaction that are not merely protective in character, but lead on to its greater development, its broadening and deepening in its impress upon innate character and powers of self-direction and control. The non-sexual release of energy sometimes suffices to offset the fundamental needs that lie back of the sexual craving and, in fact, to transmute them into self-satisfying and useful forms of expression.

The man who expressed this thought profoundly and poetically was Friedrich Nietzsche. In “Morality as Anti-Naturalness” he writes: “all passions have a time when they are fatal only, when, with the weight of their folly, they drag their victim down; and they have a later, a very much later, period, when they wed with spirit, when they are ‘ spiritualized.’” Formerly, people waged war against passion itself, on account of the folly involved in it. They conspired for its annihilation. The most notable formula for that view stands in the New Testament, in the sermon on the mount, where, let us say in passing, things are not at all regarded from an elevated point of view. For example, it is there said with application to sexuality, “If thine eye offend thee, pluck it out.” Fortunately, no Christian acts according to this precept. To annihilate passions and desires merely in order to obviate their folly and its unpleasant results appears to us at present as an acute form of folly. The church fights against passion with excision in every sense, its practice, its “cure,” its castrations, it never asks, “how to spiritualize, beautify, and deify a desire?”—it has, at all times, laid the emphasis of discipline upon extermination (of sensuality, of pride, and ambition.)—but to attack the passions at the root means to attack life itself at the root: the praxis of the church is inimical to life………

This truism is already recognized by the thinking. But one phase has remained, namely, that sex though a potent factor must not be held in leash by the unmarried.

Fortunately this prejudice too is being demolished. A recent symposium on “the element of sex in the life of the unmarried adult” gives clear and astounding facts of this subject. To quote only a few given by Dr. Ira Wile in his contribution:

“The unmarried possess the potentials of the married group to which they are definitely related by interest and participation in all the phases of life that affect the well-beings of the married group. Their sex life, in its various forms, is vital to social welfare, just as it is significant for their own personal growth and development.” …

“Admittedly, to study this phase of sex is to ex-  plore one of the uncharted areas of our civilization in  which the residua of barbaric ignorance and fear still  retard progress. Over its depths appears an uninviting,  miasmatic haze of doubt and uncertainty. Few organ-  ized explorations have been made of this state of unmar-  riage. Hence this effort to make a survey of the field  from various angles represents an effort to chart facts,  to trace causal influences, to determine the validity and  worth of current views, and to establish data and  hypotheses which may be of service in interpreting our  age.” …

“For more than two thousand years  the official gratification of procreative urges has been  relegated to the socially recognized state of marriage.  The assumption of society has been that its authorita-  tive prohibition of the biologic mating urge would  postpone its utilization until such a time as the requisite  civil or religious rite gave sanction to its usage. If  society expected external regulations to subjugate physi-  ologic urges and psychologic impulses, have these regu-  lations been effective? Do those living in unmarriage  live in chastity and celibacy? If not, wherein and how  do their sexual behaviors differ from those exhibited  by fellow beings similar in all else except for living in  marriage?”

Sexual activity is not an isolated act—it is a general experience motivating and affecting personality. Out of the total personal reaction emerges ideas of romance and beauty, exaltation and peacefulness, devotion and slavish idealization; or, a sense of sacrifice, tumult, humiliation, shame, anxiety, a desire for self-punishment, or a self-accepted weakness, failure and inadequacy.


To interpret the sex life of the unmarried one must recognize that there are two functions of sex:

One, the biologic, which procreation as a goal—involving some intellectual but more emotional processes in the interest of race preservations.

The other function consists of the promotion of social growth through human relationships. This involves the play function and erotic activity, without or without a procreative goal. There are two bases for the energy of the sexual drive—one, conscious, directed, guided, subjected to ethical controls; the other, unconscious, instinctual, impulsive, reacting to stimuli, but not subject to reason.


Numerous studies have disclosed that the unmarried like the married, have varied sex experiences. Dr. Klatt found that 18 percent of women had some active form of experience under 18 years. Among Dr. Hamilton’s selected professional group, 59 percent of the men and 47 percent of the women had had coitus before marriage, and 20 percent of the males and 16 percent of the females, before 21 years of age. Katherine B. Davis, studying the sex life of 1,200 unmarried college women, reported 61 percent admitting masturbation, of whom 57 percent began before age 15 years.

Sex feelings and desire were experienced with some periodicity in 70 percent of the group reporting on this. The unmarried, no less than the married, reported various forms of sexual phenomena. It is interesting to note that homosexual relations were reported more frequently for the unmarried group. This is significant even though, socially, homosexuality is regarded as more dangerous among men that among women. Much homosexuality among males ceases with confidence in heterosexual potency, as confirmed in mating followed by marriage. […]

Lesbianism is common and its prevalence is important though it does not always involve remaining single. The single group regretted the lack of children more than the lack of husbands. Approximately 38.7 percent believed intercourse necessary for complete mental and physical health. Approximately 20 percent justified sexual intercourse before marriage for men and for women.

Dr. Wile asks, “Are the large numbers of adult single undergraduates and graduates of colleges endowed with less sexual drive  than high school graduates? Do matured adolescents lose their primary instinctive urges when they become adult? Is higher education purchased at the cost of sexual contraction? This is absurd and contrary to all facts.  Sexual activity in one of its many phases exists— whether in active erotic play, auto-erotic, homosexual or heterosexual practice, or as an esthetic or vocational sublimation. Its nature and intensity are subject to personal choice, judgment, standards, and ideals which are regulative but not destructive—temporarily prohibitive rather than permanently inhibitive.

“If one assumes that sexual life is and must be limited by social sanction to those living in wedlock, then what  do those living in unmarriage do or what may they do?  The question is not what can they do, as this is identical for both groups. The actual legal existence of prenuptial guarantees attests the fact of widespread sexual activity among the unmarried” 


Economic inadequacy does not stamp out heterosexual urges any more than the enactment of a punitive law can destroy homosexual impulses. Factually, society recognizes the sexual demands, if not the sexual needs, of the unmarried group in its attitudes toward, and its regulation of, prostitution, homosexual haunts and taxi dance halls.

In other words the unmarried are either driven to artificial methods of sex expression or they will follow the dominant urge in natural relationships. In point of fact they have done with taboos imposed on them for so long, especially since they have come to know of contracepts to prevent bringing undesired children into this wonderful world of ours—a subject I hope to speak about before I leave your city.

Unmarried adults are approaching sex as a fact rather than a theory. They are accepting their sexual organization frankly as an instrument for personal growth and emotional completion with social stabilization, rather than hypocritically as a function designed by divine plan only for the procreation of pure beings whose excuse for living was that they might die in purity to attain happiness in a world to come.

They appreciate that sex is the source of life, but believe that a sexless life is a mockery after biologic maturation, because it is contrary to nature, since sex is also an expression of psychological factors that socialize individuals and lead them to forsake unmarriage for a marriage in harmony with the laws and customs of their age.

All erotic play is genetically related to courtship, but courtship is subject to social control. Hence, the sex life of the normal young unmarried adult, whatever it may be, is preparation for the perfection of mating the promotion of personal happiness and adjustment in some form of marriage, whether free and unconventional common-law or according to civil or religious rite.

Because I so completely agree with this viewpoint and because I know the disastrous and tragic result of the Puritan idea of sex, I find it imperative to call your attention to the need of treating the sex question frankly and without the subterfuge usually employed when referring to the subject. With the greatest and freest spirits and poet Walt Whitman I say, “Where sex is missing everything is missing.” Let us get rid of the mock modesty so prevalent on the surface of polite society. Let us liberate sex from falsehood and degradation and let us realize that sex is a dominant factor for health and harmony in life and in art.

Original Format




Goldman, Emma, 1869-1940, “The Element of Sex in Life,” The Libertarian Labyrinth, accessed September 20, 2019,