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Married men-medical men-or married women themselves, would, if appealed to, tell a very different tale, and vindicate female nature from the vile aspersions cast on it by the abandoned conduct and ungoverned lusts of a few of its worst examples. I am ready to maintain that there are many females who
sexual excitement whatever. Others, again, immediately after each period, do become to a limited degree, capable of experiencing it; but this capacity is often temporary, and may entirely cease until the next menstrual period. Many of the best mothers, wives, and managers of households, know little of or are careless about sexual indulgences. Love of home, of children, and of domestic duties are the only passions they feel."
As a general rule, a modest woman seldom desires any sexual gratification for herself. She submits to her husband's embraces, but principally to gratify him; and, were it not for the desire of maternity, would far rather be relieved from his attentions. No nervous or feeble young man need, therefore, be deterred from marriage by any exaggerated notion of the arduous duties required from him. Let him be well assured, on my authority backed by the opinion of many, that the married woman has no wish to be placed on the footing of a mistress.
One instance may better illustrate the real state of the case than much description.
In -, 185–, a barrister, about thirty years of age, came to me on account of sexual debility. On cross-examination I found he had been married a twelvemonth, that an attempt at connection had taken place but once since the commencement of the year,
1 The physiologist will not be surprised that the human female should in these respects differ but little from the female among animals. We well know it is a fact that the female animal will not allow the dog or stallion to approach her except at particular seasons. In the human female, indeed I believe it is rather from the wish of pleasing or gratifying the husband than from any strong sexual feeling, that cohabitation is so habitually allowed. Certainly, during the months of gestation this holds good. I have known instances where the female has during gestation evinced positive loathing for any marital familiarity whatever. In some of these cases, indeed, feeling has been sacrificed to duty, and the wife has endured, with all the self-martyrdom of womanhood, what was almost worse than death.
and that even then there was some doubt as to the completion of the act.
He brought his wife with him, as she was, he said, desirous of having some conversation with me.
I found the lady a refined but highly sensitive person. Speaking with a freedom equally removed from assurance, or mauvaise honte, she told me she thought it her duty to consult me. She neither blushed nor faltered in telling her story, and I regret that my words must fail to convey the delicacy with which her avowal was made.
Her husband and herself, she said, had been acquainted from childhood, had grown up together, became mutually attached, and married. She had reason to consider him debilitated, butas she was fully convinced—from no indiscreet acts on his part. She believed it was his natural condition. dotingly attached to him, and would not have determined to consult me, but that she wished for his sake, to have a family, as it would, she hoped, conduce to their mutual happiness. She assured me that she felt no sexual passions whatever; that if she was capable of them they were dormant. Her passion for her husband was of a Platonic kind, and far from wishing to stimulate his frigid feelings, she doubted whether it would be right or not. She loved him as he was, and would not desire him to be otherwise except for the hope of having a family.
I believe this lady is a perfect ideal of an English wife and mother, kind, considerate, self-sacrificing, and sensible, so purehearted as to be utterly ignorant of and averse to any sensual indulgence, but so unselfishly attached to the man she loves, as to be willing to give up her own wishes and feelings for his sake.
In strong contrast to the unselfish sacrifices such married women make of their feelings in allowing cohabitation, stand out others, who, either from ignorance or utter want of sympathy, although they are model wives in every other respect, not only evince no sexual feeling, but, on the contrary, scruple not to declare their aversion to the least manifestation of it. Doubtless this may, and often does, depend upon disease, and if so, the sooner the suffering female is treated the better. Much more frequently, however, it depends upon apathy, selfish indifference to please, or unwillingness to overcome a natural repugnance for cohabitation.
Other mental conditions may influence the female. Thus, the High Church enthusiast may consider it her strictly religious duty to be separated from her husband during the forty days of Lent; and at page 263 I shall give an instance of a wife refusing to cohabit with her husband because she would not again become a mother. I was lately in conversation with a lady who maintains woman's rights to such an extent that she denied the husband any voice in the matter, whether or not cohabitation should take place. She maintained, most strenuously, that as the woman bears the consequences—has all the discomfort of being nine months in the family-way, and thus is obliged to give up her amusements and many of her social relations—considering too that she suffers all the pains and risks of childbirth—a married woman has a perfect right to refuse to cohabit with her husband. I ventured to inform this strong-minded female that such conduct on her part might be, in a medical point of view, highly detrimental to the health of the husband, particularly if he happened to be strongly sexually disposed. She refused to admit the validity of my argument, and replied that such a man, unable to control his feelings, ought to have married a streetwalker, not an intellectually disposed person, who could not and ought not to be obliged to devote her time to duties only compatible with the position of a female drudge or wet-nurse.
I am not prepared to say how for Lord Penzance would receive such evidence in the case of a man seeking a divorce, and I am not aware that counsel has as yet urged such conduct on the part of the female in extenuation of immorality on the part of the husband. Of one thing I am quite certain, that many times in the course of the year I am consulted by conscientious married men, who complain, and I think with reason, that they are debarred from the privileges of marriage, and that their sexual sufferings are great in consequence of being mated to women who think and act as in the above cited instances. I regret to add that medical skill can be of little avail here. The more conscientious the husband and the stronger his sexual feelings, the more distressing are the sufferings he is doomed to undergo, ultimately too often ending in impotence.
Perversion of Sexual Feeling. Where, in addition to the indisposition to cohabitation which many modest women feel, we find a persistent aversion to it, so strong as to be invincible by entreaty or by any amount of kindness on the husband's part, a very painful suspicion may sometimes arise as to the origin of so unconquerable a frigidity.
The following is a case in which these suspicions seemed to be justified by the facts :-A gentleman came to ask my opinion on the cause of want of sexual feeling in his wife. He told me he had been married four years.
His wife was about his own age (twenty-seven), and had had four children, but she evinced no sexual feeling, although a lively, healthy lady, living in the country. I suggested several causes, when he at last asked me if it was possible that a woman might lose sexual feeling from the same cause as men. “I have read your former edition, Mr. Acton,” said he, “and though you only allude to the subject incidentally, yet from what I have learned since my marriage, I am led to think that my wife's want of sexual feeling may arise, if you can affirm to me that such a thing is possible, from selfabuse. She has confessed to me that at a boarding-school, in perfect ignorance of any injurious effects, she early acquired the habit. This practice still gives her gratification ; not so connection, which she views with positive aversion, aithough it gives her no pain.” I told him that medical men, who are consulted about fernale complaints, have not unfrequently observed cases like that of his wife. It appears that, at last, nothing but the morbid excitement produced by the baneful practice can give any sexual gratification, and that the natural stimulus fails to cause any pleasure whatever. A similar phenomenon occurs in men, and this state is seldom got the better of as long as selfabuse is practised. I feared, therefore, that his surmises were correct, and that the lady practised self-abuse more frequently than she was willing to admit. So ruinous is the practice of solitary vice, both in the one and other sex, so difficult is it to give it up, that I fear it may be carried on even in married life, where may here
no excuse can be devised, and may actually come to be preferred to the natural excitement. Veneral excesses engender satiety just as certainly as any other indulgences, and satiety is followed by indifference and disgust. If the unnatural excesses of masturbation take place early in life, before the subjects who commit them have arrived at maturity, it is not surprising that we meet with women whose sexual feelings, if they ever existed, become prematurely worn out. Doubtless sexual feeling differs largely in different women; and although it is not my object to treat otherwise than incidentally of the sexual economy in women, yet I
say that the causes which in early life induces abnormal sexual excitement in boys operate in a similar manner on girls. This tendency may be checked in girls, as in boys, by careful moral education in early life. But no doubt can exist that hereditary predisposition has much to do with this, independently of education and early associations. It is publicly maintained by some credible persons that there are well-known families, for instance, in which chastity is not a characteristic feature among the females. We offer, I hope, no apology for light conduct when we admit that there are some few women who, like men, in consequence of hereditary predisposition or illdirected moral education, find it difficult to restrain their passions, while their more fortunate sisters have never been tempted, and have, therefore, never fallen. This, however, does not alter the fact which I would venture again to impress on the reader, that, in general, women do not feel any great sexual tendencies. The unfortunately large numbers whose lives would seem to prove the contrary are to be otherwise accounted for. Vanity, giddiness, greediness, love of dress, distress, or hunger, make women prostitutes, but do not induce female profligacy so largely as has been supposed.
IV. True Impotence.
1ST STAGE. PERMANENT ABSENCE OF DESIRE. So unusual a phenomenon as an entire absence of sexual desire, alluded to
1 See Author's work on “Prostitution,” 2d edition, p. 167.