Studies in the psychology of sex, volume 4 (of 6) by Havelock Ellis. - HTML preview
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Sexual Selection In Man
I. Touch. Ii. Smell. Iii. Hearing. Iv. Vision.
By HAVELOCK ELLIS
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
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 æsthetic 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 æsthetic
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 æsthetic 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.
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
Lelant, Cornwall, England.
SEXUAL SELECTION IN MAN.
The External Sensory Stimuli Affecting Selection in Man.
The Four Senses
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 Hyperæsthesia 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
The Secondary Sexual Skin Centres. Orificial Contacts.
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
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
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
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.
from the Nose. Reflex Influences from the Genital Sphere. Olfactory
Hallucinations in Insanity as Related to Sexual States.
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.
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
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.
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
Primacy of Vision in Man. Beauty as a Sexual Allurement.
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. Unæsthetic Character of the Sexual Organs. Importance
of the Secondary Sexual Characters. The Pelvis and Hips.
Obesity. Gait. The Pregnant Woman as a Mediæval Type of Beauty. The Ideals
of the Renaissance. The Breasts. The Corset. Its Object.
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.
SEXUAL SELECTION IN MAN.
The External Sensory Stimuli Affecting Selection in Man-
-The Four Senses
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 zoölogical 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. 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.
 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 Hyperæsthesia 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,"
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.
_Die Schönheit des Weiblichen Körpers_, 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 archæological 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 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. Külpe 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. Féré 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.
Rendus Société de Biologie_, July 12, 1902; id., _Pathologic des
Emotions_, pp. 40 et seq.)
Féré 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." (Féré, _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 æsthetic; 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. Féré, 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, 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. 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
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 Féré 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 hyperæsthetic 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 Féré 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.
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.
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,"
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
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_.
 A. Franklin, _Les Soins de Toilette_, p. 81.
 W. James, _Principles of Psychology_, vol. ii. p.
 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--
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. 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.
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," Stanley Hall and Allin remark that
"these minimal touch excitations represent the very oldest stratum of
psychic life in the soul." 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, antennæ, hair,
etc., become permanent and very delicately sensitive organs, where minimal
contacts have very distinct and powerful reactions."
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.
We need not, however, go so far back in the zoölogical 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. 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
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. 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, Ramón 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.
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 hyperæmia, 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, 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.
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 dysæsthesia 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