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Erotic Symbolism

The Mechanism of Detumescence

The Psychic State in Pregnancy




In this volume the terminal phenomena of the sexual process are discussed,

before an attempt is finally made, in the concluding volume, to consider

the bearings of the psychology of sex on that part of morals which may be

called "social hygiene."

Under "Erotic Symbolism" I include practically all the aberrations of the

sexual instinct, although some of these have seemed of sufficient

importance for separate discussion in previous volumes.

It is highly

probable that many readers will consider that the name scarcely suffices

to cover manifestations so numerous and so varied. The term "sexual

equivalents" will seem preferable to some. While, however, it may be fully

admitted that these perversions are "sexual equivalents"--or at all events

equivalents of the normal sexual impulse--that term is merely a

descriptive label which tells us nothing of the phenomena. "Sexual

Symbolism" gives us the key to the process, the key that makes all these

perversions intelligible. In all of them--very clearly in some, as in

shoe-fetichism; more obscurely in others, as in exhibitionism--it has come

about by causes congenital, acquired, or both, that some object or class

of objects, some act or group of acts, has acquired a dynamic power over

the psycho-physical mechanism of the sexual process, deflecting it from

its normal adjustment to the whole of a beloved person of the opposite

sex. There has been a transmutation of values, and certain objects,

certain acts, have acquired an emotional value which for the normal person

they do not possess. Such objects and acts are properly, it seems to me,

termed symbols, and that term embodies the only justification that in most

cases these manifestations can legitimately claim.

"The Mechanism of Detumescence" brings us at last to the final climax for

which the earlier and more prolonged stage of tumescence, which has

occupied us so often in these _Studies_, is the elaborate preliminary.

"The art of love," a clever woman novelist has written,

"is the art of

preparation." That "preparation" is, on the physiological side, the

production of tumescence, and all courtship is concerned in building up

tumescence. But the final conjugation of two individuals in an explosion

of detumescence, thus slowly brought about, though it is largely an

involuntary act, is still not without its psychological implications and

consequences; and it is therefore a matter for regret that so little is

yet known about it. The one physiological act in which two individuals are

lifted out of all ends that center in self and become the instrument of

those higher forces which fashion the species, can never be an act to be

slurred over as trivial or unworthy of study.

In the brief study of "The Psychic State in Pregnancy"

we at last touch

the point at which the whole complex process of sex reaches its goal. A

woman with a child in her womb is the everlasting miracle which all the

romance of love, all the cunning devices of tumescence and detumescence,

have been invented to make manifest. The psychic state of the woman who

thus occupies the supreme position which life has to offer cannot fail to

be of exceeding interest from many points of view, and not least because

the maternal instinct is one of the elements even of love between the

sexes. But the psychology of pregnancy is full of involved problems, and

here again, as so often in the wide field we have traversed, we stand at

the threshold of a door it is not yet given us to pass.


Carbis Water, Lelant, Cornwall.




The Definition of Erotic Symbolism. Symbolism of Act and Symbolism of

Object. Erotic Fetichism. Wide Extension of the Symbols of Sex. The

Immense Variety of Possible Erotic Fetiches. The Normal Foundations of

Erotic Symbolism. Classification of the Phenomena. The Tendency to

Idealize the Defects of a Beloved Person. Stendhal's



Foot-fetichism and Shoe-fetichism. Wide Prevalence and Normal Basis.

Restif de la Bretonne. The Foot a Normal Focus of Sexual Attraction Among

Some Peoples. The Chinese, Greeks, Romans, Spaniards, etc. The Congenital

Predisposition in Erotic Symbolism. The Influence of Early Association and

Emotional Shock. Shoe-fetichism in Relation to Masochism. The Two

Phenomena Independent Though Allied. The Desire to be Trodden On. The

Fascination of Physical Constraint. The Symbolism of Self-inflicted Pain.

The Dynamic Element in Erotic Symbolism. The Symbolism of Garments.


Scatalogic Symbolism. Urolagnia. Coprolagnia. The Ascetic Attitude Towards

the Flesh. Normal Basis of Scatalogic Symbolism.

Scatalogic Conceptions

Among Primitive Peoples. Urine as a Primitive Holy Water. Sacredness of

Animal Excreta. Scatalogy in Folk-lore. The Obscene as Derived from the

Mythological. The Immature Sexual Impulse Tends to Manifest Itself in

Scatalogic Forms. The Basis of Physiological Connection Between the

Urinary and Genital Spheres. Urinary Fetichism Sometimes Normal in

Animals. The Urolagnia of Masochists. The Scatalogy of Saints. Urolagnia

More Often a Symbolism of Act Than a Symbolism of Object. Only

Occasionally an Olfactory Fetichism. Comparative Rarity of Coprolagnia.

Influence of Nates Fetichism as a Transition to Coprolagnia, Ideal

Coprolagnia. Olfactory Coprolagnia. Urolagnia and Coprolagnia as Symbols

of Coitus.


Animals as Sources of Erotic Symbolism. Mixoscopic Zoophilia. The

Stuff-fetichisms. Hair-fetichism. The Stuff-fetichisms Mainly on a Tactile

Base. Erotic Zoophilia. Zooerastia. Bestiality. The Conditions that Favor

Bestiality. Its Wide Prevalence Among Primitive Peoples and Among

Peasants. The Primitive Conception of Animals. The Goat.

The Influence of

Familiarity With Animals. Congress Between Women and Animals. The Social

Reaction Against Bestiality.


Exhibitionism. Illustrative Cases. A Symbolic Perversion of Courtship. The

Impulse to Defile. The Exhibitionist's Psychic Attitude.

The Sexual Organs

as Fetiches. Phallus Worship. Adolescent Pride in Sexual Development.

Exhibitionism of the Nates. The Classification of the Forms of

Exhibitionism. Nature of the Relationship of Exhibitionism to Epilepsy.


The Forms of Erotic Symbolism are Simulacra of Coitus.

Wide Extension of

Erotic Symbolism. Fetichism Not Covering the Whole Ground of Sexual

Selection. It is Based on the Individual Factor in Selection.

Crystallization. The Lover and the Artist. The Key to Erotic Symbolism is

to be Found in the Emotional Sphere. The Passage to Pathological Extremes.



The Psychological Significance of Detumescence. The Testis and the Ovary.

Sperm Cell and Germ Cell. Development of the Embryo. The External Sexual

Organs. Their Wide Range of Variation. Their Nervous Supply. The Penis.

Its Racial Variations. The Influence of Exercise. The Scrotum and

Testicles. The Mons Veneris. The Vulva. The Labia Majora and their

Varieties. The Public Hair and Its Characters. The Clitoris and Its

Functions. The Anus as an Erogenous Zone. The Nymphæ and their Function.

The Vagina. The Hymen. Virginity. The Biological Significance of the



The Object of Detumescence. Erogenous Zones. The Lips.

The Vascular

Characters of Detumescence. Erectile Tissue. Erection in Woman. Mucous

Emission in Women. Sexual Connection. The Human Mode of Intercourse.

Normal Variations. The Motor Characters of Detumescence.

Ejaculation. The

Virile Reflex. The General Phenomena of Detumescence.

The Circulatory and

Respiratory Phenomena. Blood Pressure. Cardiac Disturbance. Glandular

Activity. Distillatio. The Essentially Motor Character of Detumescence.

Involuntary Muscular Irradiation to Bladder, etc. Erotic Intoxication.

Analogy of Sexual Detumescence and Vesical Tension. The Specifically

Sexual Movements of Detumescence in Man. In Woman. The Spontaneous

Movements of the Genital Canal in Woman. Their Function in Conception.

Part Played by Active Movement of the Spermatozoa. The Artificial

Injection of Semen. The Facial Expression During Detumescence. The

Expression of Joy. The Occasional Serious Effects of Coitus.


The Constituents of Semen. Function of the Prostate. The Properties of

Semen. Aphrodisiacs. Alcohol, Opium, etc.

Anaphrodisiacs. The Stimulant

Influence of Semen in Coitus. The Internal Effects of Testicular

Secretions. The Influence of Ovarian Secretion.


The Aptitude for Detumescence. Is There an Erotic Temperament? The

Available Standards of Comparison. Characteristics of the Castrated.

Characteristics of Puberty. Characteristics of the State of Detumescence.

Shortness of Stature. Development of the Secondary Sexual Characters. Deep

Voice. Bright Eyes. Glandular Activity. Everted Lips.


Profuse Hair. Dubious Significance of Many of These Characters.


The Relationship of Maternal and Sexual Emotion.

Conception and Loss of

Virginity. The Anciently Accepted Signs of This Condition. The Pervading

Effects of Pregnancy on the Organism. Pigmentation. The Blood and

Circulation. The Thyroid. Changes in the Nervous System.

The Vomiting of

Pregnancy. The Longings of Pregnant Women. Mental Impressions. Evidence

for and Against Their Validity. The Question Still Open.

Imperfection of

Our Knowledge. The Significance of Pregnancy.


Histories of Sexual Development.





The Definition of Erotic Symbolism--Symbolism of Act and Symbolism of

Object--Erotic Fetichism--Wide extension of the symbols of Sex--The

Immense Variety of Possible Erotic Fetiches--The Normal Foundations of

Erotic Symbolism--Classification of the Phenomena--The Tendency to

Idealize the Defects of a Beloved Person--Stendhal's


By "erotic symbolism" I mean that tendency whereby the lover's attention

is diverted from the central focus of sexual attraction to some object or

process which is on the periphery of that focus, or is even outside of it

altogether, though recalling it by association of contiguity or of

similarity. It thus happens that tumescence, or even in extreme cases

detumescence, may be provoked by the contemplation of acts or objects

which are away from the end of sexual conjugation.[1]

In considering the phenomena of sexual selection in a previous volume,[2]

it was found that there are four or five main factors in the constitution

of beauty in so far as beauty determines sexual selection. Erotic

symbolism is founded on the factor of individual taste in beauty; it

arises as a specialized development of that factor, but it is,

nevertheless, incorrect to merge it in sexual selection.

The attractive

characteristics of a beloved woman or man, from the point of view of

sexual selection, are a complex but harmonious whole leading up to a

desire for the complete possession of the person who displays them. There

is no tendency to isolate and dissociate any single character from the

individual and to concentrate attention upon that character at the expense

of the attention bestowed upon the individual generally.

As soon as such a

tendency begins to show itself, even though only in a slight or temporary

form, we may say that there is erotic symbolism.

Erotic symbolism is, however, by no means confined to the individualizing

tendency to concentrate amorous attention upon some single characteristic

of the adult woman or man who is normally the object of sexual love. The

adult human being may not be concerned at all, the attractive object or

act may not even be human, not even animal, and we may still be concerned

with a symbol which has parasitically rooted itself on the fruitful site

of sexual emotion and absorbed to itself the energy which normally goes

into the channels of healthy human love having for its final end the

procreation of the species. Thus understood in its widest sense, it may be

said that every sexual perversion, even homosexuality, is a form of erotic

symbolism, for we shall find that in every case some object or act that

for the normal human being has little or no erotic value, has assumed such

value in a supreme degree; that is to say, it has become a symbol of the

normal object of love. Certain perversions are, however, of such great

importance on account of their wide relationships, that they cannot be

adequately discussed merely as forms of erotic symbolism. This is notably

the case as regards homosexuality, auto-erotism, and algolagnia, all of

which phenomena have therefore been separately discussed in previous

studies. We are now mainly concerned with manifestations which are more

narrowly and exclusively symbolical.

A portion of the field of erotic symbolism is covered by what Binet

(followed by Lombroso, Krafft-Ebing, and others) has termed "erotic

fetichism," or the tendency whereby sexual attraction is unduly exerted by

some special part or peculiarity of the body, or by some inanimate object

which has become associated with it. Such erotic symbolism of object

cannot, however, be dissociated from the even more important erotic

symbolism of process, and the two are so closely bound together that we

cannot attain a truly scientific view of them until we regard them broadly

as related parts of a common psychic tendency. If, as Groos asserts,[3] a

symbol has two chief meanings, one in which it indicates a physical

process which stands for a psychic process, and another in which it

indicates a part which represents the whole, erotic symbolism of act

corresponds to the first of these chief meanings, and erotic symbolism of

object to the other.

Although it is not impossible to find some germs of erotic symbolism in

animals, in its more pronounced manifestations it is only found in the

human species. It could not be otherwise, for such symbolism involves not

only the play of fancy and imagination, the idealizing aptitude, but also

a certain amount of power of concentrating the attention on a point

outside the natural path of instinct and the ability to form new mental

constructions around that point. There are, indeed, as we shall see,

elementary forms of erotic symbolism which are not uncommonly associated

with feeble-mindedness, but even these are still peculiarly human, and in

its less crude manifestations erotic symbolism easily lends itself to

every degree of human refinement and intelligence.

"It depends primarily upon an increase of the psychological

process of representation," Colin Scott remarks of sexual

symbolism generally, "involving greater powers of comparison and

analysis as compared with the lower animals. The outer

impressions come to be clearly distinguished as such, but at the

same time are often treated as symbols of inner experiences, and

a meaning read into them which they would not otherwise possess.

Symbolism or fetichism is, indeed, just the capacity to see

meaning, to emphasize something for the sake of other things

which do not appear. In brain terms it indicates an activity of

the higher centers, a sort of side-tracking or long-circuiting of

the primitive energy; ... Rosetti's poem, 'The Woodspurge,'

gives a concrete example of the formation of such a symbol. Here

the otherwise insignificant presentation of the three-cupped

woodspurge, representing originally a mere side-current of the

stream of consciousness, becomes the intellectual symbol or

fetich of the whole psychosis forever after. It seems, indeed, as

if the stronger the emotion the more likely will become the

formation of an overlying symbolism, which serves to focus and

stand in the place of something greater than itself; nowhere at

least is symbolism a more characteristic feature than as an

expression of the sexual instinct. The passion of sex, with its

immense hereditary background, in early man became centered often

upon the most trivial and unimportant features....


symbolism, now become fetichistic, or symbolic in a bad sense, is

at least an exercise of the increasing representative power of

man, upon which so much of his advancement has depended, while it

also served to express and help to purify his most perennial

emotion." (Colin Scott, "Sex and Art," _American Journal of

Psychology_, vol. vii, No. 2, p. 189.) In the study of "Love and Pain" in a previous volume, the analysis of the

large and complex mass of sexual phenomena which are associated with pain,

gradually resolved them to a considerable extent into a special case of

erotic symbolism; pain or restraint, whether inflicted on or by the loved

person, becomes, by a psychic process that is usually unconscious, the

symbol of the sexual mechanism, and hence arouses the same emotions as

that mechanism normally arouses. We may now attempt to deal more broadly

and comprehensively with the normal and abnormal aspects of erotic

symbolism in some of their most typical and least mixed forms.

"When our human imagination seeks to animate artificial things," Huysmans

writes in _Là-bas_, "it is compelled to reproduce the movements of animals

in the act of propagation. Look at machines, at the play of pistons in the

cylinders; they are Romeos of steel in Juliets of cast-iron." And not only

in the work of man's hands but throughout Nature we find sexual symbols

which are the less deniable since, for the most part, they make not the

slightest appeal to even the most morbid human imagination. Language is

full of metaphorical symbols of sex which constantly tend to lose their

poetic symbolism and to become commonplace. Semen is but seed, and for the

Latins especially the whole process of human sex, as well as the male and

female organs, constantly presented itself in symbols derived from

agricultural and horticultural life. The testicles were beans (_fabæ_) and

fruit or apples (_poma_ and _mala_); the penis was a tree (_arbor_), or a

stalk (_thyrsus_), or a root (_radix_), or a sickle (_falx_), or a

ploughshare (_vomer_). The semen, again, was dew (_ros_). The labia majora

or minora were wings (_alæ_); the vulva and vagina were a field (_ager_

and _campus_), or a ploughed furrow (_sulcus_), or a vineyard (_vinea_),

or a fountain (_fons_), while the pudendal hair was herbage

(_plantaria_).[4] In other languages it is not difficult to trace similar

and even identical imagery applied to sexual organs and sexual acts. Thus

it is noteworthy that Shakespeare more than once applies the term

"ploughed" to a woman who has had sexual intercourse.

The Talmud calls the

labia minora the doors, the labia majora hinges, and the clitoris the key.

The Greeks appear not only to have found in the myrtle-berry, the fruit of

a plant sacred to Venus, the image of the clitoris, but also in the rose

an image of the feminine labia; in the poetic literature of many

countries, indeed, this imagery of the rose may be traced in a more or

less veiled manner.[5]

The widespread symbolism of sex arose in the theories and conceptions of

primitive peoples concerning the function of generation and its nearest

analogies in Nature; it was continued for the sake of the vigorous and

expressive terminology which it furnished both for daily life and for

literature; its final survivals were cultivated because they furnished a

delicately æsthetic method of approaching matters which a growing

refinement of sentiment made it difficult for lovers and poets to approach

in a more crude and direct manner. Its existence is of interest to us now

because it shows the objective validity of the basis on which erotic

symbolism, as we have here to understand it, develops.

But from first to

last it is a distinct phenomenon, having a more or less reasoned and

intellectual basis, and it scarcely serves in any degree to feed the

sexual impulse. Erotic symbolism is not intellectual but emotional in its

origin; it starts into being, obscurely, with but a dim consciousness or

for the most part none at all, either suddenly from the shock of some

usually youthful experience, or more gradually through an instinctive

brooding on those things which are most intimately associated with a

sexually desirable person.

The kind of soil on which the germs of erotic symbolism may

develop is well seen in cases of sexual hyperæsthesia. In such

cases all the emotionally sexual analogies and resemblances,

which in erotic symbolism are fixed and organized, may be traced

in vague and passing forms, a single hyperæsthetic individual

perhaps presenting a great variety of germinal symbolisms.

Thus it has been recorded of an Italian nun (whose sister became

a prostitute) that from the age of 8 she had desire for coitus,

from the age of 10 masturbated, and later had homosexual

feelings, that the same feelings and practices continued after

she had taken the veil, though from time to time they assumed

religious equivalents. The mere contact, indeed, of a priest's

hand, the news of the presentation of an ecclesiastic she had

known to a bishopric, the sight of an ape, the contemplation of

the crucified Christ, the figure of a toy, the picture of a

demon, the act of defecation in the children entrusted to her

care (whom, on this account, and against the regulations, she

would accompany to the closets), especially the sight and the

mere recollection of flies in sexual connection--all these things

sufficed to produce in her a powerful orgasm.

(_Archivio di

Psichiatria_, 1902, fasc. II-III, p. 338.) A boy of 15 (given to masturbation), studied by Macdonald in

America, was similarly hyperæsthetic to the symbols of sexual

emotion. "I like amusing myself with my comrades,"

he told

Macdonald, "rolling ourselves into a ball, which gives one a

funny kind of warmth. I have a special pleasure in talking about

some things. It is the same when the governess kisses me on

saying good night or when I lean against her breast.

I have that

sensation, too, when I see some of the pictures in the comic

papers, but only in those representing a woman, as when a young

man skating trips up a girl so that her clothes are raised a

little. When I read how a man saved a young girl from drowning,

so that they swam together, I had the same sensation. Looking at

the statues of women in the museum produces the same effect, or

when I see naked babies, or when a mother suckles a child. I

have often had that sensation when reading novels I ought not to

read, or when looking at a new-born calf, or seeing dogs and cows

and horses mounting on each other. When I see a girl flirting

with a boy, or leaning on his shoulder or with his arm round her

waist, I have an erection. It is the same when I see women and

little girls in bathing costume, or when boys talk of what their

fathers and mothers do together. In the Natural History Museum I

often see things which give me that sensation. One day when I

read how a man killed a young girl and carried her into a wood

and undressed her I had a feeling of enjoyment. When I read of

men who were bastards the idea of a woman having a child in that

way gives me this sensation. Some dances, and seeing young girls

astride a horse, excited me, too, and so in a circus when a woman

was shot out of a cannon and her skirts flew in the air. It has

no effect on me when I see men naked. Sometimes I enjoy seeing

women's underclothes in a shop, or when I see a lady or a girl

buying them, especially if they are drawers. When I saw a lady in

a dress which buttoned from top to bottom it had more effect on

me than seeing underclothes. Seeing dogs coupling gives me more

pleasure than looking at pretty women, but less than looking at

pretty little girls." In order of increasing intensity he placed

the phenomena that affected him thus: The coupling of flies, then

of horses, then the sight of women's undergarments, then a boy

and a girl flirting, then cows mounting on each other, the

statues of women with naked breasts, then contact with the

governess's body and breasts, finally coitus.

(Arthur Macdonald,

_Le Criminel-Type_, pp. 126 et seq.)

It is worthy of remark that the instinct of nutrition, when

restrained, may exhibit something of an analogous symbolism,

though in a minor degree, to that of sex. The ways in which a

hyperæsthetic hunger may seek its symbols are illustrated in the

case of a young woman called Nadia, who during several years was

carefully studied by Janet. It is a case of obsession ("maladie

du scrupule"), simulating hysterical anorexia, in which the

patient, for fear of getting fat, reduced her nourishment to the

smallest possible amount. "Nadia is generally hungry, even very

hungry. One can tell this by her actions; from time to time she

forgets herself to such an extent as to devour greedily anything

she can put her hands on. At other times, when she cannot resist

the desire to eat, she secretly takes a biscuit. She feels

horrible remorse for the action, but, all the same, she does it

again. Her confidences are very curious. She recognizes that a

great effort is needed to avoid eating, and considers she is a

heroine to resist so long. 'Sometimes I spent whole hours in

thinking about food, I was so hungry; I swallowed my saliva, I

bit my handkerchief, I rolled on the floor, I wanted to eat so

badly. I would look in books for descriptions of meals and

feasts, and tried to deceive my hunger by imagining that I was

sharing all these good things,'" (P. Janet, "La Maladie du

Scrupule," _Revue Philosophique_, May, 1901, p.

502.) The

deviations of the instinct of nutrition are, however, confined

within narrow limits, and, in the nature of things, hunger,

unlike sexual desire, cannot easily accept a fetich.

"There is almost no feature, article of dress, attitude, act," Stanley

Hall declares, "or even animal or perhaps object in nature, that may not

have to some morbid soul specialized erogenic and erethic power."[6] Even

a mere shadow may become a fetich. Goron tells of a merchant in Paris--a

man with a reputation for ability, happily married and the father of a

family, altogether irreproachable in his private life--

who was returning

home one evening after a game of billiards with a friend, when, on

chancing to raise his eyes, he saw against a lighted window the shadow of

a woman changing her chemise. He fell in love with that shadow and

returned to the spot every evening for many months to gaze at the window.

Yet--and herein lies the fetichism--he made no attempt to see the woman or

to find out who she was; the shadow sufficed; he had no need of the

realty.[7] It is even possible to have a negative fetich, the absence of

some character being alone demanded, and the case has been recorded in

Chicago of an American gentleman of average intelligence, education, and

good habits who, having as a boy cherished a pure affection for a girl

whose leg had been amputated, throughout life was relatively impotent with

normal women, but experienced passion and affection for women who had lost

a leg; he was found by his wife to be in extensive correspondence with

one-legged women all over the country, expending no little money on the

purchase of artificial legs for his various protegées.[8]

It is important to remember, however, that while erotic symbolism becomes

fantastic and abnormal in its extreme manifestations, it is in its

essence absolutely normal. It is only in the very grossest forms of sexual

desire that it is altogether absent. Stendhal described the mental side of

the process of tumescence as a crystallization, a process whereby certain

features of the beloved person present points around which the emotions

held in solution in the lover's mind may concentrate and deposit

themselves in dazzling brilliance. This process inevitably tends to take

place around all those features and objects associated with the beloved

person which have most deeply impressed the lover's mind, and the more

sensitive and imaginative and emotional he is the more certainly will such

features and objects crystallize into erotic symbols.

"Devotion and love,"

wrote Mary Wollstonecraft, "may be allowed to hallow the garments as well

as the person, for the lover must want fancy who has not a sort of sacred

respect for the glove or slipper of his mistress. He would not confound

them with vulgar things of the same kind." And nearly two centuries

earlier Burton, who had gathered together so much of the ancient lore of

love, clearly asserted the entirely normal character of erotic symbolism.

"Not one of a thousand falls in love," he declares, "but there is some

peculiar part or other which pleaseth most, and inflames him above the

rest.... If he gets any remnant of hers, a busk-point, a feather of her

fan, a shoe-tie, a lace, a ring, a bracelet of hair, he wears it for a

favor on his arm, in his hat, finger, or next his heart; as Laodamia did

by Protesilaus, when he went to war, sit at home with his picture before

her: a garter or a bracelet of hers is more precious than any Saint's

Relique, he lays it up in his casket (O blessed Relique) and every day

will kiss it: if in her presence his eye is never off her, and drink he

will where she drank, if it be possible, in that very place," etc.[9]

Burton's accuracy in describing the ways of lovers in his century

is shown by a passage in Hamilton's _Mémoires de Gramont_. Miss

Price, one of the beauties of Charles II's court, and Dongan were

tenderly attached to each other; when the latter died he left

behind a casket full of all possible sorts of love-tokens

pertaining to his mistress, including, among other things, "all

kinds of hair." And as regards France, Burton's contemporary,

Howell, wrote in 1627 in his _Familiar Letters_

concerning the

repulse of the English at Rhé: "A captain told me that when they

were rifling the dead bodies of the French gentlemen after the

first invasion they found that many of them had their mistresses'

favors tied about their genitories."

Schurig (_Spermatologia_, p. 357) at the beginning of the

eighteenth century knew a Belgian lady who, when her dearly loved

husband died, secretly cut off his penis and treasured it as a

sacred relic in a silver casket. She eventually powdered it, he

adds, and found it an efficacious medicine for herself and

others. An earlier example, of a lady at the French court who

embalmed and perfumed the genital organs of her dead husband,

always preserving them in a gold casket, is mentioned by

Brantôme. Mantegazza knew a man who kept for many years on his

desk the skull of his dead mistress, making it his dearest

companion. "Some," he remarks, "have slept for months and years

with a book, a garment, a trifle. I once had a friend who would

spend long hours of joy and emotion kissing a thread of silk

which _she_ had held between her fingers, now the only relic of

love." (Mantegazza, _Fisiologia dell' Amore_, cap.

X.) In the

same way I knew a lady who in old age still treasured in her

desk, as the one relic of the only man she had ever been

attracted to, a fragment of paper he had casually twisted up in a

conversation with her half a century before.

The tendency to treasure the relics of a beloved person, more especially

the garments, is the simplest and commonest foundation of erotic

symbolism. It is without doubt absolutely normal. It is inevitable that

those objects which have been in close contact with the beloved person's

body, and are intimately associated with that person in the lover's mind,

should possess a little of the same virtue, the same emotional potency. It

is a phenomenon closely analogous to that by which the relics of saints

are held to possess a singular virtue. But it becomes somewhat less normal

when the garment is regarded as essential even in the presence of the

beloved person.[10]

While an extremely large number of objects and acts may be found to

possess occasionally the value of erotic symbols, such symbols most

frequently fall into certain well-defined groups. A vast number of

isolated objects or acts may be exceptionally the focus of erotic

contemplation, but the objects and acts which frequently become thus

symbolic are comparatively few.

It seems to me that the phenomena of erotic symbolism may be most

conveniently grouped in three great classes, on the basis of the objects

or acts which arouse them.

I. PARTS OF THE BODY.--_A. Normal:_ Hand, foot, breasts, nates, hair,

secretions and excretions, etc.

_B. Abnormal:_ Lameness, squinting, pitting of smallpox, etc. Paidophilia

or the love of children, presbyophilia or the love of the aged, and

necrophilia or the attraction for corpses, may be included under this

head, as well as the excitement caused by various animals.

II. INANIMATE OBJECTS.[11]--_A. Garments:_ Gloves, shoes and stockings and

garters, caps, aprons, handkerchiefs, underlinen.

_B. Impersonal Objects:_ Here may be included all the various objects that

may accidentally acquire the power of exciting sexual feeling in

auto-erotism. Pygmalionism may also be included.

III. ACTS AND ATTITUDES.--_A. Active:_ Whipping, cruelty, exhibitionism.

_B. Passive:_ Being whipped, experiencing cruelty.

Personal odors and the

sound of the voice may be included under this head. _C.

Mixoscopic:_ The

vision of climbing, swinging, etc. The acts of urination and defecation.

The coitus of animals.

Although the three main groups into which the phenomena of erotic

symbolism are here divided may seem fairly distinct, they are yet very

closely allied, and indeed overlap, so that it is possible, as we shall

see, for a single complex symbol to fall into all three groups.

A very complete kind of erotic symbolism is furnished by Pygmalionism or

the love of statues.[12] It is exactly analogous to the child's love of a

doll, which is also a form of sexual (though not erotic) symbolism. In a

somewhat less abnormal form, erotic symbolism probably shows itself in its

simplest shape in the tendency to idealize unbeautiful peculiarities in a

beloved person, so that such peculiarities are ever afterward almost or

quite essential in order to arouse sexual attraction. In this way men have

become attracted to limping women. Even the most normal man may idealize a

trifling defect in a beloved woman. The attention is inevitably

concentrated on any such slight deviation from regular beauty, and the

natural result of such concentration is that a complexus of associated

thoughts and emotions becomes attached to something that in itself is

unbeautiful. A defect becomes an admired focus of attention, the embodied

symbol of the lover's emotion.

Thus a mole is not in itself beautiful, but by the tendency to

erotic symbolism it becomes so. Persian poets especially have

lavished the richest imagery on moles (_Anis El-Ochchâq_ in

_Bibliothèque des Hautes Etudes_, fasc, 25, 1875); the Arabs, as

Lane remarks (_Arabian Society in the Middle Ages_, p. 214), are

equally extravagant in their admiration of a mole.

Stendhal long since well described the process by which a defect

becomes a sexual symbol. "Even little defects in a woman's face,"

he remarked, "such as a smallpox pit, may arouse the tenderness

of a man who loves her, and throw him into deep reverie when he

sees them in another woman. It is because he has experienced a

thousand feelings in the presence of that smallpox mark, that

these feelings have been for the most part delicious, all of the

highest interest, and that, whatever they may have been, they are

renewed with incredible vivacity on the sight of this sign, even

when perceived on the face of another woman. If in such a case we

come to prefer and love _ugliness_, it is only because in such a

case ugliness is beauty. A man loved a woman who was very thin

and marked by smallpox; he lost her by death. Three years later,

in Rome, he became acquainted with two women, one very beautiful,

the other thin and marked by smallpox, on that account, if you

will, rather ugly. I saw him in love with this plain one at the

end of a week, which he had employed in effacing her plainness by

his memories." (_De l'Amour_, Chapter XVII.) In the tendency to idealize the unbeautiful features of a beloved person

erotic symbolism shows itself in a simple and normal form. In a less

simple and more morbid form it appears in persons in whom the normal paths

of sexual gratification are for some reasons inhibited, and who are thus

led to find the symbols of natural love in unnatural perversions. It is

for this reason that so many erotic symbolisms take root in childhood and

puberty, before the sexual instincts have reached full development. It is

for the same reason also, that, at the other end of life, when the sexual

energies are failing, erotic symbols sometimes tend to be substituted for

the normal pleasures of sex. It is for this reason, again, that both men

and women whose normal energies are inhibited sometimes find the symbols

of sexual gratification in the caresses of children.

The case of a schoolmistress recorded by Penta instructively

shows how an erotic symbolism of this last kind may develop by no

means as a refinement of vice, but as the one form in which

sexual gratification becomes possible when normal gratification

has been pathologically inhibited. F.R., aged 48, schoolmistress;

she was some years ago in an asylum with religious mania, but

came out well in a few months. At the age of 12 she had first

experienced sexual excitement in a railway train from the jolting

of the carriage. Soon after she fell in love with a youth who

represented her ideal and who returned her affection. When,

however, she gave herself to him, great was her disillusion and

surprise to find that the sexual act which she had looked forward

to could not be accomplished, for at the first contact there was

great pain and spasmodic resistance of the vagina.

There was a

condition of vaginismus. After repeated attempts on subsequent

occasions her lover desisted. Her desire for intercourse

increased, however, rather than diminished, and at last she was

able to tolerate coitus, but the pain was so great that she

acquired a horror of the sexual embrace and no longer sought it.

Having much will power, she restrained all erotic impulses during

many years. It was not until the period of the menopause that the

long repressed desires broke out, and at last found a symbolical

outlet that was no longer normal, but was felt to supply a

complete gratification. She sought the close physical contact of

the young children in her care. She would lie on her bed naked,

with two or three naked children, make them suck her breasts and

press them to every part of her body. Her conduct was discovered

by means of other children who peeped through the keyhole, and

she was placed under Penta for treatment. In this case the loss

of moral and mental inhibition, due probably to troubles of the

climacteric, led to indulgence, under abnormal conditions, in

those primitive contacts which are normally the beginning of

love, and these, supported by the ideal image of the early lover,

constituted a complete and adequate symbol of natural love in a

morbidly perverted individual. (P. Penta, _Archivio delle

Psicopatie Sessuali_, January, 1896.)


[1] The term "erotic symbolism" has already been employed by Eulenburg

(_Sexuale Neuropathie_, 1895, p. 101). It must be borne in mind that this

term, implying the specific emotion, is much narrower than the term

"sexual symbolism," which may be used to designate a great variety of

ritual and social practices which have played a part in the evolution of


[2] _Sexual Selection in Man_, iv, "Vision."

[3] K. Groos, _Der Æsthetische Genuss_, p. 122. The psychology of the

associations of contiguity and resemblance through which erotic symbolism

operates its transference is briefly discussed by Ribot in the _Psychology

of the Emotions_, Part 1, Chapter XII; the early chapters of the same

author's _Logique des Sentiments_ may also be said to deal with the

emotional basis on which erotic symbolism arises.

[4] A number of synonyms for the female pudenda are brought together by

Schurig--cunnus, hortus, concha, navis, fovea, larva, canis, annulus,

focus, cymba, antrum, delta, myrtus, etc.--and he discusses many of them.

(_Muliebria_, Section I, cap. I.)

[5] Kleinpaul, _Sprache Ohne Worte_, pp. 24-29; cf. K.

Pearson, on the

general and special words for sex, _Chances of Death_, vol. ii, pp.

112-245; a selection of the literature of the rose will be found in a

volume of translations entitled _Ros Rosarum_.

[6] G.S. Hall, _Adolescence_, vol. i, p. 470.

[7] Goron, _Les Parias de l'Amour_, p. 45.

[8] A.R. Reynolds, _Medical Standard_, vol. x, cited by Kiernan,

"Responsibility in Sexual Perversion," _American Journal of Neurology and

Psychiatry_, 1882.

[9] R. Burton, _Anatomy of Melancholy_, Part III, Section II, Mem. II,

Subs. II, and Mem. III, Subs. I.

[10] Numerous examples are given by Moll, _Konträre Sexualempfindung_,

third edition, pp. 265-268.

[11] Chevalier (_De l'Inversion_, 1885; id., _L'Inversion Sexuelle_, 1892,

p. 52), followed by E. Laurent (_L'Amour Morbide_, 1891, Chapter X),

separates this group from other fetichistic perversions, under the head of

"azoöphilie." I see no adequate ground for this step.

The various forms of

fetichism are too intimately associated to permit of any group of them

being violently separated from the others.

[12] This has already been considered as a perversion founded on vision,

in discussing _Sexual Selection in Man_. IV.


Foot-fetichism and Shoe-fetichism--Wide Prevalence and Normal

Basis--Restif de la Bretonne--The Foot a Normal Focus of Sexual Attraction

Among Some Peoples--The Chinese, Greeks, Romans, Spaniards, etc.--The

Congenital Predisposition in Erotic Symbolism--The Influence of Early

Association and Emotional Shock--Shoe-fetichism in Relation to

Masochism--The Two Phenomena Independent Though Allied--

The Desire to be

Trodden On--The Fascination of Physical Constraint--The Symbolism of

Self-inflicted Pain--The Dynamic Element in Erotic Symbolism--The

Symbolism of Garments.

Of all forms of erotic symbolism the most frequent is that which idealizes

the foot and the shoe. The phenomena we here encounter are sometimes so

complex and raise so many interesting questions that it is necessary to

discuss them somewhat fully.

It would seem that even for the normal lover the foot is one of the most

attractive parts of the body. Stanley Hall found that among the parts

specified as most admired in the other sex by young men and women who

answered a _questionnaire_ the feet came fourth (after the eyes, hair,

stature and size).[13] Casanova, an acute student and lover of women who

was in no degree a foot fetichist, remarks that all men who share his

interest in women are attracted by their feet; they offer the same

interest, he considers, as the question of the particular edition offers

to the book-lover.[14]

In a report of the results of a _questionnaire_


children's sense of self, to which over 500 replies were