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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.




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.

It is

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



Carbis Water,

Lelant, Cornwall, England.



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.

Cunnilingus and

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

Other Senses.



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.

Reflex Influences

from the Nose. Reflex Influences from the Genital Sphere. Olfactory

Hallucinations in Insanity as Related to Sexual States.

The Olfactive

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.

Perfumes perhaps

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.

Its Therapeutic

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

Comparatively Small.



Primacy of Vision in Man. Beauty as a Sexual Allurement.

The Objective

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.

Its History.

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.


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.[1] 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.


[1] 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,"

promoting the

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.

(Cf. Stratz,

_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.

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.

(Féré, _Comptes

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,[2] 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.[3] 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.

As, however,

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.

Laycock [_Nervous

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

to menstruation.

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_.


[2] A. Franklin, _Les Soins de Toilette_, p. 81.

[3] W. James, _Principles of Psychology_, vol. ii. p.


[4] 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--

The Sexual

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.[5] 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.[6]

Louis Robinson

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,"[7] Stanley Hall and Allin remark that

"these minimal touch excitations represent the very oldest stratum of

psychic life in the soul."[8] 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."

Thus ticklishness

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.[9]

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.[10] 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.[11] 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.

Allin, "On

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,[12] 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.[13]

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