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.)