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Ellis, Havelock / Studies in the Psychology of Sex, Volume 4 Sexual Selection In Man
E-text prepared by Juliet Sutherland and the Project Online
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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. Steatopygia.
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.

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