Historical Reprints Health Related Studies in the Psychology of Sex Volume 5

Studies in the Psychology of Sex Volume 5

Studies in the Psychology of Sex Volume 5
Catalog # SKU1330
Publisher TGS Publishing
Weight 2.00 lbs
Author Name Havelock Ellis


Studies In The
Psychology of Sex

Volume V

Erotic Symbolism
The Mechanism of Detumescence
The Psychic State In Pregnancy

Havelock Ellis

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. --- Some ask us why we would republish a series that might be outdated. Why? Earlier writings on this subject were not purely sterile and medicinal in content, but included a spiritual aspect that modern psychology and medicine overlook. These include a view of romanticism lacking in most modern books on these subjects.


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.

In considering the phenomena of sexual selection in a previous volume, 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.... This 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."

320+ pages - 8 x 6.5 inches SoftCover


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