In the previous five volumes of these Studies, I have dealt mainly with the sexual impulse in relation to its object, leaving out of account the external persons and the environmental influences which yet may powerfully affect that impulse and its gratification. We cannot afford, however, to pass unnoticed this relationship of the sexual impulse to third persons and to the community at large with all its anciently established traditions. We have to consider sex in relation to society.
In so doing, it will be possible to discuss more summarily than in preceding volumes the manifold and important problems that are presented to us. In considering the more special questions of sexual psychology we entered a neglected field and it was necessary to expend an analytic care and precision which at many points had never been expended before on these questions. But when we reach the relationships of sex to society we have for the most part no such neglect to encounter. The subject of every chapter in the present volume could easily form, and often has formed, the topic of a volume, and the literature of many of these subjects is already extremely voluminous. It must therefore be our main object here not to accumulate details but to place each subject by turn, as clearly and succinctly as may be, in relation to those fundamental principles of sexual psychology which—so far as the data at present admit—have been set forth in the preceding volumes.
It may seem to some, indeed, that in this exposition I should have confined myself to the present, and not included so wide a sweep of the course of human history and the traditions of the race. It may especially seem that I have laid too great a stress on the influence of Christianity in moulding sexual ideals and establishing sexual institutions. That, I am convinced, is an error. It is because it is so frequently made that the movements of progress among us—movements that can never at any period of social history cease—are by many so seriously misunderstood. We cannot escape from our traditions. There never has been, and never can be, any "age of reason." The most ardent co-called "free-thinker," who casts aside as he imagines the authority of the Christian past, is still held by that past. If its traditions are not absolutely in his blood, they are ingrained in the texture of all the social institutions into which he was born and they affect even his modes of thinking. The latest modifications of our institutions are inevitably influenced by the past form of those institutions. We cannot realize where we are, nor whither we are moving, unless we know whence we came. We cannot understand the significance of the changes around us, nor face them with cheerful confidence, unless we are acquainted with the drift of the great movements that stir all civilization in never-ending cycles.
In discussing sexual questions which are very largely matters of social hygiene we shall thus still be preserving the psychological point of view. Such a point of view in relation to these matters is not only legitimate but necessary. Discussions of social hygiene that are purely medical or purely juridical or purely moral or purely theological not only lead to conclusions that are often entirely opposed to each other but they obviously fail to possess complete applicability to the complex human personality. The main task before us must be to ascertain what best expresses, and what best satisfies, the totality of the impulses and ideas of civilized men and women. So that while we must constantly bear in mind medical, legal, and moral demands—which all correspond in some respects to some individual or social need—the main thing is to satisfy the demands of the whole human person.
It is necessary to emphasize this point of view because it would seem that no error is more common among writers on the hygienic and moral problems of sex than the neglect of the psychological standpoint. They may take, for instance, the side of sexual restraint, or the side of sexual unrestraint, but they fail to realize that so narrow a basis is inadequate for the needs of complex human beings. From the wider psychological standpoint we recognize that we have to conciliate opposing impulses that are both alike founded on the human psychic organism.
In the preceding volumes of these Studies I have sought to refrain from the expression of any personal opinion and to maintain, so far as possible, a strictly objective attitude. In this endeavor, I trust, I have been successful if I may judge from the fact that I have received the sympathy and approval of all kinds of people, not less of the rationalistic free-thinker than of the orthodox believer, of those who accept, as well as of those who reject, our most current standards of morality. This is as it should be, for whatever our criteria of the worth of feelings and of conduct, it must always be of use to us to know what exactly are the feelings of people and how those feelings tend to affect their conduct. In the present volume, however, where social traditions necessarily come in for consideration and where we have to discuss the growth of those traditions in the past and their probable evolution in the future, I am not sanguine that the objectivity of my attitude will be equally clear to the reader. I have here to set down not only what people actually feel and do but what I think they are tending to feel and do. That is a matter of estimation only, however widely and however cautiously it is approached; it cannot be a matter of absolute demonstration. I trust that those who have followed me in the past will bear with me still, even if it is impossible for them always to accept the conclusions I have myself reached.
Carbis Bay, Cornwall, England.
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