Married Love

Chapter VIII.
Abstinence

How intoxicating indeed, how penetrating — like a most
precious wine — is that love which is the sexual transformed by
the magic of the will into the emotional and spiritual! And
what a loss on the merest grounds of prudence and the economy
of pleasure is its unbridled waste along physical channels ! So
nothing is so much to be dreaded between lovers as just this — the
vulgarisation of love — and this is the rock upon which marriage
80 often splits. — Edward Carpenter.

AND because marriage so often splits upon this
rock, or because men and women have in all
ages yearned for spiritual beauty, there have
been those who shut themselves off from all the sweet
usages of the body. In the struggle of man to gain
command over his body, and in the slow and often
backsliding evolution of the higher love, there is no
doubt that humanity owes much to the ascetic. But
this debt is in the past. We are now gaining control
of the lower forces, we are winning knowledge of the
complex meanings and the spiritual transformations
of our physical reactions, and in the future the highest
social unit will be recognised to be the pair, fused in
love so that all human potentialities are theirs, as well
as the higher potentialities which only perfect love can
originate.

Yet, as we live to-day, with still so many rerhnants
of the older standards within and upon us, we must
endeavour to understand the ascetic. He (less often
she) is by no means seldom one of the products of
marriage. It not infrequently happens that after a
love-marriage and some years of what is considered
happiness, the man or woman may withdraw from the
sex life, often looking down upon it, and considering

Abstinence 73,

that they have reached a higher plane by so doing.
But such people seldom ask themselves if, while they
lived it, they reached the highest possible level of the
sex-life.

One of the most famous instances of the married
ascetic is Tolstoy, whose later opinion was that the
highest human being completely inhibits his sex-
desires and lives a celibate life. Ascetics, however,
seldom have much knowledge of human physiology,
and it seems to me that, with all their fine and re-
ligious fervour, they often lack the mysticism neces-
sary for the full realisation of the meaning and poten-
tialities of the new creation resulting from man’s and
woman’s highest union. Doubtless if for an hour we
were to take the place of the individual chemical
atoms of Oxygen or of Hydrogen, we could have no
inkling of the physical properties of the water-drop
they together form.

Christianity, like most religions, had a strong wave
of asceticism early in its history. While there was, as
there still is, a harsh asceticism which is hostile to the
other sex, it is of much interest to see that there was
also a romantic asceticism which, while revolting from
the sensuality of the pagan contemporaries, did not
entirely prohibit the charms and pleasures of mutual
companionship. Thus, in a mutilated form, it seems
these early Christian ascetics gained some of the
immaterial benefits of marriage, Ellis (Vol. 6, ” Sex
and Society,” 19 13) gives an interesting account of
these ascetic love-unions :

” Our fathers,” Chrysostom begins (” Against those who keep
Virgins in their Houses “), ” only knew two forms of sexual inti-
macy, marriage and fornication. Now a third form has appeared :
men introduce young girls into their houses and keep them there

74 Married Love

permanently, respecting their virginity. What,” Chrysotom
asks, ” is the reason ? It seems to mc that life in common with
a woman is sweet, even outside conjugal union and fleshly com-
merce. That is my feeling; and perhaps it is not my feeling
alone; it may also be that of these men. They would not hold
their honour so cheap nor give rise to such scandals if this pleasure
were not violent and tyrannical. . . . That there should really
be « pleasure in this which produces a love more ardent than con-
jugal union may surprise you at first. But when I give you th©
proofs you will agree that it is so.” The absence of restraint to
desire in marriage, he continues, often leads to speedy disgust, and
even apart from this, sexual intercourse, pregnancy, delivery, lac-
tation, the bringing up of children, and all the pains and anxieties
that accompany these things, soon destroy youth and dull the
point of pleasure. The virgin is free from these burdens. She
retains her vigour and her youthfulness, and even at the age of
forty may rival the young nubile girl. ” A double ardour thus
burns in the heart of him who lives with her, and the gratifica-
tion of desire never extinguishes the bright flame which ever con-
tinues to increase in strength.” Chrysostom describes minutely
all the little cares and attentions which the modern girls of his
time required, and which these men delighted to expend on their
virginal sweethearts whether in public or in private. He cannot
help thinking, however, that the man who lavishes kisses and
caresses on a woman whose virginity he retains is putting himself
somewhat in the position of Tantalus. But this new refinement
of tender chastity, which came as a delicious discovery to the early
Christians who resolutely thrust away the licentiousness of the
pagan world, was deeply rooted, as we discover from the fre-
quency with which the grave Fathers of the Church, apprehensive
of scandal, felt called upon to reprove it, though their condemna-
tion is sometimes not without a trace of secret sympathy.

Thus Jerome, in his letter to Eustochium, refers to those
couples who ” share the same room,” often even the same bed,
and call us suspicious if we draw any conclusions; while Cyprian
{Efistola, 86) is unable to approve of those men he hears of, one
a deacon, who live in familiar intercourse with virgins, even
sleeping in the same bed with them, for, he declares, the feminine
sex is weak and youth is wanton.

The harsh ascetic, however, is the one the word

Abstinence 75

ascetic most generally conjures up. Even if he ac-
complishes miracles of self-restraint, and subdues de-
sire, he is often weakened rather than strengthened by
his determination to flout nature. Save only in the
truly great, there is a warping and narrowing which
results from coercing beyond the limits of reason the
desires which were implanted in Adam and Eve whtn
they were told to be fruitful and multiply.
As Ellen Key says (” Love and Marriage “) :

Those ascetics who recommend only self-control as a remedy
for the mastery of sexual instinct, even when such control
becomes merely obstructive to life, are like the physician who
tried only to drive the fever out of his patient : it was nothing
to him that the sick man died of the cure.

But these ascetics may have arrived at their fanaticism by two
different paths. One group — which includes most of the female
ascetics — hates Cupid because he has never shown to them any
favour. The other group — embracing the majority of male
ascetics — curse him because he never leaves them in peace.

Approaching the subject in a more modern and
scientific attitude of impartial inquiry, the medical
man can produce an imposing list of diseases more or
less directly caused by abstinence both in men and
in women. These diseases range from neuralgia and
” nerves ” to (in -jvomen) fibroid growths. And it is
well worthy of remark that these diseases may be
present when the patient (as have many unmarried
women) has no idea that the sex-impulse exists un-
mastered.

Thus the ascetic and the profligate (whether or not
in legal marriage) have both to run the gauntlet of
disease. There is, however, no disease I know of
which is caused by the normal and mutually happy
marriage relation — a relation which, certainly to most,
has positive healing and vitalising power.

76 Married Love

The profound truth which is perceived by the
ascetics is that the creative energy of sex can be trans-
formed into other activities. This truth should never
be lost sight of in marriage; where between the times
of natural, happy, and also stimulating exercise of
the sex-functions, the periods of complete abstinence
should be opportunities for transmuting the healthy
sex-power into work of every sort.