Married Love

Chapter IV. The Fundamental Pulse

Like judgments of men concerning women are very rarely
matters of cold scientific observation, but are coloured both by
their own sexual emotions and by their own moral attitude toward
the sexual impulse. . . . [Men’s] Statements about the sexual
impulses of women often tell us less about women than about the
persons who make them. — H. Ellis.

By the majority of ” nice ” people woman is
supposed to have no spontaneous sex im-
pulses. By this I do not mean a sentimental
” fallmg in love,” but a physical, a physiological state
of stimulation which arises spontaneously and quite
apart from any particular man. It is in truth the
creative_ impulse, and is an expression of a high power
of vitality. So widespread in ovir country is the view
that it is only depraved women who have such feel-
ings (especially before marriage) that most women
would rather die than own that they do at times feel
a physical yearning indescribable, but as profound as
hunger for food. Yet many, many women have
shown me the truth of their natures when I have
simply and naturally assumed that of course they feel
it—being normal women— and have asked them
only: When? From their replies I have collected
tacts which are sufficient to overturn many ready-
made theories about women.

Some of the ridiculous absurdities which go by the
name of science may be illustrated by the statement
made by Windscheid in the Centralblatt fiir Gyna-
kologie : ” In the normal woman, especially of the
higher social classes, the sexual instinct is acquired
not inborn; when it is inborn, or awakens by itself,’
there is abnormaUty. Since women do not know this
instinct before marriage, they do not miss it when
they have no occasion in life to learn it.” (Ellis transl.)
The negation of this view is expressed in the fable
of Hera quoted by Ellen Key. Hera sent Iris to earth
to seek out three virtuous and perfectly chaste
maidens who were unsoiled by any dreams of love.
Iris found them, but could not take them back to
Olympus, for they had akeady been sent for to replace
the superannuated Furies in the infernal regions.

Nevertheless it is true that the whole education of
girls, which so largely consists in the concealment of
the essential facts of life from them; and the positive
teachmg so prevalent that the racial instincts are low
and shameful; and also the social condition which
places so many women in the position of depending
on their husband’s will not only for the luxuries but
for the necessaries of life, have all tended to inhibit
natural sex-impulses in women, and to conceal and
distort what remains.

It is also true that in our northern climate women
are on the whole naturally less persistently stirred than
southerners; and it is further true that with the delay-
ing of maturity, due to our ever-lengthening youth, it
often happens that a woman is approaching or even
past thirty years before she is awake to the existence of
the profoundest calls of her nature. For many years
before that, however, the unrealised influence, diffused
throughout her very system, has profoundly affected
her. It is also true that (partly due to the inhibiting
influences of our customs, traditions and social codel
women may marry before it wakes, and may remain
long after marriage entirely unconscious that it surges
subdued within them. For innumerable women, too
the husband’s regular habits of intercourse, claiming
her both when she would naturally enjoy union and
when it is to some degree repugnant to her, have
tended to flatten out the billowing curves of the line
of her natural desire. One result, apparently little
suspected, of using the woman as a passive instru-
ment for man’s need has been, in effect, to make her
that and nothing more. Those men — and there are
many — who complain of the lack of ardour in good
wives, are often themselves entirely the cause of it.
When a woman is claimed at times when she takes
no natural pleasure in union, it reduces her vitality,
and tends to kill her power of enjoying it when the
love season returns.

It is certainly true of wom^en as they have been
made by the inhibitions of modern conditions, that
most of them are only fully awake to the existence of
sex after marriage. As we are human beings, the social,
intellectual, spiritual side of the love-choice have
tended to mask the basic physiological aspect of
women’s sex-life. To find a woman in whom the cur-
rents are not all so entangled that the whole is in-
separable into factors, is not easy, but I have found
that wives (particularly happy wives whose feelings
are not complicated by the stimulus of another love)
who have been separated from their husbands for
some months through professional or business duties
— whose husbands, for instance, are abroad — are the
women from whom the best and most definitive evi-
dence of a fundamental rhythm of feeling can be ob-
tained. Such women, yearning daily for the tender
comradeship and nearness of their husbands, find, in
addition, at particular times, an accession of longing
for the close physical union of the final sex-act. Many
such separated wives feel this; and those I have asked
to keep notes of the dates, have, with remarkable
unanimity, told me that these times came specially
just before and some week or so after the close of
menstruation, coming, that is, about every fortnight.
It is from such women that I got the first clue to the
knowledge of what I call the Law of Periodicity of
Recurrence of desire in women.

This law it is possible to represent graphically as a
curved line; a succession of crests and hollows as in
all wave-lines. Its simplest and most fundamental
expression, however, is generally immensely compli-
cated by other stimulations which may bring into it
diverse series of waves, or irregular wave-crests.
We have all, at some time, watched the regular ripples
of the sea breaking against a sand-bank, and noticed
that the influx of another current of water may send
a second system of waves at right angles to the first,
cutting athwart them, so that the two series of waves
pass through each other.

Woman is so sensitive and responsive an instru-
ment, and so liable in our modern civilised world to be
influenced by innumerable sets of stimuli, that it is
perhaps scarcely surprising that the deep, underlying
waves of her primitive sex-tides have been obscured,
and entangled so that their regular sequence has been
masked in the choppy turmoil of her sea, and their
existence has been largely unsuspected, and ap-
parently quite unstudied.

For some years I have been making as scientific
and detailed a study as possible of this extremely
complex problem. Owing to the fraflk and scientific
attitude of a number of women, and the ready and
intimate confidence of many more, I have obtained
a number of most interesting facts from which I think
it is already possible to deduce a generalisation which
is illuminating, and may be of great medical and
sociological value. A detailed statement of this will
be given in a scientific publication, but as it bears very
intimately on the subject of the present chapter, a short
and simple account of my conclusions must be given

It is first necessary to consider several other features
of woman’s life, however.

The obvious moon-month rhythm in woman, so
obvious that it cannot be overlooked, has been par-
tially studied in its relation to some of the ordinary
functions of her life. Experiments have been made
to show its influence on the rate of breathing, the
muscular strength, the temperature, the keenness of
sight, etc., and these results have even been brought
together and pictured in a single curved diagram sup-
posed to show the variability in woman’s capacities
at the different times in her twenty-eight-day cycle.

But it brings home to one how little original work
even in this field has yet been done, that the same
identical diagram is repeated from book to book, and
in Marshall’s Physiology it is ” taken from Sellheim,”
in Havelock Ellis ” from Von Ott,” and in other
books is re-copied and attributed to still other sources,
but it is always the same old diagram.

This diagram is reproduced by one learned
authority after another, yet nearly every point on
which this curve is based appears to have been dis-

According to this curve, woman’s vitality rises
during the few days before menstruation, sinks to its
lowest ebb during menstruation and rises shortly
after, and then runs nearly level till it begins to rise
again before the next menstrual period. This simple
curve may or may not be true for woman’s tempera-
ture, muscular strength, and the other relatively
simple things which have been investigated. My
work and observations on a large number of women
all go to show that this cvirve does not represent the
waves of woman’s sex-vitality.

The whole subject is so complex and so little
studied that it is difficult to enter upon it at all with-
out going into many details which may seem remote
or dull to the general reader. Even a question which
we must all have asked, and over which we have pro-
bably pondered in vain — namely, what is menstrua-
tion.” — cannot yet be answered. To the lay mind it
would seem that this question should be answerable
at once by any doctor; but many medical men are still
far from being able to reply to it even approximately
correctly. (See also Appendix, note 2.)

There are a good many slight variations among us,
ranging from a three to a five weeks “month,” but
the majority of the women of our race have a moon-
month of twenty-eight days, once during which comes
the flow of menstruation. If we draw out a chart with
succeeding periods of twenty-eight days each, looking
on each period as a unit : When in this period is it
that a normal healthy woman feels desire or any up-
welling of her sex-tides ?

The few statements which are made in general
medical and physiological literature on the subject of
sex feeling in women are generally very guarded and
vague. Marshall (“Physiology of Reproduction,”
p. 138), for instance, says: “The period of most
acute sexual feeling is generally just after the close of
the menstrual period.” Ellis speaks of desire being
stronger before and sometimes also after menstrua-
tion, and appears to lean to the view that it is natural
for desire to coincide with the menstrual flow.

After the most careful inquiries I have come to the
conclusion that the general confusion regarding this
subject is due partly to the great amount of variation
which exists between different individuals, and partly
to the fact that very few women have any idea of
taking any scientific interest in life, and partly to the
fact that the more profound, fundamental rhythm of
sex desire which I have come to the conclusion exists
or is potential in every normal woman, is covered
over or masked by the more superficial and temporary
influences due to a great variety of stimuli or inhibi-
tions in modern life. For the present consideration I
have tried to disentangle the profound and natural
rhythm from the more irregular surface waves.

The chart given opposite may assist in making
graphically clear what has been said in these last few
pages. It is compounded from a number of indi-
vidual records, and shows a fair average chart of the
rhythmic sequence of superabundance and flagging in
woman’s sex-vitality. The tops of the wave-crests
come with remarkable regularity, so that there are two
wave-crests in each twenty-eight-day month. The one
comes on the two or three days just before menstrua-
tion, the other after; but after menstruation has ceased
there is a nearly level interyal, bringing the next wave-
crest to the two or three days which come about eight
or nine days after the close of menstruation — that is,
just round the fourteen days, or half the moon month,
since the last wave-crest. If this is put in its simplest
way, one may say that there are fortnightly periods
of desire, arranged so that one period comes always
just before each menstrual flow. According to her
vitality at the time, and the general health of the
woman, the length of each desire-period, or, as we
might say, the size and complexity of each wave-crest,
depends. Sometimes for the whole of as much as, or
even more than three days, she may be ardently and
quite naturally stimulated, while at another time the
same woman, if she is tired and over-worked, may be
conscious of desire for only a few hours, or even less.

The effects of fatigue, city life, bad feeding, and,
indeed, of most outward circumstances may be very
marked, and may for years, or all her life, so reduce
her vitality that a woman may never have experienced
any spontaneous sex-impulse at all.

The effects of fatigue, which reduces the vital
energy, even in a normal, strongly sexed woman, can
be seen in the second curve opposite, where at a the
intermediate wave-crest is very much reduced. This
is not a generalised chart, but a detailed record of an
actual individual case.

Curves similar to those shown facing page 32
represent in general terms a simplified view of what
my research leads me to believe to be the normal,
spontaneous sex tide in women of our race. As one
young married woman confided to me, her longing for
bodily union with her husband, as distinct from her
longing for his daily companionship, seemed to well
up naturally like “clockwork,” and this during
his long absence. But human beings vary remark-
ably in every particular, and just as no two people
have the same features, so no two people would have
absolutely identical curves were they recorded in suffi-
cient detail. Many a woman is particularly conscious
of only one sex-impulse in each moon-month. Of such
women, some feel the period which comes before men-
struation, and some feel the one which follows it. In
those who generally feel only one, the second period is
sometimes felt when they are particularly well, or only
when they read exciting novels, or meet the man they
love at a time coinciding with the natural, but sup-
pressed, time of desire. There are a few women,
who seem to be really a little abnormal, who feel the
strongest desire actually during the menstrual flow.

If anyone who reads this thinks to test my view by
questioning a number of women, the result will pro-
bably appear very conflicting, partly because it is not
often that women will tell the truth about such a
thing, and partly because in the larger number of
women either one or the other period is the more
acute and is the one they observe in themselves — if
they have observed anything. But a delicate and
more accurate investigation of such cases will often
bring to light the existence of the second crest of
vitality. Once the fundamental idea is grasped, much
that appeared obscure or of no significance becomes
plain and full of meaning. One lady doctor with
whom I discussed my view at once said that it illum-
inated many observations she had made on her
patients, but had not brought together or explained.

There is but little evidence to be found in
scientific works on sex, but an interesting instance
is mentioned by Forel (“The Sexual Question,”
Engl. Transl. page 92) in another connection.
He says : ” A married woman confessed to me,
when I reproached her for being unfaithful to
her husband, that she desired coitus at least once a
fortnight, and that when her husband was not there
she took the first comer.” Forel did not see any law
in this. We may perhaps all see in her want of self-
control a grievous moral abnormality, but in her
fortnightly periods of desire she fits perfectly into the
physiological law which, it appears to me, governs
the normal sex tides of our race.

In this connection it is of interest to note the decrees
of the Mosaic Law regarding marriage intercourse.
Not only was all intercourse with a woman during
her menstruation period very heavily punished (see
Leviticus xx. 1 8 : ” If a man lie with a woman having
her sickness . . .• both of them shall be cut off from
among their people “), but the Mosaic Law provided
that women should be protected froni intercourse for
some days after each such period. The results ob-
tained by my independent investigation thus find
some support in this ancient wisdom of the East.
Modern writers are inclined to deride the Mosaic Law
on the ground that it prohibits intercourse just at the ‘
time when they think sex feeling should be strongest.
But it does not appear on what grounds they make the
latter statement, nor do they give any scientific data
in support of it. Thus Galabin in his Manual of
Midwifery says : ” In the Jewish law women are
directed to abstain* from coitus during menstruation
and for seven days after its cessation. Strict
observers of the law are said to go beyond what is
commanded in Leviticus, and even if discharge lasts
only for an hour or two, to observe five days during
which the discharge might last, for the period itself,
and add to these seven clear days, making twelve in

* Note. — In Leviticus xv. it is the man wlio is directed to
abstain from touching the woman at this period, and who it
rendered unclean if he does. –M. C. S.

all. It is much to be doubted whether a whole
nation was ever induced to practise abstinence at the
period of most acute sexual feeling.” But, as will
readily be recognised, the old Jewish plan of having
twelve clear days after the beginning of menstruation
before the next union is in almost exact harmony with
the Law of Periodicity of Recurrence of women’s
desire shown in my charts, pp. 32, 33.

These comparatively simple curves represent what I
would postulate as the normal spontaneous up-welling
of natural desire in woman. These are the founda-
tions on which the edifice of the physical expression of
love may be built. It must not be forgotten, however,
that, particularly in modern luxurious life, there are
innumerable excitements which may stimulate sexual
feeling, just as there are many factors in our life which
tend to inhibit or retard it. A woman may be, like a
man, so swayed by a great love that there is not a day
in the whole month when her lover’s touch, his voice,
the memory of his smile, does not stir her into the
thrilling longing for the uttermost union. Hence it
is often difficult, particularly for a woman dwelling
with the man she loves, to recognise this rhythm in
herself, for she may be perpetually stimulated by her
love and by his beiiig.

I am convinced, however, that ordinarily, whether
she recognises it by outward signs or not, a fortnightly
rhythm profoundly influences the average woman, and
hence that it fundamentally affects the marriage rela-
tion in every way. The burning magnificence of an
overpowering life-long love is not given to many, and
a husband who desires lasting and mutual happiness
in his marriage will carefully study his wife, observe
how far she has a normal rhythm, and in what she has
little personal traits. He will then endeavour to adapt
his demands on her so that they are in harmony with
her nature.

This mutual adaptation is not an entirely simple
matter, and will be considered in the next chapter.