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pronouncement of an exceptionally
advanced and broad-minded thinker serves to show
how little attention has hitherto been paid to the woman's
side of this question, or to ascertaining her natural requirements.
A New Contribution to the Solution of Sex Difficulties
by Dr. Marie Stopes
Oh! for that Being whom I can conceive
to be in the world, though I shall not live to prove it. One to whom I
might have recourse in all my Humours and Dispositions: in all my Distempers
of Mind, visionary Causes of Mortification, and Fairy Dreams of Pleasure.
I have been trying to train up a Lady or two for these good offices of
Friendship, but hitherto I must not boast of my success.
What is the fate of the average man who marries, happily and hopefully,
a girl well suited to him? He desires with his whole heart a mutual, life-long
happiness. He marries with the intention of fulfilling every injunction
given him by father, doctor, and friend.
He is considerate in trifles, he speaks no
harsh words, he and his bride go about together, walk together, read together,
and perhaps, if they are very advanced, even work together.
But after a few months, or maybe a few years
of marriage they seem to have drifted apart, and he finds her often cold
Few men will acknowledge this even to their
best friends. But each heart knows its own pain.
He may at times laugh, and in the friendliest spirit tease his wife
about her contrariness.
That is taken by everyone to mean nothing but
a playful concealment of his profound love. Probably it is. But gnawing
at the very roots of his love is a hateful little worm the sense that she
He feels that she is at times inexplicably
cold; that, sometimes, when he has done nothing she will have tears in
her eyes, irrational tears which she cannot explain.
He observes that one week his tender love-making and romantic advances
win her to smiles and joyous yielding, and then perhaps a few days later
the same, or more impassioned, tenderness on his part is met by coldness
or a forced appearance of warmth, which, while he may make no comment upon
it, hurts him acutely.
And this deep, inexplicable hurt is often the
beginning of the end of his love.
Men like to feel that they understand their
dearest one, and that she is a rational being.
After inexplicable misunderstanding has continued for some time, if
the man is of at all a jealous nature he will search his wife's acquaintances
for someone whom she may have met, for someone who may momentarily have
diverted her attention.
For however hard it is for the natural man
to believe that anyone could step into his shoes, some are ready to seek
the explanation of their own ill success in a rival.
On some occasion when her coldness puzzles
him the man is perhaps conscious that his love, his own desires, are as
ardent as they were a few days before; then, knowing so intimately his
own heart, he is sure of the steadiness of its love, and he feels acutely
the romantic passion to which her beauty stirs him; he remembers perhaps
that a few days earlier his ardour had awakened a response in her; therefore,
he reaches what appears to him to be the infallible logical deduction that
either there must be some rival or his bride's nature is incomprehensible,
Both thoughts to madden.
With capriciousness, man in general has little patience. Caprice renders
his best efforts null and void. Woman s caprice is, or appears to be, a
negation of reason. And as reason is man's most precious and hard-won faculty,
the one which has raised mankind from the ranks of the brute creation,
he cannot bear to see it apparently flouted.
That his bride should lack logic and sweet
reasonableness is a flaw it hurts him to recognize in her.
He has to crush the thought down.
It may then happen that the young man, himself pained and bewildered
at having pained his bride by the very ardour of his affection, may strive
to please her by placing restraint upon himself.
He may ask himself: Do not religious and many
kinds of moral teachers reach restraint to the man? He reads the books
written for the guidance of youth, and finds "restraint, self-control,"
in general terms (and often irrationally) urged in them all.
His next step may then be to curtail the expression
of his tender feelings, and to work hard and late in the evenings instead
of kissing his bride's fingers and coming to her for sweet communion in
And then, if he is at all observant, he may be aggrieved and astonished
to find her again wistful or hurt.
With the tender longing to understand, which
is so profound a characteristic in all the best of our young men, he begs,
implores, or pets her into telling him some part of the reason for her
He discovers to his amazement that this time
she is hurt because he had not made those very advances which so recently
had repelled her, and had been with such difficulty repressed by his intellectual
He asks himself in despair: What is a man to do? If he is "educated,"
he probably devours all the books on sex he can obtain.
But in them he is not likely to find much real
He learns from them that restraint is advised
from every point of view, but according to the character of the author
he will find that "restraint" means having the marriage relations
with his wife not more than three times a week, or once a month or never
at all except for the procreation of children.
He finds no rational guidance based on natural
According to his temperament then, he may begin to practise restraint.
But it may happen, and indeed it has probably happened in every marriage
once or many times, that the night comes when the man who has heroically
practised restraint, accidentally discovers his wife in tears on her solitary
He seeks for advice indirectly from his friends, perhaps from his doctor.
But can his local doctor or his friend tell
him more than the chief European authorities on this subject? The famous
Professor Forel (The Sexual Question, transl. 1908) gives the following
The reformer, Luther, who was a practical man,
laid down the average rule of two or three connections a week in marriage,
at the time of highest sexual power. I may say that my numerous observations
as a physician have generally confirmed this rule, which seems to me to
conform very well to the normal state to which man* has become gradually
adapted during thousands of years. Husbands who would consider this average
as an imprescriptable right would, however, make wrong pretensions, for
it is quite possible for a normal man to contain himself much longer, and
it is his duty to do so, not only when his wife is ill, but also during
menstruation and pregnancy.
* (MCS postscript: The italics are mine. This pronouncement of an
exceptionally advanced and broad-minded thinker serves to show how little
attention has hitherto been paid to the woman's side of this question,
or to ascertaining her natural requirements.)
Many men will not be so considerate as to follow this advice, which
represents a high standard of living; but, on the other hand, there are
many who are willing to go not only so far, but further than this in their
self-suppression in order to attain their heart s desire, the happiness
of their mate, and consequently their own life s joy.
However willing they may be to go further, the great question for the
man is: Where?
There are innumerable leaders anxious to lead in many different directions.
The young husband may try first one and then
the other, and still find his wife unsatisfied, incomprehensible capricious.
Then it may be that, disheartened, he tires,
and she sinks into the dull apathy of acquiescence in her 'wifely duty
He is left with an echo of resentment in his
If only she had not been so capricious, they
would still have been happy, he fancies.
Many writers, novelists, poets and dramatists have represented the uttermost
tragedy of human life as due to the incomprehensible contrariness of the
The kindly ones smile, perhaps a little patronisingly,
and tell us that women are more instinctive, more child-like, less reasonable
The bitter ones sneer or reproach or laugh
at this in women they do not understand, and which, baffling their intellect,
appears to them to be irrational folly.
It seems strange that those who search for natural law in every province
of our universe should have neglected the most vital subject, the one which
concerns us all infinitely more than the naming of planets or the collecting
Woman is not essentially capricious; some of
the laws of her being might have been discovered long ago had the existence
of law been suspected.
But it has suited the general structure of
society much better for men to shrug their shoulders and smile at women
as irrational and capricious creatures, to be courted when it suited them,
not to be studied.
Vaguely, perhaps, men have realized that much of the charm of life lies
in the sex-differences between men and women; so they have snatched at
the easy theory that women differ from themselves by being capricious.
Moreover, by attributing to mere caprice the
coldness which at times comes over the most ardent woman, man was unconsciously
justifying himself for at any time coercing her to suit himself.
Circumstances have so contrived that hitherto the explorers and scientific
investigators, the historians and statisticians, the poets and artists
have been mainly men.
Consequently woman's side of the joint life
has found little or no expression.
Woman has been content to mold herself to the
shape desired by man wherever possible, and she has stifled her natural
feelings and her own deep thoughts as they welled up.
Most women have never realized intellectually, but many have been dimly
half-conscious that woman's nature is set to rhythms over which man has
no more control than he has over the tides of the sea.
While the ocean can subdue and dominate man
and laugh at his attempted restrictions, woman has bowed to man's desire
over her body, and, regardless of its pulses, he approaches her or not
as is his will.
Some of her rhythms defy him - the moon-months
of bearing the growing child and its birth at the end of the tenth wave
- these are essentials too strong to be mastered by man.
But the subtler ebb and flow of woman's sex
has escaped man's observation or his care.
If a swimmer comes to a sandy beach when the tide is out and the waves
have receded, leaving sand where he had expected deep blue water does he,
baulked of his bathe, angrily call the sea capricious ?
But the tenderest bridegroom finds only caprice in his wife's coldness
when she yields her sacrificial body while her sex-tide is at the ebb.
There is another side to this problem, one perhaps even less considered
There is the tragic figure of the loving woman
whose love-tide is at the highest, and whose husband does not recognize
the delicate signs of her ardour.
In our anaemic, artificial days it often happens
that the man's desire is a surface need, quickly satisfied, colourless,
and lacking beauty, and that he has no knowledge of the rich complexities
of love-making which an initiate of love's mysteries enjoys.
To such a man his wife may indeed seem petulant,
capricious, or resentful without reason.
Welling up in her are the wonderful tides, scented and enriched by the
myriad experiences of the human race from its ancient days of leisure and
flower-wreathed love-making, urging her to transports and to self-expressions,
were the man but ready to take the first step in the initiative or to recognise
and welcome it in her.
Seldom dare any woman, still more seldom dare
a wife, risk the blow at her heart which would be given were she to offer
charming love-play to which the man did not respond.
To the initiate she will be able to reveal
that the tide is up by a hundred subtle signs, upon which he will seize
But if her husband is blind to them there is
for her nothing but silence, self-suppression, and their inevitable sequence
of self-scorn, followed by resentment towards the man who places her in
such a position of humiliation while talking of his 'love.
So unaware of the elements of the physiological reactions of women are
many modern men that the case of Mrs G. is not exceptional.
Her husband was accustomed to pet her and have
relations with her frequently, but yet he never took any trouble to arouse
in her the necessary preliminary feeling for mutual union.
She had married as a very ignorant girl, but
often vaguely felt a sense of something lacking in her husband's love.
Her husband had never kissed her except on
the lips and cheek, but once at the crest of the wave of her sex-tide (all
unconscious that it was so) she felt a yearning to feel his head, his lips,
pressed against her bosom.
The sensitive inter-relation between a woman
s breasts and the rest of her sex-life is not only a bodily thrill, but
there is a world of poetic beauty in the longing of a loving woman for
the unconceived child which melts in mists of tenderness toward her lover,
the soft touch of whose lips can thus rouse her mingled joy.
Because she shyly asked bim, Mrs G.'s husband
gave her one swift unrepeated kiss upon her bosom.
He was so ignorant that he did not know that
her husband's lips upon her breast melt a wife to tenderness and are one
of a husband's first and surest ways to make her physically ready for complete
In this way he inhibited her natural desire,
and as he never did anything to stir it, she never had any physical pleasure
in their relation.
Such prudish or careless husbands, content
with their own satisfaction, little know the pent-up aching, or even resentment,
which may eat into a wife's and ultimately may affect her whole health.
Often the man is also the victim of the purblind social customs which
make sex-knowledge tabu.
It has become a tradition of our social life that the ignorance of woman
about her own body and that of her future husband is a flower-like innocence.
And to such an extreme is this sometimes pushed,
that not seldom is a girl married unaware that married life will bring
her into physical relations with her husband fundamentally different from
those with her brother.
When she discovers the true nature of his body,
and learns the part she has to play as a wife, she may refuse utterly to
agree to her husband's wishes.
I know one pair of which the husband, chivalrous
and loving, had to wait years before his bride recovered from the shock
of the discovery of the meaning of marriage and was able to allow him a
There have been not a few brides whom the horror
of the first night of marriage with a man less considerate has driven to
suicide or insanity.
That girls can reach a marriageable age without some knowledge of the
realities of marriage would seem incredible were it not a fact.
One highly educated lady intimately known to
me told me that when she was about eighteen she suffered many months of
agonizing apprehension that she was about to have a baby because a man
had snatched a kiss from her lips at a dance.
When girls so brought up are married it is a rape for the husband to
insist on his "marital rights" at once.
It will be difficult or impossible for such
a bride ever after to experience the joys of sex-union, for such a beginning
must imprint upon her consciousness the view that the man's animal nature
In a magazine I came across a poem which vividly expresses this peculiarly
To mate with men who have no soul above
Earth grubbing; who, the bridal night, forsooth,
Killed sparks that rise from instinct fires of life,
And left us frozen things, alone to fashion
Our souls to dust, masked with the name of wife
Long years of youth love years the years of passion
Yawning before us. So, shamming to the end,
All shrivelled by the side of him we wed,
Hoping that peace may riper years attend,
Mere odalisques are we well housed, well fed.
Many men who enter marriage sincerely and tenderly may yet have some
previous experience of bought "love."
It is then not unlikely that they may fall
into the error of explaining their wife's experiences in terms of the reactions
of the prostitute.
They argue that, because the prostitute showed
physical excitement and pleasure in union, if the bride or wife does not
do so, then she is "cold or under-sexed."
They may not realize that often all the bodily
movements which the prostitute makes are studied and simulated because
her client enjoys his climax best when the woman in his arms simultaneously
As Forel says (The Sexual Question, 1908, EngI. tans.): "The
company of prostitutes often renders men incapable of understanding feminine
psychology, for prostitutes are hardly more than automata trained for the
use of male sensuality. When men look among these for the sexual psychology
of woman they find only their own mirror."
Fate is often cruel to men, too.
More high-spirited young men than the world
imagines strive for and keep their purity to give their brides; if such
a man then marries a woman who is soiled, or, on the other hand, one who
is so "pure and prudish that she denies him union with her body,"
his noble achievement seems bitterly vain.
On the other hand, it may be that after years
of fighting with his hot young blood a man has given up and gone now and
again for relief to prostitutes, and then later in life has met the woman
who is his mate, and whom, after remorse for his soiled past, and after
winning her forgiveness for it, he marries.
Then, unwittingly, he may make the wife suffer
either by interpreting her in the light of the other women or perhaps (though
this happens less frequently) by setting her absolutely apart from them.
I know of a man who, after a loose life, met
a woman whom he reverenced and adored.
He married her, but to preserve her "purity,"
her difference from the others, he never consummated his marriage with
She was strangely unhappy, for she loved him
passionately and longed for children.
She appeared to him to be pining "capriciously"
when she became thin and neurotic.
Perhaps this man might have seen his own behavior in a truer light had
he known that some creatures simply die if unmated (see Appendix).
The idea that woman is lowered by sex intercourse is very deeply rooted
in our present society.
Many sources have contributed to this mistaken
idea, not the least powerful being the ascetic ideal of the early Church
and the faa that man has used woman as his instrument so often regardless
of her wishes.
Women's education, therefore, and the trend
of social feeling, has largely been in the direction of freeing her from
this and thus mistakenly encouraging the idea that sex-life is a low, physical,
and degrading necessity which a pure woman is above enjoying.
In marriage the husband has used his marital right (see postscript)
of intercourse when he wished it.
Both law and custom have strengthened the view
that he has the right to approach his wife whenever he wishes, and that
she has no wishes and no fundamental needs in the matter at all.
That woman has a rhythmic sex-tide which, if its indications were obeyed,
would ensure not only her enjoyment, but would explode the myth orher capriciousness,
seems not to be suspected.
We have studied the wave-lengths of water,
of sound, of light; but when will the sons and daughters of men study the
sex-tide in woman and learn the laws of her Periodicity of Recurrence of
(Postscript by MCS: Conjugal Rights, Notes and Queries. May
I6, I89I, p. 383. 'S. writes from the Probate Registry, Somerset House:
"Previous to 1733 legal proceedings were recorded
in Latin and the word then used where we now speak of rights was obsequies.
For some time after the substitution of English for Latin the term rites
was usually, if not invariably adopted; rights would appear to be a comparatively
Mr. T. E. Paget writes: "(Romeo and Juliet, Act V, Scene
III): 'What cursed foot wanders this way tonight To cross my obsequies,
and true lovers rite?' " Well may Lord Esher say he has never been
able to make out what the phrase "conjugal rights" means. The
origin of the term is now clear, and a blunder, which was first made, perhaps,
by a typesetter in the early part of the last century, and never exposed
until now, has led to a vast amount of misapprehension. Here, too, is another
proof that Shakespeare was exceedingly familiar with "legal language."
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