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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 already been sent for
to replace the superannuated Furies in the infernal regions.
A New Contribution to the Solution of Sex Difficulties
by Dr. Marie Stopes
The Fundamental Pulse
The judgments of men concerning
women are very rarely matters of cold scientific observation, but are colored
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 impulses.
By this I do not mean a sentimental "falling
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 our country is the view that
it is only depraved women who have such feelings (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 facts 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
"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 abnorma1ity. 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
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 already 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 teaching 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 delaying 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 unrealized
influence, diffused throughout her very system, has profoundly affected
It is also true that (partly due to the inhibiting
influences of our customs, traditions and social code) 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 instrument 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 ardor in good wives, are often themselves entirely the cause
When a woman is claimed at times when she takes
no natural pleasure in union, it rediftes her vitality, and tends to kill
her power of enjoying it when the love season returns.
lt is certainly true of women 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 sides of the love-choice have tended to mask the basic physiological
aspect of women s sex-life. To find a woman
in whom the curtents are not all so entangled that the whole is inseparable
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 evidence of a fundamental rhythm
of feeling can be obtained.
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.
lt 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 complicated 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 ether.
Woman is so sensitive and responsive an instrument, 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 apparently 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 frank 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 generalization 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 here.
It is first necessary to consider several other features of woman's
The obvious moon-month rhythm in woman, so obvious that it cannot be
overlooked, has been partially 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 supposed 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 Seliheim,"
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 disputed.
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 temperature, 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 curve does not represent the waves of
The whole subject is so complex and so little studied that it is difficult
to enter upon it at all without 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 probably pondered in vain namely, what is menstruation?
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 z.)
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
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 upwelling
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
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 menstruation, 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 faa 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 inhibitions
in modern life.
For the present consideration I have tried
to disentangle the profound and natural rhythm from the more irregular
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 individual
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
The one comes on the two or three days just
before menstruation, the other after; but after menstruation has ceased
there is a nearly level interval, 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
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 con- scious 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 generalized chart, but a detailed
record of an actual individual case.
Curves similar to those shown on page 67 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 when he had been long away from her.
But human beings vary remarkably 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 sufficient detail.
Many a woman is particularly conscious of only
one period in each moon-month. Of such women,
some feel the period which comes before menstruation, 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 suppressed, 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
If anyone who reads this thinks to test my view by questioning a number
of women, the result will probably 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
But a delicate and more accurate investigation
of such cases will often bring to light the existence of the second crest
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 illuminated 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,
EngI. 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 corner." 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, 18: "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 from intercourse for some days after such
The results obtained 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 prohtits 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
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 all.
It is much to be doubted whether a whole nation
was ever induced to practise abstinence at the period of most acute sexual
(MCS Note: In Leviticus xv it is the man who is directed to abstain
from touching the woman at this period, and who is rendered unclean if
But, as will readily be recognized, 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.
[Ed. Note: WiiN was unable to reproduce the charts but
Dr. Stopes' explanation and most women's familiarity with cycles should
suffice. The charts are simple drawn on graph paper showing jagged peaks
every 14 days while another set show lesser peaks every 14 days when a
woman is tired or ill.]
These comparatively simple curves represent what I would postulate
as the normal spontaneous up-welling of natural desire in woman.
These are the foundations 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 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 recognize this rhythm in herself,
for she may be perpetually stimulated by her love and by his being.
I am convinced, however, that ordinarily, whether she recognizes
it by outward signs or not, a fortnightly rhythm profoundly influences
the average woman, and hence that it fundamentally affects the marriage
relation 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 endeavor 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.
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