Love and Pain/6

We have seen that the distinction between "sadism" and "masochism" cannot be maintained; not only was even De Sade himself something of a masochist and Sacher-Masoch something of a sadist, but between these two extreme groups of phenomena there is a central group in which the algolagnia is neither active nor passive. "Sadism" and "masochism" are simply convenient clinical terms for classes of manifestations which quite commonly occur in the same person. We have further found that--as might have been anticipated in view of the foregoing result--it is scarcely correct to use the word "cruelty" in connection with the phenomena we have been considering. The persons who experience these impulses usually show no love of cruelty outside the sphere of sexual emotion; they may even be very intolerant of cruelty. Even when their sexual impulses come into play they may still desire to secure the pleasure of the persons who arouse their sexual emotions, even though it may not be often true that those who desire to inflict pain at these moments identify themselves with the feelings of those on whom they inflict it. We have thus seen that when we take a comprehensive survey of all these phenomena a somewhat general formula will alone cover them. Our conclusion so far must be that under certain abnormal circumstances pain, more especially the mental representation of pain, acts as a powerful sexual stimulant.

The reader, however, who has followed the discussion to this point will be prepared to take the next and final step in our discussion and to reach a more definite conclusion. The question naturally arises: By what process does pain or its mental representation thus act as a sexual stimulant? The answer has over and over again been suggested by the facts brought forward in this study. Pain acts as a sexual stimulant because it is the most powerful of all methods for arousing emotion.

The two emotions most intimately associated with pain are anger and fear. The more masculine and sthenic emotion of anger, the more passive and asthenic emotion of fear, are the fundamental animal emotions through which, on the psychic side, the process of natural selection largely works. Every animal in some degree owes its survival to the emotional reaction of anger against weaker rivals, to the emotional reaction of fear against stronger rivals. To this cause we owe it that these two emotions are so powerfully and deeply rooted in the whole zooelogical series to which we belong. But anger and fear are not less fundamental in the sexual life. Courtship on the male's part is largely a display of combativity, and even the very gestures by which the male seeks to appeal to the female are often those gestures of angry hostility by which he seeks to intimidate enemies. On the female's part courtship is a skillful manipulation of her own fears, and, as we have seen elsewhere, when studying the phenomena of modesty, that fundamental attitude of the female in courtship is nothing but an agglomeration of fears.

   The biological significance of the emotions is now well
   recognized. "In general," remarks one of the shrewdest writers on
   animal psychology, "we may say that emotional states are, under
   natural conditions, closely associated with behavior of
   biological value--with tendencies that are beneficial in
   self-preservation and race preservation--with actions that
   promote survival, and especially with the behavior which clusters
   round the pairing and parental instincts. The value of the
   emotions in animals is that they are an indirect means of
   furthering survival." (Lloyd Morgan, _Animal Behavior_, p. 293.)
   Emotional aptitudes persist not only by virtue of the fact that
   they are still beneficial, but because they once were; that is to
   say, they may exist as survivals. In this connection I may quote
   from a suggestive paper on "Teasing and Bullying," by F.L. Burk;
   at the conclusion of this study, which is founded on a large
   body of data concerning American children, the author asks:
   "Accepting for the moment the theories of Spencer and Ribot upon
   the transmission of rudimentary instincts, is it possible that
   the movements which comprise the chief elements of bullying,
   teasing, and the egotistic impulses in general of the classes
   cited--pursuing, throwing down, punching, striking, throwing
   missiles, etc.--are, from the standpoint of consciousness, broken
   neurological fragments, which are parts of old chains of activity
   involved in the pursuit, combat, capture, torture, and killing of
   men and enemies?... Is not this hypothesis of transmitted
   fragments of instincts in accord with the strangely anomalous
   fact that children are at one moment seemingly cruel and at the
   next affectionate and kind, vibrating, as it were, between two
   worlds, egotistic and altruistic, without conscious sense of
   incongruity?" (F.L. Burk, "Teasing and Bullying," _Pedagogical
   Seminary_, April, 1897.)
   The primitive connection of the special emotions of anger and
   fear with the sexual impulse has been well expressed by Colin
   Scott in his remarkable study of "Sex and Art": "If the higher
   forms of courting are based on combat, among the males at least
   anger must be intimately associated with love. And below both of
   these lies the possibility of fear. In combat the animal is
   defeated who is first afraid. Competitive exhibition of prowess
   will inspire the less able birds with a deterring fear. Young
   grouse and woodcock do not enter the lists with the older birds,
   and sing very quietly. It is the same with the very oldest birds.
   Audubon says that the old maids and bachelors of the Canada goose
   move off by themselves during the courting of the younger birds.
   In order to succeed in love, fear must be overcome in the male as
   well as in the female. Courage is the essential male virtue, love
   is its outcome and reward. The strutting, crowing, dancing, and
   singing of male birds and the preliminary movements generally of
   animals must gorge the neuromotor and muscular systems with blood
   and put them in better fighting trim. The effects of this upon
   the feelings of the animal himself must be very great. Hereditary
   tendencies swell his heart. He has 'the joy that warriors feel.'
   He becomes regardless of danger, and sometimes almost oblivious
   of his surroundings. This intense passionateness must react
   powerfully on the whole system, and more particularly on those
   parts which are capable, such as the brain, of using up a great
   surplus of blood, and on the naturally erethic functions of sex.
   The flood of anger or fighting instinct is drained off by the
   sexual desires, the antipathy of the female is overcome, and
   sexual union successfully ensues.... Courting and combat shade
   into one another, courting tending to take the place of the more
   basal form of combat. The passions which thus come to be
   associated with love are those of fear and anger, both of which,
   by arousing the whole nature and stimulating the nutritive
   sources from which they flow, come to increase the force of the
   sexual passion to which they lead up and in which they culminate
   and are absorbed," (Colin Scott, "Sex and Art," _American Journal
   of Psychology_, vol. vii, No. 2, pp. 170 and 215.)
   It must be remembered that fear is an element liable to arise in
   all courtship on one side or the other. It is usually on the side
   of the female, but not invariably. Among spiders, for instance,
   it is usually the male who feels fear, and very reasonably, for
   he is much weaker than the female. "Courtship by the male spider"
   says T.H. Montgomery ("The Courtship of Araneads," _American
   Naturalist_, March, 1910, p. 166), "results from a combination of
   the state of desire for and fear of the female." It is by his
   movements of fear that he advertises himself to the female as a
   male, and it is by the same movements that he is unconsciously
   impelled to display prominently his own ornamentation.

We are thus brought to those essential facts of primitive courtship with which we started. But we are now able to understand more clearly how it is that alien emotional states became abnormally associated with the sexual life. Normally the sexual impulse is sufficiently reinforced by the ordinary active energies of the organism which courtship itself arouses, energies which, while they may be ultimately in part founded on anger and fear, rarely allow these emotions to be otherwise than latent. Motion, it may be said, is more prominent than emotion.

Even normally a stimulant to emotional activities is pleasurable, just as motion itself is pleasurable. It may even be useful, as was noted long ago by Erasmus Darwin; he tells of a friend of his who, when painfully fatigued by riding, would call up ideas arousing indignation, and thus relieve the fatigue, the indignation, as Darwin pointed out, increasing muscular activity.[136]

It is owing to this stimulating action that discomfort, even pain, may be welcomed on account of the emotional waves they call up, because they "lash into movement the dreary calm of the sea's soul," and produce that alternation of pain and enjoyment for which Faust longed. Groos, who recalls this passage in his very thorough and profound discussion of the region wherein tragedy has its psychological roots, points out that it is the overwhelming might of the storm itself, and not the peace of calm after the storm, which appeals to us. In the same way, he observes, even surprise and shock may also be pleasurable, and fear, though the most depressing of emotional states, by virtue of the joy produced by strong stimuli is felt as attractive; we not only experience an impulse of pleasure in dominating our environment, but also have pleasure in being dominated and rendered helpless by a higher power.[137] Hirn, again, in his work on the origins of art, has an interesting chapter on "The Enjoyment of Pain," a phenomenon which he explains by its resultant reactions in increase of outward activity, of motor excitement. Anger, he observes elsewhere, is "in its active stage a decidedly pleasurable emotion. Fear, which in its initial stage is paralyzing and depressing, often changes in time when the first shock has been relieved by motor reaction.... Anger, fear, sorrow, notwithstanding their distinctly painful initial stage, are often not only not avoided, but even deliberately sought."[138]

In the ordinary healthy organism, however, although the stimulants of strong emotion may be vaguely pleasurable, they do not have more than a general action on the sexual sphere, nor are they required for the due action of the sexual mechanism. But in a slightly abnormal organism--whether the anomaly is due to a congenital neuropathic condition, or to a possibly acquired neurasthenic condition, or merely to the physiological inadequacy of childhood or old age--the balance of nervous energy is less favorable for the adequate play of the ordinary energies in courtship. The sexual impulse is itself usually weaker, even when, as often happens, its irritability assumes the fallacious appearance of strength. It has become unusually sensitive to unusual stimuli and also, it is possible,--perhaps as a result of those conditions,--more liable to atavistic manifestations. An organism in this state becomes peculiarly apt to seize on the automatic sources of energy generated by emotion. The parched sexual instinct greedily drinks up and absorbs the force it obtains by applying abnormal stimuli to its emotional apparatus. It becomes largely, if not solely, dependent on the energy thus secured. The abnormal organism in this respect may become as dependent on anger or fear, and for the same reason, as in other respects it may become dependent on alcohol.

We see the process very well illustrated by the occasional action of the emotion of anger. In animals the connection between love and anger is so close that even normally, as Groos points out, in some birds the sight of an enemy may call out the gestures of courtship.[139] As Krafft-Ebing remarks, both love and anger "seek their object, try to possess themselves of it, and naturally exhaust themselves in a physical effect on it; both throw the psychomotor sphere into the most intense excitement, and by means of this excitement reach their normal expression."[140] Fere has well remarked that the impatience of desire may itself be regarded as a true state of anger, and Stanley Hall, in his admirable study of anger, notes that "erethism of the breasts or sexual parts" was among the physical manifestations of anger occurring in some of his cases, and in one case a seminal emission accompanied every violent outburst.[141] Thus it is that anger may be used to reinforce a weak sexual impulse, and cases have been recorded in which coitus could only be performed when the man had succeeded in working himself up into an artificial state of anger.[142] On the other hand, Fere has recorded a case in which the sexual excitement accompanying delayed orgasm was always transformed into anger, though without any true sadistic manifestations.[143]

As a not unexpected complementary phenomenon to this connection of anger and sexual emotion in the male, it is sometimes found that the spectacle of masculine anger excites pleasurable emotion in women. The case has been recorded of a woman who delighted in arousing anger for the pleasure it gave her, and who advised another woman to follow her example and excite her husband's anger, as nothing was so enjoyable as to see a man in a fury of rage[144]; Lombroso mentions a woman who was mostly frigid, but experienced sexual feelings when she heard anyone swearing; and a medical friend tells me of a lady considerably past middle age who experienced sexual erethism after listening to a heated argument between her husband and a friend on religious topics. The case has also been recorded of a masochistic man who found sexual satisfaction in masturbating while a woman, by his instructions, addressed him in the lowest possible terms of abuse.[145] Such a feeling doubtless underlies that delight in teasing men which is so common among young women. Stanley Hall, referring to the almost morbid dread of witnessing manifestations of anger felt by many women, remarks: "In animals, females are often described as watching with complacency the conflict of rival males for their possession, and it seems probable that the intense horror of this state, which many females report, is associated more or less unconsciously with the sexual rage which has followed it."[146] The dread may well be felt at least as much as regards the emotional state in themselves as in the males.

Even when the emotion aroused is disgust it may still act as a sexual stimulant. Stcherbak has narrated the instructive case of a very intelligent and elegant married lady of rather delicate constitution, an artist of some talent, who never experienced any pleasure in sexual intercourse, but ever since sexual feelings first began to be manifested at all (at the age of 18) has only experienced them in relation to disgusting things. Anything that is repulsive, like vomit, etc., causes vague but pleasurable feelings which she gradually came to recognize as sexual. The sight of a crushed frog will cause very definite sexual sensations. She has had many admirers and she has observed that a declaration of love by a disagreeable or even repulsive man sexually excites her, though she has no desire for sexual intercourse with him.[147]

After all that has gone before it is easy to see how the emotion of fear may act in an analogous manner to anger. Just as anger may reinforce the active forms of the sexual impulse to which it is allied, so fear may reinforce the passive forms of that impulse. The following observations, written by a lady, very well show how we may thus explain the sexual attractiveness of whipping: "The fascination of whipping, which has always greatly puzzled me, seems to be a sort of hankering after the stimulus of fear. In a wild state animals live in constant fear. In civilized life one but rarely feels it. A woman's pleasure in being afraid of a husband or lover may be an equivalent of a man's love of adventure; and the fear of children for their parents may be the dawning of the love of adventure. In a woman this desire of adventure receives a serious check when she begins to realize what she might be subjected to by a man if she gratified it. Excessive fear is demoralizing, but it seems to me that the idea of being whipped gives a sense of fear which is not excessive. It is almost the only kind of pain (physical) which is inflicted on children or women by persons whom they can love and trust, and with a moral object. Any other kind of bodily ill treatment suggests malignity and may rouse resentment, and, in extreme cases, an excess of fear which goes beyond the limits of pleasurable excitement. Given a hereditary feeling of this sort, I think it is helped by the want of actual experience, as the association with excitement is freed from the idea of pain as such." In his very valuable and suggestive study of fears, Stanley Hall, while recognizing the evil of excessive fear, has emphasized the emotional and even the intellectual benefits of fear, and the great part played by fear in the evolution of the race as "the rudimentary organ on the full development and subsequent reduction of which many of the best things in the soul are dependent." "Fears that paralyze some brains," he remarks, "are a good tonic for others. In some form and degree all need it always. Without the fear apparatus in us, what a wealth of motive would be lost!"[148]

It is on the basis of this tonic influence of fear that in some morbidly sensitive natures fear acts as a sexual stimulant. Cullerre has brought together a number of cases in both men and women, mostly neurasthenic, in which fits of extreme anxiety and dread, sometimes of a religious character and often in highly moral people, terminate in spontaneous orgasm or in masturbation.[149]

Professor Gurlitt mentions that his first full sexual emission took place in class at school, when he was absorbed in writing out the life of Aristides and very anxious lest he should not be able to complete it within the set time.[150]

Dread and anxiety not only excite sexual emotion, but in the more extreme morbid cases they may suppress and replace it. Terror, say Fliess, is transmuted coitus, and Freud believes that the neurosis of anxiety always has a sexual cause, while Ballet, Capgras, Loewenfeld, and others, though not regarding a sexual traumatism as the only cause, still regard it as frequent.

It is worthy of note that not only fear, but even so depressing an emotion as grief, may act as a sexual stimulant, more especially in women. This fact is not sufficiently recognized, though probably everyone can recall instances from his personal knowledge, such cases being generally regarded as inexplicable. It is, however, not more surprising that grief should be transformed into sexual emotion than that (as in a case recorded by Stanley Hall) it should manifest itself as anger. In any case we have to bear in mind the frequency of this psychological transformation in the presence of cases which might otherwise seem to call for a cynical interpretation.

   The case has been recorded of an English lady of good social
   position who fell in love with an undertaker at her father's
   funeral and insisted on marrying him. It is known that some men
   have been so abnormally excited by the funeral trappings of death
   that only in such surroundings have they been able to effect
   coitus. A case has been recorded of a physician of unimpeachable
   morality who was unable to attend funerals, even of his own
   relatives, on account of the sexual excitement thus aroused.
   Funerals, tragedies at the theater, pictures of martyrdom, scenes
   of execution, and trials at the law-courts have been grouped
   together as arousing pleasure in many people, especially women.
   (C.F. von Schlichtegroll, _Sacher-Masoch und der Masochismus_,
   pp. 30-31.) Wakes and similar festivals may here find their
   psychological basis, and funerals are an unquestionable source of
   enjoyment among some people, especially of so-called "Celtic"
   race. The stimulating reaction after funerals is well known to
   many, and Leigh Hunt refers to this (in his _Autobiography_) as
   affecting the sincerely devoted friends who had just cremated
   It may well be, as Kiernan has argued (_Alienist and
   Neurologist_, 1891; ibid., 1902, p. 263), that in the disturbance
   of emotional balance caused by grief the primitive instincts
   become peculiarly apt to respond to stimulus, and that in the
   aboulia of grief the mind is specially liable to become the prey
   to obsessions.
   "When my child died at the age of 6 months," a correspondent
   writes, "I had a violent paroxysm of weeping and for some days I
   could not eat. When I kissed the dead boy for the last time (I
   had never seen a corpse before) I felt I had reached the depths
   of misery and could never smile or have any deep emotions again.
   Yet that night, though my thoughts had not strayed to sexual
   subjects since the child's death, I had a violent erection. I
   felt ashamed to desire carnal things when my dead child was still
   in the house, and explained to my wife. She was sympathetic, for
   her idea was that our common grief had intensified my love for
   her. I feel convinced, however, that my desire was the result of
   a stimulus propagated to the sexual centers from the centers
   affected by my grief, the transference of my emotion from one set
   of nerves to another. I do not perhaps express my meaning
   How far the emotional influence of grief entered into the
   following episode it is impossible to say, for here it is
   probable that we are mainly concerned with one of those almost
   irresistible impulses by which adolescent girls are sometimes
   overcome. The narrative is from the lips of a reliable witness, a
   railway guard, who, some thirty years ago, when a youth of 18, in
   Cornwall, lodged with a man and woman who had a daughter of his
   own age. Some months later, when requiring a night's lodging, he
   called at the house, and was greeted warmly by the woman, who
   told him her husband had just died and that she and her daughter
   were very nervous and would be glad if he would stay the night,
   but that as the corpse occupied the other bedroom he would have
   to share their bed ("We don't think very much of that among us,"
   my informant added). He agreed, and went to bed, and when, a
   little later, the two women also came to bed, the girl, at her
   own suggestion, lay next to the youth. Nothing happened during
   the night, but in the morning, when the mother went down to light
   the fire, the daughter immediately threw off the bedclothes,
   exposing her naked person, and before the youth had realized what
   was happening she had drawn him over on to her. He was so utterly
   surprised that nothing whatever happened, but the incident made a
   life-long impression on him.
   In this connection reference may be made to the story of the
   Ephesian matron in Petronius; the story of the widow, overcome by
   grief, who watches by her husband's tomb, and very speedily falls
   into the arms of the soldier who is on guard. This story, in very
   various forms, is found in China and India, and has occurred
   repeatedly in European literature during the last two thousand
   years. The history of the wanderings of this story has been told
   by Grisebach (Eduard Grisebach, _Die Treulose Witwe_, third
   edition, 1877). It is not probable, however, that all the stories
   of this type are actually related; in any case it would seem that
   their vitality is due to the fact that they have been found to
   show a real correspondence to life; one may note, for instance,
   the curious tone of personal emotion with which George Chapman
   treated this theme in his play, _Widow's Tears_.

It may be added that, in explaining the resort to pain as an emotional stimulus, we have to take into account not only the biological and psychological considerations here brought forward, but also the abnormal physiological conditions under which stimuli usually felt as painful come specially to possess a sexually exciting influence. The neurasthenic and neuropathic states may be regarded as conditions of more or less permanent fatigue. It is true that under the conditions we are considering there may be an extreme sensitiveness to stimuli not usually felt as of sexual character, a kind of hyperesthesia; but hyperesthesia, it has well been said, is nothing but the beginning of anesthesia.[151] Sergeant Bertrand, the classical example of necrophily,[152] began to masturbate at the age of 9, stimulating a sexual impulse which may have been congenitally feeble by accompanying thoughts of ill-treating women. It was not till subsequently that he began to imagine that the women were corpses. The sadistic thoughts were only incidents in the emotional evolution, and the real object throughout was to procure strong emotion and not to inflict cruelty. Some observations of Fere's as to the conditions which influence the amount of muscular work accomplished with the ergograph are instructive from the present point of view: "Although sensibility diminishes in the course of fatigue," Fere found that "there are periods during which the excitability increases before it disappears. As fatigue increases, the perception of the intercurrent excitation is retarded; an odor is perceived as exciting before it is perceived as a differentiated sensation; the most fetid odors arouse feelings of well-being before being perceived as odors, and their painful quality only appears afterward, or is not noticed at all." And after recording a series of results with the ergograph obtained under the stimulus of unpleasant odors he remarks: "We are thus struck by two facts: the diminution of work during painful excitation, and its increase when the excitation has ceased. When the effects following the excitation have disappeared the diminution is more rapid than in the ordinary state. When the fatigue is manifested by a notable diminution, if the same excitation is brought into action again, no diminution is produced, but a more or less durable increase, exactly as though there had been an agreeable excitation. Moreover, the stimulus which appears painful in a state of repose loses that painful character either partially or completely when acting on the same subject in a more and more fatigued state." Fere defines a painful stimulus as a strong excitation which causes displays of energy which the will cannot utilize; when, as a result of diminished sensibility, the excitants are attenuated, the will can utilize them, and so there is no pain.[153] These experiments had no reference to the sexual instinct, but it will be seen at once that they have an extremely significant bearing on the subject before us, for they show us the mechanism of the process by which in an abnormal organism pain becomes a sexual stimulant.

Original footnotesEdit

[136] Erasmus Darwin, _Zooenomia_, vol. i, p. 496.

[137] K. Groos, _Spiele der Menschen_, pp. 200-210.

[138] Hirn, _Origins of Art_, p. 54. Reference may here perhaps be made to the fact that unpleasant memories persist in women more than in men (_American Journal of Psychology_, 1899, p. 244). This had already been pointed out by Coleridge. "It is a remark that I have made many times," we find it said in one of his fragments (_Anima Poetae_, p. 89), "and many times, I guess, shall repeat, that women are infinitely fonder of clinging to and beating about, hanging upon and keeping up, and reluctantly letting fall any doleful or painful or unpleasant subject, than men of the same class and rank."

[139] Groos, _Spiele der Thiere_, p. 251. Maeder (_Jahrbuch fuer Psychoanalytische Forschungen_, 1909, vol. i, p. 149) mentions an epileptic girl of 22 who masturbates when she is in a rage with anyone.

[140] Krafft-Ebing, _Psychopathia Sexualis_, English translation of tenth edition, p. 78.

[141] Stanley Hall, "A Study of Anger," _American Journal of Psychology_, July, 1899, p. 549.

[142] Krafft-Ebing refers to such a case as recorded by Schulz, _Psychopathia Sexualis_, p. 78.

[143] Fere, _L'Instinct sexuel_, p. 213.

[144] C.F. von Schlichtegroll, _Sacher-Masoch und der Masochismus_, p. 31.

[145] _Archivio di Psichiatria_, vol. xv, p. 120. Mention may also be made of the cases (described as hysterical mixoscopia by Kiernan, _Alienist and Neurologist_, May, 1903) in which young women address to themselves anonymous letters of an abusive and disgusting character, and show them to others.

[146] Stanley Hall, loc. cit., p. 587.

[147] _Archives de Neurologie_, Oct., 1907.

[148] G. Stanley Hall, "A Study of Fears," _American Journal of Psychology_, vol. viii, No. 2.

[149] A. Cullerre, "De l'Excitation Sexuelle dans les Psychopathies Anxieuses," _Archives de Neurologie_, Feb., 1905.

[150] L. Gurlitt (_Die Neue Generation_, July, 1909). Moll (_Sexualleben des Kindes_, p. 84) also give examples of the connection between anxiety and sexual excitement. Freud (_Der Wahn und die Traueme in Jensen's Gradiva_, p. 52) considers that in dream-interpretation we may replace "terror" by "sexual excitement." In noting the general sexual effects of fear, we need not strictly separate the group of cases in which the sexual effects are physical only, and fail to be circuited through the brain.

[151] See the article on "Neurasthenia" by Rudolf Arndt in Tuke's _Dictionary of Psychological Medicine_.

[152] Lunier, _Annales Medico-psychologiques_, 1849, p. 153.

[153] Fere, _Comptes-rendus de la Societe de Biologie_, December 15 and 22, 1900; id., _Annee Psychologique_, seventh year, 1901, pp. 82-129; more especially the same author's _Travail et Plaisir_, 1904.