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FUNCTIONAL NERVOUS DISORDERS

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THE CONCEPTION OF SEXUALITY (I)1

By J. A. HADFIELD.

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THERE is perhaps no term more discussed in modern psychotherapy, with the possible exception of the Unconscious, than that of the Sexual: and one of the greatest difficulties that have stood in the way of the advance of modern psychotherapy is the lack of definition of this term. The purpose of this Symposium is to try to discover the scope and meaning of the term.

The criticism of Psychoanalysis has largely directed itself towards the use of the term sexual. It is a truism that Freud uses it in a wider sense than most. But the exact meaning of the term neither he nor his followers have ventured to define. Indeed he frankly admits the difficulty in so doing?. He starts by telling us that we all know what we mean by sex, and then proceeds to show us that we do not.

Definitions at present vary from that which limits the term to the act of reproduction, to that of Freud who extends the term to include the sex perversions and "infantile sexuality.” I presume I have been asked to open the discussion as representing a mid-way position.

For the purposes of this discussion we may venture upon a provisional definition of the Sexual, as that group of impulsive tendencies whose natural end is reproduction. Before explaining and illustrating this definition we must call attention to three assumptions it makes:

(a) It assumes that each instinctive impulse has a “natural end” which it subserves; hunger for nutrition, flight to escape from danger, maternal instinct for care of offspring, and sex for reproduction. This end is not necessarily consciously recognised but it is nevertheless the natural outcome of the impulse.

(6) There are many impulses which do not in any particular instance reach that end, e.g. fear does not always end in flight, and the

1 A contribution to a discussion at a meeting of the Medical Section of the British Psychological Society on March 25, 1925.

2 Introductory Lectures, p. 255.

3 Introductory Lectures, p. 268: “We have extended the meaning of the concept ‘sexuality'only so far as to include the sexual life of perverted persons and also of children.” This statement of Freud's is not as innocent as it appears, for by `infantile sexuality' he seems not to mean merely that activities ordinarily called sexual are to be found in children, but includes as sexual a great many other activities of children, such as thumb-sucking. Med. Psych. V

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immaturity of the child prevents the fulfilment of the sex instinct. Nevertheless the fact remains that such impulses, given full and unfettered expression, would lead to these specific results. That is what we mean by natural end.

(c) It defines the instinct in terms of 'impulse'; that is to say, in its conative aspect, the affective aspect or pleasurable feeling tone being regarded as an invariable accompaniment of the successful expression of the impulse, but not the primary factor in the primitive instinct itself. The definition does not decide which impulses actually may be said to come under its terms. We shall however require to discuss some of these examples by way of illustration.

With these assumptions, let us pass to the definition itself. Sex is defined as that group of impulsive tendencies whose natural end is reproduction.

This definition includes as sexual, the normal act of reproduction, any direct stimulation of the sex organ, the sex perversions, and tendencies like self-display, which appear normally to have a sexual end; it excludes activities like sucking, or interest in faeces, except in so far as these appear in the sexual perversions.

(a) It includes first and foremost the act of reproduction or coitus. Reproduction is an essential feature of the sexual instinct as a whole, but to define sex merely as the act of reproduction is too narrow, since, as Freud has pointed out, it excludes such activities as kissing, masturbation, and other perversions to which only the term 'sexual'can be given. That we must extend the term beyond the mere act of reproduction is obvious; nor, indeed, do I know of anyone who would limit it to that. But the question is how far beyond are we to extend the term, and how to decide whether an activity is to be termed sexual or not?

(b) We may also include as sexual without further question any direct stimulation of the sexual organs, for the stimulation of these organs naturally tends to the desire for the normal sexual act.

These stimuli may be external as in masturbation, or they may be due to surplus excitation', as in tickling or anal sensation either of which can produce erection. But things that stimulate the sexual instinct are not necessarily themselves sexual.

1 I use “surplus excitation' in its usual physiological sense, as an overflow of neural excitation.

2 In calling any excitation of the genitals sexual, it is however, necessary to remember that the genital sensations in the child are of a quality quite different from the sex impulses of later life. It is merely a sensuous gratification like others characteristic of early child. hood, and tends like them to pass away during the so-called latency period. A child may have genital sensations quite different from sex impulses.

(c) Our definition also includes the 'sex perversions' like homosexuality or sadism.

It may be objected that these perversions do not come under our definitions since they do not lead to reproduction but actually thwart this aim by substituting their own activities for reproductive ends. But this difficulty has been covered in our definition by the use of the phrase "whose natural end is reproduction.” The perversions arouse feelings in the sex or genital organs-feelings which are themselves indistinguishable from those experienced in normal sex desires—whose natural ends are normal sex relations and reproduction. It is true that in the perversions that end is not actually realised, and that is, of course, why we call them perversions. But they are perversions of impulses whose normal and natural end is reproduction and therefore we bring them within the scope of our definition as "sex perversions.” Homosexuality for instance, arouses sex impulses whose natural end is reproduction, though in this case they are perverted to non-reproductive ends.

(d) We next come to certain impulsive tendencies which have a close association with sex, such as self-display, curiosity, self-assertion and submission. If these tendencies can be shown to have reproduction as their natural end, we may call them sexual.

Take for instance the impulse to self-display. This desire plays a very great part in sexual activity, both in the male and the female, and this may be its principal and original function. If so we may call selfdisplay sexual. We must however distinguish between two forms of exposure, the desire to be seen, and the pleasure in having the air play upon the naked body, which is a strongly toned desire in children. The former, the desire to be seen, may have originated in the sex desire to attract the mate; on the other hand, it may more conceivably have originated in the egotistic tendency of the child to receive the notice and attention from the parents, necessary to self-preservation.

(e) It would appear that curiosity is developed in response to the need for the animal to discover whether an object be dangerous or not, appetising or noxious. But the impulse of curiosity originally non-sexual can be pressed into the service of sex desires, and so curiosity becomes a normal characteristic of sexual life. To the sexual manifestations of this instinctive tendency, especially in the perverted forms, a specific name is given, namely 'observationism,' and since such curiosity is directed towards sexual objects and arouses sex impulses we may so far include it as sexual in the terms of our definition. But the impulses themselves are not primarily sexual, but egotistic in their aim.

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Observationism we therefore regard as sexual without committing ourselves to regard impulses of curiosity as themselves sexual. A child's curiosity in its faeces or in the passing of water is not essentially different from its interest in its food or in strangers—it is non-sexual. Indeed its interest in its sex organs is at first only one manifestation of its instinct of curiosity. It is only when these activities tend to persist abnormally and attach themselves to sex feelings that they constitute the perversions.

Similarly with self-assertive and submissive tendencies, whose ends appear to be self-preservative and not reproductive.

The impulse to overmaster another which in sadism finds an object in the sexually loved person does not appear to have originally been sexual in its aim, but egotistic; it is sexual only in so far as it is directed towards sexual ends, or appears amongst the perversions as sadism. The first aggressive tendencies of an infant are directed towards getting its food, that is to say it is nutritive: the young animal also fights for its life. Only later does it fight for the gratification of its sex desires, attacking its rivals and overmastering the female. In so far as this impulse to aggressiveness is normally directed towards sexually loved objects and arouses impulses whose natural end is reproduction, so far we are justified in speaking of it as sexual. In the attempt to secure the ends whether of nutrition or of sex, there is frequently the necessity to overmaster another individual, the prey or foe in the first case, the female in the other. When this is indulged in without reference to its end but merely for the gratification it gives it is called 'cruelty' in the former case, and 'sadism'in the latter. Cruelty and sadism are different and separate activities and with different aims and different motives. Cruelty, in so far as it is indulged in for its own gratification is a perversion of self-assertion: sadism in as much as it gives rise to sexual feelings is a “sex-perversion.'

The aggressive tendency, manifest as self-will in biting, kicking, or hitting, etc., becomes dominant from about the age of 18 months to three years of age, when it is a normal and natural tendency. Being normal, we can see no just reason to call the period of life when these impulses are naturally most dominant, the “sadistic' phase. That would be to call a normal psychological phase by the name of its pathological manifestation.

Similarly with masochism, which appears to be a manifestation of submissive impulses, or, as Freud calls them, “impulses with passive goals.” The submissive impulses which lie at the root of masochism appear to be derived from at least three sources: the submission of the

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