THE muscular antagonism which we have considered in Part II was only the material substratum of the question; psychically this same conflict takes place within us as a mental struggle, a struggle which sometimes robs us adults both day and night of our rest and peace of mind, and subjects us to the most rigourous test: shall I conquer, or shall I fail? Like Hercules at the crossroads.
There is, unfortunately, scarcely any function so little under our voluntary control as the sexual one, which plays so important a part in determining the happiness or misery of our lives, and even the welfare or suffering of future generations.
We deceive ourselves greatly when we men call ourselves conscious beings in contrast to the animals; we have still to strive, before we can be such in reality.
This is especially difficult for us in the sexual province, because the sexual impulse originated in the most primitive times, when we were still but very slightly differentiated from the lower animals. In this respect only the urge of hunger surpasses the sexual impulse; and there are some moments when the sexual impulse is the mightier. Only in this province we are less frank than the animals.
Sexual self-control is not sufficiently esteemed by public opinion, because it is looked upon as something negative. But we forget how greatly, in a positive sense, sexual self-control deepens and widens our love-life. The more self-control we have at our command, the more richly and beautifully will our sexual life blossom out; and this is true not only for individuals but also for the community.
In contrast to an asceticism that would deprive our lives of all happiness, and happy and kindly men think that we should be allowed a little tolerance, so that life shall not be a weary waste. A little tolerance for the “jeunesse doree” after their fashion and for the masses after their fashion; for after all, we only live once. But the new generation is not satisfied with such rubbish; it abhors the brothel with its body-and-soul-destroying disease, and its lack of real satisfaction: it detests alcohol which enervates us, and frivolity with its contamination.
The rising generation demands a solution of the question founded on sound principles; with its full consciousness it requires finer pleasures. Not tolerance, but idealism.
The oscillation between an unyielding stoicism on the one hand and an enervating epicureanism on the other, has undermined the joy of living far too long. The history of the evolution of mankind shows us a better way. Only with gentler manners could love-making be romantic (see chapter 46) ; in earlier times when sheer animal desire led to marriage, jealousy, revenge and murder seemed indispensable to self-preservation.
Even now, without a certain amount of self-control, all friendly intercourse between the two sexes which had not marriage as its avowed object would have to be discouraged as dangerous and morally inadmissible, as soon as it had taken on the slightest sexual complexion; for it would thus always be a temptation of Satan, as many pious folks actually term it. Indeed, when we entirely lose our self-control, we fall from our present domesticated or civilised state (see chapter 11) back to the animal state. But with conscious self-control we become the lords of creation.
How is it that nowadays a girl, even if young and pretty, can, go home or make long journeys alone, or fill public offices? This is all only possible because assaults on respectable girls have become quite an exceptional occurrence.
Only in the mutual certainty that the bounds of propriety will in no wise be overstepped, should two persons in sympathy with each other permit the maximum of tender intimacy, such as is generally allowed to engaged couples even in the most respectable families.
And if we imagine this principle not limited to engaged couples, but extended to society, at large, how much more Arcadian rapture would this earthly life afford us!
With this ideal before us, let us now study the question of self-control in sexual matters.
We would like definitely to decide, in each case with full knowledge of cause and effect, what is good and what is evil, what is permissible and what is not permissible, and we will then willingly renounce much that at first sight appears so tempting, but which really debases us, the gain for us will be so much the greater. We want to help each other in seeking new standards, and if in our opinion one of our fellows falls into error, we must not narrow-mindedly condemn him (or her) but must strive all the more to help him into a better path for the future.
We must not be surprised that in the sexual province in particular, the problem of self-control plays such a very prominent part. Contrary to the old Latin saying that most people need spurs and a very few the bridle, in sexual matters the opposite is the case, most people need the bridle and very few the spurs.
Of course, there are times when the Latin proverb applies to sexual matters. Doctors sometimes come across people with sluggish constitutions whom they would like to inspire with a little more sexual impulse, a little more energy, so as to keep the flame of life burning more brightly.
Thus when we speak in this section of sexual self-control, we mean first of all the bridle; but we must not forget that now and again the spurs may be needed to stimulate the sexual energy. Both may be of equal importance in making our lives a thing of beauty, and scientifically considered they are but the two sides of the same problem. Both are included when we define sexual self-control as the conscious mastery of this function.
This third part of our work possesses still further importance, for it deals with a question of the conduct of our lives. Nothing in the whole world is so hard to master as our sexual impulse; and when we have once attained an insight into the means of governing it, then we have a fortiori discovered the right way to become the masters of ourselves.