This section is from the book "Married Love: A New Contribution to the Solution of Sex Difficulties", by Marie Carmichael Stopes. Also available from Amazon: Married Love: A New Contribution to the Solution of Sex Difficulties.
These thoughts are so depressing even to the tenderest and most loving woman, and so bitter to one who has other causes of complaint, that in their turn they act on the whole system and increase the damage done by the mere sleeplessness.
The older school of physiologists dealt in methods too crude to realise the physiological results of our thoughts, but it is now well known that anger and bitterness have experimentally recognisable physiological effects, and are injurious to the whole system.
It requires little imagination to see that after months or years of such embittered sleeplessness, the woman tends not only to become neurasthenic but also resentful towards her husband. She is probably too ignorant and unobservant nf her own physiology to realise the fuH meaning of what is taking place, but she feels vaguely that he is to blame, and that she is being sacrificed for what, in her still greater ignorance of his physiology, seems to her to be his mere pleasure and self-indulgence.
He, with his health maintained by the natural outlet followed by recuperative sleep, is not likely to be ready to look into the gloomy and shadowy land of vague reproach and inexplicable trivial wrongs which are all the expression she gives to her unformulated physical grievance. So he is likely to set down any resentment she may show to " nerves " or " captious-ness "; and to be first solicitous, and then impatient, towards her apparently irrelevant complaints.
If he is, as many men are, tender and considerate> he may try to remedy matters by restricting to the extreme limit of what is absolutely necessary for him, the number of times they come together. Unconsciously he thus only makes matters worse; for as a general rule, he is quite unaware of his wife's rhythm, and does not arrange to coincide with it in his infrequent tender embraces. As he is now probably sleeping in another room and not daring to come for the nightly talks and tenderness which are so sweet a privilege of marriage, here, as in other ways, his well-meaning but wrongly-conceived efforts at restraint only tend to drive the pair still further apart.
To make plain the reasonableness of my view regarding sleep, it is necessary to mention some of the immensely profound influences which it is now known that sex exerts, even when not stimulated to its specific use.
In those who are deprived of their sex-organs, particularly when young, many of the other features and organs of the body develop abnormally or fail to appear. Castrated boys (eunuchs) when grown up, tend to have little or no beard, or moustache, to have high-pitched voices and several other characters which separate them from normal men.
The growth of organs and structures so remote from the sex-organs, as, e.g., the larynx, have been found to be influenced by the chemical stimulus of secretions from the sex-organs and their subsidiary glands. These secretions are not passed out through external ducts but enter the blood system directly, Such secretions passing straight from the ductless glands into the vascular system are of very great importance in almost all our bodily functions. They have recently been much studied, and the general name of Hormones given to them by Starling.* The idea that some particular secretions or " humours " are connected with each of the internal organs of the body, is a very ancient one; but we have even yet only the vaguest and most elementary knowledge of a few of the many miracles performed by these subtle chemical substances. Thus we know that the stimulus of food in the stomach sends a chemical substance from one ductless gland in the digestive system chasing through the blood to another gland which prepares a different digestive secretion further on. We know that the thyroid gland in the neck swells and contracts in very sensitive relation with the sex organs; we know that some chemical secretion from the developing embryo, or the tissue in which it grows, sends its chemical stimulus to the distant mammary glands of the mother; we know that if the ovaries of a girl or the testes of a boy are completely cut out, the far-reaching influences their hormones would have exerted are made evident by the numerous changes in the system and departures from the normal, which result from their lack.
* See Prof. Ernest H. Starling's Croonian Lecture to the Royal Society, 1905.
But we do not know, for physiologists have not yet studied the degree and character of the immense stimulus of sex-life and experience on the glands of the sex-organs, or how they affect the whole of the human being's life and powers.
The " Mendelians " and the " Mutationists," who both tend to lay so much (and I think such undue) stress on morphological hereditary factors, seem at present to have the ear of the public more than the physiologists. But it is most important that every grown up man and woman should know that through the various chemical substances or " messengers" (which Starling called the hormones) there is an extremely rapid, almost immediate, effect on the activities of organs in remote parts of the body, due to the influences exerted on one or other internal organ.
It is therefore clear that any influences exerted on such profoundly important organs as those connected with sex must have far-reaching results in many unexpected fields.
What must be taking place in the female system as a result of the completed sex act ?
It is true that in coitus woman has but a slight external secretion, and that principally of mucus. But we have no external signs of all the complex processes and reactions going on in digestion and during the production of digestive secretions. When, as is the case in orgasm, we have such intense and apparent nervous, vascular and muscular reactions, it seems inevitable that there must be correspondingly profound internal correlations. Is it conceivable that organs so fundamentally placed, and whose mere existence we know affects the personal characters of women, could escape physiological result from the intense preliminary stimulus and acute sensations of an orgasm ?
To ask this question is surely to answer it. It is to my mind inconceivable that the orgasm in woman as in man should not have profound physiological effects. Did we know enough about the subject, many of the " nervous breakdowns" and neurotic tendencies of the modern woman could be directly traced to the partial stimulation of sexual intercourse without its normal completion which is so prevalent in modern marriage.
This subject, and its numerous ramifications, are well worth the careful research of the most highly-trained physiologists. There is nothing more profound, or of more vital moment to modern humanity as a whole, than is the understanding of the sex nature and sex needs of men and women.
I may point out as a mere suggestion that the man's sex-organs give rise to external and also to internal secretions. The former only leave the glands which secrete them as a result of definite stimulus; the latter appear to be perpetually exuded in small quantities and always to be entering and influencing the whole system. In women we know there are corresponding perpetual internal secretions, and it seems evident* to me that there must be some internal secretions which are only released under the definite stimulus of the whole sex-act.
The English and American peoples, who lead the world in so many ways, have an almost unprecedented^ high proportion of married women who get no satisfaction from physical union with their husbands, though they bear children, and may in every other respect appear to be happily married.
The modern civilised neurotic woman has become a by-word in the Western world. Why?^
I am certain that much of this suffering is caused by the ignorance of both men and women regarding not only the inner physiology, but even the obvious outward expression, of the complete sex-act.
Many medical men now recognise that^ numerous nervous and other diseases are associated with the lack of physiological relief for natural or stimulated sex feelings in women. Ellis* quotes the opinion of an Austrian gynecologist who said that, " of every hundred women who come to him with uterine troubles, seventy suffer from congestion of the womb, which he regarded as due to incomplete coitus." While a writer in a recent number of the British Medical Journal published some cases in which quite serious nervous diseases iri wives were put right when their husbands were cured of too hasty ejaculation.
* H. Ellii. " Sex in Relation to Society," 1910, p. 551.
* See Porosz, British Medical Journal, April 1, 1911, p. 784..
Sleep, concerning which I began this chapter, is but one of innumerable indications of inner processes intimately bound up with the sex-reactions. When the sex-rite is, in every sense, rightly performed, the healing wings of sleep descend both on the man and on the woman in his arms. Every organ in their bodies is influenced and stimulated to play its part, while their spirits, after soaring in the dizzy heights of rapture, are wafted to oblivion, thence to return gently to the ordinary plains of daily consciousness.