Classic Essays

On Sexual Relationships

The relation of man and woman should be approached with consecration, like that of a knight, or of one taking holy orders.

by William Gayley Simpson (from his Which Way, Western Man?)

FOR WOMEN, the man is a means, the end is the child. And the child is the purpose of marriage. In the Orient, the social function of marriage has always been primary, and in this it has been wiser than the West, at least wiser than the West of the modern era. The primary purpose of marriage, certainly from the point of view of society, is to bring children into the world, and especially superior children—children endowed with higher capacities than those of their parents. And young people themselves should focus less of their expectation on marriage as romance. It never was intended to be only the means by which two people, lost in each other, should find happiness. They should never have been encouraged, or allowed, to think it was this. Marriage may prove a gateway to heaven, or it may not. Certainly it will not be all heaven. Bringing children into the world and rearing them properly is an arduous undertaking, and a heavy responsibility. It calls for intelligence, knowledge, training, and many of the virtues: notably devotion, patience, capacity for faithful and hard labor through long years, and much self-forgetting. As such, people should approach it with consecration, like that of a knight, or one taking holy orders.

Moreover, if the primary and most sacred purpose of marriage, the purpose of marriage for all noble and intelligent men and women except perhaps a rather exceptional few, is to bring into the world superior children, as superior as possible, then it follows inevitably that eugenic considerations must be of the utmost importance. Scientific evidence, very largely that supplied by genetics, now makes it certain that both capacities and defects run in families, and that the lives of children are shaped more—even much more—by their heredity than by environment. Marriage must now be looked upon as essentially a matter of bringing together two family stocks. What has to be thoroughly examined, therefore, is not merely the specimens of humanity who propose to do the marrying, but the entire family background and record of each one, as far back as it can be ascertained. And no amount of love or “spiritual unity” between them should be allowed to sanction any marriage from which children are to be expected if their ancestries betray serious hereditary defects, weaknesses, or abnormalities of body or mind, or even—some would say—capacities and traits in the two records that are widely different. Marriage, to be justified, if it is to lead to children, must at the least have a sound physical and hereditary basis.

But of course such precautions, essential though I do hold them to be, can never of themselves be enough to ensure what I should consider a great and beautiful marriage. For the realization of this, the man and the woman must bring to their marriage, or in their marriage develop, certain emotional and spiritual qualities. These are even more essential than a rich intellectual endowment. There must be deep love between them, and mutual reverence, and—more important than agreement in ideas—their lives must be shaped by the same values and aims. The touch of each on the other must be quickening, vitalizing, exalting. And when it is so, then does their very sexual relationship cease to be an end in itself and become a symbol of the unity that they have found together, at once holy and hallowing. No matter how well the prospective mates may meet all the requirements as regards ancestry and the like, their marriage can hardly be expected to become one of the most beautiful and life-releasing unless they have found spiritual unity, or feel confident that they can grow into it in the course of time.

But here, too, let me confess my doubt whether “marrying for love” can be accepted as a reliable guide in this direction. When two young people are “in love,” are they not commonly so swept away in a flood of emotion that they are unable to make a sound appraisal of realities, or perhaps even to see them? The wart on the end of our loved one’s nose may then be glorified into a thing of beauty. Would not mates commonly be chosen more wisely, certainly from the point of view of eugenics and even from that of personal happiness, if a larger part in their choice were left to the parents, who are older, more experienced, more objective in their point of view, calmer and more realistic in their perception? They would see the wart—and other things. Perhaps couples coming together thus would often be less “in love” when they married than is commonly the case among us now, but might not their love last longer? Indeed, if young people were more often thus soundly mated, might not their love for one another be expected to grow deeper with the passing of the years? And, for myself, I like it best when there is only one marriage, lifelong, and when old age finds a couple nearer together at the end than they were at the beginning. Maybe then it would be more commonly a matter of coming to love each other. But nothing can last if sound foundation for it be lacking. The impression that I get from competent and seemingly unbiased observers is that marriages in the Orient, which are entered into more in this fashion than is customary with us, are not less happy. And certainly they are more stable. And they create a stabler social structure.

Above all, marriages entered upon thus would be more likely to produce desirable children. And, in all marrying, this is the consideration that we should strive to keep uppermost. Personal happiness should be subordinated to it, and when necessary, even be sacrificed to it. In support of the whole idea of giving parents a larger part in determining the selection of mates, Ellsworth Huntington said: “In an earlier stage of society the parents arranged the marriages. . . The eugenic effect of the old system appears to have been excellent. It tended to insure the marriage of all the young people of the better classes at an early age. It likewise promoted the union of families of similar grade, so that good stock was in less danger than at present of being diluted by poor.” I am not urging that parents should do all the arranging, but certainly they should have a larger and accepted part in it. Perhaps the very legality of the marriage should depend upon its having their approval. At times, this would doubtless involve great hardship. But no system can be devised that will not at times press heavily upon someone. The best that we can do is to find a system that will most surely conduce to the increase of quality of life among us, and then pay the price of it loyally.

And, lest it seem to some of my readers that I am making the requirements for marriage too mechanical and rigid, and dismissing too lightly the happiness and contentment of the individual men and women who must decide whether or not to marry or whom to marry, let me point out several facts that may relieve this misgiving.

First of all, it is to be noted that if young people, and more especially the young people of our superior stocks, were brought up with a fairly definite idea of the sort of mate that sound eugenic considerations would in their case prescribe, it would generally determine the kind of man or woman they would look upon with admiration, and, as a rule, prevent their falling in love with any person quite unsuited. As a young friend of mine put it some years ago, he found that he tended to love the kind of girl who fitted the picture he had long had in his mind. In any case, if it did not have so positive an effect as this, a knowledge of the eugenic requirements would at least set limits, negatively, within which alone one would permit a love relationship to go so far as marriage.

But more than this, I recognize, and readily allow, that the difficulties and riskiness of a marital venture tend to increase with advance in the mental and spiritual development of the parties involved. It is one thing, and a comparatively easy thing, for a man and a woman of the peasant or laborer type to find satisfaction in marriage. Their rather lumpish natures can settle down side by side and without difficulty find their simple needs and desires satisfied. But a man or woman of highly developed personality has a sensitivity and bristles with points and angles of taste, conviction and imperious drive that make it exceedingly difficult to mesh his or her life comfortably and happily with the life of another. To some extent, the difficulty can be met by having the woman married early, while she is still plastic, to a man perhaps ten years her senior. She will then tend to learn from him, and to shape her life to fit into his. But even so, marriage will continue to be more of a gamble for those of the highly differentiated development that goes with personality and culture.

But even with all this granted, we must go on to acknowledge that more room for the relations of the sexes is needed, and must be provided. There has been too much effort to force them into one rigid, standardized mold. This situation probably had its origin, as does the difficulty of correcting it, in the widely diffused feeling that sex is at best a necessary evil, to which our concessions should be reduced to a minimum, and in the further fact that our fetish of equality tends to lump all people together without any recognition of the diversity of psychological types and of sexual need that obtains throughout a population. On the one hand, we have saints and sages, like St. Francis and Nietzsche, who, at least in the creative period of their lives, seem to have required no overt sexual expression whatever. On the other hand, I think of the wife of a friend of mine who confided to an elderly lady of my acquaintance, that no one man could ever satisfy her.

And from observation and from the reading of biography, one gets the impression that there must be a considerable proportion of people, both married and unmarried, both men and women, though I suppose chiefly men and chiefly the unmarried, who apparently are unable, or perhaps are simply unwilling to try, to keep their sexual lives in the channels prescribed by convention. To a large extent, they are anything but depraved or vicious. Often they are people of the creative type: poets, painters, musicians, and the like. Men such as Burns, Tolstoy, Goethe, Heine, Shelley, Beethoven, and Walt Whitman must immediately come to the minds of all of us. And often their sexual relations, though frowned upon by society, are in themselves more beautiful than those of most duly married husbands and wives. Why should we not remove the stigma from such relationships and make room for them? We recognize our indebtedness to the creators for the art and thought with which they enrich our lives. Why should we so quickly forget that the freedom from conflicting responsibility that they require, in order to fulfill their creative impulses, often makes marriage impossible; and that the very energy that enables them to create, not uncommonly presses upon them a sexual need that cannot be kept within bounds? It is important to safeguard the essential features of our monogamous family system, yes, as I shall be at some pains to point out later, but I doubt that our whole institution would be in danger of collapse if we allowed that there were some people, often among our most valuable, whose nature or whose circumstances were not such as to enable them to come under its protection and to meet its requirements and responsibilities. We might do well to remember that the ancient Hindus had different kinds of marriage, and recognized different purposes in sexual relationships. While holding to the monogamous norm, they allowed exceptions. It was perfectly permissible, for instance, and I understand it still is, for a married woman, unblest with children, to go to a rishi (a Hindu holy sage) with the request that he impregnate her. There was the effort to see that each normal man and woman had the degree of sexual opportunity essential to health or to taking his or her part in the total task of perpetuating the species. In general, they allowed the largest amount of privilege to the more highly developed members of the upper classes. Apparently, a similar condition obtained in ancient China.

From some quarters we are being reminded that our own early Celtic ancestors, Scottish and Irish, had a form of trial marriage, which could be terminated at the end of a year if it proved childless or for other reasons unsatisfactory. On the strength of such examples, it is being urged that it might actually conduce to the durability of our monogamous marriage today if we also allowed couples in the upper levels of our social strata, or perhaps in all levels, and where it was desired by both parties, to make their initial marriage contract for one year only. There would need to be an agreement about the support and rearing of the child, if there should be any. At the end of the year, if there were no pregnancy, the contract could either be terminated or confirmed for life, and duly hallowed as in our present marriage ceremony. This would give one’s choice of a mate a basis in experience that is now commonly lacking, and that might help to make the final marriage more lasting.

But I confess that I am not prepared to advocate such an arrangement, and have brought myself to mention it only with hesitation. I cannot forget Dr. Arabella Keneally’s conviction that every woman’s soul remains indelibly imprinted with the memory of the first man to whom she completely gives herself. If she is right in this—and I think that she is, and if a woman’s first sexual experience is with a man whom she does not really love, must not such a memory tend to come between her and any other man to whom she may afterwards wish to give herself, and thus prove an element of instability in what she would like to make her real marriage? Also, though it might work well enough for some women, especially those who were lacking in sensitiveness and idealism, I am very much afraid that, at least in an age of decadence like ours, cynicism and irresponsibility would often turn it into gross abuse. But the divorce rate among us has become so excessive, and indeed alarming, that almost any expedient must be given consideration that holds out reasonable hope of reducing it. Those who have made any study of broken homes must realize how grave a disturbance is commonly inflicted upon children when one of the parents moves out of the home. But I myself should be inclined to place supreme emphasis and rest my best hopes on taking the time and making the utmost effort to ensure that a man and a woman are right for each other and for their common task in the first place, and then making divorce allowable only in extreme or exceptional circumstances. But in any case and regardless of the various pros and cons of our discussion so far, let us keep to what after all is our main point. We must ever keep alive, and now as perhaps never before deepen, our consciousness that marriage is our breeding institution. And by what we breed we shall live or we shall die—as a nation and as a race. Even the quantity of our children, the average number per marriage, can be decisive. But everything hinges supremely on their quality. Without this there can be no escape from decay, disintegration, and ultimately death.

And with this eugenics comes into its own—as we shall see in due course.

At present, the shabbiest and worst elements in our stock are outbreeding our best. On average, the higher you go among those who have proved their intellectual caliber and their character, the smaller is the number of their children. This was brought to public attention at least fifty or sixty years ago. For the last couple of decades, Dr. Elmer Pendell has been pointing out that those who create social problems and burdens, those who are a problem by their very existence, are multiplying faster than those who alone can solve the problems. Yet our best stocks, instead of buckling down to having children in the needed number, have been led by scares of a world shortage of food into having only one or two, and are leaving it to all kinds of half-breeds and morons to have children by the half-dozen—even though most of them may be illegitimate and all of them become a charge on society. And this situation became confirmed and established among us by the absurd and utterly false notion that we are all equal, and that the having of children is every man and woman’s inborn right.

This idea has got to be scotched. It must be superseded by a universal recognition that the having of children is a privilege, and that the number of children permitted to any couple must always be adjusted to solid evidence as to the kind of children they can reasonably be expected to produce—evidence supplied by IQ tests, actual performance in school and in life, and by the records of their families before them. The permission granted will range from “none” to “no limit.” Those at the bottom of the scale will be granted a license to marry only on condition that they first submit to sterilization, which will make reproduction permanently impossible. Those a little higher will be allowed, say, one or two children, on average not enough to perpetuate their kind. And if they exceed the limit set, they will by law have to submit to sterilization, in order to bring their reproduction to a stop at that point. On the other hand, at the upper end of the scale, couples will not only be permitted to have children “without limit,” but, if needed, will even be encouraged by subsidies to have children in the largest number possible. Already for generations, there has been a deadly atavistic trend among us toward undifferentiated mass-man, toward the preponderance and the predominance of those with the mind of the caveman. We have been hastening not only toward cultural suicide, but—vastly more ominous—toward national and racial suicide. If it is not reversed, we as a people shall die—and our civilization will die with us.

Thus fearfully does our destiny and our fate hinge on what we make of marriage as our breeding institution. We have now reached the point in our discussion where we must face the question, as difficult as it is important, of standards and practical criteria by which one may be guided toward the wise selection of a mate. What I have said about the necessity of a sound physical basis I believe to be fundamental, but thus far it has been too general. We need at least to look into such questions as age at marriage, bodily evidence by which desirability or undesirability may be detected, and the like.

In this connection, I must remind you of what I already have said in earlier writings about Mr. Ludovici’s The Choice of a Mate. On this whole question, I know no other single book that even approaches it. Because of the fact that he had reason to anticipate opposition, the book is heavily loaded with controversial matter and footnotes. For the serious student, both are of the greatest value, but as there is acute need to have his point of view spread widely and take root firmly, especially among young people and their educators. I was long in great hope that eventually an abridgment would be published that would be somewhat easier to read, and yet give all the fundamental conclusions to which Mr. Ludovici was led by his very able and exhaustive research, and by his unusual insight and elevated point of view.

It may be objected by some that these conclusions too largely deal with the physical side of the problem. But if one believes, as I do, that we know nothing about spirit apart from the body, or about body apart from the spirit, that the state of the body has its effect on the spirit and that the quality of our mind and spirit betrays itself in physical marks and lineaments, that we are psycho-physical unities, then it is difficult to maintain this objection.

In any case, it is a matter of historic record that people among whom a feeling for quality of life was dominant, people with an aristocratic point of view, gave full recognition to the importance of physical marks as evidence of physical, mental, and spiritual health, soundness, and capacity. Ludovici, citing Dr. G. J. Witkowski, says that “before Henrietta Maria was finally chosen for Charles I [King of England], she was stripped and examined by a commission of English ladies to decide her fitness for motherhood.” And he adds that “according to Froissart this was a common practice on the Continent during the Middle Ages and later.” It is interesting that Sir Thomas Moore advocated it in his Utopia, and that Plato laid down a similar requirement in his Laws (VI, 771). No one needs to be reminded of the place given to beauty among the ancient Greeks as long as they preserved their aristocracies; and those who remember their Iliad and Odyssey must recall in what words beautiful women are there pictured. Of the women of Thebes, which of all the Greek cities had retained the strongest Nordic strain, Sophocles said: “They are, through their height, their walk and their movements the most perfect of all the women in Greece.” Like all the gods and goddesses and heroes and heroines in Homer, they are tall, blue-eyed blonds, who were doubtless admired for the same reasons as the heroes and heroines in a Viking saga of pre-Christian Norway or Iceland. And, to turn to another people, Leviticus XXI: 16-24 records what was believed to be a divine decree that no man should be admitted to the priesthood “that hath any blemish (v. 17),” and gives a fairly long and specific list of what some of these blemishes were. The Hindu Laws of Manu and similar books of other great peoples went into these matters in considerable detail. A few samples of the rules and values of ancient aristocratic India must suffice. “A twice-born man shall marry a wife of equal caste who is endowed with auspicious bodily marks.” “Let him carefully avoid the following ten families, be they ever so great, or rich in kine. . . or grain, or other property. . . one the members of which have thick hair on the body, those who are subject to hemorrhoids, phthisis, weakness of digestion, epilepsy, or . . . leprosy. Let him not marry a maiden . . . who has a redundant member, nor one who is sickly, nor one either with no hair on the body or too much, nor one who . . . has red eyes. Let him wed a female free from bodily defects, who has . . . the graceful gait of . . . an elephant, a moderate quantity of hair on the body and on the head, small teeth, and soft limbs.” And in the Ramayana Ravana says to Sita: “Of the right size, . . . , smooth, and white are thy teeth; thine eyes are wide and great, unblemished . . . ; . . . thy thighs are as elephant’s trunks; thy two breasts have a fair, firm fullness, and are round, close-set to one another, bold, firmswelling, . . .” And later Sita says: “The body-marks as a result of which the unlucky women are doomed to widowhood, them do I not see on myself. . .my brows do not run together; my legs are rounded and not hairy; my teeth are close-set . . . and the hairs on my body are soft.” Such passages with like details could be repeated and supplemented indefinitely not only from the Ramayana but from the Mahabharata as well.

But I mention them not because the marks they specify and describe are to be accepted as in themselves so revealing and significant that we should give them a like importance among ourselves today: modern science has enabled us to improve on their marks. I cite them as evidence of an attitude, and this attitude I do think not only healthy but, in the long run, essential to our very survival.

But when we turn our scrutiny upon our modern, democratic and Christian civilization, the contrast in attitude is at the least startling: to those who appreciate what it means, it can be nothing less than shocking. The values that ruled among our own forefathers in ancient times and lasted into our Middle Ages and even centuries later, are gone—completely forgotten. Among us today, anybody can marry anybody. Youngsters are brought up without the slightest formulation of what constitutes desirability in a mate, and the parents themselves are as ignorant as their children. Even among those few who do think for the future of their nation and their race, and even for the quality of their own family stocks and seek by wise marriages to enhance it, perhaps not one in a thousand takes into account the biological foundation on which all these things rest. As compared with spiritual and intellectual qualities, the body is looked upon as of little importance. It is not at all surprising, therefore, that the author of Precious Bane (an otherwise beautiful tale) can bring her book to what she evidently considered a spiritually admirable consummation when she has her hero marry a girl with a hare-lip, who would certainly and unavoidably transmit her own tragic defect to the gene stock of any offspring she might have. And likewise, Dean Rusk’s daughter can marry a Negro, without most people’s thinking any less of either Dean Rusk or his daughter. In view of the prevalence of the values reflected in such monstrous performances, and of the evident tolerance of them shown by most people, it is all the more remarkable that Mr. Ludovici should have seen the folly of such thinking and set himself, almost singlehandedly, to fight for the adoption of a more healthy point of view. He has not only gathered together and correlated the ancient wisdom of past civilizations on this matter, but has supplemented that with a remarkable accumulation of the pertinent conclusions of modern science in all its branches. Now as never before, the human experience by which people may be guided in their choice of a mate is available. And it would seem as though it hardly needed argument that men and women should be at least as concerned about the “marks” of desirability and undesirability in their wives and husbands respectively as is a good farmer about the marks by which he can be reasonably sure of a desirable or undesirable horse or cow. It is to my regret that I feel unable, in the space at my disposal, to give even a digest or summary of the material on this point. I can only advise anyone who has been struck with the soundness and importance of what I have already said about it, to study Mr. Ludovici’s book for himself.

Needless to say, as already pointed out earlier in this chapter, physical marks alone do not settle the whole question of choice. They are primary and fundamental, but also preliminary. One should reject as a mate anyone who cannot first meet the test that they impose, but from among those who do pass it, the final selection must be made by criteria more refined, subtle, and individual, determined by one’s own personal experience, taste, character, convictions and purpose in life.

From Which Way, Western Man?

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10 June, 2013 8:48 pm

Sounds like we all need to get a PhD first.

Walt Hampton
Walt Hampton
12 February, 2021 6:02 am

An interesting take on a subject I know
very little of…