18. THE DANGER OF EXCESS
The accusation is continually brought against sex-reformers that they become "obsessed by sex" and rush into excess. And this is sometimes deserved, for the tendency to excess exists in every intense nature toward whatever activity may predominate in interest.
But it is no condemnation of any pursuit to prove that it may be indulged in to excess. Its merit or demerit must be shown quite aside from the behavior of its advocates. For excess manifests itself everywhere. Nothing can be imagined more innocent than useful labor, intellectual study, or the desire for safety, yet every day we observe men ruined by overwork, blind or neurasthenic1 from over-study, or cowardly or weak from excess of caution. Most of the accusers of excess in sex are religious, yet excess in religion, leading to bigotry, fanaticism, religious insanity, is among the very commonest forms of abnormality. To seek physical perfection is certainly most praiseworthy, yet few athletes escape an overstrain in training or competition that damages or kills.
It is common to praise "love" in opposition to sex, but love, so far as it exists apart from sexual expression, is peculiarly prone to excessive manifestation. Maternal love is perhaps the typical and purest form, yet in almost every mother we see her love become over-indulgent, partial and blindly unjust. The jealousy almost always present in the deepest loves, no matter how spiritual, proves excess, and when love is denied or suddenly withdrawn, unhealthful, insane or criminal symptoms almost always supervene, requiring all the powers of the spirit to quell. With every virtue known to man the same is true. In proportion to the power of any faculty, or the richness and value of any emotion, is the peril of excess. And sex shares this danger with the rest.
The reproach of excess, in many cases, is the result of mere prejudice. There is still an immense amount of theological odium attached to sex in the popular mind. It is a thing apart, to be kept secret and mentioned with bated breath, a thing doubtful and suspicious, if not certainly vile. To those who think thus, all frank interest in and attention to sex is excessive. And there is another large class who have themselves only abnormal interest in sex, knowing it only from experience of lust. To them all interest in sex borders on debauch. A man who studies sex, or writes on sex, is sure to be denounced by such people as "obsessed by sex," yet there is no more reason why a sexologist should not devote himself to the study and elucidation of sexual phenomena, than there is why an astronomer should not study stars or a geologist rocks.
But as sex is interwoven with our deepest feelings, the fountainhead of some of our strongest emotions, it is certainly liable to excess and far be it from me to deny this. There is a very real peril that those who are very loving and strongly sexed may give too much of themselves to the absorbing concerns of passion. A due proportion and balance is necessary in everything.
It is perfectly true that the wine of sex may sometimes go to the head and lead to a preoccupation with sex bordering on satyriasis or nymphomania, just as any other passion may become an emotional intoxication. Love and sex are subject to the universal laws of excess and satiation. Love and the thrill of sex are delightful feelings and we strive to hold them and intensify - this is natural and right within reason, but if continued too long the inevitable result is that the nerves become powerless to appreciate or respond. We may drain the reserves of the other faculties by diverting them all to sex - may thus indirectly weaken and atrophy them and finally may end by devitalizing love and sex themselves. And lovers are prone to spend time and money lavishly on their delight and may thus waste. Loss of sleep is a common source of love-waste too little considered. And in the man there are often the crude losses of the orgasm. There may be a feverish state of the system developed in which appetite and digestion are impaired and application or effective work become impossible; or an abnormal loneliness, destroying appreciation of or contentment with the usual joys of life.
Uxoriousness,2 or slavish devotion and idolatrous admiration, may cause one partner to abdicate vindication of selfhood and spoil the beloved.
Those who are weak or moderately developed in sex may be less in danger, nevertheless it is to be remembered that the weak person may be overdone by an amount of expression that would be nothing to a stronger one. Excess is an individual matter which each should observe from the center of his own personality.
Those who practice Karezza are less liable to excess, because spared the waste of the orgasm, and because in them the emotion is sublimated and diffused, including soul, body and mind, the entire selfhood, yet they also may overdo. Excess here is more apt to manifest itself in the form of exhaustion from loss of sleep, or from too prolonged stress of tender emotion, or perhaps merely in the form of diverting too much time from other interests, rightfully precedent. There are cases too, not well understood as yet, in which one party exhausts or demagnetizes the other, perhaps acts consciously or unconsciously as a vampire, or in which both mutually exhaust each other. Such symptoms are sometimes observed by two people merely in each other's presence, with no reference to sex, and are not necessarily coincident with any excess, but belong rather to the department of mal-adjustments and misfits, yet may unfortunately co-exist with a good deal of the finest mutual love.
It is possible to embrace too frequently in Karezza, or maintain the embraces too long. Only experience can determine what is moderation and what excess.
Those who do not use Karezza are vastly more liable to excess, and this usually from too frequent and intense orgasms, too frequent pregnancies, or too coarse, cynical and invasive an attitude. Where there is merely a physical itch or craving gratified, with no mutual tenderness or kindness, or perhaps actually against the desire or protest of one party, sex is always excessive.
If there is no indulgence except where there is mutual consent and enjoyment, mutual kindness and consideration, careful regard for the conditions of health and useful living, and a dominant conviction that all physical acts should express beauty of soul, there need be no fear. Excess is only where the act is individually or socially detrimental.