THE marriage customs of the Western World attribute an enormous importance to the sex-monopoly aspect of marriage. Virginity is protected before marriage; adultery is prohibited afterward. Save for those who have remarried, no one can with propriety acknowledge having had sex intercourse with more than one person in the entire course of his life. Dr. Hamilton found only forty-one out of a hundred men, only fifty-three out of a hundred women, who had never violated this rule.
This ideal of sex monopoly, though historically traceable to an attitude of contempt for the world, the flesh, and the devil, has outlived the disintegration of the general otherworldly point of view of the Church, and presents itself to-day as a special ethic of sex, quite separated from any general ethic of asceticism.
Most of our positive teaching on sex has, until recently, focussed about the sex-monopoly ideal. The pressure of early education taught to youth one lesson only regarding sex: that it was a forbidden thing. For the benefit of adults the community maintained a perpetual campaign against adultery and fornication. The aesthetics of sex was neglected and even the bare physiology of sex was comparatively unknown. Only so much thinking and [p.189] talking about sex was permitted as seemed necessary to protect virginity and prevent adultery.
A consequence of this social pressure has been such a linking of marriage and sex monopoly that the two are regarded as inseparable. The conventional courtship involves a promise “to be true,” i.e., to refrain from intercourse with another. If either party to a marriage has had previous sex experience, the fact is one to be concealed or forgiven. If there is an infringement of the monopoly after marriage, divorce is thought to be the appropriate remedy.
This identification of marriage with sex monopoly explains the fact that the so-called “revolt” against marriage in Western lands is pretty much a mere attack upon the sex-monopoly ideal. The belief that marriage is “bankrupt”1 which finds expression in contemporary literature usually focusses on the contention that sex monopoly is indefensible or unattainable. It follows from the nature of these criticisms that any adequate theory of marriage must expound in some self-consistent fashion the relation of marriage to sex monopoly.
In former times it sufficed to denounce as libertines any who sought to defy the commands of the community in sex life. To-day such denunciations are inadequate. People are changing their attitudes. Dr. Hamilton’s research uncovered the fact that of his one hundred men subjects, only fifteen, and of his hundred women subjects only thirty-two, thought adultery difficult or impossible to justify. He classified the attitudes of these two hundred spouses toward adultery as follows:
[p.190] Conservative view: 47 spouses or 24 per cent
Liberal view: 124 spouses or 62 per cent
Radical view: 29 spouses or 14 per cent
An increasing number of people hold that the business in hand is not to determine whether the commands of the community have been complied with, but to find out whether the community ought to give such commands.
Broadly stated, the question is what values are gained or lost by reserving sex intercourse as an exclusive secret connived in by two persons alone throughout life. In these days which have witnessed the falling away of the ideal of asceticism in general, the rationale of the sex-monopoly ideal of marriage has come to rest chiefly upon three considerations: an aesthetic appeal, a jealousy danger, and a parenthood risk.
First, of aesthetic appeal: It must be recognized that coitus when artistically consummated is a supreme and unique instance of benevolent interaction. The essence of the domestic values finds expression therein. There is reciprocity of tenderness and appreciation; there is isolation and personal intimacy. Everything that protects and develops these potentialities of the sexual act is valuable to marriage.
The value of coitus as benevolent interaction is increased to the extent that the act is guarded as a unique and personal possession which the husband and wife share with each other, but not with the world. Dr. Hamilton found that only 29 per cent of the men who committed adultery, and 17 per cent of the women, regarded their marriage as happy. The very characteristics of the sex act which render it so supremely significant as an expression of the paramount-loyalty attitude of [p.191] husband and wife render it dangerous to that loyalty when it is consummated under conditions of adultery.
closely related to these considerations is one of the arguments for chastity before marriage: It is urged that the exploration of the aesthetic possibilities of sex is an excellent coeducational experience to be reserved for the threshold of domestic life.
Sex monopoly, because of this aesthetic appeal, makes a positive contribution to the excellence of domestic life. Conversely, sex liberty, by introducing a rivalry risk, has a negative influence upon the level of domestic behavior. There is always a chance that a liaison with a third party may draw the loyalty of the husband or wife away from the family. Sometimes the withdrawing of loyalty is permanent, sometimes only transitory. And even if paramount loyalty is not for a moment withdrawn, and no significant transfer of affection takes place, it remains probable that the most transitory outside liaison may withdraw from the marriage partner some of the warmth of response that would otherwise be his, and therefore establish competition in a domain which, in the best interests of the natural family (because of the unique potentialities of coitus as benevolent interaction), should be beyond the reach of competition.
In addition to rivalry risk a parenthood risk is involved because promiscuous liaisons on the part of the wife leave the husband uncertain whether the offspring is biologically his own, and the uncertainty may ruin the role that children play in the family life. The husband’s promiscuity may confront the wife with a call to make sacrifices for some illegitimate child toward which she has no personal attachment whatsoever. Where the sex [p.192] connection is intended to be transitory, that is to say, where no real marriage takes place, the parenthood risk is especially serious because of the difficulty of providing for the child. The development of contraceptive technique has diminished but not eliminated the parenthood risk in sex liberty.
Before casting up the account and reckoning in terms of domestic values the costs and credits of sex liberty, it must be noted that there are at least four distinct ways in which the sex-monopoly ideal can be violated, and that each type of violation has consequences peculiar to itself. Two of these types of sex liberty involve a simultaneous plurality of wives or mistresses, husbands or lovers, and the other two of them a consecutive plurality.
One who is having more than a single sex-love affair going on at the same time may be either adulterous or polygamous – or neither. Whether his situation is to be described by one or another of these terms depends primarily upon whether the relationships are permanent or transitory. If a sex relationship is permanent, if its duration aspect is dominant, then it follows from the fundamental definitions of the principles of marriage that the union must be regarded as a marriage, and the persons as members of a natural family. The marriage license is, of course, not the decisive thing. If a person who is continuing in such an enduring relationship should indulge in a transitory affair, his action must be regarded as adultery. But if the relationship with the additional man or woman is in like degree permanent and enduring, the situation cannot be defined as adultery, but must he called polygamy. The laws and conventions laid down by the [p.193] environing society seem powerless to prevent true polygamy, however they may avoid giving legal recognition thereto. A man who maintains wife and mistress together on his great country estate, and another who rents one expensive apartment for his lawful mate and another equally expensive one for his equally permanent mistress, are both just as much the heads of polygamous families as is any Moslem sheik or Indian nabob. The distinction made between the transitory liaison and the permanent attachment is here the fundamental one.
If neither attachment has a permanence aspect, the principles of marriage are not directly engaged.
Somewhat more readily tolerated in Occidental civilization is a plurality of liaisons which follow each other consecutively, provided each liaison is registered in a wedding, and its termination told off by means of a divorce. Since the legal and institutional aspect of marriage does not give the measure of its more universal significance, the violation of sex monopoly involved in a series of matrimonial adventures is not fundamentally different from the violation involved in a series of unions without legal marriage. The principal difference between absolutely unrestricted free love and easy divorce at the wish of either party is simply that in the latter case the man and wife take the community more fully into the secret of their intentions. Thus we can regard all instances of a union which lasts for a time only and is then supplanted by another union as belonging to a distinct class of violations at the sex-monopoly ideal, for which we suggest the name “love-tenure marriage”
For these marriages which are designed to end in divorce-at-will, or these free-love unions, are usually [p.194] based upon a philosophy of love which implies that love can unaccountably depart from a human relationship, leaving the two ex-lovers no course but to part company. The permanence of marriage is thus sacrificed in order that marriage and love may always coincide. Quite different in spirit and in practice is the revision of our code of sex morals which aims to permit experimental sex relations until permanent marriage takes place. The new code asserts that virginity need not be maintained until a permanent mate is found. This ideal of conduct used to be tolerated as a standard for men only. “A young man must sow his wild oats,” was the saying. The novelty of to-day is to see the standard proposed as one to be equally applicable to men and women. Dr. Hamilton found that only forty-six out of the hundred men and sixty-five out of the hundred women of his research were virgins at marriage.
Here again we must beware of the danger of confusing the vital elements of a marriage relationship with its merely institutional forms. Given the situation as it stands in Occidental lands, the community is most interested in demanding that some kind of a wedding ceremony should mark any sex experiment, and, in fact, that the wedding should intervene before coitus takes place. From the standpoint of the more general principles of marriage decisive importance does not attach to the fixing of the exact point in the development of an experimental relationship where the wedding ceremony should occur, or even in the question of whether or not there is any wedding ceremony at all. The important distinction is not the one that the neighbors make between coitus in wedlock and out of it, but rather the one that inheres in the [p.195] mind of the participant: the distinction between experimentation on the one hand and the establishing of something permanent on the other. Thus the distinction between sex experiment cloaked by wedding and experimentation not so covered can be disregarded.
Sex-experiment and love-tenure marriages, while alike in that they permit a sequence of sex partnerships, are still to be distinguished from the Don Juan pattern of sex life, which lays itself out as an infinite series of equally transitory episodes of conquest. This is the way of life of the true harlot or the perfect libertine: it is not without its beauty – as witnesses the story of Gengi – but it is not marriage. It is a perpetual quest for the new experience – perhaps a quest for perfection. It is inevitably impermanent. Marriage does not enter at all into such lives, even though (as in Molière’s Don Juan) a wedding marks every conquest. From the standpoint of the principles of marriage, this basis of sex life is hardly to be taken into account, except in so far as the Don Juans interfere with the marriage destinies of others.
In the flow of change that carries every life in its current, it can happen that any one of these types of sex liberty can merge into another, or can become monopolistic in fact. The transitory liaison or the experimental affair can become permanent. The love-tenure marriage can turn out to be a life-tenure marriage; adultery can become polygamy, and the polygamous family, by the lapsing of all but one connection, can revert to a monogamous basis.
Taking into account the possibility of such transitions as these, the different types of sex liberty, simultaneous and consecutive, permanent and transitory, experimental [p.196] and love-tenure, must make each its own bargain with the sex-monopoly ideal.
To begin with, there are certain costs regularly to be assessed against the notion that sex monopoly is a supreme end of married life. So far as we can tell, human experience has pretty well demonstrated that absolute sex monopoly enforced upon both partners in monogamous marriage is an ideal rather than a practice. Dr. Hamilton’s findings, that twenty-eight out of the hundred men and twenty-four of the hundred women had committed adultery, are significant in this connection. Sex liberty of one kind or another is certainly common enough to be regarded as a normal rather than an abnormal element in modern life. Conditions vary, of course, in different places and in different social classes. With regard to this situation, a general theory of marriage must answer the question whether it is preferable to modify the ideal in conformity with the practice or to continue the seemingly vain attempt to bring the practice into line with the ideal.
The case against the sex-monopoly ideal is not so much its relative inaccessibility as the gratuitous difficulties it introduces into married life. The mere fact that an ideal is not attained would not constitute a reason for abandoning or compromising it: perhaps it is necessary that ideals should lie beyond the scope of practice; otherwise they would be mere descriptive categories and not ideals at all. But we can demand of an ideal that it lead us toward the most important and significant things, not diverting our attention to superficialities and trifles. We can also require of it that it become not a trap for us, whereby we bring on our own ruin.
[p.197] The baneful effect of the sex-monopoly ideal appears in two forms: first, in the form of certain measures taken to enforce monopoly, and second, in the form of certain penalties exacted when monopoly is violated. The costs of the enforcement measures must be borne whether or not there is in fact a breach of monopoly.
The enforcement measure most effectively used to prevent the “simultaneous” type of sex liberty is a strict taboo which exaggerates and intensifies the rivalry risk already present in adultery and polygamy. Jealousy, a by-product of love, furnishes a driving force which impels each marriage partner to resent sex loyalty. Taboo, the socially established prohibition, fixes upon adultery or polygamy as a specifically objectionable act and defines every adulterous act as a tort against the lawful wife or husband. The combination of these, individual jealousy plus social taboo, causes each individual to tie up his own self-respect with the sex fidelity of his spouse. This third element is illustrated in the jokes about cuckolds which provide so much of the comic relief in sixteenth century literature, in the notion that a wife’s faithlessness deprives the husband of his “honor,” and in the so-called “unwritten law” which even in modern times makes it difficult to convict a “wronged” husband if he murders his wife’s lover.
The taboo on adultery, together with the social convention whereby punishment for violation of the taboo is visited not only upon the violator but upon the spouse as well, serves to intensify the jealousy attitude. Jealousy is indeed an irreducible fact in personal relationships. It appears as a consequence of competition for the loyalty of a personal object of affection. It expresses the dis[p.198]satisfaction of the self when the personal relationship to the other is not closed and complete. It is aroused by a child in the family, by relatives, by friends. But when the competitor is a child, relative. or guest, jealousy masks or transforms itself in deference to social convention. Only when the competitor is a rival lover does convention permit the complete unmasking of the feeling of jealousy. If conventions required as much self-discipline in one’s attitude as rival for the affection of a spouse as one must maintain in tennis, politics, or business, marriages would be better able to survive episodes of adultery or suspicion of adultery.
The sex-monopoly ideal operates, therefore, in a vicious circle. The social taboo stimulates jealousy and resentment; jealousy and resentment, thus stimulated, render adultery destructive of marriage. The prospect that adultery will mean divorce, and the total destruction of a family, generates new fears which further sharpen jealousy and resentment. The feeling of insecurity makes it more difficult to endure humiliation and loss of face.
To the extent that the marriage partners accept this system of convention and taboo, they accept also the consequence that every violation of the sex-monopoly code is a violation of the engagement of paramount loyalty. It is a symbol of disloyalty, a token that some other interest than that of husband or wife has been preferred.
The destructive effect of this emphasis on exclusive sex possession cannot be avoided by merely refraining from adulterous connections, for the fears which are engendered extend to nonsexual attachments which husband or wife may have. Pleasant and profitable friendships [p.199] may have to be limited or sacrificed in deference to the duty of forestalling all suspicion, and such restrictions, however rigorously they be adhered to, may have a galling effect upon the spirit. Often the most ridiculous jealousies are implemented and fostered by the sex-monopoly ideal. A jealousy will fly back to the years before marriage – even to the years before acquaintance – and concern itself with the early chastity of the present spouse. Here a wife flies into a passion if her husband chats for a moment with a female clerk, and there a husband tries to keep his wife secluded in his apartment as if it were a harem. And again there are unfounded and undefined forebodings of disloyalties that may occur in the future. Fantasy conjures up a corespondent to answer for a spouse’s imaginary misconduct in a hypothetical court of law. All this focussing of thought upon the enforcement of a right is contrary to the spirit of marriage.
The measures used to enforce virginity till marriage are equally costly, and like the anti-adultery measures, they penalize alike those who obey and those who offend. If mating is postponed till long after puberty, one of two methods must be pursued in order to forestall sex experience. The surveillance method, as it is used in protecting the virginity of women in Mediterranean countries, is not only costly in time and effort, but also involves a sacrifice of the moral responsibility of the person supervised. On the other hand, this method dispenses with the need for building up inhibitions which will later interfere with the enjoyment of sex. The alternative method, used especially in countries in which the Teutonic stock has been drilled in the Puritan tradition, is the [p.200] method of moral restraint. Certain negative attitudes toward sex are so strongly instilled into the youth that they are inspired to protect their own chastity. The effect of these attitudes is often injurious, as psychiatry attests. The Hamilton research revealed that forty-six out of one hundred married women had unsatisfactory sex lives in the sense that they experienced no orgasm in coitus. Of these, twenty had been diagnosed at one time or another as seriously psychoneurotic. Only one of the fifty-four women whose sex lives were adequate had ever been regarded as psychoneurotic. Attitudes which are useful in preserving virginity are deleterious in marriage.
The mischievous effects of these virginity-protecting inhibitions are especially marked in the case of the girl. They mislead her thinking upon marriage, either by inculcating the notion that carnal things are vile or by overemphasizing the supernatural interpretation of the nuptial night, which magically transforms a sinful horror into a lawful delight. In the first instance the development of a healthy aesthetics of sex is handicapped; in the second instance the fantasies of the schoolgirl theory of marriage are encouraged.
The harmful effect of the virginity standard upon the man is likely to appear in the form of a dissociation of feelings of tenderness and respect from feelings of sexual enjoyment, so that he becomes unable to cherish any woman whom he enjoys. As a result of masturbation fantasies on the one hand, and of “the association, in thought or deed or both, of sexual practices with prostitutes” a “moral degradation of the sexual object” takes place.
[p.201] . . . when later in marriage the young man endeavors to unite esteem and tenderness with sexual passion, he may find that the dissociation between these elements of love has grown too wide and fundamental to be overcome, so that one or other of these requisites of a complete and happy married life has necessarily to be sacrificed. As a result of this a man may marry a woman whom he is prepared indeed to cherish, honor and esteem, but toward whom (for this very reason) he feels himself but little attracted in a purely sexual sense; in which case he will often be tempted after a while to seek a more complete degree of sexual satisfaction elsewhere. Or else, should the directly sexual trends prevail, he may select a partner who is inferior to him in some important intellectual, moral or social respect, thus paving the way for a married life in which many of his more sublimated tendencies, desires and aspirations are doomed to suffer permanent lack of gratification.2
The enforcement of the monopoly ideal with respect to attempts at love-tenure marriages is accomplished largely by strict divorce laws and penalties imposed for desertion. Desertion and divorce are the equivalent means by which those unions are terminated wherein love has lapsed. Spectacular instances of unhappiness in marriage, life tragedies in which the bond of marriage has become a spirit-breaking fetter, have been exposed in fiction and in propaganda. It was here that the attack on sex monopoly was first opened in modern times, and it is here that the attack has been most successful. Divorce and remarriage have achieved a degree of social recognition [p.202] not yet accorded to adultery, polygamy, or unchastity before marriage.
And after this price is paid for the attitudes that are expected to enforce sex monopoly, it will often happen that enforcement is lax and desultory. Truly, “the flesh is weak”; impulses break through the restraints which it is intended to impose upon them; the pleasure principle triumphs over the reality principle and attains a momentary equilibrium at the sacrifice of future content. Phrase the thing as you will in the language of all the schools from Aristotle and Augustine to Freud and Watson, and the fact remains that these prohibitions do not successfully prohibit. Despite the price paid for sex monopoly, we have still to reckon with sex liberty.
If a fair hearing be given to the offender against the code, it will sometimes transpire that conformity requires sacrifice. Even after marriage sex cravings may remain unfulfilled and thus haunt and disturb the mind. Sometimes this is only a transitory condition, as when separation or illness imposes upon one partner a temporary period of continence. Sometimes it is permanent, as when the husband and wife differ greatly in sexual vigor. Frigidity in women, and in men the dissociation of respect from enjoyment of sex, may ruin the whole sexual side of a marriage. How often in human experience a strong sex attraction toward some siren or charmer seems to impose itself unsought upon a person whose intention is to conform to the monopolistic standard, but who is compelled by this event to stage a struggle between desire and will! Every one feels in some way the conflict between desire for security on the one hand and the wish for novelty on the other. How far these strains and tensions are the [p.203] necessary lot of mankind, and how far they are the product of disjointed institutions and environmental accidents, is quite uncertain. Many will be found to assert that man is by nature polygamous, and monogamous marriage a restraint upon his natural disposition. But this is pure speculation, which has never been controlled by scientific investigation. In fact, it is doubtful whether psychology is at present equipped to explore such a question as this.
The pressure of unfulfilled cravings in the case of the virgin is increased by an important element of curiosity, To remain chaste is to remain ignorant. Moreover, the courtship institutions which place upon the individual the full responsibility for winning his or her own mate penalize the person who cannot flirt. But flirtation in a land where youth has freedom of automobile transportation quickly gets out of hand. The petting party is intended to play with tumescence but stop short of coitus; actually it often goes beyond its self-drawn barrier. Our confused institutions set for young people a difficult course to steer between the Scylla of coldness and the Charybdis of unchastity.
It then, yielding to these pressures, recourse is had to sex liberty – adulterous liaisons to meet transitory stresses, polygamous relationships to relieve permanent tensions, experimental relationships to satisfy the young, and an easy transition from one spouse to another to break the marriage fetter – how well or ill can these forms of sex liberty be reconciled with satisfactory domestic life?
The effect of adultery upon domestic life depends principally upon the meaning that husband and wife attach to [p.204] adulterous acts as symbols of disloyalty. If society has taught them that adultery is the supreme disloyalty, and they have constructed no other view for themselves, then the destructive effect of sex liberty upon their family life will be great and inevitable. The level of domestic interaction will be automatically lowered as paramount loyalty vanishes. More than that, it is likely to be taken for granted that adultery destroys marriage and leaves the injured party no choice but separation and divorce. This tragic attitude is due to the interpretation given to adultery, not to the intrinsic qualities of the adulterous act. The divorce for which “infidelity” furnishes ground is really due not to misconduct alone but also to a socially induced sensitiveness. Thus a double disaster follows from adultery when it is interpreted in the light of the sex-monopoly ideal. The level of domestic behavior is lowered and the duration of the marriage is threatened. The two basic values of marriage are thus sacrificed.
If marriage makes the extreme adjustment to this pressure towards sex liberty it changes from a monogamous to a polygamous basis. The effect of this change upon family life is not merely a reflection of social conventions, as these have determined the symbolic meanings of acts. It is also a definite change in the structure of the family. And this change in structure involves a tendency toward a lower level of domestic interaction.
The polygamous family, analyzed in terms of domestic theory, is comparable to a monogamous family which has come to include adult children. In both cases there is an induction of additional members into an already existing family. With the children the induction is gradual; with additional wives or husbands it is more sud[p.205]den. The children are only secondary members; the wives and husbands are primary. In both cases the larger number of complete personalities engaged in the domestic relationship renders the system of loyalties more complex and tends to confusion. But when the additional members are wives and husbands rather than sons or daughters, there is likely to be more jealousy and less benevolent interaction developed between them. For the children have had occasion to develop affection for each other, whereas the natural rivalries of husbands and wives are not so screened.
Moreover there is no place in the polygamous system [or paramount loyalty. Paramount loyalty to one spouse generates an equivalent counteracting jealousy in the other. With children it is otherwise. They are not forced into jealousy by the paramount loyalty of father and mother to each other, because this inter-parental loyalty takes the form of benevolence to the child. For the attitude of husband and wife to their child can reflect the idea of joint possession, of cooperative cherishing. But the attitude toward an additional spouse is not likely to be colored by such an idea.
Finally, if the presence of adult children in the family should happen to bring about some baneful confusion of loyalties, this confusion will tend to dissolve away in time as the children set up their own families. But the confusion between rival wives or husbands does not terminate itself; rather it goes on increasing in intensity unless dulled by habit. Therefore benevolent interaction in the polygamous family tends to sink to a low level.
Some polygamous situations are better described by comparing them to membership in two distinct families. [p.206] A man has one family in Philadelphia and another in Memphis. His position is comparable to that of a husband or wife who feels too strong a loyalty to the parental household. There is a confusion of loyalties and hence a lowered level of domestic interaction.
The lowered level of benevolent interaction is the penalty paid for sacrificing the sex-monopoly ideal. There is no sacrifice of duration.
When duration as well as domestic interaction is sacrificed, the result is comparable to a love-tenure marriage. If because of an adulterous episode, or in resentment at a polygamous situation, a marriage is broken up, the divorcees will say of their broken home that rivalry and lapsing of true love had made it impossible to continue together. Retrospectively at least, they will think that marriage may properly last only so long as love endures. This notion appears among us not only as a retrospective rationalization of domestic disaster but also as a project for a new norm of conduct in marriage. The wedding vow is to be changed to read, “As long as ye both shall love”; marriage in general is to be placed on a love-tenure basis. What, in terms of domestic theory, is the consequence of this type of sex liberty?
Just as polygamy sacrifices benevolent interaction but retains permanence, so love-tenure marriage purports to sacrifice permanence in the interest of benevolent interaction. Rather than tolerate a unilateral level of domestic behavior (with all active affection on one side), or a nondomestic level of behavior (from which all evidences of affection are absent), it is proposed that the marriage should be terminated, and whatever habit systems or memories it may have accumulated relinquished.
[p.207] This innovation is the most attractive of all the projected modifications of the marriage ideal, because it attacks one of the marriage values in the name of the other. It seems to require of marriage everything or nothing: either the full romantic system of organization, or divorce.
The danger underlying this sex-liberty ideal is that it may misconceive the true nature of domestic interaction and fall into the trap of using the word love in its word-magic sense. Although those who adhere to this ideal of sex liberty pretend to enormous sophistication, they are only a step removed from the most naive schoolgirl theorist. They conjure up and make use of a conception of love which is not adequate for the purposes of marriage. Love is regarded as a feeling which comes upon one, an event which occurs independently of willful action, a state which one must passively accept if it appears, and as passively regret if it departs. Concerning this kind of love there is no sense in promising anything, for the will is not operative in its business. One cannot promise, but only prophesy. One cannot commit oneself to a future line of conduct, but only testify to a present condition. A conception of love from which the element of will-commitment is so conspicuously absent is a useless anomaly in marriage.
The weakness of the love-tenure marriage ideal is therefore not alone that it requires a sacrifice of permanence, but also that it may imply a misconception of the nature of domestic interaction, so that permanence is sacrificed not to a true marriage value, but to a phantom value which belongs rather to courtships and love affairs.
“Companionate marriage” has become a catchword, [p.208] spoiled by too much misuse. When M. M. Knight coined the expression, it meant a marriage which was intended to be childless, at least for a time. When Judge Lindsay took it up, he added two more points to the program: more adequate instruction on sex aesthetics and birth control, and more lenient divorce laws for childless couples, allowing separation by mutual consent without alimony. At the present time the words are coming to betoken almost any independence of conventional standards in marriage, and a general change in emphasis: less emphasis on duration, more on love; less on duty to society, more on personal satisfaction. The observations which apply to the ideal of love-tenure marriage apply with equal force to much of the tangle of thinking which makes use of the term “companionate marriage.”" Characteristic of this type of thinking is the subtle transition from the most naive concept of love to the most sophisticated concept of convention. Equally characteristic is a tendency to discount duration value in marriage.
The experimental type of sex liberty does not directly affect either of the marriage values, for if it takes place at all, it is over before marriage begins. It must be judged, therefore, by its effect in qualifying or disqualifying persons for successful marriage, and not by its direct bearing on the success of the family.
Just as in the case of adultery, so also as regards virginity, the taboo which actually exists in Occidental society must be reckoned with, for it penalizes the marriages of those who have had premarital sex experience by causing the person who does not bring virginity to the marriage bed to be regarded as damaged goods. The symbolic significance which conventions assign to vir[p.209]ginity must be taken into account by the present generation of young people as a part of the environment to which they must adjust themselves. But they will wish to cast up for themselves the advantages and disadvantages of premarital chastity regardless of the ruling of convention. For they regard themselves as critics rather than servants of the customs that environ them.
The principal risks which attend experimental sex experience before marriage are the well-known risks of parenthood and disease. The rivalry risk does not enter at all. And as regards the aesthetic considerations, it is debatable whether there is more to be gained by attaining a thorough first-hand knowledge of sex before marriage so that marital sex relations can be well carried on from the beginning, or by foregoing initiation into sex until it can be enjoyed as part of a total marriage experience,
The parenthood risk is unevenly distributed between the man and the woman. This is one of the reasons for the double standard of premarital morality against which women in recent years have so successfully campaigned. The unmarried mother who has kept her child has lost some of her qualifications for wifehood, and the one who has given up her child may have suffered a shock which will affect her success as a mother after marriage. The unmarried father is in a similar dilemma. The more he feels his responsibility for his illegitimate offspring, the more confused his loyalty will be at the very time when his bride will expect it to be most direct and undivided. The more completely he renounces his responsibility as a parent, the more clearly he reveals [p.210] success. An illegitimate child before marriage is a handicap in the attaining of marital success.
Those cases in which the parents marry after the birth of an illegitimate child are of course not different, from the standpoint of domestic theory, from any other permanent sex union which is for a time unlicensed by society. In these cases the natural family is fully established before it receives its legal recognition.
The popularization of contraceptives has diminished the parenthood risk, even though available devices are not one hundred per cent certain, and the marketing of them is carried on among young people on a bootleg basis. The complete elimination of the parenthood risk must await the better development of contraceptive technique, and the acceptance of a new standard of medical law (already foreshadowed in German legislation) which will permit a woman to have a legal right to decide whether she will bear a child or not.
What is true of the parenthood risk is equally true of the disease risk. And here also adequate precautions can offer some protection, but protection is not complete.
The value of first-hand knowledge of sex to one who undertakes marriage is twofold. In the first place it can prevent some bungling and disappointment. Hamilton found that the nonvirgin husbands were more likely than the virgins to be sexually satisfactory to their wives. Not always. A man’s experience with a prostitute may teach him to enjoy voluptuousness but does not necessarily teach him to make sex enjoyable to a wife. And if amateurish mistakes are to result in permanent sexual anaesthesia, it is not clear that such mistakes are [p.211] less likely to occur in a premarital experiment than in a nuptial initiation.
However, if initiation is to be postponed till marriage, it is necessary that adequate instruction be available to young people. Otherwise the marriages of virgins are penalized. Books such as those by Cooper or Stopes should be available on the open market. If there is to be chastity till marriage, both partners should realize that they must study and understand the sex act in order fully to enjoy it.
There is danger that too much emphasis upon the need for marriage before coitus may confuse the thought of young people upon the character of marriage, and hence unfit them to carry on successful family life. Here are two very different things: to satisfy sex curiosity, and to commit one’s will to a paramount loyalty through life. If these two things are so closely linked that the one is not to be had without the other, many will marry without having either the intention or the equipment to make their marriage a success. When sex experiment is cloaked by a wedding there results a kind of mock- marriage which, to paraphrase Groves, is no more than a legalized temporary sex attraction, which, unable to progress into marriage comradeship, ends in anticlimax.3
In terms of domestic theory, a revision of standards of virginity is most dangerous to domestic values if the marriage license is used to authorize initiation into sex, when the marriage itself does not constitute a longterm life plan for the bride and bridegroom. If sex gratification is sought before there is an engagement in [p.212] permanent marriage, the virginity ideal is really surrendered, even though the divorce and remarriage device may conceal the surrender. Since duration is one of the two fundamental values of family life, it is important that the distinction between permanent marriages and transitory love affairs be not obscured. Rather than confuse all thinking on marriage and family life by forgetting this duration value, it is preferable (from the standpoint of domestic theory) that a margin should be left for unregistered and unlicensed play of sex.
It cannot escape the attention of the thoughtful reader of these pages that no intrinsic excellence appears to attach to sex liberty per se. Nor is sex monopoly intrinsically evil.
Where baneful effects are associated with sex monopoly, these are the result of enforcement measures, taboos, educational devices. Not sex monopoly but the means which are used to insure sex monopoly have brought criticism upon the monopolistic ideal.
The evidence of ethnology attests that the taboos, the stimulated jealousies, the restrictive laws, the life-warping inhibitions which are set up among us to discipline sex life are not to be regarded as the necessary products of universally prevalent human attitudes. Societies differ between extreme poles as to the significance they attach to infringements of sex monopoly, and as to the value they attach to virginity. According to the customs of many peoples, virginity is a blemish in bride or groom, and no one is expected to marry without having had previous sex intercourse.4 Adultery is not everywhere regarded as a serious offense against the family. Malin[p.213]owski found that among the Trobriand Islanders adultery was not considered important, but certain obscene words, if used by a husband to his wife, were taken as symbols of supreme disloyalty. In one instance the use of these words resulted in a suicide. That men can share their wives without feeling injured thereby is evidenced wherever the institution of hospitality prostitution exists. That women can share their husbands without jealousy is illustrated by the case of the Kikuyu wife who reproached her mate: “Why do I have to do all the work; why do you not buy another wife?” Of course where the institution of polygamy prevails it is definitely evil and anti-social for one wife to monopolize the husband.
It is Occidental society, then, and not human nature, which insists on monopoly and virginity and leaves no freedom for choice. Somehow we must continue to live at peace with this colossal community. At what price can we break away from its sex standards?
Can individuals, either alone or in their small Bohemian communities, defy social rules in these matters? Can they re-define for themselves the meanings of sex acts so that they gain freedom from the enforcement measures which society imposes?
The attempt is being made. There are people who say that so far as they are concerned, virginity does not matter, and there are others who declare that they do not demand a monopoly of husband or wife, nor expect themselves to be monopolized. Recent literature on the family abounds in the records of deliberate and mutually permitted violations of the sex-monopoly code. Judge Lindsay knew a young couple who were about to separate in the conventional way after the husband’s [p.214] one adulterous connection. But instead of divorce, they decided to surrender mutually their monopolistic claims upon each other. And after that they got along famously. Hamilton records a number of these adultery-toleration compacts. His evidence suggests that the men in the case tolerate their wives’ adulteries very well, but the women find it more difficult to suppress feelings of jealousy.
Another case is that of a young man, a punctiliously honest person, intelligent and well educated, who casually announced one evening some time in the fourth year of his marriage that he was by nature polygamous and would not consider himself bound to refrain from intercourse With other women. He had no objection to any similar course his wife might take with other men. He proposed that neither of them should interpret such conduct as disloyal. And after he had made this declaration, nothing whatsoever was done about it. He had at the time no particular woman in mind, and he has had no love affair since. Following this declaration there ensued the same orderly married existence that had preceded it. The gesture was an act of liberation whereby the husband sought to re-define the meaning of sex loyalty in his family life.
These attempts to avoid the use of social conventions in dealing with sex problems require for their success a certain careful conspiracy against publicity. If those who attempt them cannot maintain their privacy, they will find it difficult to escape from the pressure of the judgment of their neighbors.
But if they are successful in mapping their own course, in what direction are they to go? None of the four [p.215] types of sex liberty has any intrinsic superiority to the monopolistic state. Neither promiscuity nor divorce is an end worth seeking for itself.
Though divorce may, under certain circumstances, be a lesser of two evils, it cannot be other than an evil in marriage. It is both a symptom and a disease. In terms of hedonism and individualistic ethics, divorce is a symptom. It indicates that the marriage has not been pleasing and has not proved worth while to the individual. In terms of domestic theory, divorce is an absolute evil in that it destroys duration value, and duration value is one of the two essential marriage values. So also with adultery and polygamy. They may indeed relieve some strain, but their tendency is necessarily to degrade the level of domestic interaction in the family, even if the tendency does not decisively determine the event. Sex liberty does not pretend to contribute anything of positive value to the natural family. Sex monopoly, rather, is the norm of family life.
But at the some time it is dangerous to permit this norm to assume the status of a mandate by the community.
Exclusiveness in sex is an ideal toward which natural marriage may spontaneously and rightly strive, but it is not properly a standard to be imposed upon married people, willy-nilly, from without.
The disastrous results of the sex-monopoly ideal occur when the ideal is attached to the family as an institution; they do not occur when tho ideal is attached to the natural family.
Is it not reasonable that people should be left free to decide for themselves to what extent they will regard [p.216] extra-marital sex relations as disloyal? If, taking circumstances into account, they decide to maintain sex life as an exclusive secret between them, this decision could then be an expression of the implicit artistic principles of family life rather than a mere surrender to external pressure.
When circumstances, either temporary or permanent, bring it about that the maintenance of sex monopoly imposes a real sacrifice upon one or the other partner, husband and wife might well be free to agree whether the sacrifice imposed does not outweigh the advantage to be derived from monopoly.
And the mere act of adultery need not be construed as final evidence of a definitive lapse of paramount loyalty toward husband or wife. Such constructions are arbitrary fictions which derive their appearance of validity from social judgments rather than from the actual experience.
These principles clear up a seeming inconsistency which pervades much of the liberal writing on marriage. Again and again propagandists of marriage reform have argued against the strictness of the marriage fetter, only to conclude that if marriages were more free they would come in the end to observe more completely monopolistic standards of behavior. Thus they seem at once to affirm the value of the sex-monopoly ideal and to deny it. The truth is that the ideal is good as a plan of life, but bad as an enforced element of the marriage institution.
Is it possible to avoid the strain which the sex-monopoly ideal places upon marriage, without giving up the advantages which this ideal confers? If such an end is to be attained, it is necessary, first of all, to limit the [p.217] emphasis on sexuality in family life. This is harsh doctrine in the ears of the younger generation who have carried the reaction against Puritanism so far that they seem now to foster sexuality even at the expense of family life, and to regard marriage as if its whole meaning were exhausted in the one item, sex. The mixture of fad and sanity that characterizes any extreme reaction is present in this revolution in marriage ideals.
Some of the revolutionary changes seem fated to endure. The movement to develop the aesthetic side of sex is sound. The dropping away of the extraneous institutional functions of the family (economic, religious, political) carries with it as a consequence a relatively greater emphasis on sex. It would be vain to try to sweep back the tide, to restore to the family its lost functions, or conceal the facts of sex again in Puritanical obscurantism.
Because of these changes, it now remains to give to the natural family, already stripped bare of its institutional trappings, a clearer consciousness of its meaning and purpose. These must include sex, but sex must not have too destructive a primacy. The erotic side of marriage has decisive importance, but only as a part of a more general scheme. The concept of domestic interaction and duration as the primary function of the family includes sex play, and reaches beyond it. Sex monopoly is a part only, not the whole, of sex life in marriage. And sex life in marriage is itself a mere part, and not a completed whole. If we start with a definite notion of the functions of the natural family, the true place of the sex-monopoly ideal in the marriage scheme can be deduced therefrom.
[p.218] A decision to conform completely to the sex-monopoly ideal, involving the renunciation of plurality of sex connections whether simultaneous or consecutive, is properly a decision to be made freely, for aesthetic reasons, in order to protect or enhance the two basic marriage values: domestic interaction and duration. This line of conduct need not be imposed by the community; it should be the free choice of those who accept the implicit principles of marriage.
V. F. Calverton, The Bankruptcy of Marriage (Macaulay, New York, 1928).↩
J. C. Fluegel, The Psycho-analytic Study of the Family (The International Psycho-analytic Press, London - New York, 1921), p. 110. Freud’s hypothesis that this dissociation is a direct result of infantile incestuous desires and jealousies seems to the writer far-fetched. The phenomenon, common enough, would seem to be sufficiently accounted for by the strong anti-sexual bias in the training of children – a bias which is motivated by the desire to keep the children chaste till marriage.↩
Groves and Ogburn, American Marriage (Henry Holt, New York, 1928), p. 106.↩
Robert Briffault in The Mothers collects many instances of this.↩