Ever since I first had the theories of Freud and Jung pounded into me by lecturers labouring under the preposterous assumption that such theories were indispensable aids to literary criticism, I’ve been deeply suspicious of psychology and psychoanalysis.
I warmed to Freud somewhat after I discovered that he had a cocaine habit for a while, but I can’t say I’ve ever been bowled over by any of his major theories. I hasten to add that even in translation it’s obvious that he was a skilful prose stylist, and I do dip into him from time to time (I have tiny soft-spots for Totem and Taboo and The Future of an Illusion). I frankly can’t get myself excited about Jung, though. And I have tried. Nada. Maybe next year.
I think the reason that I’m neither deeply moved nor profoundly discomfited by the theories of these august men is simply time. Freud’s real scene-shifting work was popping eyes in the early part of the last century. What hasn’t been discredited or parodied into submission by now is scarcely likely to shock or amaze.
But I’m still fascinated by it all. Say what you like about the soft sciences, at least someone (like me) who never even tried to understand simultaneous equations – let alone get past them – can get a handle on them. So when I espied a copy of The Psychology of Sex by Oswald Schwartz in an op-shop yesterday I was always going to buy it. I just didn’t know that it was going to be quite so funny.
Darkly funny, however. How about this, for instance?
‘The main difference is that with boys the sexual urge awakes spontaneously together with the beginnings of the function of the testicles. Not so with girls: the woman’s sexuality remains dormant until it is awakened by a man. Not by any man, but by the right one, and many a woman grows up, becomes the mother of children, and still remains a Sleeping Beauty. A normal girl whose physical urge has not been brutally stirred up need not and does not masturbate at any time in her life. Masturbation with women is always abnormal.’
Got that, girls? Unless you’ve been raped, or kissed by Prince Charming (or unless, perhaps, Prince Charming fiercely exercised his ius primae noctis), sexual somnolence is your only option.
I love the slightly twitchy qualifier ‘Not by any man, but the right one…’ And this is the sort of thing that makes Schwartz so funny. He is dimly aware that women deserve to be treated like human beings. He’s just not sure how to pull off the trick.
On the subject of masturbation (my, how quickly we – er – got there) Schwarz has a classic anecdote:
‘I knew a student of philosophy who occasionally found himself so hopelessly entangled in the intricacies of a philosophical argument that he could not resist the urge to masturbate, which loosened the intolerable mental tension, although, of course, it did not solve the philosophical problems.’
Well, we’ve all been there. Anyway: treatment in this case seems to me to be all too easy. Tell the poor bastard to stop reading Hegel.
There is the odd moment in which Schwartz comes up with something well worth reading and pondering – and these moments are all the more stunning given that they were first published in 1949.
He writes, for instance, that
‘in principle the use of contraceptives introduces a considerable element of ethics into our sexual life. It raises a biological function to the level of a human deed. In other words, an unprotected coitus may or may not lead to impregnation, depending in any given case on anatomical and chemical conditions. This leaves the creation of a new human being to chance; a most depressing thought, and a definitely immoral action. By using contraceptives, and dispensing with them only when a child is honestly desired, we replace a haphazard happening by a resolve of our free will.’
Not bad. Notice especially the gender-neutral tenor of the statement.
But moments like these are rare. Much more frequent are pious pontifications which necessarily sound, to post-sexual revolution ears, like a lecture on the g-spot delivered by an elderly eunuch.
Anyway. Back to the funnies. How about this:
“One day an irate father stormed into my consulting-room bitterly complaining that his boy had been seduced at one of the expensive public schools. When I had an opportunity of talking to the boy himself, he quite frankly admitted the facts, and when I asked him how he felt about it at the time he said: ‘Well, sir, I was so bored with all this that I went on eating my apple.’”
Now perhaps I’m more sensitive than most, but if I was in full seduction mode and the object of my attention was nonchalantly indulging in a fruit salad, I’d be slightly miffed.
I wonder if we have, in the western world, yet come to the only reasonable position there is to be had on sex. And that only reasonable position seems to me to be the one John Stuart Mill set out for the governance of all behaviour in On Liberty. To paraphrase Mill: if it harms no other person, then go to it with a will. And the more of it you can indulge in the more power to you and the better you’ll surely be pleased.
I defy any head-shrinker to take issue with that.