Studies in the Psychology of Sex, Volume 5 Erotic Symbolism; The Mechanism of Detumescence; The Psychic State in Pregnancy

Studies in the Psychology of Sex, Volume 5 
Erotic Symbolism; The Mechanism of Detumescence; The Psychic State in Pregnancy

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EROTIC SYMBOLISM.

I.

The Definition of Erotic Symbolism—Symbolism of Act and Symbolism of Object—Erotic Fetichism—Wide extension of the symbols of Sex—The Immense Variety of Possible Erotic Fetiches—The Normal Foundations of Erotic Symbolism—Classification of the Phenomena—The Tendency to Idealize the Defects of a Beloved Person—Stendhal's "Crystallization."

By "erotic symbolism" I mean that tendency whereby the lover's attention is diverted from the central focus of sexual attraction to some object or process which is on the periphery of that focus, or is even outside of it altogether, though recalling it by association of contiguity or of similarity. It thus happens that tumescence, or even in extreme cases detumescence, may be provoked by the contemplation of acts or objects which are away from the end of sexual conjugation.

In considering the phenomena of sexual selection in a previous volume, it was found that there are four or five main factors in the constitution of beauty in so far as beauty determines sexual selection. Erotic symbolism is founded on the factor of individual taste in beauty; it arises as a specialized development of that factor, but it is, nevertheless, incorrect to merge it in sexual selection. The attractive characteristics of a beloved woman or man, from the point of view of sexual selection, are a complex but harmonious whole leading up to a desire for the complete possession of the person who displays them. There is no tendency to isolate and dissociate any single character from the individual and to concentrate attention upon that character at the expense of the attention bestowed upon the individual generally. As soon as such a tendency begins to show itself, even though only in a slight or temporary form, we may say that there is erotic symbolism.

Erotic symbolism is, however, by no means confined to the individualizing tendency to concentrate amorous attention upon some single characteristic of the adult woman or man who is normally the object of sexual love. The adult human being may not be concerned at all, the attractive object or act may not even be human, not even animal, and we may still be concerned with a symbol which has parasitically rooted itself on the fruitful site of sexual emotion and absorbed to itself the energy which normally goes into the channels of healthy human love having for its final end the procreation of the species. Thus understood in its widest sense, it may be said that every sexual perversion, even homosexuality, is a form of erotic symbolism, for we shall find that in every case some object or act that for the normal human being has little or no erotic value, has assumed such value in a supreme degree; that is to say, it has become a symbol of the normal object of love. Certain perversions are, however, of such great importance on account of their wide relationships, that they cannot be adequately discussed merely as forms of erotic symbolism. This is notably the case as regards homosexuality, auto-erotism, and algolagnia, all of which phenomena have therefore been separately discussed in previous studies....