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- Men, Women, and God - 2/23 -
Unfortunately in order to carry out the policy thus implied it would be necessary to keep children from associating with other children, to forbid them to read the Bible, the great classics of literature, and the daily papers--to keep them from the theatre, and from the study of nature--in fact to bring them up in a world which does not exist. For in all the ways I have suggested do boys and girls now collect garbled, half-true, and distorted notions about sexual life. And even if it were possible to carry out the policy it would still not be desirable. Marriage is not the simple and easy thing which the policy would imply. Mother Nature does not teach young couples all that they need to know. Often they make serious mistakes in the first few days. Often they mishandle and spoil the beautiful relationship on which they have entered to their own disgust and disappointment. Uncounted couples to-day have reason for the bitterness with which they complain that nobody ever taught or helped them. In fact the policy of silence is as cruel as its assumptions are untrue. Ignorance is an impossibility for the young. Our choice lies between garbled, distorted, and defiled knowledge and a knowledge that shall be clean, innocent, and helpful. It has often happened that men and women brought up on the policy of silence have first learnt the facts about life through some contact with vice or sin, and those who know what horrible sufferings sudden discoveries of that sort may mean for sensitive natures cannot possibly have any doubts remaining on this point. There are few more cruel things possible than to bring a girl up in the ignorance which is mistaken for innocence and then to allow her to go out into the world to learn the truth by chance, or through some unclean mind.
That is why I gladly address myself to the task of this book, in which at least some of the truth is told.
Of course the real issue that stands in the background here is the one which concerns the nature of true spirituality. We are all agreed that the essential greatness of man lies in the fact that in him spirit may rule everything else. And until spirit does thus rule he has not reached his true life, But the question of the place of the body in the full life of man still remains to be faced and thought out.
The hermits of the desert assumed that the way of true life lay in the repression of all bodily desire and as much negation of the body as is consistent with mere existence. But in fact they often succeeded in making life disgusting, and generally in making it useless. It may be doubted whether they contributed anything to the real problem of civilization. Yet their mistake is still repeated in part by many good people. Many still think that the way of the higher life consists in forgetting the body as much as possible in order that the soul may live in freedom. They admit the body's needs with reluctance, and treat it as something with no essential relation to their spiritual activities. Often they willfully neglect the duty of health. Still more often they believe they ought to regard with disapproval the clamant desires and cravings of our bodily natures. But in so doing they miss the real significance of the Incarnation. Our life here is an embodied life, and it cannot be fine unless the body is finely tempered. That body is designed as the instrument through which the spirit may find expression. The first essential no doubt is to submit it to discipline and so reduce it to the place of a servant. At all costs it must be brought under control. It must be understood, and kept in good health. And if these things be neglected the life of the spirit is hampered and depressed. But still spirit must express itself through body, and all the wealth of powers with which body is endowed has significance and worth.
For this reason the attempt to keep spiritual and bodily activities separate always revenges itself upon its authors. On the one hand it leads to an impoverishment of the spiritual life, for on these terms the spirit is left with no fine instrument through which to express itself in the real world. And on the other hand, bodily activities divorced from the control of the spirit tend to become mere animal things and so to produce disgust and degeneration.
But indeed the body cannot without disaster be simply ignored. The attempt merely to repress its manifold urgencies leads to a state in which these forces seek out for themselves abnormal channels of activity, so destroying the harmony and balance of life. The essential glory of human beings lies in the fact that in them body and spirit may be so wedded that their activities are woven into one harmonious whole. It was in a moment of real insight that Robert Browning cried--
"Let us not always say, 'Spite of this flesh to-day, I strove, made head, gained ground upon the whole.' As the bird wings and sings, Let us cry, 'All good things Are ours, nor soul helps flesh more now, than flesh helps soul.'"
Now all this is supremely true of the sexual part of life. If mere lust is the vilest thing on earth, pure love is the most beautiful. And when pure love dominates a life all the sexual activities of the body may be transmuted and redeemed until a complete life is attained in which all the primal forces of our beings find a happy exercise under the control of a passion that is at once physical, mental, and spiritual. But the body is not in this process denied. It is accepted, understood, and made to play its true part. If passion be truly handled it provides the driving force for a life that is effective, courageous, and joyous. He is most truly living a spiritual life who has learnt to use all the powers of his incarnate nature in a life of strenuous activity and loyal love.
I do not mean of course that there is no place in the highest type of life for renunciation. Nor do I mean for a moment that only in marriage can greatness and fullness of life be attained. It is hard to use words correctly at a time when special meanings have come to be attached to such words as repression and suppression. What the psychologists have discovered is that unconscious, or incomplete, or unaccepted repression of bodily instincts leads to a dangerous condition. He who has not really surrendered desire, but simply tried to drive it underground, may indeed reap troubles enough and to spare.
But it needs no psychological training to know that deliberate, sincere, and courageous renunciation of this or that bodily desire for the sake of some compelling ideal may lead to the very finest kind of life. Only in this process the body is not ignored. It is taken into account. Nor are its forces neglected. Through the process technically described as sublimation, a way is to be found whereby life force restrained in one direction finds other and most valuable ways of expression.
* * * * *
I write this book as one who has learnt to thank God for all the elements in our normal humanity, and I send it out with the prayer in my heart that through it some may be helped to a truer understanding of themselves which will ease their way to success and joy and to that fullness of human life which is the divine intention for us.
KNOWING THE FACTS
The first essential equipment for a right journey through the country of sexual experience is that we should know the truth about our bodies --those temples of the Holy Ghost--and should understand the meaning of the emotions and desires which connect themselves with our physical constitution.
Further, because the problem of sex can only be solved by the cooperation of the sexes working together in mutual understanding it is right that men should know a good deal about women's bodies and vice versa. Such knowledge almost always begets sympathy and a certain intelligent tenderness. The lack of it has often led to unconscious cruelties, to misunderstandings, and even to serious mistakes. To mention one instance only, how can men be expected to treat the other sex with true consideration if they do not know that once a month for a period women ought to be saved from fatigue and strain? And yet there are many adult men in that position of ignorance.
But though the detailed facts are all clean, and really easy to be understood, the manner in which they are conveyed into our minds is of vital importance. I do not think they can be fully conveyed through any printed page. They are too delicate for such handling. They are not truly conveyed unless behind the mere words which express them there is a reverent soul that can impart the right tone and emphasis to them. I would quite gladly attempt to put them all down here could I only be assured that my words would only be read by men or women when alone and in a reverent mood. That being impossible I can only begin by insisting that they ought to be known. And this I can also do--I can assure all young people who read these pages that there is nothing whatever in the facts of the case to be afraid of--nothing that they cannot know with perfectly clean minds. There are no terrible mysteries in the matter. There are no horrors in normal sex life. The truth even about the ultimate intimacies of body between men and women is that when truly achieved they are beautiful, and holy, and happy.
But how are young people to get the right knowledge? The worst possible way in which to get it is to pick it up bit by bit in connection with evil stories, the reports of divorce cases, and the hints of vice which lurk in life's shadowy corners. Yet that has been the most common way in the past. Quite little boys have passed on mysterious stories from mouth to mouth defiling the whole matter. Many girls have first begun to wonder and to ask questions when they first heard of an illegitimate child. Words in the Bible, such as "lasciviousness" and so on, have started mere school children asking questions to which probably they only got distorted answers from other school children. Just because their parents did not tell them anything, they have assumed that there must be something to be ashamed of in the truth. And so ninety per cent of boys, and I know not what proportion of girls, have the subject of sex spoiled for them even before adolescence. Sex, sexual experience, passion, and so on are things they think half unclean and yet annoyingly interesting. They are half ashamed, and yet remain curious. Some are half afraid. Some rather more than half disgusted. Some indeed try to banish the whole subject from their minds. This may seem to be a refined thing to do; but, as we know with a new definiteness since the psychologists have explored the matter, it is really a disastrous thing to do. For to adapt ourselves to sex is one of the problems that cannot be escaped. In this world we cannot live the disembodied life. What we may do is to live a clean and happy bodily life, but only if we build our house of life on knowledge.
Wherefore to all young men and women I would say--Get to know the real truth from someone you can trust. Go to some older man or woman with a clean mind and a large heart, and learn about yourself. Of course the best people in the world to go to are your own parents; but if for any
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