Conscious Control of Our Sex Life

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Conscious Control of Our Sex Life

Book excerpt

By: J. Rutgers

Date: 1937

Source: J. Rutgers. How to Attain and Practice the Ideal Sex Life: Ideal Sex and Love Relations for Every Married Man and Woman. Translated by Norman Haire. New York: Falstaff Press, 1937.

About the Author: Dr. J. Rutgers wrote How to Attain and Practice the Ideal Sex Life before 1924, and it was translated into English from the German (Das Sexualeben in Seiner Bioligishchen Bedeutung) in 1937. It is an early example of a sexual "how to" manual that is typical of the early twentieth century.


Some years before 1924, Rutgers attempted to write a comprehensive guide for married couples for attaining an ideal sex life. The resulting book is a fascinating mixture of tangentially relevant scientific observations, interesting personal views, and semi-scientific lore. He covered a wide range of topics ranging from masturbation to self-control of sexual desire. For Rutgers, marital sex was the only appropriate sex, and he advised against premarital sex because it was thought to provoke severe anxiety that could spoil sexual enjoyment after marriage.

On the other hand, Rutgers cast aspersions on marriage as a defective institution, citing that it promoted male superiority and the view of women and children as property of the husband. He condoned common-law marriage, believing that it preserved equality between partners and promoted love and mutual respect. He even promoted bigamy as a way to accommodate the desire of multiple sexual partners to live and have children together, and felt that such unions should not be subject to legal sanctions. His views on homosexuality were at variance with the prevailing views of his time. He thought that homosexuals and bisexuals can be moral people, are happy to be homosexuals, and are not eager to be "cured" of their sexual orientation. Perversions exist among homosexuals, he admitted, but probably less often than among heterosexuals. Rutgers mentioned that homosexuals also could have lifelong unions that are as beneficial and well-intentioned as those of heterosexual partners.

In keeping with his liberal sexual outlook, Rutgers disapproved of sexual abstinence as a way of life. He felt that it put people at risk for mental illness due to physical and emotional stress. Some of his observations are likely to promote mirth today, such as his speculation that circumcision increases sexual sensitivity and could account for a high birth rate among Jews, or his theory that rubbing insect bites causes people to become more familiar with their bodies and, hence, more sexually sensitive.

The following excerpt focuses on the issue of avoiding casual sexual contact on the spur of the moment. Rutgers recommends avoiding casual sex because it is likely to result in unforeseen, negative physical and mental consequences. The essence of Rutgers's strategy is to plan avoidance of tempting situations well in advance, since temptation most often results in seduction.


So we have enquired into the practical means of controlling our sexual passions. Now if we only carry out that good advice … yes, if we behave accordingly, but here we are confronted by a great difficulty. Just in those very moments when a sexual stimulus occurs, we want to be thus excited, and at the very instant when we ought to avoid this excitation, we do not wish to avoid it.

Nowhere is our unwillingness so great as in sexual self control. Here we are only too glad to allow ourselves to drift. And if we have once given way, and especially if we have often given way, then it soon becomes so habitual that we no longer wish to do otherwise, and we no longer think of what we are doing. That which we did at first more or less consciously, in the course of time we do unconsciously, more and more automatically.

Thus it is with married people in marital intercourse, with youths in masturbation and with old bachelors in prostitution. If we once become the slave of passion, what can be done? And especially in a sphere that is already so full of animal impulse. Of course St. Anthony might as well have preached to the fishes, for they, at any rate, are cold-blooded.

Yes, if we wait without energy, idly, until the last moment, then good advice would come too late—it would always be too late. But if we are in earnest we can begin taking precautionary measures today, whereby our will can be rightly directed for tomorrow and for our whole future. We must begin with prevention, before the temptation has got hold of us. Everything depends upon our directing our own free will in the right path, in anticipation.

In our psychic sphere also, we can employ the same method which we have seen to be so effective in the control of the material functions. We can seek out cause and effect in order to intervene early before evil influences have become too strong for us; nay, before they have made themselves manifest at all, for the law of causality also exists in the psychic sphere. Only the expressions of our will seem here to be an exception. Happily this is not so. If our will were free in the sense that we could without cause act justly one moment and irresponsibly the next, be upright one moment, and rascally the next, then all continuity of the moral life would disappear; all training, practice and self-control would be useless; our conception of morality would be all a matter of chance, a mockery of all ethics. But this is in direct contradiction of our experience. We see how one man always makes his decision in a crisis in an orderly, self-conscious and deliberate manner, while other people always allow themselves to be led to foolish deeds by momentary impulses.

There is no such thing as an expression of our will without cause, but we are not in the habit of paying much attention to the motives for our will. Even the most significant unconscious acts have an adequate cause. Why is it that when we have lain on our right side in bed for a while we turn round and lie on our left? This decision of the will is actuated by the fact that any position becomes uncomfortable if maintained too long. All our lives long we cannot endure a perpetual rest-point or point of support, any more than a drop of water can remain steam on a red-hot plate. We are only absolutely at rest when we are dead. The whole series of manifestations of our will when, in the morning, we get up, wash, dress, breakfast and go to our work, every movement has its cause, only in the course of time through custom it has become automatic. The causality has still remained the same, only we gradually come to recognise it less or not at all.

Only in difficult cases does it cease to act, that is to say, when the motives for and against are equally strong. And then it enters our consciousness, that now our own intellectual motives must decide. We think it over, we weigh the various motives until at last the balance sinks on one side because it is overcharged. Then we speak about our free will, because the decision of our will is not now actuated by external influences, as it so often is, but only inner motives and inclinations influence the decision, of which we ourselves could at first say nothing, as to how the balance would finally be decided.

To make my meaning clearer I will quote as a concrete example an every day occurrence, not taken from the sexual life, but from one just as impulsive, alcoholic intoxication. In the police court news appears the following: "During a quarrel in a restaurant X … fractured his friend's skull with the leg of a chair … Homicide, with extenuating circumstances … two years' hard labour."

On that fatal Saturday night, when the guilty man was overcome with drink, he was no longer responsible, but the previous afternoon his will was perfectly free and open to reason. He was a most respectable man; all his companions liked him whether they met in the tavern or out in the country. He said to himself: "I have worked too hard all the week, (first mistake) it was really too bad; but now I have done good business and want to have a bit of fun, (second mistake). Now the weather is so fine I might take a brisk walk out in the country with some of my friends, that would be the best recreation." No sooner said than done. But as he was going along the street his friend and tavern companion, the one whom he struck down later, met him. He was quite sober and jolly and called to him from a distance: "God's truth, old chap, is that you? You look so tired out, come along and let's drink a pint together. All the other fellows are coming tonight, too, we shall have a fine time, that's the best way to pull yourself together." In reality the good man was a little annoyed at the unexpected meeting, which upset his plans for a quiet day in the country and would much rather have said "No," because it was such a fine day for a walk. Before he had pulled himself together, (third mistake), and because being so tired he did not feel in a mood to resist, he said: "Oh, all right, I can go for a walk any time," and went along with his friend. The first thought that in order to enjoy himself, he must do something foolish was more powerful than the hygienic idea of going for a walk, and so it won the day.


Looking back on the early twentieth century from the early twenty-first century, it is easy to assume that people now enjoy far greater openness and sophistication about sexual matters than people did a hundred years ago. This is probably true when expressed as a percentage of the population knowledgeable about sexual matters and tolerant of diverse sexual behaviors. It is also undoubtedly true that people today have a much better scientific understanding of sexual anatomy and physiology than did Rutgers and his contemporaries.

However, Rutgers's mistrust of where sexual desire and instinct may lead as well as his concern regarding how to consciously control one's sexual life still characterizes current thinking and social dialogue about sex. Controversies about homosexuality, bigamy, and masturbation also remain as lively today as in Rutgers's day. The U.S. Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders resigned under pressure in 1994 after daring to endorse the practice of and education about masturbation, even as a way of helping young people avoid risky sexual contact (the very objective of the Rutgers excerpt).

A contemporary reader's reaction to Rutgers's book might well be a mixture of surprise regarding his frankness and prescience in discussing unusual and controversial sexual topics, and smugness regarding his far-fetched theories about the mental and physical effects of various sexual practices. It is this very surprise and interest in his moral stance regarding sex that says most about how similar our age is to his. It seems remarkable that a how-to manual such as this one would sell enough copies in the Europe of its day to economically merit translation into English and publication in the United States. It is also, perhaps, reassuring to sexually liberal readers that some of the tolerant attitudes expressed in the book are of such long standing, not only among the intellectual elite of those days, but also among the middle class readers of such a manual.

Viewed in historical perspective, How to Attain and Practice the Ideal Sex Life was part of a significant wave of books and instruction manuals about sex that were published in the 1930s. Other examples include: New Patterns in Sex Teaching, by Francis Strain (1938); Encyclopedia of Sexual Knowledge, by A. Costler and A. Willy (1937); Anthropological Studies of Sexual Relations of Mankind, by Paolo Mantegazza; A Study of Masturbation and the Psychosexual Life, by J. F. W. Meagher (1936); The Sexual Question, by August Forel (1932); The Doctor Looks at Love and Life, by Joseph Collins (1926); and Married Love: A New Contribution to the Solution of Sex Difficulties, by Marie C. Stopes (1931). Most of these books were written by medical doctors and contained an unpredictable mix of pseudoscience and personal opinion, as well as of ultraconservative Puritanism and progressive, even open-minded, views on sexuality. The proliferation of books addressing sexual behavior was particularly significant because there was very little published about sex before the 1930s.

By the 1930s, science and the rise of modern medicine had begun to provide answers to questions about sexual behavior that had previously been the province of religious morality for most people. As twentieth century science and technology gained in influence on popular thinking, secular views of sex and marriage began to take hold, giving rise to the demand for the sex encyclopedias and advice books that continues to the present. The novelty of writing about sex and the dearth of real research into sexual behavior at the time allowed the writers of these books to inject their personal views into a supposedly scientific or clinical discussion of sexuality.

Respect for scientific methods and references to rigorous research characterize current books about sex, but the mysteries of marital love, masturbation, homosexuality, and other topics covered by J. Rutgers and his contemporaries have yet to be encompassed by any widely supported scientific theories about the nature of sexuality. The hoary controversies and scientifically unsupported personal opinions about sex found in the how-to manuals of the early twentieth century persist to the present day. Efforts, such as those by Alfred Kinsey (1894–1956) and others, to treat sex as a field for objective scientific study continue to meet resistance. Although official censorship of sexual topics weakened after Rutgers's time, many in the American population resisted sexual discussions and explorations until the sexual revolution of the 1960s, the women's movement of the 1970s, and beyond.



Costler, A., and A. Willy. Encyclopedia of Sexual Knowledge. Edited by Norman Haire. New York: Eugenics Publishing Company, 1940.

Collins, Joseph. The Doctor Looks at Love and Life. Garden City, N.Y.: Garden City Publishing Co., 1926.

Mantegazza, Paolo. Anthropological Studies of Sexual Relations of Mankind. New York: Anthropological Press, 1932.

Stopes, Marie C. Married Love: A New Contribution to the Solution of Sex Difficulties. New York: Eugenics Publishing Company, 1932. (Originally published in 1918.)

Strain, Francis. New Patterns in Sex Teaching. New York: D. Appleton-Century, 1938.

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