History of Sex Surveys: Studies in the Psychology of Sex Part 1

About a survey by Henry Havelock Ellis from the early 1900s called Studies in the Psychology of Sex, his findings on a range of sexual issues.


Researcher: Henry Havelock Ellis (1859-1939). Born in England of middle-class parents, Ellis was both a product and a victim of the sexual repression of the Victorian era, when masturbation was referred to as "self-abuse" and said to cause impotence, blindness, and insanity, and nocturnal emissions were considered an indication of a foul venereal disease. Ellis was appalled by the damage these attitudes did to society at large and to him personally. Determined to learn more about sex for the public's sake as well as his own, he gave up his medical practice to devote his full time to sex research.

He wrote candidly in his autobiography of his own sexual difficulties. When he married, at 32, he was a virgin. Although he and his wife were passionately in love, it was a spiritual not a physical love. Both sought sexual satisfaction in extramarital affairs--and both with other women. One of Ellis's mistresses was Margaret Sanger, an early crusader for birth control. Only after his wife's death, however, was Ellis able to combine sex and love in one relationship. By this time, he was 59. Although primarily known for his studies of sex, he had a reputation as the best-read man in the world, and wrote and edited numerous books on travel, philosophy, dreams, and social concerns. The last 20 years of his life were his happiest, spent with a beloved mistress who loved him in return, and with the knowledge that Victorianism, his lifelong enemy, was being replaced (thanks in large part to his research) by a more humane attitude toward sexuality.

Topics Studied: In 7 volumes published between 1900 and 1928, Ellis presented the results of his investigations on such subjects as "The evolution of modesty," "The sexual impulse in women," "Erotic symbolism," "Sex in relation to society."

In the pages of his books, Ellis emphasized the wide range of normal human sexuality--although he also discussed such generally recognized but generally ignored variations as homosexuality, sadism, masochism, exhibitionism, voyeurism, fetishism, incest, satyriasis (male nymphomania), nymphomania, transvestism, and zoophilia.

How Done: Ellis based his studies on published case histories in the medical and psychiatric literature of his day; correspondence with readers of his early volumes; and information obtained from friends, mistresses, patients who came to him for help, and even from his wife. His approach was that of a scientific observer; it never became judgmental. "The majority of sexual perversions," he wrote, "including even those that are most repulsive, are but exaggerations of instincts and emotions that are germinal in normal human emotions."

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