Biography and Sexual Teachings of Havelock Ellis Part 2

About Victorian Era psychologist Havelock Ellis, biography and history of his sexual teachings.


HAVELOCK ELLIS (1859-1939), Great Britain

In his 20s, back in England, he remained a virgin, though he developed a close relationship with Olive Schreiner, a young writer. They spent weekends together naked, looking at sperm under a microscope. However, according to Ellis, "We were not what can be technically, or even ordinarily, called lovers."

Except for an approach by a prostitute, which he spurned, that was Ellis's sex life until at 32 he married Edith Lees, also a virgin. She came from a long line of eccentrics and was prone to depressions, so they decided not to have children. Their sex life was poor, partly because Edith hated contraceptives, and though they continued to have a passionate platonic attachment, they stopped making love after a few years and went their separate sexual ways. Their marriage, which ended with Edith's death in 1919, was open in the modern sense; that is, each had lovers. She liked women partners. So did he--among them Margaret Sanger and H. D. (Hilda Doolittle), a poet, who later described how he had watched her urinating.

Edith introduced him--posthumously--to Francoise Delisle, a French translator, who was his mistress the last 20 years of his life and gave him great happiness. When Edith died, she still owed Francoise for some translations she had done. So poor she had to pawn her possessions to feed herself and her children, Francoise went to Havelock to collect, and the two fell in love. In Friendship's Odyssey, published in 1946, Francoise described their intimate life in detail.

Ellis was a warm, nonjudgmental crusader who wanted to reform then prevalent repressive attitudes toward sex in all its variety. He was sympathetic to perversions because he was so aware of his own feelings, such as his urolagnia (sexual arousal by urine) and his incestuous desires (he was once attracted to his sister after a long separation). He said that perversions are "but exaggerations of instincts and emotions that are germinal in normal human emotions."

At heart, Ellis was a naturalist, who believed in observation and record-keeping. He listened carefully to his patients and collected their sexual histories, as well as those of his wife, his mistresses, and his friends. He had studied medicine, biology, and anthropology and was widely read in the humanities. He tried to draw analogies between human and animal behavior; at one point, he compared human modesty to the nonhuman female animal's refusal to have intercourse except during her fertile period, a refusal which he called "the simplest and most primitive element of modesty."

Ellis's seven-volume Studies in the Psychology of Sex, written from 1896 to 1928, is justly famous. As might be expected, he was criticized for it; only doctors were able to buy it in the U.S. until 1935. In 1898, an English bookseller was arrested for peddling Ellis's Sexual Inversion, the first volume, on the basis that it was obscene literature. The edition was withdrawn, and stung by the experience, Ellis thereafter published his works only in Germany and the U.S., never in England.

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