Biography and Sexual Teachings of Havelock Ellis Part 3

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


HAVELOCK ELLIS (1859-1939), Great Britain


Ellis, who saw sex as a continuum and did not want to draw a line between normal and abnormal sexual behavior, was a liberal who believed in acceptance of childhood and adolescent sexuality (in a time when little girls had their clitorises burned with hot irons for masturbating), sex education, trial marriage, equal rights for women, freedom to divorce, repeal of repressive contraception laws, and the right of consenting adults to sexual activity.

In a curiously modern paragraph, he foreshadowed the women's liberation movement: ". . . the wife who marries for money, compared with a prostitute, is the true scab. She is paid less, gives much more in return in labor and care, and is absolutely bound to her master. The prostitute never signs away the right over her own person, she retains her freedom and personal rights, nor is she always compelled to submit to man's embrace."

Through his research, Ellis came to the following conclusions, many of which were far in advance of the prevailing attitudes of his time:

Periodicity, some of it based on the phases of the moon and seasons of the year, is characteristic of human sexual behavior.

Before adolescence, children are sexually aware and act as sexual beings.

Masturbation is common and probably harmless.

The male reaches a peak of sexual activity at a lower age than the female.

Women feel sexual desire to a much greater degree than is supposed. They have multiple orgasms.

Older people are sexually responsive.

Impotence and frigidity are psychologically rather than physiologically caused. Women become frigid mostly because they are repressed when young and because men don't know how to make love properly.

The senses--touch, hearing, smell, and vision--are important in sexual encounters.

Ellis coined the terms "narcissistic" and "autoerotic," later used by Freud and other psychologists. He felt that women and men were "two halves of the race" in "their wholeness." He described the sexual impulse as the "piling on of the fuel" (tumescence) and "leaping out of the devouring flame" (detumescence). This kind of poetic description helped tag him as "the literary psychologist."

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