Studies in the Psychology of Sex

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Havelock Ellis

The analysis of these cases leads directly up to a question of the first importance: What is sexual inversion? Is it, as many would have us believe, an abominably acquired vice, to be stamped out by the prison? or is it, as a few assert, a beneficial variety of human emotion which should be tolerated or even fostered? Is it a diseased condition which qualifies its subject for the lunatic asylum? or is it a natural monstrosity, a human "sport," the manifestations of which must be regulated when they become antisocial? There is probably an element of truth in more than one of these views. Very widely divergent views of sexual inversion are largely justified by the position and attitude of the investigator. It is natural that the police-official should find that his cases are largely mere examples of disgusting vice and crime. It is natural that the asylum superintendent should find that we are chiefly dealing with a form of insanity. It is equally natural that the sexual invert himself should find that he and his inverted friends are not so very unlike ordinary persons. We have to recognize the influence of professional and personal bias and the influence of environment.

There have been two main streams of tendency in the views regarding sexual inversion: one seeking to enlarge the sphere of the acquired (represented by Binet,—who, however, recognized predisposition,—Schrenck-Notzing, and recently the Freudians), the other seeking to enlarge the sphere of the congenital (represented by Krafft-Ebing, Moll, Féré, and today by the majority of authorities). There is, as usually happens, truth in both these views. But, inasmuch as those who represent the acquired view often deny any congenital element, we are called upon to discuss the question. The view that sexual inversion is entirely explained by the influence of early association, or of "suggestion," is an attractive one and at first sight it seems to be supported by what we know of erotic fetichism, by which a woman's hair, or foot, or even clothing, becomes the focus of a man's sexual aspirations. But it must be remembered that what we see in erotic fetichism is merely the exaggeration of a normal impulse; every lover is to some extent excited by his mistress's hair, or foot, or clothing. Even here, therefore, there is really what may fairly be regarded as a congenital element; and, moreover, there is reason to believe that the erotic fetichist usually displays the further congenital element of hereditary neurosis. Therefore, the analogy with erotic fetichism does not bring much help to those who argue that inversion is purely acquired. It must also be pointed out that the argument for acquired or suggested inversion logically involves the assertion that normal sexuality is also acquired or suggested. If a man becomes attracted to his own sex simply because the fact or the image of such attraction is brought before him, then we are bound to believe that a man becomes attracted to the opposite sex only because the fact or the image of such attraction is brought before him. Such a theory is unworkable.

The University Press
Page numbers in original volume

Ellis, Havelock. "The Theory of Sexual Inversion." Studies in the Psychologies of Sex, vol. 1, London, The University Press, 1897, pp. 129-30. 6 vols.