Ellis and his Studies in the Psychology of Sex

Havelock Ellis’s “Studies in the Psychology of Sex” really touches upon the hypocritical behaviors performed by society on those that are considered ‘sexually inverted’ to those that have ‘normal’ sexual orientation. Ellis additionally pinpoints the idea that no matter the restrictive policies and punishments that the law attempts to drive into society regarding homosexuality, the existence of homosexuality will still be present. Ellis, however, goes about driving these opinions in a very guarded manner that seems to be one that will still let him be ‘accepted’ within the societal eye and therefore writes with language and content that still undermines homosexuality.

Ellis’s piece really shines light on the hypocrisies within this time period highlighting the differing behaviors towards those that are ‘sexually introverted’ compared to those that are ‘normal’. He uses examples of the innate sexual drive that human beings posses and how, although we all encompass such a drive, society feels that they can place restrictions and punishments on how such inborn drives can be acted upon. He also states how, “Within certain limits, the gratification of the normal sexual impulse, even outside marriage, arouses no general or profound indignation; and is regarded as a private matter; rightly or wrongly, the gratification of the homosexual impulse is regarded as a public matter” (332). Such hypocrisies, although are obviously not as radical as put forth within Ellis’s time, seem to draw parallels within the modern day United States. Huge movements have obviously been made in the progressive direction concerning the acceptance of homosexuality, however society still seems to place such hypocrisy in its beliefs about rules that abide to the heterosexual over the homosexual i.e. homosexual relationships within the military and gay marriage.

Ellis’s technique of systematically arguing for the rights of the homosexual whilst attempting to ‘cover his tracks’ and ‘saving face’ by insisting views that would’ve been accepted by those within high-ranking society is quite evident within the document. Ellis starts his piece by addressing the notion of being ‘sexually inverted’, and how it is something that could be compared to as a sickness in the fact that it could be cured and the individual may be able to rid themselves of their ‘abnormalities’, “The sexual invert is specially liable to suffer from a high degree of neurasthenia, often involving much nervous weakness and irritability, loss of self-control, and genital hyperesthesia” (328). However, it is followed with an insightful argument of how those that are ‘sexually introverted’ cannot just rid themselves of their homosexuality by methods believed by other physicians at the time to alleviate sexual introversion, such as marriage. Ellis additionally seems to ‘hide’ behind a shield when he introduces a letter that was sent to him by a man that sought to confide in Ellis regarding his homosexual urges and difficulties. The man, who was not named, described how his urges “made his life a hell” and how the “horror” of such an “abnormality” “has been an enemy” to his religious faith (330). Through this letter, the readers of Ellis’s piece, would’ve understood how homosexual tendencies were not ones that were chosen consciously and additionally were out of the individual’s control. Whether this letter was actually written by an unknown man, or by Ellis himself, who knows. Either way, it was an effective technique of squeezing some kind of empathetic view from the reader in regards to a foreign homosexual standpoint. The letter also demonstrates how it is someone else’s opinion and thus sheds any blame Ellis could have received for publishing the content that was within the letter.

Havelock Ellis’s style of writing within the “Studies in the Psychology of Sex” could be regarded as frustrating to some as his opinions seemed more like a tennis match than a document that had a cemented message. However, I feel that for this time period and for this subject especially, Ellis had to be wary of society and its viewpoints. By documenting all views, Ellis would’ve, in my opinion, furthered the documents opinions with added credibility as the public would view it has something that was not just one sided, but provided an overall scope on the ‘sexually inverted’ and how their predicaments were, at the end of the day, out of their control.



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Filed under Week 3: Sexology, Inversion, Uranianism

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