The History of Human Marriage - Vol. 1

By Edward Westermarck | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XII
SEXUAL MODESTY

SEXUAL shame may be defined as the shame caused by the idea of the sexual function or anything which is apt to lead to such an idea; and sexual modesty is the fear of, or the tendency to avoid, anything which would arouse sexual shame. It leads to the concealment of the sexual function itself, or of any part of the body the exposure of which may too openly call forth a thought of it, or to the avoidance of any gesture or word that may have a similar effect. I think there can be no doubt that sexual shame thus centres round the sexual function. It is felt at the exposure of certain parts of the body only when such exposure directs the thought to this function. As regards reticences of speech Dr. Havelock Ellis argues that they are not adequately accounted for by the statement that modesty tends to irradiate from the action to the words describing the action, because "there is a tendency for modesty to be more deeply rooted in the words than in the actions";1 and in support of this view he quotes Kleinpaul's remark that modest women have a much greater horror of saying indecent things than of doing them, believing that "fig-leaves were especially made for the mouth."2 So also Stendhal observes that "a woman of feeling betrays her sentiments for her lover sooner by deed than by word."3 This, however, is no evidence against

____________________
1
Ellis, Studies in the Psychology of Sex, vol. i. Evolution of Modesty, p. 66.
2
Kleinpaul, Sprache ohne Worte, p. 309.
3
Stendhal, De l'amour, p. 57sq.

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