With the competing forces so strong and the issues so great, it is not to be wondered at that society has had to build up a massive bulwark of public opinion, to establish regulations and fix penalties that are more stringent than those imposed in any other direction. Nor is it remarkable that in its effort to protect itself, society has sometimes made mistakes.
These blunders seem to lie in two directions. Assuming that it is nearly impossible for the male to control his instincts, and that, after all, it does not matter so much whether he does or not, society has blinked at license in men, and thus has fostered a demoralizing, anti-social double standard which has broken up countless homes, has been responsible for the spread of venereal diseases, and has been among the greatest curses of modern civilization. At the same time society, in its efforts to maintain its standards for woman, has taught its children, especially its girls, that anything savoring of the word “sexual” is sinful, disgusting, and impure. To be sure, very many women have modified their childish views, but an astonishingly large number conserve, even in maturity, their warped ideas about the whole subject of sex. Many a mature woman secretly believes that she, at least, is not guilty of harboring anything so “vulgar” as a reproductive instinct, not realizing that if this were so, she would be, in very truth, a freak of nature.
Of course, woman is by nature as fully endowed with sex instincts as is man. Kipling portrays the female of the species as “deadlier than the male” in that the very framework of her constitution outlines the one issue for which it was launched,—stanch against any attack which might endanger the carrying on of life. Feeling the force of this instinctive urge, she braces herself against precipitancy in response by what seems almost a negation.
Just as we lean well in when riding around a corner, in order to keep ourselves from falling out, so by an “over-compensation” for what is unconsciously felt to be danger woman increases her feeling of safety by setting up a taboo on the whole subject of sex. It is time that we freed our minds from the artificial and perverted attitude toward this dominant impulse; time to rescue the word “sex” from its implications of grossness and sensuousness, and to recognize the instinct in its true light as one of the necessary and holy forces of life, a force capable of causing great damage, but also holding infinite possibilities for good if wisely directed.
Society only gets its members into trouble when, even by implication, it attempts to deny its natural make-up, and allows little children to grow up with the false idea that one of their strongest impulses is to be shunned by them as a thing of shame. We cannot dam back the flood by building a bulwark of untruth, and then expect the bulwark to hold.