Peckham Experiment 12 Courtship and Mating

A GREAT deal has been written upon what has been popularly called the “biology” of sex, about the relations of the sexes and about “sex education”. In our understanding however, this has been carried no further than the exposition of the anatomy and physiology of the sexes, in its physical and mental expression. What we in this context must look for, is the functional expression of sex in the biological economy.

Let us begin with the very simple analogy of the knitter. Nature, like a knitter, weaves her living fabric on two needles— the sexes. The needles work together picking up loops of circumstance from the continuous flow of events, and through their mutual action the materialisation of a specific design or pattern grows. In the knitted fabric this design or pattern is different according to which side we look at—purl or plain. So in Nature’s living garment woven by the sexes, there are two aspects, male and female. And these aspects can never be—nor indeed appear —identical, though the ‘fabric’ of living is one and the same. That is to say, the approach through maleness is different from the approach through femaleness; the action-pattern of each is different.

So the sexes do not fit hand-in-glove—one active, the other passive and compliant; neither do they shake right hands in the ‘equality’ of friendship. Like our bodies, bi-axial in constitution, in their unity they are bi-polar in function—Nature’s right and left hands. And that does not mean that the left hand can work the right-handed pattern (or vice versa) which is all that we mean when in common parlance we say a person is “left-handed”. True left-handedness would for example produce a script like that of a right-handed person imprinted on the blotting pad—inversed in every sense and only to be read in its mirror image. And this illustration indicates inversion in one dimension only ; the complexities of inversion in living in the approach of each sex to every thing, situation and event is something of which we have yet to become conscious.

The only ‘equality’ between Nature’s hands is that, like our own hands, they each have fingers ; that is to say, instruments of discriminative sense-contact. But try and put a male glove on a female hand or vice versa and it will only ‘fit’ if it is turned inside out—eviscerated. The only thing that will ‘fit’ is a stocking-like garment, and that immobilises all the ‘fingers’, so that they cannot act discretionately! That is the biological price we pay for any attempted ‘equality’ of the sexes—both hands desensitised and reduced to undifferentiated stumps.

It is true that man is not obliged to follow Nature’s lead, for in the individual, sex is a bias that tips the functional balance to one side or to the other, and man can in some measure voluntarily falsify the scales. In the laboratory by endocrine injection he can turn cocks to hens and hens to cocks. At times, disease tips the balance for us, swinging an individual to neuter, or even to the opposite expression of sex. If humanity does not choose to follow the laws of Health, and ignores the bias Nature uses throughout the living world, there are always the laws of pathology as an alternative—and retribution is not always immediate. In health or wholeness, the bias of sex in man and woman is brought naturally to balance in the unity of family.Sex then, is no base’animal instinct’ to be suppressed in man; nor is it mere hunger to be sated.It is the means Nature uses to bring man and woman to adulthood and to the full participation in her life process, for sex is the very basis of creative or evolutional energy.

Indeed, so important would the process of mating seem in Nature’s economy, that to guide and to inaugurate it, we see her throw the individual back once again under the guidance of instinct. Even in homo sapiens Nature does not leave mating to chance or wholly to man’s choice, for falling in love—herald of the process—is an instinctive and involuntary, or autonomic happening. An individual may of volition attempt to stay its consequences; he cannot prevent or anticipate its advent. And, when men and women do fall in love, they are precipitated into a stream of events which in many an instance leads them into paths they had no intention of exploring. This urge to biological completion of the human organism is of immense potency, its strength and delicacy fully comparable to anything yet encountered in the dynamic field. It can move an individual from one end of the earth to the other; can uproot men and women from the binding’ tentacles of habit and change the tenor of their lives; can release unsuspected potentialities and endow action with immeasurable fortitude.

But in our ignorance we have little understanding, scanty appreciation and inadequate respect for the involuntary or autonomic wisdom that guides this process. We are apt to call it “blind” instinct, and say we have “fallen” in love as though we had tripped over some unobserved object in our pre-determined or ‘volitional’ path, attributing the incident to the nature of the object rather than to the subjective stir that impels.

In health, that is to say in sanity, instinct and knowledge are not at variance; they are co-operative, voluntary wisdom feeding from the hand of involuntary wisdom (no less than from external sources). So that although falling in love and the courtship which follows are derived from and guided by instinct, we find that these processes are nevertheless not ‘blind’. On the contrary, in health they grow clear-eyed and of long and critical vision.

Can we then leave mating to Nature? Man is slow to learn the whole lesson of Science, which is to collaborate with Nature; not to contest her decrees. So he is apt to spurn instinct in favour of his own logic. But the purport of the great process of evolution, of which Man is the thrusting point, is that evolutionary development is proceeding from automatic tropism, through autonomic instinct into ‘gnomic’ volition. Thus, Man’s cue from Nature is to allow instinct to guide the direction, and indicate the content, of his volitional action and to learn to administer his instincts through volition; to regard his instincts as undeveloped capacities to be brought through discriminative action to a state of full facultisation.

The biologist cannot ignore Nature’s method; hence he must accept and study the processes of falling in love and of courtship as integral to the process of evolution and seek the optimum conditions for their occurrence as instruments of natural selection.

It is with the outlook sketched above that we tentatively approach the subject of mating. It is a different approach from that of the geneticist who already has given much consideration to the possibility of the scientific control of breeding. In dealing with the ‘typing’ of man’s crops and animals, the geneticist has had great success in planned fertilization, hence some technologists in this branch of knowledge would like to see falling in love and courtship ignored as mere emotional illusions, and human mating planned—”scientifically” as it is called.

But it must be borne in mind that up to the present time the geneticist has only been able to manipulate the physical endowment of the individual.In crops and animals, the environment of which to a great extent we can limit and control, the physical endowment very largely does determine the results that will follow. In the case of Man however, there is no guarantee at all that he will make use of his physical endowment, or inherited capacities. Most of us are, in fact, very shoddy examples of what can be done with the faculties and characteristics with which inheritance has endowed us. Man is not like the animals in this respect, for his own volition can—and does—deny his potentialities. On the whole, Man has not failed in breeding to physical standards.He has, however, signally and conspicuously failed to cultivate all the faculties with which he has been endowed:failed to nurture what has been so lavishly provided. It is, then, Man’s volition that is the great stumbling block to the application of the science of genetics in Man, and until we have learned to devise a human environment that will ensure the development of our faculties in line with the instinctive guidance of Nature, the geneticist will not be in a position to do much to further the health of the population.His scope must at present be limited to the elimination of inimical hereditary traits encountered in the pathological field.

Everywhere we see Nature using mating to further diversity in the species. With every birth we find her, through the laws of differentiation, arranging for a diversification of pattern, each individual being as unique as is the more static action-pattern of his finger prints. Since inbreeding militates against diversification, the biologist must demand a high degree of variety and free movement in the society within which natural selection is to take place. In English-speaking society, freedom to fall in love as a preliminary to mating is everywhere accepted.But both parents andsociety,consciouslyandunconsciously,useanindirect methodofinfluencinginstinctivechoice. Themethodisto limit the excursion of the young within a group radius.This is only too often the operation of taboo derived from fear— and as such is as ignorant as that of any primitive savage—for these groups in present-day society are in the main fortuitous.

It might well be thought that the maturing adolescents would prefer not to conduct their courtships in a club of which their parents were members.We have not found that to be the case. On becoming a wage-earner, the adolescent is free to drop out if he wishes to do so without jeopardising the family membership, or to continue in membership paying his own individual subscription.He thus has a free choice in the matter of his own membership .Experience has shown us that the social milieu of the Centre becomes very desirable at this time to the adolescents of member-families.There is always a lively demand on their part to introduce the newly acquired boy or girl-friend whose family is not or cannot become a member-family.These young people thus sponsored by the sons and daughters of member-families are allowed to become ‘Temporary Members” [These young people, both Temporary Members and children of member-families who are over 16 and have left school, each pay their own individual membership subscriptions—6d. a week, half that of the family subscription —and, like all other adult members, they pay for the activities they enter into.] entitled to full social use of the club. Since, however, girl and boy friends have a tendency to come and go, they are not offered periodic health overhaul until they are officially ‘engaged’ and about to marry.We find it of extreme importance not to cast emphasis, by any provision we make, on the early tentative associations of any couple. The Centre is a testing ground for them at this stage, and it must be as easy, as they grow in discrimination, to end any unsuitable association, as it is to make a happy one.

Among healthy individuals, it would appear that falling in love is usually both a spontaneous and a mutual occurrence. It would seem to represent the individuals’ intuitive recognition of the appositeness of complemental diversity in the chosen of the opposite sex. Experience teaches that the healthy adult male’s need is for that mutually elective female who can further the maturation of his own maleness, for the needs of the highly specific and mature male are to be met only by the specific, the individual. Mere females—as such—are sexually alien to him. Females in this respect are from the outset even more instinctively and intuitively elective. In health, then, the urge to mate is not an incitement to promiscuous association with the opposite sex; it is the urge to the apposite from among the opposite sex. There seem in fact to be not many ‘apposites’, for while many men and women can collect cohorts of sex erotics, few men and women are ‘fallen in love’ with, that is to say, specifically elected for mating, by more than one individual— at any rate at one season.

An excursion

Neither is falling in love a mere erotic attraction, for it is something that can grip and hold even the most confirmed habitue of sex prostitution, [Prostitution is not merely illegal conjugality; it is the prostitution of parenthood with failure to create the new in any sphere, physical, mental, or social. It thus can and does occur even in the married state.] male or female. Moreover, while falling in love is a purely subjective urge, the erotic factor in both the male and the female can be stirred and is influenced by many and various objective circumstances. The medical man is only too well aware of this, for erotic habits such as priapism and masturbation, arising from irritation of various kinds, are met with even in the very young, and are symptoms of a great variety of disorders of the body—worms, urinary and rectal disorders, constipation, etc. These causes, often overlooked, can persist up to and after puberty; and it is often forgotten that even where they have early been removed, the previous physical habitude can become a psychological fixation. Thus only in the physically healthy can the real measure and significance, of eroticism be gauged. In our experience it is a relatively insignificant feature of the total content of maturing adolescence in health.

It must be remarked here that were humanity dependent for the continuance of the race on sexual eroticism as is commonly supposed, both the mothering and the fathering of man would rest in very few and very strange hands! To the biologist, all the prevalent artificial efforts at stimulating eroticism—’sex appeal’ and so on—are but one other item in the accumulating evidence of a generalised, devitalisation, avirilism and decadence. They are the skilful and deceptive window-dressing advertising an empty and exhausted store—and glamour often a glabrous veneer covering a biologically shoddy constitution.

Whatever the mechanism by which falling in love occurs, it is obvious that more natural and apposite mating will be achieved where the man and woman have developed that high degree of functional action which brings with it discrimination. This power to discriminate depends upon the previous balanced development of the whole individual, and that, as we have seen in the previous chapter, depends on the mutuality of function of a home set in an adequate social environment, where the social facultisation of the individual can be learnt through familiar nurture. This is concisely summed up in the individual’s capability for mutual synthesis with his or her environment; that is to say in the degree of health attained. Thus the health of society and the health of the individual react powerfully upon one another in effecting the instinctive choice of a mate.

In the Centre we watch the healthy adolescent, up to the point of falling in love, revelling in his freedom to move in and about his sociological field, converting every chance he encounters into his opportunity for growing experience. Suddenly he or she becomes attached to one of the opposite sex. From that moment the two revolve around one another, shunning every, temptation to act alone. They act as if in a supreme appetitive phase for some new facultisation that is to be achieved. The signs and symptoms of the phase are too well known to need detailed description—of its mechanism, however, we as yet know little. The first necessity is that the physiology of the bodily changes involved in this violent sociological volte-face should be investigated. A study of this subject can however only be made, as we have shown, in environmental conditions in which freedom and diversity exist within an integrated society coming spontaneously under the observation of the scientist. Such a society has to grow and must take time to do so.

In the healthy, between falling in love and mating a relatively long process of courtship intervenes. What is happening during this period? It would be unwise to attribute merely psychological significance to courtship, for, as we already know, most states of so-called psychological excitation are correlated with powerful physical effects. If moods and manners, as is confidently claimed, are inter-coordinated with the flow of various endocrine glandular secretions, then presumption is strong that the extraordinary sociological metamorphosis of the healthy adolescent during the courting process is also associated with most powerful physiological changes. If in fear, pain, rage, all-pervading endocrine-secretory changes take place, can we suppose that love leaves us physically, that is to say materially, unchanged.

The practice so universal in bird and animal action of wooing .—the billing and cooing between male and female—we already know to be the outward sign of a stir that has its material aspect in the physiology of both partners.We have thus some reason to assume that the human pair, like the animals, are by their close personal and physical association familiarising themselves and physically sensitising each other, through this process of courtship. When there has been time to study this subject, perhaps we shall find that this comes about in a manner not unlike that used by the immunologist when, by a series of minute specific doses, he educates the child susceptible to a toxin such as that of the diphtheria germ, to form its own anti-bodies.In courtship, of course, it is not anti-bodies but pro-bodies that are being produced.

In the functional courtship of animals, and hence we must postulate in the functional process in the human species, until the final tipping of the endocrine balance there is an almost violent preservation of virginal chastity—presumably to allow for the physiological effects of courtship to mature. So mating is approached by steady and specific translation through a process of familiarisation.

Recent work on the sex hormones attributes immeasurable potencies to the male and female secretions. Moreover evidence is accumulating that the endocrine secretions of the male are related to the endocrinological economy of the female. Perhaps we shall find here also—as tangible evidence of a physical mutuality—that what is excrement in the male is increment in the female. It is interesting in this connection to note that the testicular and ovarian hormones are isomerically related.

We already know that in the male the sperm is continuously available, so that his erotic responses are not periodic, but in continuum, whereas in the female the ova are only seasonally or cyclically available, and her erotic responses cyclically critical, or periodic. Wooing thus would be the penultimate phase in Nature’s process of synchronising the coincidence of an inherent a-periodicity with an inherent periodicity; a yet further example of the mutualising of diversity of function. The result would be that through wooing by the male the crescendo of the endocrine crisis of the female is emphasised, whereas wooing by the female dams a settled flow to a crescendo in the male, each thus achieving the peak of coincidence. Certain it is that in the absence of wooing the female tends to passivity in her erotic relations, and in the absence of wooing the male tends to habit and routine —neither of these being an infrequent cause of worry and a visit to the doctor. These are rocks and shoals which often later wreck the mutuality of marriage, for it follows that woman needs wooing not only during courtship, but throughout marriage, and that she, not he, is the initiator of conjugation, according to the clock of her cyclic periodicity. We have perhaps some symbolic acknowledgment of this in the custom that it is he who asks her hand in marriage, but she who gives the answer that allows the marriage to go forward.

In falling in love and courtship we see then the indications of a functional process by which the man and woman are actually being physically attuned to one another, in a procession of changes which is to culminate with the physiological metamorphosis of the pair in mating.If this is so, then promiscuous intercourse, whether merely casual, or deliberate as in ‘trial-marriage, far from having any use in assisting in making an apposite selection of a mate, is biologically a dangerous procedure liable to confuse the developing specificity of each partner. For we must recall the fact that any ‘foreign’ or promiscuously introduced substance given in small doses tends to create reactionary allergy, or anaphylaxis.It is thus likely that in promiscuous intercourse we shall find that the specific quality of each participant is being blurred, defaced and worn down to a commonality.From the functional aspect every trial that fails merely confirms and perpetuates the error in the capacity to function. Thus, the manliness of adolescent chastity and the womanliness of adolescent virginity may well be no mere ideal of moral philosophy; it may be the expression of Nature’s discriminative behaviour in furthering the genius of homo sapiens—his individuality and his uniqueness.

It seems then that courtship is the process by which a man and a woman are learning step by step to function mutually, as a unity. Where in health the individuals have grown up in a sphere of altruism, created through the mutual synthesis of family and society, love will go forward as the greatest and most satisfying of many adventures. But where altruism is unknown to the individual, that is to say where an egotist involuntarily and instinctively falls in love, he will be bound to sense an assault upon the defences that his egotism has set up. In such a courtship, resentment may gradually be built up in place of mutuality. So falling in love is not always a pleasure—far from it.Though in health it can be nothing else, in disease it may create reaction, threatening with the fascination of the snake about to strike. It is more than probable, however, that those whom the diseased and disordered ‘fall for’ in the primary or initial attraction and learn to hate, are specifically those who could have been loved. So that falling in love either in mutuality of synthesis or in reaction and resentment, is dependent on the state of the individual concerned and on that of his society, and not on the object usually designated as the cause. It is rare indeed for the course of even true love to run smooth, for its establishment implies the purging of egotism in the participating individuals, and in the present state of society that is liable to be a major operation.

In the Centre we have succeeded in accumulating both the material and the circumstances which in the course of time should give us the scope necessary to demonstrate the means whereby through courtship the male and female are becoming attuned to each other, and step by step deepening the mutuality out of which unity is born.

As the pair grow in unity, so we shall expect to see their every approach to things, situations and events take on a new aspect, just as we saw two-eyed vision to afford not only a wider but a different and original view from that of each eye looking separately.Out of the complemental diversities of sex,’novelty’ will arise as the result of all that they experience as they become increasingly attuned in mutual synthesis. Is there any indication of this in their behaviour?In health, as courtship ripens, instinct begins to urge them to seek some territory peculiarly theirs, a ‘hearth’ from which to operate. This instinctive seeking for a ‘hearth’ we interpret as the quest for a culture-bed for the issue of their unity;for a place where they can gestate that issue of whatever sort—in its uniqueness.Their ‘hearth’ is to be for them the material locus of their growing function of ‘parenthood’. After mating it will not merely be the production of children that we shall look for, but ‘parenthood’ operating to produce a new and specific synthesis of the whole content of life that the couple contact in adult competence as a unity. True, the most tangible and discretionate expression of such parenthood will be the production of the child; seal and stamp of their own specificity wrought in very flesh and blood. But this motherhood and fatherhood will be further phases—further differentiations—of the all-pervading function of their parenthood, following—like the dicotyledonous seed leaves—once the parenthood is planted in the soil of home. [In pathological states, motherhood and fatherhood may be no more than dislocated occurrences happening outside, and divorced from, the enveloping process of parenthood; the conception of the child may result from mere eroticism, or from the compensatory action of a non-functioning mating operating merely on the physical plane. Such examples of sterile motherhood and fatherhood—i.e. unconsummated parenthood, are disorders of a serious nature, physiological as well as social.]

With fulfilment of the process of courtship then in the birth of the new family, the old family organisation is superseded; the umbilical cord of the placental association of the old home is broken at marriage. The ripe fruit now drops from the old tree and settles in the earth to form its own nidus or ‘hearth’ in mutual synthesis with a quick and living environment; and a new ‘locus of parenthood’ is created. Just as the nidation of the seed in the earth or of the ovum in the womb is essential before growth and differentiation can begin, so the founding of a specific and individual nidus is a primary necessity before the function of parenthood can develop in any young family.

Thus in seeking the health of the populace, the first essential for the cultivator (biologist) is to see that adequate opportunity shall exist for the easy and natural process, of nidation of the young couple in a society which will offer them scope for their subsequent growth and development.