The Power of Sexual Surrender was written in 1958, in the middle of what we today consider a high point for family and traditional womanhood. But, actually, the problems of feminism were common then too. Marie Robinson was a psychologist with a practice that focused on “frigidity,” which was: women who had difficulty achieving orgasm. As you probably guessed from the title, her answer was to “surrender,” or take the traditional woman’s role of subordination to the husband, which women find very sexy. Much later, a book on similar themes came out, The Surrendered Wife (2001), by Laura Doyle, which came to the same conclusions.
Robinson’s book is worthwhile reading in its entirety. I would differ on some points, but the main message is as appropriate today as it was then. One of the nice things about the book is a section where Robinson paints a picture of an idealized woman. As she says:
With merely this ideal to follow, I have seen many women reap immediate rewards some time before they were able to come to grips with their frigidity per se. The characteristics and neurotic goals that accompany frigidity often cause obvious domestic frictions that can be greatly reduced when the woman begins to see new horizons for herself—that she need not be blaming others. Her grateful husband will reward her at once for her change, with renewed affection and tenderness, a new solicitude, a new caring. Our idealized portrait can help you, too, to grasp more thoroughly the rest of this book. We have found, in psychiatry, that when a goal has been clearly defined half the battle has been won. As we come now to the chapters on frigidity, its history, its whys and wherefores, kinds and causes and cures, you will have before you a picture of what the potentialities of women are, a landmark to show you how far our sex can stray from real femininity, a guide to keep you from confusion, from ever subscribing again to false and destructive ideas of what it is that constitutes real womanhood.
This is what I mean about “telling women what to do.”
Here is the whole section:
What is the mature woman? Who is she? What are her characteristics? Her personality? Her role in life?
It is of vital importance to an understanding of the frigid woman to answer these questions, for again, only by understanding what health is, can we truly grasp the meaning of any departure from it.
There have been great arguments about what the word “normal” means. Millions of words have been written about it I fear that most of them have only clouded the issue. Odd definitions of normalcy have led millions of women down very odd and unhappy paths. You will recall, for example, that Victorianism elevated frigidity to the position of the norm for all womankind—with disastrous results.
At the start of my practice I encountered another strange and tragic view of the normal that has had a powerful influence on American women. This view, which we will encounter in more detail when the feminist movement is discussed later, still has wide repercussions and is intimately bound with the subject of frigidity and divorce.
In my introduction to it a lovely woman of forty came to consult me. She was deeply disturbed and could hardly speak, she wept so. Somehow I felt at once that there was a deep rage behind those tears. I recognized her name when she was able to get it out; she was a successful lawyer whose name many would still recognize in all probability.
In her thirty-ninth year she had fallen in love for the first time with a fine man, another successful lawyer. Her dormant sexuality and true femininity had been awakened completely in her since their marriage a year before, and they both now wanted children badly. However, a physical examination had indicated (as unhappily it so often seems to do for women who postpone their first pregnancy for too long), that she would have to have a hysterectomy, for she had developed a tumor in the wall of her uterus.
She felt cruelly deprived, and I saw her for several sessions. During these periods she told me of her background. Her father had died when she was an infant and her mother had been a militant leader of the movement for women’s “rights.” The whole emphasis in her early upbringing had been on achievement in the male world, and in the male sense of the word. She had been taught to be competitive with men, to look upon them as basically inimical to women. Women were portrayed as an exploited and badly put upon minority class. Marriage, childbearing, and love were traps that placed one in the hands of the enemy, man, whose chief desire was to enslave woman. Her mother had profoundly inculcated in her the belief that women were to work in the market place at all cost, to be aggressive, to take love (à la Russe) where they found it, and to be tied down by nothing, no one; no more, as her mother put it, than a man is.
Such a definition of the normal had, of course, made her fearful of a real or deep or enduring relationship with a man. For years she sedulously avoided men entirely. Gradually, though her grown-up experiences, she learned of other values, but by the time the right man came along it was too late to have children.
I was right that her tears had been tears of rage. They were directed at her mother’s authoritarian but totally mistaken view of the feminine role in life and were, to my mind, justified. When she had sufficiently vented her righteous anger, but not until then, we were able to move on to more practical matters. Her marriage was a happy one, and finally she adopted two children. With some of her values revised she made a wonderful mother for them. I visited this family only recently, and it seems to be one of the happiest and healthiest, psychologically speaking, I have ever seen.
Most women who have been reared with such ideas of what is normal are not so fortunate, however. They cling to their defensive and self-destructive values to the end, which is often bitter.
And there are, still, passionately convinced and often eloquent purveyors of these ideas. After reading the brilliant best seller, The Second Sex, by Simone de Beauvoir, the French authoress, I was saddened to see such clarity and brilliance in the service of such a mistaken cause. Her tacit conclusions seem to be that woman’s historic role of wife and mother are degrading to our sex, have kept woman from her true destiny. As she describes what that true destiny is, however, her clarity departs, and the role and function of this woman of the future become more than merely vague. Their foggy contours remind me of the glamorous-sounding but totally evanescent and mist-enshrouded goals that many of the frigid and lonely women I treat have when they first come for help.
There is no vagueness about the goals, functions, and needs of the normal woman. Science in recent years has thrown a bright light on her, and that is why we can be certain of many fundamental details about her. She is a mature, fully functioning woman, a woman who has realized the better part of her potentialities, who knows how to achieve and handle love and happiness, who has won through to a fully satisfying mental and sexual life.
I very frequently draw a word portrait of such a woman for patients who come to consult me about their sexual problem. It often makes them angry, and they deeply resent some of the characteristics of this idealized woman. They call her all sorts of names: “a victim of the male,” “an impossible ideal.” One eloquent younger woman called her “a faceless tramp,” and I have heard older women, brought up under a more inhibited code than exists now, call her “a shameless hussy.”
And yet despite the hostility that my portrait is often greeted with there is soon other evidence in my troubled listeners that they have been touched deeply by the idea that such a picture of womanhood might conceivably be a possibility for them. “Do you really think I could ever get to be anything like that?” The yearning question, phrased in any number of wistful ways, will inevitably come, despite the obvious hostility, the bristling defenses, the fact that the speaker is scared blue of sex and motherhood and all they mean.
You see, women want to find themselves, desperately want to. And in this portrait they get a hint, often the first they have ever had, of what to aim for, of the real potential inside themselves.
I call this subject of my sketch ‘idealized,” and she is. But I want to emphasize that she is not a personal idle day-dream of my own, based on airy nothingness; very much the contrary. Her characteristics are based on exact and thoroughly checked psychological and biological facts, facts upon which the leading scientists in this field are in general agreement. And she is a composite based on observations of women I have known, and not always clinically. If you stop to think as you read about her, you may realize that you have known such women too.
What, then, is she like? First of all to give us a frame for our portrait so that we can see what we do know more clearly, let me state what we cannot know about her; what, in fact, is irrelevant.
We don’t know what she looks like. She may be tall or short, red-haired, blond, or brunette. She may have large breasts and round hips and sloping shoulders, or she may be small-breasted (or even fiat-chested), have wide shoulders and narrow hips. She may have a career or not have a career, be more intelligent and better educated than her husband or less intelligent and less well educated. She may have children or be unable to have children. She may be rich or poor, come from the “400” or from the slums. She may be a bit shy or quite at ease socially. She may be athletic or totally unathletic. These things we don’t know about her and, for our purposes, they do not matter.
Here are some of the things we do know.
In the first place, she is very much “at home” in the world. Deep inside herself she feels profoundly secure, safe, both with herself and with her husband. She is very, very glad to be a woman, with all the duties, responsibilities, and joys it entails. She can’t imagine what it would be like to be a man and has no interest in imagining it as a possible role for herself. She feels that the very existence of her husband makes the world safe for her.
This feeling may seem unrealistic, in view of the very clear insecurities in the world today. As you will discover, however, it is based on a far deeper understanding of reality, on a far deeper reality than the one reflected in the alarums published in the daily newspaper.
This sense of reality almost invariably leads her to select a husband who is good for her, often near perfect, in fact. He might not be perfect for another woman, nor perfect in any ultimate sense, but he is near perfect for her. He loves her and intends to go on loving her. He may be a carpenter or an architect, a lawyer, a dock hand, or a poet, but he, with her, is passionate and loyal, a good companion and a good father for her children. She has an infallible sense about this matter, and though she may have had an adolescent or college crush on a no-gooder, she simply never will marry him.
Of course marrying a good husband adds to her sense of “at-homeness” in the world. Related to this feeling in her, to her sense of security, seeming almost to spring from it, indeed, is a profound delight in giving to those she loves. Psychiatrists, who consider this characteristic the hallmark, the sine qua non, of the truly feminine character, have a name for it: they call it “essential feminine altruism.”
As you will see, it too has its roots in woman’s biology, Is, on its deepest level, a need in her that must have expression. The finest flower of this altruism blossoms in her joy in giving the very best of herself to her husband and to her children. She never resents this need in herself to give; she never interprets its manifestations as a burden to her, an imposition on her. It pervades her nature as the color green pervades the countryside in the spring, and she is proud of it and delights in it.
It is this altruism, this givingness, that motivates her to keep her equilibrium, to hold onto her joie de vivre despite whatever may befall. It stands her in marvelous stead for all the demands that life is going to make on her—and they will be considerable. When a woman does not have this instinctually based altruism available to her, or when she denies that it is a desirable trait, life’s continuous small misfortunes leave her in a glowering rage, helpless and beside herself with self-pity.
Another fact about her which you may be surprised to learn is that she is deeply religious—though not officially or even consciously. In fact, if her husband’s background has been antagonistic to formal religion and he is still reflecting his background, she may pay lip service to his agnosticism or even atheism. But that doesn’t mean a thing. Just beneath the surface is an absolutely firm belief in the existence of a Creator and in some form of heaven. She’s not so clear about hell.
She also believes firmly in the fact that marriage is a sacrament, binding forever. Given the slightest encouragement or support, she will formalize these beliefs, join a church or develop a kind of personal pantheism. Why? Biologically speaking, she is the carrier of immortality, of the generations of man. This gives her a close affinity to and appreciation of the awesome and creative mysteries of the universe: moon-rise, tidal flow, the growth, death, and rebirth of things.
Sexually she almost always reaches a climax during the act of love. Sometimes she reaches two or, if she and her husband are feeling particularly lusty, even three. But the number of times is unimportant, despite the Kinsey report.
What is important is the kind of orgasm she has. It is of the kind described in the previous chapter, of course; the kind that starts deep within her vagina and extends to all parts of her body. She doesn’t talk about it very often, but when she does it is always poetically. I have heard one woman refer to it as “a sensation of such beauty and intensity that I can hardly think of it without weeping”; of it another said, “It’s like a mounting symphony, rising in tremendous and irresistible rhythms till your whole being feels as though it has been swept away.” One woman, less lyrical but still exact, said, “It’s like going over Niagara Falls in a barrel.” Nobody can ever quite evoke the exact sensations in words, but, as one woman told me, “Nobody who has ever had it will doubt whether her experience is the real thing.”
What else characterizes her sexually? Well, she’s not very modest, I’m afraid. In fact, she’s quite a show-off and likes sexual compliments from her husband, dressed or undressed, verbal or otherwise. Her nineteenth-century sister would have been vastly shocked by her whole attitude in the bedroom.
She’s not sexually shy at all. She wouldn’t demur a moment at initiating love with her husband, though she will immediately change her amorous direction if she finds he is too tired or is preoccupied, without feeling the least bit rejected. Don’t forget that, for one thing, just under the surface (and sometimes on it) she considers her marriage a heaven-made arrangement that is going to last forever, and she need not look upon any one experience as too important in itself.
However, there is another very important point I have indicated that sexually she takes her cue from her husband. What does she know, do you suppose—know deeply and instinctively—that makes her do this, while other women refuse to?
She knows this: that it is the man who, from the purely physical viewpoint, has to be ready before sexual intercourse can take place. No matter how many books have been written that ignore the fact, it is nevertheless true that, if the man does not have an erection, love-making cannot take place.
Just think about it for a moment A woman can make love at any time; a man only when he is ready. There may be psychologically preferential circumstances for a woman, but there is no physical prerequisite.
That is why (by virtue of that deeper sense of reality we spoke of) when her husband is ready to make love our lady is nearly always willing, barring sickness or certain difficulties that may come up during pregnancy. And that is why she is always willing to forgo love-making if he is not ready. Her deep altruism makes her extremely sensitive to his moods, and she will not find it in herself to treat him as if he were a robot, become angry or feel rejected when, if the button is pushed, he doesn’t respond.
On this same point: she knows how much store men put on their potency, how vulnerable they can become if they are made to feel inadequate to the needs of a wife. She would die a thousand deaths rather than have her husband gain any such inference from her actions. It’s her altruism again.
Her eternal acquiescence, her ever-readiness, never lets her in for a painful sexual experience, however. She knows that ninety-nine times out of one hundred even negative sexual feelings in herself will soon return to eagerness, and eagerness to desire. And even if that once in a hundred times occur, she will still get a profound satisfaction from the pleasure she is able to give her husband, the very obvious pleasure. Once more that deep altruism.
But she not only takes the lead from him about whether they are going to make love—the kind of love they are going to make is also usually his decision and, in pure delight, she follows him completely. If he feds purely lusty, soon she does too; does he feel gentle and tender, then she picks up that mood. Experimental? Let’s, by all means, experiment. Passive? She’ll be active. It takes her little time to find out that a geisha has the tremendous disadvantage of believing that techniques are more important than love and the love of following one’s partner.
Despite her very pronounced wantonness with her husband, however, she has no promiscuous urges whatsoever. She is realistic about other men and finds them attractive or unattractive, as the case may be. But she neither desires them nor has any fantasies of a sexual nature about them. One woman put it this way to me: “I like other men if they’re attractive,” she said. “Their attractiveness does honor to the sex my husband belongs to.”
Nor is she ever tempted to indulge in self-masturbation, at least not after one or two tasteless and pointless experiments she may make during her first absence from her husband. To her, sexuality is devoid of any meaning whatsoever if there is not mutuality, if it is not shared.
Lest you think that our paragon’s altruism could end up by making her a martyr, a person without any real regard for herself, I must hasten to nip that idea in the bud. In her quiet way she is quite self-centered. In the first place, she’s contented with all aspects of her body; all the details of a female anatomy that gives her so much pleasure. If in her cultural background there were influences which tended to inculcate disgust with certain natural functions, she finds herself rejecting them. For example, I have had several patients who, during the course of their therapy and as they found a new maturity developing in them, find themselves ruminating on the word “curse” as it is used to describe the menstrual flow. Reflection almost always makes them drop the word from their vocabulary entirely. In the end they are far more likely to call it a blessing.
This self-love, her pride in and love of her body, is reflected in her outward appearance. She likes to be as clean as a cat and as neat as a pin. She enjoys dressing well. She is very aware of the things that bring out her special attractiveness. She also knows how to make herself up to the very best advantage. But she does not spend hours daily on her toilet in front of the mirror. She is far too confident of herself, has too much self-love, to feel that such a production is necessary.
Here’s the way I’d put it She accepts and is pleased with the way she is and the way, as time passes, she is going to be. This is true of her mental capacities as well as of her physical attributes, but we can see it most clearly in her attitude toward her physical self. As I said at the beginning, we don’t know whether she has small breasts or large breasts, rounded hips or narrow hips. We only know that, whatever she’s got, she enjoys.
You see, she knows perfectly well that it is passion and response which spin the plot of love and not, ever, fetish or fashion. She really feels sorry for women who worry about what they haven’t got or the effect of growing older. If she were small-breasted she would never disguise that fact, and you can be certain that her husband, at least after the relationship had got under way and he’d had a chance to experience her pleasures, would soon drop any adolescent predilections he had imagined he possessed.
The husband of one such woman said to me: “When I was in college I had a conviction that really beautiful women had to be redheads. I can’t imagine now what made me believe such a thing.” I know his wife well; she’s a brunette, and you and I might not be the least bit impressed by her looks. But he knows better; he knows her real beauty. And, I happen to know, so does she.
The confidence and pleasure our fair lady has in her person and in her other attributes (her self-love) have one very odd quality. And it is an all-important one. This self-love is detachable.
With a flick of her psyche she can project practically all of it onto her children, take as much joy from their beauty, achievements, and pleasures as she ever got from her own. She detaches it, too, on behalf of her husband, often will exaggerate his good qualities and minimize any weakness he might have, as long as the weakness is not a danger to family and home.
Her detachable self-love and her need to give unrestrainedly are two chief components of the maternal instinct To put it mildly, as perhaps you have noticed, she is pervaded with this instinct. To her the fulfillment of it is the most central and all-important function of her life. It colors and deepens and enriches her sexual life with her husband. Her unconscious fantasy with every intercourse is that he might make her with child, and her psychological and biological gratitude to him for this richest of all potential gifts is boundless. Her fantasies about becoming pregnant may excite her directly.
I have paid particular attention to this connection between the sexual instinct and the maternal instinct in many patients of mine who have come to therapy because they were afraid of childbirth. When they have been able to rid themselves of such fears they are almost always struck by the new dimension that is added to their sexual life. The things they say about it are often poetic or even mystical.
One woman, who because of childhood experiences had been scared to death of bearing a child and whose fear was causing a partial frigidity, said to me of her new sexual experience: “I was living in one room of a whole mansion, and now I have the whole mansion for my own.” Another woman, who had believed her love life complete despite her deep fear of pregnancy, said of the change in her feelings during love-making: “Oh, it was fun before, but now the idea that I might become pregnant makes me fed at one with the whole universe. If s strange. There are almost no words to express it.”
Our ideal woman carries this characteristic feeling of a deep identification with nature, with all things that grow and bud and blossom, through her pregnancy and long thereafter. Childbirth has no real terrors for her; she sails through it proudly, like a clipper made especially for such weather.
And she usually wants to nurse her child at her breast She does, too, unless a breast abscess or some other unforeseen difficulty arises. And, though I have no statistics to prove it, I would bet that her milk is both plentiful and good.
I know that today there is a tremendous emphasis on the importance of careers for women, but I am afraid that our mature woman cannot get terribly excited about the subject I don’t mean that she’s antagonistic to this whole modem movement She may be a career woman herself, a nurse, a doctor, a lawyer, a fashion designer, whatever. But now, happily married and with children in the offing or already here, she can’t feel that it’s of central importance. If it’s necessary for the family welfare she will keep her job, but any drive she had after high school or college to go far in it is sacrificed, if necessary, to her love-making and home-making instincts.
She is not the least bit jealous of her husband’s work. As I pointed out earlier, she may be smarter than her husband or may basically have a much higher intelligence quotient, or “she may be far more thoroughly educated than he is. Or she may be highly talented in some art form—writing, music, painting, sculpture. You will never, however, hear her complain that she gave up a career for her family, or angrily envy the daily adventures of her man in the market place. Her joy and satisfaction in the fulfillment of her own biological destiny make all other personal achievements pale for her, any other considerable use for her energies almost a waste.
As she grows older and her family grows up and the children learn to stand on their own feet and use their own wings, she may return to work. However, even then, interest in her now-grown children and their children will be far greater than any she can summon up for her job.
As you might expect, our paragon ages very gracefully. Those sure Instincts which led her to successful love in marriage and to success in rearing her children stand her in good stead now. She still loves to give, and she perceives the right time to give her children up, to let them stand on their own, learn the difficult uses of freedom. Admittedly this is a great sacrifice for a mother, but she is deeply pleased to make it. And in doing so without fuss or feathers, she wins her children’s regard and love forever.
I am very pleased to say that the menopause brings no diminution in her ability to enjoy her husband sexually. Contrary to what many people still think, her orgasm does not decrease in intensity or in kind. Increasing age and the absence of children in the home now bring her and her husband closer together again and, great companions, they develop a whole series of shared pleasures consistent with their years.
As she goes down into the other side of her middle years, she is not troubled with regrets for things left undone. She has a deep sense of fulfillment, of life lived rightly. And, whether she has become consciously religious or not, she is still, basically, a believer in immortality, for she has served it with her whole being. She looks on death totally unafraid, wondering perhaps what the Creator who has made her life such a marvel is like on an even closer view.
This, then, is the idealized picture of the truly feminine woman. While granting that the plane of maturity she has achieved is rather too exalted for most women to attain, I have given her to you for some very concrete reasons.
With merely this ideal to follow, I have seen many women reap immediate rewards some time before they were able to come to grips with their frigidity per se. The characteristics and neurotic goals that accompany frigidity often cause obvious domestic frictions that can be greatly reduced when the woman begins to see new horizons for herself—that she need not be blaming others. Her grateful husband will reward her at once for her change, with renewed affection and tenderness, a new solicitude, a new caring.
Our idealized portrait can help you, too, to grasp more thoroughly the rest of this book. We have found, in psychiatry, that when a goal has been clearly defined half the battle has been won. As we come now to the chapters on frigidity, its history, its whys and wherefores, kinds and causes and cures, you will have before you a picture of what the potentialities of women are, a landmark to show you how far our sex can stray from real femininity, a guide to keep you from confusion, from ever subscribing again to false and destructive ideas of what it is that constitutes real womanhood.