Sex in history, by Gordan Rattray Taylor

It must be stressed that these two patterns are extremes: when society is changing from patrism to matrism, or vice versa, there will be an intervening period in which the patterns will become confused. Moreover, there may be some happy periods in which people succeed in introjecting both parental figures in harmonious balance-but, owing to the pressure of the Oedipal conflict, there is a natural tendency to fall off the fence on one side or the other. Again, in individual cases, much will depend upon the parent’s own psychological history. The child who models himself on a father who has himself identified with his father will obviously turn out differently from one whose father had introjected a mother figure. But we are not concerned with particular cases, only with general trends.

The hypothesis of contrasting patristic and matristic patterns is in no way original: Professor Flugel published a rather similar list in his book Man, Morals and Society, in 1945. I have adopted it as a useful device for introducing order into a historical survey which, when treated by more casual methods, seems to produce a very confusing impression; and also because it will help me to show that attitudes to sex are not random products, but are closely integrated with attitudes to political and religious matters, and indeed with the culture as a whole. If this is true, it follows that we are not free to change our sexual laws and customs except in proportion as we are willing to change the character of our whole society. The converse is also true: we cannot change society without changing sexual attitudes-but, since it is the sexual attitudes which are fundamental, it would be truer to say, that we cannot change our society unless we have already started to change our personalities. If these propositions are correct, the implications for practical politics and personal happiness are enormous, and the justification of the basic hypothesis has much more than a professional or academic interest.

The suggestion that social ideals are influenced by parental introjections is not an explanation, it is only a convenient method of analysis. To provide an explanation we should have to ascertain why, in some periods, one figure was introjected more often than another. One obvious reason comes to mind: if one parent is absent, and no substitute is available, there is little chance of introjecting his or her image. Situations in which fathers are absent for long periods are not uncommon, and either parent may die. But no doubt there are other reasons, and one day historians will have to explore the differences in the nursing and upbringing of children at different periods to throw light on them, thus supplementing the enquiries of the psychologists and anthropologists in contemporary societies.

Nor need we accept the Freudian analysis which has been offered, if we do not wish. If enquiry shows that social ideals do tend to fall into two contrasting patterns, in the way described, then useful inferences can be drawn, and the understanding of history simplified, even if the underlying mechanisms should one day prove to be quite other than is now supposed.

If, then, we apply the hypothesis to the material thus far presented, we seem entitled to conclude that the impact of Christianity on Celtic and Saxon society represents the impact of a father-identifying, guilt ridden group upon a mother-identifying, guilt free group; the patrists had the energy to build up an organization designed to help them in imposing their standards upon the matrists, but they by no means succeeded in turning all the matrists into patrists, so that a great part of the population continued, as far as they could, to indulge their sexual appetites, and even to conduct research, produce works of art, respect women and so forth. The patrist has one great advantage over the matrist: the stored-up energy which results from his sexual inhibition seeks another outlet. It creates in him a restlessness, and if he is a man of ability, it helps him to impose his views on others. The patrist is always a proselytizer for his own views. The matrist, on the other hand, believes in “live and let live”. A comparatively small number of patrists can therefore markedly influence the character of a whole society, in a way which is impossible for matrist .

In course of time, the persistent pressure and propaganda of the Christian reformers began to affect the whole character of society; probably it was the tabooing of masturbation which increased the number of guilt ridden personalities in society and produced that atmosphere of despair which marked the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. But before this took place matrism burst out in a new form and challenged the whole medieval Christian conception. In the next two chapters I shall attempt to show the nature of this matrist outburst and the diabolic measures which the Church took to cope with it.