On the sacro-pubic region, sexual centre and excretory centre
It is, of course, impossible to argue that the fact of the sacro-pubic region of the body being the chief focus of concealment proves the importance of this factor of modesty. But it may fairly be argued that it owes this position not merely to being the sexual centre, but also as being the excretory centre. Even among many lower mammals, as well as among birds and insects, there is a well-marked horror of dirt, somewhat disguised by the varying ways in which an animal may be said to define “dirt.”
Many animals spend more time and energy in the duties of cleanliness than human beings, and they often show well-marked anxiety to remove their own excrement, or to keep away from it. Thus this element of modesty also may be said to have an animal basis.
It is on this animal basis that the human and social fear of arousing disgust has developed. Its probably wide extension is indicated not only by the strong feeling attached to the constant presence of clothing on this part of the body,—such constant presence being quite uncalled for if the garment or ornament is merely a sort of sexual war-paint,—but by the repugnance felt by many savages very low down in the scale to the public satisfaction of natural needs, and to their more than civilized cleanliness in this connection; it is further of interest to note that in some parts of the world the covering is not in front, but behind; though of this fact there are probably other explanations. Among civilized people, also, it may be added, the final and invincible seat of modesty is sometimes not around the pubes, but the anus; that is to say, that in such cases the fear of arousing disgust is the ultimate and most fundamental element of modesty.
The concentration of modesty around the anus is sometimes very marked. Many women feel so high a degree of shame and reserve with regard to this region, that they are comparatively indifferent to an anterior examination of the sexual organs. A similar feeling is not seldom found in men. “I would permit of an examination of my genitals by a medical man, without any feeling of discomfort,” a correspondent writes, “but I think I would rather die than submit to any rectal examination.” Even physicians have been known to endure painful rectal disorders for years, rather than undergo examination.
“Among ordinary English girls,” a medical correspondent writes, “I have often noticed that the dislike and shame of allowing a man to have sexual intercourse with them, when newly married, is simply due to the fact that the sexual aperture is so closely apposed to the anus and bladder. If the vulva and vagina were situated between a woman’s shoulder blades, and a man had a separate instrument for coitus, not used for any excretory purpose, I do not think women would feel about intercourse as they sometimes do. Again, in their ignorance of anatomy, women often look upon the vagina and womb as part of the bowel and its exit of discharge, and sometimes say, for instance, ‘inflammation of the bowel‘, when they mean womb. Again, many, perhaps most, women believe that they pass water through the vagina, and are ignorant of the existence of the separate urethral orifice (This is supposed to be published in 1897, but then below Ellis quote Dugas, whose work was published in 1903). Again, women associate the vulva with the anus, and so feel ashamed of it; even when speaking to their husbands, or to a doctor, or among themselves; they have absolutely no name for the vulva (I mean among the upper classes, and people of gentle birth), but speak of it as ‘down below,’ ‘low down,’ etc.”
Even though this feeling is largely based on wrong and ignorant ideas, it must still be recognized that it is to some extent natural and inevitable. “How much is risked,” exclaims Dugas,
“in the privacies of love! The results may be disillusion, disgust, the consciousness of physical imperfection, of brutality or coldness, of æsthetic disenchantment, of a sentimental shock, seen or divined. To be without modesty, that is to say, to have no fear of the ordeals of love, one must be sure of one’s self, of one’s grace, of one’s physical emotions, of one’s feelings, and be sure, moreover, of the effect of all these on the nerves, the imagination, and the heart of another person. Let us suppose modesty reduced to æsthetic discomfort, to a woman’s fear of displeasing, or of not seeming beautiful enough. Even thus defined, how can modesty avoid being always awake and restless? What woman could repeat, without risk, the tranquil action of Phryne? And even in that action, who knows how much may not have been due to mere professional insolence!” (Dugas, “La Pudeur,” Revue Philosophique, November, 1903).
“Men and Women,” Schurtz points out (Altersklassen und Männerbünde, pp. 41-51), “have certainly the capacity mutually to supplement and enrich each other; but when this completion fails, or is not sought, the difference may easily become a strong antipathy;” and he proceeds to develop the wide-reaching significance of this psychic fact.
..once emphasized the proximity of the excretory centres to the sexual focus in discussing this important factor of modesty, because, in analyzing so complex and elusive an emotion as modesty it is desirable to keep as near as possible to the essential and fundamental facts on which it is based. It is scarcely necessary to point out that, in ordinary civilized society, these fundamental facts are not usually present at the surface of consciousness and may even be absent altogether; on the foundation of them may arise all sorts of idealized fears, of delicate reserves, of æsthetic refinements, as the emotions of love become more complex and more subtle, and the crude simplicity of the basis on which they finally rest becomes inevitably concealed.