Fine image of a bra with its contents as a motif for the John Money pages    

The Psychology of Sex

John Money

PROCEPTION/ACCEPTION/CONCEPTION. In 1976, Frank Beach, the dean of American animal sexologists, proposed that the term proception, also used by Rosenzweig in 1973, be adapted to refer to the beginning phase of a sexual pairing. The term applies across species. It includes human beings. It refers to all the stimulus and response interactions between both members of a sexualizing pair and avoids the over-simplification inherent in attributing pairing only to the receptivity of the female. In the ordinary course of events, proception leads to acception, a two-way interaction of the penis and vulva, which receive one another. Acception, in the ordinary course of events, leads sooner or later to conception and parenthood.

In human sexology, the conceptive phase is the one that so far has received the majority of scientific and medical attention. Problems of fertility and sterility, conception and contraception, pregnancy and childbirth, can be, and historically have been, isolated from the more taboo-ridden sensual and erotic part of reproduction and from the act of copulation itself. It is a cop-out, of course, to have permitted this isolation, but one that was historically inevitable as a first step in breaching the ramparts of the sexual taboo on behalf of medicine and science. In some Moslem and Hindu cultural regions, it is still taboo for a physician who is usually a man to give a woman a medical examination undressed, even if she has cancer of the pelvic organs.

The work of Kinsey, and subsequently of Masters and Johnson, constitutes the thin edge of the wedge that will split the log of the acceptive phase of human sexuality for science and medicine. The day still has not arrived, however, when a couple with copulatory impairment or failure expect to have their problem diagnosed by direct observation – only by talking about it. In every other branch of medicine, experts go to extraordinary lengths to probe, palpate, cannulate, radiograph, electrograph, photograph, and surgically explore in order to get first-hand evidence of the source of malfunction. Only in sexology is direct observation verboten – for which the patient ultimately pays the price in prolonged or unrelieved suffering.

The proceptive phase of human sexuality still is subject to enormous scientific and medical neglect. In part, this neglect is rationalized as a respect for the poetry and the mystery of love and romance. “Isn’t anything sacred, any more?” the critics of science ask, implying that to investigate is to destroy. Their question circumvents the evidence of the pathology of love and romance, which is not even recognized for what it is, since such pathology is typically given the label not of paraphilia but of perversion and criminality. So labeled, it is for the most part disposessed by science and medicine and relegated to the police, the courts, and the penal system. Even under the labels of love-sickness or broken-heartedness, the disorders of proception are not taken too seriously by science and medicine, though they are of major importance to the individuals affected by them.

In many four-legged mammals, the nose is the primary organ of perception. When a bitch is in heat at the time of ovulation, an odoriferous substance, a pheromone, chemically identified as methyl p-hydroxy-benzoate, is produced in the vagina. Even at a distance, the nose of the male is sensitive to this odor. Hence, the familiar picture of a bitch being followed by a pack of males, each sex engaging in highly stereotyped mating behavior. By a process that is not yet known, the bitch selects one of them as more attractive to her than the others and they copulate.

The pheromone that is a sexual attractant in primates is known biochemically as a series of short-chain aliphatic acids. This pheromone is not species-specific, though cross-species testing has not yet been very extensive. As of the present writing, it is known that the pheromone released in the vagina of an ovulating woman replicates the pheromone from the ovulating rhesus monkey’s vagina, so that the wipings from a human vagina smeared on a virgin female monkey are a “turn-on” for a male monkey, under laboratory conditions.

The role of the vaginal pheromone as a sexual turn-on for the human male remains uncertain. The same applies with respect to odoriferous stimulation of the female. One possibility is that, just as human beings vary in hair color, perspiration odor, and ear wax (orientals have grey, flaky ear wax, and no underarm exocrine odor; westerners and blacks have yellow, oily ear wax and strong underarm odor), so also do they vary in responsivity to genital odor. If this hypothesis is correct, then it would help to explain why, above and beyond the effects of cultural conditioning, some human beings go wild over oral sex, whereas others are repulsed by it. Neither response need be considered abnormal.

The Table shows the three phases – proception, acception, and conception – and features associated with them.

Table. Three phases of eroticism and sexuality
  Activities Organs Disorders
Proception solicitation
inertia and ultraertia
gender transpositions
Acception erection
Conception pregnancy

In human mating, proception goes under the name of courtship when it lasts over a long period of time prior to the acceptive phase. When of short duration antecedent to penovulval acceptance, proception may be defined as flirting. It also may include necking, petting, and foreplay.

Proception is the phase of invitation, of solicitation and seduction, and of attraction – of being both attracted and attractive. The communications that constitute proception may be vocal, or they may be expressed in body language. The cues may be very direct, or they may be covert and almost subliminal, as in the glint of the eye, tone of the voice, or pressure of the touch by which a lover indicates that this is the occasion, or that tonight is the night. There is an elaborate body language of human proception that Madison Avenue knows very well how to capture on videotape and use in advertising. Most people use it without analyzing what they are doing, and they do not have a systematized knowledge of either its vocabulary or its syntax.

The possibility of olfactory arousal notwithstanding, for us human beings it appears that nature shifted from the nose to the eyes as the primary organs of sexual arousal at a distance, leading to the initiation of partner-pairing in tactual proximity.

It is likely, though not conclusively proved, that males are more dependent than females on visual arousal, women being more dependent on haptic or tactual arousal. The difference is not an absolute but only a relative one. One piece of evidence that may be adduced in support of this hypothesis (Chapter 4) is that visual erotic imagery accompanied by orgasm in the wet dreams of pubertal and adolescent males has no dream counterpart in females of the same age. Another piece of evidence is that the paraphilias, as presently recorded, are more varied and more prevalent in males than females.

The paraphilias are a reminder that imagery in the proceptive phase of erotic/sexual arousal is not only perceptual but also fictive, that is a fantasy product of the imagination. The paraphiliac’s ideal is to be able to stage his/her erotic fantasy so as to perceive it as an actual experience. This being not always possible, the shadowy substitute is to restage it from memory in the mind’s eye or the mind’s story-book. People who are not paraphiliacs may do the same thing. For them, a feature of the proceptive phase is to imagine something different than what is actually happening with the partner, or someone different than the actual partner. Thus, a woman may fantasy that she is being possessed by her rock-and-roll hero; a man may fantasy himself in adultery with a nymphet; a gay husband may in fantasy replace his wife with his boyfriend, and so on. In some cases, continuation of the fantasy of the proceptive phase into the acceptive phase may be imperative to the acceptive performance of the genitalia. The fantasy then becomes a barrier between the two partners for, under ordinary circumstances, imagery of the proceptive phase, whether perceptual or fictive, yields as acceptive excitement builds up. The two partners then become totally immersed in the tide of erotic sensations until its waves crash into the resplendent surf of orgasm.

John Money, Love and Love Sickness: The Science of Sex, Gender Difference and Pair-bonding, pp. 73-76. John Hopkins University Press (Baltimore, London) 1980.

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