From the book The Function of the Orgasm, Chapter V, by Wilhelm Reich, M.D., FS&G, New York, 1973.

Now let us contrast moralistic regulation and sex-economic self-regulation.

Morality functions as an obligation. It is incompatible with the natural gratification of instincts. Self-regulation follows the natural laws of pleasure and is not only com­patible with natural instincts; it is, in fact, functionally identical with them. Moralistic regulation creates a sharp, irreconcilable psychic contradiction, i.e., morality contra nature. It thus intensifies the instinct, and this, in turn, necessitates increased moralistic defense. It precludes an efficient circulation of energy in the human organism. Self­regulation withdraws energy from an unrealizable desire by transferring it to a different goal or partner. Steadily alternating between tension and relaxation, it is consistent with all natural functions. The psychic structure molded by compulsive morality performs work perfunctorily, gov­erned by an ego-estranged “should.” The sex-economically regulated structure performs work in harmony with sexual interests, drawing from a great reserve of life energy. The moralistic psychic structure overtly adheres to the rigid laws of the moralistic world, adapts itself to them ex­ternally, and rebels internally. A person with such a struc­ture is constantly at the mercy of antisocial inclinations, of both a compulsive and impulsive nature. The person with a healthy, self-regulated structure does not adapt himself to the irrational part of the world; he insists on the fulfillment of his natural rights. He appears sick and antisocial to neurotic moralists. In reality, he is incapable of antisocial actions. He develops a natural self-confidence, based on sexual potency. A moralistic structure always goes hand in hand with weak potency, and such a person is constantly forced to make compensations, i.e., to de­velop an artificial, stiff self-confidence. He is ill disposed toward the sexual happiness of others because he feels provoked by it and is incapable of enjoying it himself. Essentially, he engages in sexual intercourse to prove his potency. For the person who has a genital structure, sex­uality is an experience of pleasure and nothing but that. Work is a pleasurable activity and achievement. For the moralistically structured individual, work is an irksome duty or solely a material necessity.

The nature of the character armor is also different. The person having a moralistic structure has to develop an armor which restricts and controls every action and func­tions automatically and independently of external situa­tions. He cannot vary his attitudes even when he would like to. The compulsively moralistic official continues to be one in the conjugal bed also. The sex-economically regulated person is capable of closing himself to one situa­tion and opening to another. He is in control of his armor because he does not have to hold back forbidden impulses.

I called one type a “neurotic” character, the other a “genital” character.[1] From this point on, the therapeutic task consisted in the transformation of the neurotic charac­ter into the genital character and in the replacement of moralistic regulation by sex-economic self-regulation.

It was well known at the time that moralistic inhibi­tions produce neuroses. Analysts spoke of the necessity of “smashing the superego.” I did not succeed in convincing them that this was not enough, that the problem was more extensive and lay deeper. The moralistic regulation cannot be destroyed unless it is replaced by something different and better. And yet, it was precisely this something dif­ferent that my colleagues regarded as dangerous, wrong, and “nothing new.” I reality, they were afraid of the “meat grinder,” of the serious confrontation with the present-day world, which categorizes and assesses every­thing in accordance with compulsive moralistic principles. At that time I myself was not too clear about the very far-reaching social consequences. I simply followed the traces of my clinical work with great determination. One cannot escape a certain kind of logic, even if one would like to.

Diagram depicting the reactive and sex-economic performance of work

Reactive work performance: The work is performed in a mechanical, forced, dull way; it deadens the sexual desires and is diametrically opposed to them. Only small amounts of biological energy can be discharged in the performance. Work is essentially non-pleasurable. Sexual fantasies are strong and disrupt the work. Hence, they have to be repressed, creating neurotic mecha­nisms which further reduce the capacity for work. The reduction of one’s work performance burdens every love impulse with guilt feel­ings. Self-confidence is weakened. This produces compensatory neurotic fantasies of grandeur.

Sex-economic , work performance: In this case, biological energy oscillates between work and sexual activity. Work and sexuality are not anti­thetical; they foster one another by enhancing self-confidence. The re­spective interests are clear and con­centrated, borne by a feeling of potency and a capacity for surrender.

It was not until a few years ago that I began to under­stand why free, self-regulated behavior fills people with enthusiasm but at the same time terrifies them. The funda­mentally changed attitude toward the world, toward one’s own experience, toward other people, etc., which charac­terizes the genital character, is simple and natural. It is immediately evident, even to people whose structure is completely different. It is a secret ideal in all people, and it always means the same thing, even if called by a dif­ferent name. No one would gainsay the capacity for love, any more than he would gainsay sexual potency. No one would dare to postulate incapacity for love or impotence, the results of authoritarian upbringing, as goals of human striving. It is part of natural attitudes to be spontaneously social, and it is not exactly the ideal to force oneself to be social by suppressing criminal impulses. It is obvious to everyone that it is better and healthier not to have an impulse to rape in the first place than to have to inhibit it morally. For all that, no other point of my theory has endangered my work and existence as much as my con­tention that self-regulation is possible, naturally present, and universally feasible. If, of course, I had merely postu­lated a hypothesis about this, using sweet elegant words and pseudo-scientific phrases, I would have been univer­sally acclaimed. My medical work required constant im­provements in the technique of influencing people, and this prompted me to raise ever more deeply penetrating questions: if the attributes of the genital character are so self-evident and desirable, why is the intimate relation between sociality and orgastic potency overlooked? Why is it that the exact opposite view dominates everything that rules life today? Why has the conception of a sharp antithesis between nature and culture, instinct and moral­ity, body and spirit, devil and God, love and work, become one of the most salient characteristics of our culture and philosophy of life? Why has it become incontestable and given legal protection? Why was the development of my scientific work followed with such great interest, only to be rejected in dismay and slandered and denigrated when it began to make serious headway? Originally, I thought the reason was ill will, treachery, or scientific cowardice. Not until many years later, years filled with horrible dis­appointments, did I understand this enigma.

Most of the troubled and disoriented reactions I had at that time toward my opponents, whose number in­creased from day to day, originated from the erroneous assumption that what is correct in principle can also be simply and naturally accepted and put into practice. If I had been able to grasp and formulate these obvious facts, if they fit in so well with the purposes of therapeutic work, why should not my colleagues grasp them also? My naiveté was fostered by the enthusiasm my colleagues had for my views, by their keen interest and affirmation. I had touched their simple human ideals and ideas. I was soon to find out that ideals are smoke and ideas are quickly changed. Far more persuasive were the concerns for one’s livelihood and the ties to organizations, authoritarian at­titudes, and . . . ? Something was missing.

What was affirmed and longed for in the ideal aroused anxiety and terror in reality. It was inherently alien to the existing structure. The entire official world fought against it. The mechanisms of natural self-regulation lay deeply buried in the organism, covered over and infused with compulsive mechanisms. The pursuit of money as the content and goal of life was at variance with every natural feeling. The world forced this upon people by educating them in specific ways and by placing them in conditions of life that fostered it. Thus, the gap which formed in social ideology between morality and reality, the demands of nature, and the idea of culture, existed in man himself, merely in a different form. To be able to cope with this world, people had to suppress what was most beautiful and most true, what was most basic in themselves; they had to strive to annihilate it, to surround it with the thick wall of character armor. In doing so, they came to grief internally, and usually externally as well; but they also spared them­selves the struggle with this chaos. There was a dim re­flection of the deepest and most natural feelings for life, of natural decency, spontaneous honesty, mute and complete feelings of love. However, it was embodied in a “senti­ment” which was all the more artificial the more thickly the psychic armor was developed against their own naturalness. Thus, even in the most exaggerated pathos, we find a tiny trace of what is really alive. And it is from this last dim spark of life that human mendacity and meanness derive the force which nourishes falsity. This became my firm conviction, for how else could it be ex­plained that the ideology of human morality and honor had survived for such a long time and been defended by masses of people, in spite of the actual filthiness of their lives. Since people neither can nor are allowed to live their real life, they cling to the last glimmer of it, which reveals itself in hypocrisy.

On the basis of such considerations, the idea of the direct correlation between social structure and character : structure developed. Society molds human character. In turn, human character reproduces the social ideology en masse. Thus, in reproducing the negation of life inherent in social ideology, people produce their own suppression. This is the basic mechanism of so-called tradition. I had no inkling of the importance this formulation would have for the comprehension of fascist ideology some five years later. I did not indulge in any speculations in the interest of political views. Nor did I construct a philosophy of life. The solution of every problem which came up in my clinical work led to this formulation. Thus, I was no longer surprised that the glaring inconsistencies in the moralistic ideology of society coincided in every detail with the contradictions in the human structure.

Freud had contended that the existence of culture as such is dependent upon the “cultural” repression of instincts. I had to agree with him, but with very definite reserva­tions: present-day culture is, in fact, based on sexual repression. But the next question was: is the development of culture as such dependent upon sexual repression? And does not our culture rest on the suppression of unnatural, secondarily developed impulses? No one had yet spoken about what I had discovered in man’s depth and was now in a position to develop. There was still no opinion about this. I soon noticed that, in discussions about “sexuality,” people meant something other than what I had in mind. By and large, pregenital sexuality is antisocial and is at variance with natural feelings. But the condemnation extends to the genital embrace as well. Why, for instance, does a father look upon the sexual activity of his daughter as a defilement? It is not solely because he is unconsciously jealous. This would not explain the severity of his reaction, which sometimes includes murder. Genital sexuality is, in fact, looked upon as something low and dirty. For the average man, the sexual act is merely an evacuation or a proof of conquest. The woman instinctively rebels against this, justifiably so. And it is also precisely for this reason that the father conceives of his daughter’s sexual activity as a defilement. Under such circumstances, there can be no correlation between sexuality and happiness. From this, everything written about the baseness of sexuality and its dangers can be explained. But this “sexuality” is a sick distortion of natural love. It has completely submerged everything that is deeply yearned for as genuine happiness in love. People have lost their feeling for natural sexual life. Their assessment of it is based on a distortion, which they rightly condemn.

Hence, to fight for or against sexuality is futile and hopeless. On the basis of such distortions, the moralist can, must, and should win out. The distortion cannot be tolerated. The modem woman is repelled by the sexuality of men who get their experience in brothels and acquire a revulsion toward sex from prostitutes. “Fucking” is a defilement. No sensitive woman wants “to let herself be fucked.”

This is what causes an impasse in discussions and makes the struggle for a healthy life so difficult. This is where my opponents and I were speaking at cross purposes. When I speak of sex, I do not mean “fucking,” but the embrace prompted by genuine love; not “urinating into the woman,” but “making her happy.” No headway can be made unless a distinction is drawn between the unnatural practices in sexual life, practices that have developed on a secondary level, and the deeply buried needs for love which are present in every person.

And so the question arose: how can principle be trans­lated into reality, the natural laws of a few into the natural laws of everyone? It was clear that an individual solution of the problem was unsatisfactory and missed the essen­tial point.

Inquiry into the social aspects of psychotherapy was new at that time. Accesses to the social problem were opened on three sides: the prophylaxis of neuroses, the closely related question of sexual reform,[2] and finally the general problem of culture.

[1] The special article I wrote about these two types was published in the psychoanalytic journal and was well received by psychoanalysts. In 1933, it was incorporated into my book Character Analysis.

[2] I gave a thorough presentation of the problem of sexual reform in my book The Sexual Revolution (1971). It is, therefore, not discussed in the present volume.

From the book Character Analysis