We must set aside the false modesty and hypocritical silences over facts and problems which are not in themselves shameful or immoral, when it comes to the study of sex
By Roberto Assagioli, 1955, From the Assagioli Archive in Florence, Doc. #23833. Original Title: La psicologia e la scienza della sessualità. Translated and Edited with Notes by Jan Kuniholm
If we turn to consider the development of scientific activity in our civilization we can observe a curious fact: that is, that the sciences which relate less directly to actual human life developed first, and that those which more intimately concern people, on the other hand, were formed very late; indeed, some are just now being formed. This has been the case with psychological science, and to an even greater degree with the science of sexuality.
It is unnecessary to dwell on demonstrating the fundamental importance of the function of sex, both from the biological and psychological side, both in moral life and in its social references. Yet a truly scientific, objective and systematic study of that function began only a few decades ago.
At first the various problems concerning the sexual function were studied in a fragmentary and occasional way in the various sciences: anatomy, physiology, general biology, psychology, sociology, etc., using the methods proper to each of these sciences, and in connection with their particular purposes.
Subsequently, it began to be recognized that there was an opportunity to properly establish a true “science of sexuality.” This would aim first of all to collect and coordinate the established factual data and the various results obtained from the partial studies done within the aforementioned sciences. Then it would fill in the existing gaps in our knowledge of that complex function with new research, in order finally to aspire to achieve a deep and synthetic yet precise and accurate understanding of its true nature and all its manifestations and connections, so that we can deduce certain and beneficial applications in the fields of medicine, education, sociology, etc.
Thus there have been some scholars (to name only the pioneers) such as Havelock Ellis, Lowenfeld, Moll, Freud, and Naecke who, realizing this opportunity, devoted themselves actively to the establishment of this science, which was called Sexual-wissenschaft in German, sexology in English, and by us [in Italy] sessuologia or scienza della sessualità.
What is important is that such a science be seriously cultivated by setting aside the false modesty and hypocritical silences over facts and problems which are not in themselves shameful or immoral; and also by rejecting that light and fatuous attitude that is mixed with the somewhat equivocal cynicism with which these issues are too often approached. The mere fact of one’s being willing to consider them serenely, objectively, in short truly scientifically, has in itself a moral value and constitutes the necessary preparation for any individual or social educational work in this regard.
As a small contribution to this work I propose to indicate some of the most important problems of the science of sexuality, among those that have the greatest bearing on psychology. I will try to point out how the study of these problems constitutes one of the most important aspects of the new science and can bring valuable assistance to our [quest for] knowledge of the great laws of psychic life and simultaneously provide practical applications of psychological science.
A first important problem, indeed a real set of problems, is constituted by the ontogenetic development of sexual function. Until not so long ago the study of sexual function in humans started with the examination of the phenomena that occur at the crisis of puberty; however, a series of new observations has led to the recognition of the existence of sexual manifestations even in childhood, several years before the normal functional awakening of the organs of generation.
I will say at once that some, especially Freud and other psychoanalysts, have attributed too great and general an importance to these facts, based on a too-broad and ill-defined conception of sexuality. But leaving aside such exaggerations, a series of observations obliges us to admit the existence in children, or at least in many of them, of curiosities, desires and even real sensations and impulses of an undoubted sexual nature.
Everyone can clearly understand the scientific and practical importance of this finding. On the scientific side, numerous problems arise: What is the origin of such manifestations? How do they occur? Are they phenomena belonging to normal sexual development, or are they abnormal events? Are they spontaneous, endogenous manifestations, or are they caused by external stimuli, by example or by suggestion?
According to Freud, these facts would be part of the normal development of the sexual instinct. This would have its origin in the sensual pleasure that the child would experience from the stimulation of various “erogenous zones” of the body; it would therefore first have the characteristics of autoeroticism (i.e., the attainment of pleasure without the aid of another being) and polymorphism (i.e., the variety of ways in which pleasure can be attained). In normal children sexual tendencies would not be intense and as they grew older they would be easily inhibited by the rise of modesty, distaste, moral feelings, and the educational action of the environment. Such inhibition according to Freud would produce a period of more or less complete latency of the instinct until puberty.
On the psychic side, too, Freud finds sexual elements in children. The very intense affectivity in children not infrequently presents characteristics, such as passionate and exclusive attachment to one person (often the parent of the opposite sex), jealousy, etc., that are analogous to the loves of adults.
Freud’s theories are certainly not to be accepted without question. On the contrary, in my opinion, various facts which he considers endogenous and part of the normal evolution of the sexual instinct, should instead be regarded as abnormal phenomena, produced by a particular sexual constitution (to which Löwenfeld has rightly called attention) and by external stimuli. Indeed, it has been shown in numerous cases that even single or occasional stimulation of the genital organs, or the perception of acts or speech pertaining to the sexual sphere, produced profound impressions in children, which then had consequences for the rest of their psychic lives, not infrequently causing abnormalities and neuropsychic disorders.
New observations and studies are needed, I believe, before we can formulate reliable and definite conclusions. However, as of now the facts mentioned above allow important practical deductions from the pedagogical point of view. First, a negative one: that is, it is necessary to strictly refrain from acts, speeches, or allusions that concern sexuality in the presence of children (even young ones). Many parents and relatives do not use sufficient caution in this regard, relying too much on the incomprehension and naiveté of children. Secondly, a positive one: children need to be given gradual and judicious sexual teaching, fulfilling their legitimate desire to know, warning them of mistakes and dangers, and giving them a healthy, normal and elevated concept of the procreative function.
The development of sexual function is accompanied by and intertwined with varied and complex transformations of the whole being. As the sexual organs become capable of fulfilling their biological functions, there is a great intensification, a real effervescence of affective life: new emotions arise in the adolescent’s soul, connected with new tendencies and new impulses.
Some of these occurrences have a distinctly sexual character: that is, they are desires, attractions, aspirations toward persons of the opposite sex. Others, on the other hand, appear to be of a different character: for example, tendencies toward exaggerated self-assertion, to rebellion against all authority and against family members, especially parents, often develop at that time. Yet, along with this, there is a flowering of lofty, altruistic sentiments, generous aspirations, and idealistic resolutions for action in cultural, patriotic, and social causes. Often a genuine religious awakening occurs, sometimes accompanied by special states of consciousness of a mystical nature.
Now, what are the real relationships between all these physical and psychic phenomena? Are there causal links between them? Or derivation from one or more common causes? Or simple concurrence and simultaneity, with different, independent origins? I cannot deal with such complex questions on this occasion; I shall limit myself to a brief mention of one of the most important, namely that of the relations between the physical and psychic sides of sexuality.
This question is a particular aspect of the overall problem of the relations between psyche and body, which is perhaps the central problem of psychology. The one cannot be solved satisfactorily except by solving the other. But, on the other hand, the study of the relationship between physical sexuality and psychic sexuality can make important contributions of fact to the solution of the [larger] problem.
For sexuality is the vital function in which, perhaps more than in any other, the actions and reactions between body and psyche are intense, direct, and clearly demonstrable, even though they are complex and intricate. It is enough to mention the great repercussions that atrophies and dysfunctions of the organs of generation, especially of the internally secreting glands, have on psychic life. On the other hand, [we can observe] the powerful stimulating or inhibiting influences that psychic activities, especially representations, emotions and imagination, exert on the function of the sexual organs.
The theoretical value and practical significance of these facts has not yet been sufficiently recognized and exploited, and there is room here for new and fruitful studies. A new integral conception of sexuality, in which the various aspects of it — physical, emotional and spiritual — are all recognized and harmoniously connected and integrated, will have to emerge from such studies.
While this integral conception, in which there is a living synthesis of the various elements mentioned above, is the most scientific because it corresponds better than any other to reality, it also has great educational importance. It can be of valuable help in combating the harmful dissociations and many bitter conflicts that often arise between the various aspects of sexuality. Firstly, it will be able to teach people how to replace the excesses and abuses of sexuality. Secondly [it will show how to replace] the forced repression and violent attempts to suppress sexual life with conscious and balanced mastery, with a beneficial transformation of energies, profiting from the above-mentioned possibilities of mutual influence between the physical, psychic and spiritual elements of sexuality. Even from this general outline one can sense the variety and richness of possible applications to individual cases, and the opportunity for a whole new educational and psychological direction, which can be formed, and is actually being formed, on that basis. 
The same direction has begun to be followed in the study and treatment of the actual diseases of sexual function and this will continue, in my opinion. In this field, too, a valuable harvest of psychopathological material has gradually been gathered, which has not yet been completely utilized scientifically. On the therapeutic side, very satisfactory results have been obtained which promise important new achievements, both on the opotherapeutic  and the psychotherapeutic side.
Particularly interesting from the psychological side is first of all the problem of sexual inversions, about which many conflicting theories have been proposed. Some authors have argued for the constitutional and innate nature of homosexuality, based on cases in which it is accompanied by corresponding somatic abnormalities. Others regard it as a secondary developmental abnormality of sexual function, often determined by external causes, and cite in support of this view cases in which all physical abnormality is absent and in some of which the tendency has been eliminated by appropriate treatment. Some authors always regard homosexuality as a real disease, while others do not believe its pathological nature can be affirmed when all other morbid symptoms are absent.
The disparity of theories is explained, in my opinion, by the great variety of physical and psychic characteristics found in individuals in cases of sexual inversion. Further and deeper studies in this regard may resolve this question and together shed new light on problems in psychology and biology, such as the supposed original bisexuality of all organisms, the nature of instinct, etc. Such studies are called for by compelling practical needs, given that such inversions are not rare, they exist even in intellectually and morally elevated persons, they bring suffering to those affected by them, and finally that they constitute a social danger.
What has been said about sexual inversions can also be largely applied to the many forms of perversions of sexual function.
Another important chapter in the science of sexuality, to which psychology has begun to make and will still have to make new contributions, is that of psychosexual differences; that is, both of the different characteristics which the sexual function takes on in men and women, and of the differences that exist between the two sexes in every aspect of psychic life. Much has been discussed and is still being discussed about such differences even by laymen, but many of the individual remarks and general statements that are usually heard on the subject require rigorous critical review and precise scientific treatment.
For example, much has been discussed about the alleged superiority of one sex over the other. Much nonsense has been uttered on the subject, arising from the poor foundations on which the claims rested, and because of the intrusion of emotional elements, which come from a misplaced pride of sex. Finally, [such nonsense arises out of] the fundamental error in the approach to the problem. For one can ascertain, by experimental psychological examinations, the greater or lesser rapidity of manifestation, subtlety, or intensity of the physical or psychic functions of individuals: but such findings can never enable us to make value judgments about the overall makeup of either sex even if the experiments were more certain and complete than they are now.
Individual functions have value and meaning only in relation to the general biological and human directions of each sex. It is evident that these directions require the cooperation and integration of one sex with the other in each of its aspects, on a basis of full equality. So to speak of the “overall” superiority of either sex makes no sense. What does make sense and indeed presents much theoretical and practical interest is the concrete study of the various psychological differences and the conditions necessary for the mutual integration of individuals of the two sexes to succeed harmoniously and beneficially for themselves and for humanity.
In another paper, “The Psychology of Woman and Her Psychosynthesis,”  I have discussed the psychological characteristics of each sex. Concerning the integration mentioned above, I can only propose it as a problem that would deserve a wide discussion, since its solution implies practical consequences of very wide scope.
Examples include the orientation of individual and school education; the questions of individual and school coeducation, and the organization of girls’ schools. Should each sex strive to the highest degree to develop and exclusively the characteristics that are proper to it? Or should each rather try to keep them within certain limits and instead develop the elements and tendencies in which it is deficient and which are stronger in the opposite sex? Or should the one sex do one thing and the other sex another?
It seems that our civilization has chosen the third of these ways; for we can easily see that while the female sex tends increasingly to develop in the sense and in the image of the male sex, entering more and more into schools, workshops, and occupations hitherto reserved for men, participating in many ways in social and even political life; whereas in the male sex there is no tendency for a corresponding transformation in the opposite direction. On the contrary, men seem to definitely exaggerate their own peculiar qualities; for example, the tendency to struggle, toward external and collective activity, and toward thirst for possession and domination. In other words, our civilization is increasingly acquiring a predominantly “masculine” character. This explains many of its new orientations and also, in my opinion, many of its most serious deficiencies.
It is difficult to solve the above-mentioned problem, but as a cue and orientation for its examination some general considerations can be made. Is it really necessary for the one sex, e.g., the female sex, to lose its best features, to neglect and almost atrophy its very noble and special functions, in order to acquire some features of the other sex? And are the [particular] masculine potentialities that women are now acquiring really the best and most worthy of imitation? And if it is recognized that our civilization sins by an excess of “masculinism,” and that women in imitating and emulating men are going overboard and taking a wrong path, what would be the remedies? A simple return to the past is practically not possible, and is contrary to every historical and dynamic conception of human life. And then might not some good be derived from the same evil? Might not women, having acquired a greater place and directing influence in society, bring the beneficial influence of their best feminine gifts into the ideals and directives of this society? There are already signs that the most able and conscious female personalities tend to move in this direction. Such a new direction deserves to be more widely known, appreciated and strengthened, for perhaps in this could be found the solution to some of the difficulties and crises that most trouble contemporary society.
But to do this effectively requires a broad and precise knowledge and a dispassionate and sincere evaluation of the psychological characters of the two sexes, taking proper account of both their strengths and their weaknesses, as well as their possibilities for development — as well as the lower and more dangerous elements found in each.
I hope I have succeeded, even with this necessarily cursory and incomplete overview, in showing how vast and fruitful the field of the science of sexuality is and what valuable contributions scholars of psychology can make to it.
 This essay was published in L’Economia Umana (The Human Economy) – Year VI – Issue No. 6 – November-December 1955 (Archive Doc. #23834). An earlier, somewhat different version of this essay was published in Bollettino della Associazione di studi psicologici, Anno III – No. 1, Gannaio-Marzo 1920 (Archive doc. #23835). This translation follows the 1955 version. —Tr.
 Havelock Ellis (1859-1939), English physician, intellectual and social reformer who is best known for his studies of human sexuality. —Ed.
 Leopold Löwenfeld (1847- 1923), German physician and neurologist, considered a pioneer of nervous diseases and sexual pathology. —Ed.
 Albert Moll (1862-1939) was a German neurologist, psychologist sexologist and ethicist, considered one of the founders of medical psychology and sexology, and a rival of Freud, of whose work he was critical. —Ed.
 Paul Adolf Näecke (1851-1913), German psychiatrist and criminologist. —Ed.
 It may appear that the bulk of this essay was taken from the version of earlier date (1920) and that Assagioli’s research was not updated very much for the 1955 version. One major hint of this is the omission of any mention of the so-called “Kinsey Reports” on sex in his writing. However, other essays by Assagioli make it obvious that he was very aware of the Kinsey Reports and that he regarded them as “not really scientific” because Kinsey had “isolated physical sex from its connections with the emotional and mental life.” See Assagioli’s essay “On the Scientific Method” in the February 1970 Newsletter of the Association for Humanistic Psychology, in which he stated that many of the books on sex “are very poor science.” —Ed.
 The Italian words used here are pudore and disgusto, which may also be translated as “shame” and “disgust.” —Tr.
 Assagioli may include in his term le rappresentazioni such diverse elements as pictures, stories, staged performances, or memories. —Ed.
 This topic was covered in my study Transmutation and Sublimation of Sexual Energies, which will be published soon in this Review. —Author’s Note. This topic was also covered later in Chapter VII of Assagioli’s book Psychosynthesis, first published in 1965. —Ed.
 Years later Assagioli offered his own contribution in a paper titled “Sexual Education” which was presented at the Conference on Psychosynthesis in Rome in 1968. See Assagioli Archives Doc.#22275. —Ed.
 Opotherapy is another term for Organotherapy: the branch of therapeutics that deals with the use of remedies prepared from the organs of animals, as from the thyroid gland, the pancreas, or the suprarenal bodies. —Ed.
 The Italian word here is fini, which could be translated as “ends” or “purposes,” but we might also use “inclinations.” I want to stress that Assagioli recognizes a kind of teleology in biological and psychological functioning in which no individual can be viably considered in isolation. —Tr.
 Published in Fenarete , Year VI, 1952, No. 2 —Author’s Note. Also published in English as a monograph by Psychosynthesis Research Foundation in 1968 as P.R.F. Issue No.24. —Ed.
 See also Psychosynthesis of the Couple,a synthetic essay combining Assagioli’s thoughts from various lectures and essays on men and women, published in 2022. —Ed.