Reading Notes on “Intimate Behavior”

By Xah Lee. Date: . Last updated: .

This page is some notes on reading the book

Intimate Behavior: A Zoologist's Classic Study of Human Intimacy by Desmond Morris Buy at amazon

Art by Lori Finnegan. (Artist website Used with permission

p.19: Observations of deprived children and careful experiments with monkeys have shown conclusively that it is instead the tender intimacies with the soft body of the mother which are vital in producing the essential bond of attachment that will be so important for successful social behaviour in later life. It is virtually impossible to give too much body-loving and contact during these critical early months, and the mother who ignores this fact will suffer for it later, as will her child.

p.19: The worst twist that can happen is for a mother to be under-protective, strict and disciplinary with a tiny infant, and then over-protective and clinging with an older child. This completely reverses the natural order of bond development, and sadly it is a sequence that is frequently observed today. If an older child, or adolescent, ‘rebels’, this twisted pattern of rearing is very likely to be found lurking in the background. Unfortunately, by the time this happens it is a little late in the day to correct the early damage that has been done.

p.25:Loud, harsh sounds are alarm signals for our species, as they are for many others. Screams, shouts, snarls and roars are widespread mammalian messages of pain, danger, fear and aggression.

p.27: Unlike urine, tears do not help to remove waste products from the body. At low levels of secretion they clean and protect the eyes, but during full weeping their only function appears to be that of transmitting social signals, and they then justify a purely behavioural interpretation. As with smiling, the encouragement of intimacy seems to be their main business.


Desmond goes over each body parts of male and mostly female body, indicate what roles they play, especially for sexual signals. The Crotch, mouth, navel, butt, legs, belly, waist, breast, body skin, cheeks, eyes, eyebrows, face.

Here are the various unusual or notable clothing or makeup items mentioned in this chapter.

Also: high-heels, lipsticks, fake eye-lashes, mascara… etc. Their roles in general is to enhance or exaggerate the sexual difference between male and female.

p.39: The navel is even more taboo, having frequently been air-brushed out of photographs completely in past decades, to protect our eyes from its suggestive shape.

Need to verify.

p.43: Literally, steatopygia means fat-rumped, and refers to a remarkably pronounced protuberance of the buttocks found amongst certain human cultures, notably the Bushmen of Southern Africa.

needs to verify.

steatopygia = An extreme accumulation of fat on the buttocks. (AHD)


The traditionally ‘polite girl’ therefore keeps her legs together, but there is a danger, also, if she goes too far in this direction and presses them too tightly against one another. If she does this, or crosses them so vigorously that her thighs are squeezed together, she begins to ‘protest too much’ and thereby makes a new kind of sexual comment. As with all puritan statements, she reveals that she has sex very much on her mind. In fact, the girl who tries to protect her genitals unduly draws almost as much attention to them as the one who exposes them to view. Similarly, if a skirt rides up slightly when a girl sits down and exposes more leg than she intended, she only enhances the sexuality of the situation by making attempts to tug it down again.

p.49: the origin of Belly Dancing of Middle East:

p.49: Originally, this consisted of the performance of pelvic thrusts by the female on the podgy, incapacitated form of her lord and master. Unable to make the thrusting movements himself, he had to be serviced by trained girls who would be able to take over the masculine role in the encounter, inserting his immobile penis into their vaginas, and then undulating and jolting their pelvises t stimulate it to a climax, in what amounted to little more than an act of fertile masturbation. The clever and varied movements developed by such females to arouse their fat, dominant males formed the basis of the famous Eastern belly-dance and, as a visual preliminary, this became more and more elaborate, until it grew into the display we see so often today in nightclubs and cabarets.

p.53: In seventeenth-century Spain, the measures taken were even more severe, young ladies having lead plates pressed into their swelling bosoms in an attempt to prevent their development.

Needs to verify.

Female breast adoration is ancient. High-breasted virgins, and also slender waist and big rump, for example, are mentioned frequently in Arabian Nights, (~800 to ~1500).

p.54: … an ancient Indian love manual advising that ‘Continuous treatment with antimony and rice water will cause the breasts of a young girl to become large and prominent so that they will steal the heart of the connoisseur as a robber steals gold.’

Not sure what's the source of this. Not sure what Antimony refers to here. It'd be interesting to search old texts of techniques of breast-enlargement. As far as i know, it can't really be done in any natural way. One way i heard is for example increasing the chest muscles, by for example doing push-ups or similar exercise. But breasts are not muscles. I'm not sure girls doing push-ups will increase the size of the looks of breasts in any desired way.

p.55: there are some cultures that actually prefer flat chest (of females), or sagging breasts. Such are not merely beauty variation or fashion. Desmond surmises, that the gist of flat chest preference is because for the pseudo-immature look, from for example of males in sexually repressed, puritan cultures, where father role may be appealing to men, and or that many are suppressed homosexual men and flat-chested girls gives them a boyish look. For the preference of sagging breasts, Desmond suggests that such societies value over mature, aged, maternal women. (such class usually have more power especially in matriarchal societies.)

p.59. The reason women shave is to exaggerate the sexual physical difference from male (thereby sending out stronger sexual signal). (much like waist reduction, breast augmentation.)

p.59: Depilation has been used in many cultures and for thousands of years. It was practiced, not only by certain ‘primitive’ tribes, but also in particular by the ancient Greeks, where women went so far as to remove much of the pubic hair as well…

So, bare pussy is not just a modern thing. Needs to verify about the Greek's deeds.

Men also shave (their chin). However, compare to female shaving, men face-shaving have not developed the multitudes of varieties of facial hair elimination (including permanent removal). Because, the stud or bear-sheen is a manly sign. To completely eradicate it is not desired, as it became feminine.

p.61: Throughout history, male clothing has repeatedly involved an extra padding of the shoulder region, making it appear even large as masculine signal. The extreme situation is reached with the military Epaulet,…

Needs to verify about the “throughout history” part… Chinese emperor's dress has a exaggerated upward shoulder cover… can't readily think of much else…

p.63: Blushing occurs in all human races and even in the deaf/blind, so that it appears to be a basic biological characteristic of the species. Darwin devoted a whole chapter to the subject of blushing and concluded that it reflected shyness, shame, or modesty, and indicated ‘self-attention to personal appearance’. Its sexual significance is illustrated by the fact that the records shown that girls who blushed freely when being offered for sale in ancient slave-markets for use in harems fetched higher prices than those that did not.

p.64: … Italian beauties of earlier days having placed drops of belladonna into their eyes in order to create the effect artificially.

(the effect that, when a human animal stares into their objects of desire, the pupil dilates. In particular in the context of lovers.)

Belladonna aka Deadly Nightshade. It's use to dilate pupils is also cited in wikipedia: Belladonna

p.65: … Trobriander, who, as an important part of his lover-making, regularly bites off the lashes of his loved one. Luckily for the latter, eyelashes grow remarkably quickly, each one only lasting for three to five months even in the unbitten condition.

Need to verify.


p.67. people's faces reflects a long-term mood of the person. That is, their most common facial facial expressions has somehow set-in permanently over the years, and this can be seen underneath smiles, frowns or other social gestures. So that, by looking at a person, one can rather tell somewhat whether his general character of a happy man, sad man, angry man, optimist man etc. Desmond applies this to one's posture as well.

p.68. Hair. Hair is a species recognition signal, rather than sexual, because physically hair are the same for male and female human animal. Women's hair tends to remain the same length, while men's goes from the extremes of long and short. Hair has always been a prime vanity medium.

Miss World


roughly, going over the sexual intimacy.

p.72: The pattern is the same. But now comes a difference. If the monkey is a male, it will never again, as an adult, know the total intimacy of a loving bond. Until the day it dies, it will continue to exist in the loveless world of rivalries and partnerships, of competition and co-operation. If it is a female, it will eventually regain the loving condition, as a mother with an infant of its own, but like the male it will know no such bond with another adult monkey.

p.73: it is pointed out that human animals differs from monkeys here in that besides the love bond between a mom and her baby, human animal may experience another such tight love bond in adult life, that is, between lovers, where there is total trust.

It is pointed out, that marriage is not simply a partnership. And, a mother and her baby are not partners. The book gives general stages pair-formation, and analyze each stage:

Then he goes thru the variations. Either reduction of the steps, or some elaboration, in the contexts of cultural differences and other situations. Extreme variations such as rape, arrange marriage, prostitution are also examed. Other associated phenomenon's such as social perceptions of virginity, orgasm, petting, and loveless fucking… are also examed thru different eras.

p.79: Viewed objectively, rape in the human species lacks two important ingredients: pair-formation and sexual arousal.

p.80 points out: rape in other species in theory doesn't have any problems (as a normal form of sexual intercourse for propagation), except that other animals lack hands to grasp and pin the female down, therefore rape isn't widespread in these animals.

p. 80 points out: rape is comparatively easy in human animals, because we have grasping hands, and besides we can threat of death or injury, or other means to make female unconscious.

p. 81 points out: status marriages are loveless marriage. They don't really go thru the steps of bonding as above. Status Marriage in older times are often parent arranged, while “in latter half of the twentieth century” are “less blatantly organized than they once were”. Bride and groom get married out of their own volition, but not for love but for power matching and social/political/economics functions. e.g. as a business transaction.

p.85: Moving on now to more recent times, a new change has occurred. Although official attitudes may still be the same, they are less strictly enforced. With further improvements in contraception, virginity has lost its significance for many young girls. The non-copulation rule that was once reluctantly broken is now commonly ignored. Virginity, far from being a prized, has almost become a stigma, an indication of some kind of sexual inadequacy.

p.87: How can a pair of seventeen-year-old lovers, who are fully sexually mature, who have developed a powerful bond of attachment, and who are enjoying a full sexual life, set up home in our modern economy? Either they have to wait in a kind of social limbo, or they have to ‘drop out’ of the accepted social pattern. The choice is not an easy one, and the problem has yet to be solved.

… much more…


p.104: intimacy breeds understanding, and most of us, unlike the solitary monk, do want to be understood, at least by a few people.

p.104: It is not a question of being understood rationally or intellectually. It is a matter of being understood emotionally, …


p145. By studying the behaviour of infants and lovers, it becomes clear that the degree of physical intimacy that exists between two human animals relates to the degree of trust between them. The crowded conditions of modern life surround us with stranger whom we do not trust, at last not fully, and we go to great pains to keep our distance from them. The intricate avoidance patterns of any busy street bear witness to this. But the frenzy of urban living creates stress, and stress breeds anxiety and feelings of insecurity. Intimacy calms these feelings, and so, paradoxically, the more we are forced to keep apart, the more we need to make body contact. If our loved ones are loving enough, then the supply of intimacy they offer will suffice, and we can go out to face the world at arm's length. But supposing they are not; supposing we have failed as adults to form close bonds with either friends or lovers, and have no children; what do we do then? Or supposing we have formed these bonds successfully, but then they have broken down, or become fossilized into the remoteness of indifference, with the ‘loving’ embrace and kiss becoming as formalized as a public handshake; what then? The answer for many is simply to grouse and bear it, but there are solutions, and one of these is the device of employing professional touchers, a measure which helps to some extent to compensate for the shortcomings of the amateur and amatory touchers who are failing to supply us with our much-needed quota of body intimacy.

p146. Who are these professional touchers? The answer is that they are virtually any strangers or semi-strangers who, under the pretext of providing us with some specialist service, are required to touch our bodies. This pretext is necessary because, of course, we do not like to admit that we are insecure and need the comforting touch of another human body. They would be ‘soft’, immature, regressive; it would assail our image of ourselves as self-controlled, independent adults. And so we must get our dose of intimacy in some disguised form.

p.146-153. Minor illness is a psychological influenced. There are massive number of minor illnesses in modern society, accounting for majority of illnesses. p.153. Psychologically induced accidents…; health care providers as substitute of intimacy.

p.153. Message as intimacy substitute.

p.153. There is the whole lush world of body conditioning and beautifying to indulge in, where an army of professional touchers is waiting to rub, slap, stroke, smooth and pluck almost any part of your body you wish to indicate.

p.154. Perhaps it would be more correct to say that it is too close for the comfort of Western society. Privately, the massaged body would no doubt enjoy itself greatly, but the public image of the massage parlour is, in our culture, not what it might be. One trend has been to reduce the imagined eroticism of the activity by introducing sexual segregation, so that men massages men and women massage women. Even this step has failed to give this intrinsically harmless form of soothing body contact a widespread acceptance in modern society. In removing the heterosexual contact, the way was inevitably paved for dark murmurings about the homosexual element. Only intensely athletic males can, with ease, overcome this slur. For the boxer or the wrestler there is no problem…

One way in which the problem has been solved is to multiply the numbers involved and to eliminate the atmosphere of an intimate ‘pair’. This is done in many gymnasiums and health farms, where groups of people gather to indulge in variety of exercises which may include a great variety of body contacts without creating the flavour of two ‘consenting adults in private’.

p. 154-159. Hair dressers and other grooming and beauty parlors as feigned establishment for the intimacy needs of human animals.

p.154. A more commonly employed solution is to restrict the body contacts to the less private parts of the human body. Here we move into the totally acceptable world of hairdressers and beauty experts, …

p.158. Just about the only ‘cosmetic’ intimacy that the modern male enjoys more than the female is the use of a public shoeshine and, as a trade, even that has been losing ground of late. In most big cities now it has become little more than a curiosity, found only at one or two special points. Apart from the oral-genital contacts discussed earlier, this is probably the only time in a modern man's life when he will see other human beings going on their knees before him to perform an act of body contact, and it is certainly the only time it will happen in public. (The shoe-shop attendant avoids the posture by sitting and leaning forward) The kneeling posture of the shoe-shine creates such a striking impression of servility that this feature has perhaps been his undoing. In the past, a man could more easily accept a display of humility of this kind, so that the humble intimacy performed was doubly rewarding, but with a growing respect for human equality such an overt submissiveness becomes almost embarrassing… It is not that we have ceased to be responsive to humiliating services -- that would be too congratulatory a thought -- but rather that we no longer wish to be seen to be so responsive to them.

some notes about specialists such as dentists and gynecologist.

p.159. In the past, the special nature of genital examinations has caused endless trouble for well-meaning gynecologists. Extraordinary anti-intimacy procedures have been insisted on. Three hundred years ago he was even, on occasion, required to crawl into the pregnant woman's bedroom on his hands and knees to perform the examination, so that she would be unable to see the owner of the fingers which were to touch her so privately. At a later date, he was forced to work in a darkened room, or to deliver a baby by groping beneath the bedclothes. A seventeenth-century etching shows him sitting at the foot of the labour bed with the sheet tucked into his collar like a napkin, so that he is unable to see what his hands are doing, an anti-intimacy device that made cutting the umbilical cord a particularly hazardous operation

p.159. Despite these bizarre precautions, the male midwife was for ever under fire, and just over two hundred years ago a learned textbook on the theory and practice of midwifery was openly condemned as ‘the most bawdy, indecent and shameful book which the press ever brought into the world’. Needless to say, it was usually the men who complained and always the women who suffered.

Note the last phrase. Such is a manifestation of power struggle, almost always among males. This power struggle among males can be observed daily just about on every behavior pattern. It is in fact the pillar of social structure almost in every culture (only with very rare exceptions). From this results in the derogatory term like patriarchal society. See also: Demonic Males: Apes and the Origins of Human Violence, by Richard Wrangham and Dale Peterson.

p.160 … Usually, properly qualified men were banished altogether from the labour bed, and the duties were performed by unskilled and often highly superstitious female midwives. (The world ‘midwife’ means simply ‘with-the-wife’, and makes no reference to the sex of the person concerned, although today we automatically think of it as indicating a woman, a fact that reflects this early ban on men.)

p.160. As a result of this, an enormous number of women died in childbirth and many thousands of children succumbed at birth or in the first month of life. A large number of these cases were due entirely to the anti-intimacy rules that prevented skilled aid from being provided.

p.160. Here, then, is an instance of the sexual taboos on bodily contact creating a major social disaster and influencing the whole course of history. Year after year was to pass, and countless human miseries were to be heaped on one on top of the other, before sanity prevailed and science was able to sweep away the ancient prejudices. Only by obeying the strictest possible code of conduct has the profession gradually been able to eliminate these early stupidities. Even so, the echos of ancient fears can still be felt, and the modern gynecological examination remains comfortless in the sphere of bodily contact.

p.160. Theatrical professions bear license to practice sexual behavior with strangers. (e.g. actors, actresses, dancers, singers, models)

p.161. Cops.

p.163. Minor brawling as intimacy. Advocate the acceptance of minor fist fights as they are harmless and increase acquaintance or friendship and satisfies some human need.

p.165. Analyzing fight-play. And fight-play turned into real fight. Example from professional wrestlers.

p.166. On Dancing. The prime origin of all dance styles is a bobbing, to'n'fro, back'n'forth movement. As in, going that way, stops, then go this way, stops, and repeat.

p.166. The special role that social dancing plays in our society is that it permits, in its special context, a sudden and dramatic increase in body intimacy in a way that would be impossible elsewhere.

p.167. The situation changed dramatically at the beginning of the last century, as a new dance craze swept across Europe. The waltz had arrived. For the first time the dancing couple embraced as they moved, a public intimacy that immediately created widespread scandal and concern.

Wikipedia Waltz as of 2006-04-17 does not give much info of waltz as its body contact in the context of history of dances.

p.168-169. Some detail about the protestation of Waltz in society and its gradual and final win. Then, the introduction of Tango in 1972 met with outcries, and similar for Jazz in 1920.


p.171. In the adult human world, a world full of stress and strangers, we reach out to our loved ones for comfort. If, through their indifference or through their preoccupation with the complexities of modern living, they fail to respond, we are in danger of becoming starved of the primary reassurance of bodily contact. If, through the moralizing of a warped minority, they have become inhibited in their intimacies and have been driven to accept the view that indulgence in the tactile pleasures of the body is somehow sinful and wicked, then, even in the midst of our nearest and dearest, we are liable to become touch-hungry and body-lonely. We are, however, an ingenious species, and if we are denied something we badly want or need, our resourcefulness soon urges us on to find a substitute to replace it.

Social intimacy substitutes… dancing, doctor visit, hairdresser. Human animals feign to get in touch.

p172. Unconsciously, however, we are all aware of the game that is being played… We do this by applying conventions and codes of conduct that reduce our sexual fears. Usually we do not say why. We simply accept the abstract rules of good etiquette, and tell one another that certain things are ‘not done or ‘not nice’. It is rude to point, leave alone touch. It is impolite to show one's feelings

p.173. pets as substitutes of intimacy. Massive number of pets in numbers, in touching, by the stats.

p. 183-187, those concerned with animals used in labs are not really concerned about the animals per se, but rather, concerned about a moral concept of betrayal of trust.

Actually, i don't think he phrased it exactly. But rather, there's certain unnecessariliness in using animals in the labs. That is, we raise and butcher pigs because we have to, we have to eat. We kill rats because we have to, because they intrude our lives. However, we lab test animals not because we really need to, even though it helps our medical knowledge.

The butchering of animals and killing of animals (pests) are forms of passive aggression, while the killing of lab animals is in contrast active aggression.

For many girls the attachment to a large cuddly toy animal survives right into adulthood, …


This chapter analyzes the various objects that comes in close contact with the human body, by human animal's will. Including: cigarettes, dummy tits (for babies), snack sweets (confections, chewing gums), hot and cold drinks (coffee, tea, milk), towels and beddings (pillows, mattresses, comforters), TV watching, clothing and pockets…

This chapter is quiet wild and remote. Just about everything is linked to sucking tits or mother's hugs.

p.192-197: … cig as a nipple substitute. On dummy tit (pacifiers).

p.197. A great deal of the nibbling and food-sucking we do is primarily concerned with symbolic oral intimacies, rather than true adult food-intake.

p.198. Foods, sweets, chewing gums, as nipples. p.199: hot drinks as breast milk substitute. Cold drinks as acts of suckling. p.201. Water beds as womb. Sleeping as a act of mother's embrace. p.202. Comfy chairs as motherly escape. Watching TV as a form of motherly protection. p.203. Hotel or luxury comfort as emulation of baby environment. Body-clinging clothing and towels.

p. 204-205. hand position on cloth as a dominance indicator in males. e.g. grasping the labels. Thumbs in waistcoat. Hands in jacket side pockets, hands in trouser pockets.

p.205. the higher up the body the hand/clothing contact is made, the more assertive it is.

p.205. … … a serious dominant male today is much more likely to adopt the … hands-in-jacket-side-pocket posture when he finds himself displayed in a public place. This latter action is particularly favored by tycoons, generals, admirals and political leaders, … Such men are much more reluctant to adopt the lower-level posture of hands-in-trouser-pockets, at least when they are in a context that demands the assertion of their dominant rights.

p.206. Some characteristic ways men and women touch their clothing when nervous.

p.207. Arm in chair back as a intimacy gesture; pleasure in rocking chair is connected to the cradle. Photos of loved ones, pin-ups, as ways of getting around real intimacy.

p.207. Inanimate substitutes for the male penis have, by contrast, a long and factual history, and even rate a mention in the Old Testament. Usually called dildoes, but also referred to as godemiches, consolateurs, bijoux indiscrets and dil-dols… In ancient Greece they had the name ‘olisbos’, meaning ‘slippery bull’ …

p.208. Vibrators.

Once again we see the operation of the rule we have met so many times before, namely that adult intimacies require some sort of disguise, either to ourselves or to others, to obscure the real purpose of what is going on.

Ben-wa balls is discussed on p.209.

chapter 8: SELF-INTIMACY


This chapter is sort of conclusive or constructive remarks about human intimacy.

p.230. The harms of military-style child-rearing. (Criticisms of “Watsonian” child-reaing. John B. Watson)