Some men are in love with their work, and put all their energy into it – which can lead to problems. One of these is described by the sexologist Wolfgang Buhl in Eros mit grauen Schlafen (1962): ‘professional impotence’.
Buhl also speaks of ‘scholarly impotence’. Any academics who feel under attack can console themselves with the thought that they are in good company. Louis xiv of France, Emperor Napoleon i, the composers Beethoven and Mahler, and the writers Gustave Flaubert, John
Ruskin and Bernard Shaw were known for their inadequate sexual performance. The impotence of many mathematicians and scientists is a matter of record: it is even said of Sir Isaac Newton that he never experienced full sex in his life.
Total concentration on work may gnaw away at erotic interest. Basically this is more a matter of not wanting than of not being able. This freely chosen way of life is no problem at all for workaholics. They themselves feel no deprivation, unless a conflict arises with their partner, who feels neglected, sexually as well as in other ways. Buhl illustrates with the example of Heinrich E., an engineer approaching 50. He has been married for twelve years to a wife ten years younger than him. A serious marital crisis leads the engineer to seek help. He tells his story: ‘It’s possible she sometimes finds me a bit odd, when I’m so absorbed in my work that I don’t see or hear anything, but I always thought she’d got used to it. Of course she feels somehow excluded, but she just doesn’t have a clue about technical things.’
The crisis turned out to have been triggered by a 40-year-old journalist, who Heinrich had got to know in the course of his work. Subsequently, ‘because his wife wanted different people around for a change and not just colleagues of mine and their endless shop talk, he invited him to their house.
He was an easy talker, whereas I don’t usually say much. I think my wife knows perfectly well that there isn’t much behind all those words – but, well, the guy was giving her something that I wasn’t. I knew that nothing had happened yet, as they say, when I asked my wife what she really thought of the guy. She replied that I must have forgotten that I was a man and she was a woman. And she was right.
Then the tormented engineer describes his attempt to satisfy his wife sexually, which was a miserable failure. The therapist explains that it was not so much the long abstinence but the sudden pressure behind his resolution that was to blame for the fiasco:
‘You still had one foot in your profession, so to speak. You must forget that as quickly as you forget this crisis. Just as you have to devote yourself completely to your work to make it succeed, so you must give yourself over completely to love. A long holiday with your wife is the best thing for you. Far away from it all, you have the best chance of regaining what you’ve forgotten,’ said his therapist.
It is still true that some men are in love with their job, and in fact the practice ought to be banned in a collective wage agreement, though those involved wouldn’t stand for that. Doctors too can work too hard or too much, disrupting their love lives.
Only a minority of men are able to use sex to recharge their batteries: however tired, they are always up for it (President John F. Kennedy was a case in point). That does not apply to most of us.