Napoleon Hill on Sex and Success

On the advice of my spiritual advisor, I’ve been reading some old-timey self-help books. Not new age stuff about feelings, self-esteem, your inner child and being OK, but pre-WW2 stuff about prosperity, dynamism and gumption.

One of the acknowledged classics of this genre is Think and Grow Rich (1937) by Napoleon Hill. And I’ll be damned, Napoleon Hill turns out to be a horny old goat after Daze’s own heart.

In his earlier, similar work The Law of Success (1928), Hill wrote:

Fortunate is the person who understands this principle sufficiently well to keep his or her brain vitalized or “recharged” by periodically contacting it with a more vital mind. Sexual contact is one of the most effective of the stimuli through which a mind may be recharged, providing the contact is intelligently made, between man and woman who have genuine affection for each other. Any other sort of sexual relationship is a devitalizer of the mind. […]

Before passing away from the brief reference made to sexual contact as a means of revitalizing a depleted mind it seems appropriate to call attention to the fact that all of the great leaders, in whatever walks of life they have arisen, have been and are people of highly sexed natures. (The word “sex” is not an indecent word. You’ll find it in all the dictionaries.)

[…] All the so-called geniuses probably gained their reputations because, by mere chance or otherwise, they formed alliances with other minds which enabled them to “step up” their own mind vibrations to where they were enabled to contact the vast Temple of Knowledge recorded and filed in the ether of the universe. All of the great geniuses, as far as this author has been enabled to gather the facts, were highly sexed people. The fact that sexual contact is the greatest known mind stimulant lends color to the theory herein described.

Hill elaborates this theme in Think and Grow Rich, which has a full chapter entitled “The Mystery of Sex Transmutation: The Tenth Step Toward Riches”. Some excerpts:

The pages of history are filled with the records of great leaders whose achievements maybe traced directly to the influence of women who aroused the creative faculties of their minds, through the stimulation of sex desire. Napoleon Bonaparte was one of these.

When inspired by his first wife, Josephine, he was irresistible and invincible. When his “better judgment” or reasoning faculty prompted him to put Josephine aside, he began to decline. His defeat and St. Helena were not far distant.

If good taste would permit, we might easily mention scores of men, well known to the American people, who climbed to great heights of achievement under the stimulating influence of their wives, only to drop back to destruction AFTER money and power went to their heads, and they put aside the old wife for a new one.

Napoleon was not the only man to discover that sex influence, from the right source, is more powerful than any substitute of expediency, which maybe created by mere reason.

The human mind responds to stimulation! Among the greatest, and most powerful of these stimuli is the urge of sex. When harnessed and transmuted, this driving force is capable of lifting men into that higher sphere of thought which enables them to master the sources of worry and petty annoyance which beset their pathway on the lower plane.

Unfortunately, only the genii have made the discovery. Others have accepted the experience of sex urge, without discovering one of its major potentialities — a fact which accounts for the great number of “others” as compared to the limited number of genii.

For the purpose of refreshing the memory, in connection with the facts available from the biographies of certain men, we here present the names of a few men of outstanding achievement, each of whom was known to have been of a highly sexed nature. The genius which was theirs, undoubtedly found its source of power in transmuted sex energy:


Your own knowledge of biography will enable you to add to this list. Find, if you can, a single man, in all history of civilization, who achieved outstanding success in any calling, who was not driven by a well developed sex nature.

[…] Surely no one will misunderstand these statements to mean that ALL who are highly sexed are genii! Man attains to the status of a genius ONLY when, and IF, he stimulates his mind so that it draws upon the forces available, through the creative faculty of the imagination. Chief among the stimuli with which this “stepping up” of the vibrations maybe produced is sex energy. The mere possession of this energy is not sufficient to produce a genius. The energy must be transmuted from desire for physical contact, into some other form of desire and action, before it will lift one to the status of a genius.

Far from becoming genii, because of great sex desires, the majority of men lower themselves, through misunderstanding and misuse of this great force, to the status of the lower animals.

* * *

The factor of personality known as “personal magnetism” is nothing more nor less than sex energy. Highly sexed people always have a plentiful supply of magnetism. Through cultivation and understanding, this vital force may be drawn upon and used to great advantage in the relationships between people. This energy may be communicated to others through the following media:

i. The hand-shake. The touch of the hand indicates, instantly, the presence of magnetism, or the lack of it.

2. The tone of voice. Magnetism, or sex energy, is the factor with which the voice may be colored, or made musical and charming.

3. Posture and carriage of the body. Highly sexed people move briskly, and with grace and ease.

4. The vibrations of thought. Highly sexed people mix the emotion of sex with their thoughts, or may do so at will, and in that way, may influence those around them.

5. Body adornment. People who are highly sexed are usually very careful about their personal appearance. They usually select clothing of a style becoming to their personality, physique, complexion, etc.

* * *

The entire subject of sex is one with which the majority of people appear to be unpardonably ignorant. The urge of sex has been grossly misunderstood, slandered, and burlesqued by the ignorant and the evil minded, for so long that the very word sex is seldom used in polite society. Men and women who are known to be blessed — yes, BLESSED — with highly sexed natures, are usually looked upon as being people who will bear watching. Instead of being called blessed, they are usually called cursed.

Millions of people, even in this age of enlightenment, have inferiority complexes which they developed because of this false belief that a highly sexed nature is a curse. These statements, of the virtue of sex energy, should not be construed as justification for the libertine. The emotion of sex is a virtue ONLY when used intelligently, and with discrimination. It may be misused, and often is, to such an extent that it debases, instead of enriches, both body and mind.

Some thoughts …

The claim that all great leaders and accomplished genii (nowadays we usually say “geniuses”, but “genii” is cooler) throughout history have been “highly sexed” is impossible to prove or disprove. Any list of world-class genii (how is that pronounced, anyway?) will be highly subjective, and we can only speculate about the sex drives of famous people. While I appreciate Hill’s theory, I have no idea if he’s right.

And his list is quite strange. Shakespeare, Jefferson, OK. But Woodrow Wilson? He always struck me as a clenched, priggish Calvinist. Maybe I haven’t read the right biographies. I had to look up Hubbard, Gray and Patterson.

One could easily compile a list of great leaders and genii who do not seem “highly sexed” in the slightest. Of course, such a list would be just as speculative and subjective.

The inclusion of Oscar Wilde on Hill’s list seems very progressive. Praising the powerful “sex energy” of a famously homosexual artist was a bit daring for the 1930s.

Along the same lines, I wonder how many of Hill’s readers over the years have momentarily freaked out and thought, “wait just a goshdarned minute, there’s nothing sexual about a good firm hand-shake between men”.

On the other hand, Hill’s list is exclusively male. He does make inclusive reference to “men and women who are known to be blessed — yes, BLESSED — with highly sexed natures” at one point. However, he takes for granted that the great leaders and accomplished genii are men, whose creative and sexual natures are stimulated by women behind the scenes. So what about the modern age, when female political leaders and entrepreneurs and creators have more opportunities? Would Hill’s link between achieving greatness and a “highly sexed” nature hold true for women too?

Hill says it’s not enough to be bursting with sexual energy, one must learn how to “transmute” that “desire for physical contact into some other form of desire and action”. He’s not the first thinker to propose this idea. Freud saw “sexual sublimation”, the process of translating sexual energy into other creative endeavors, as a positive force and basis for civilization. Hill emphasizes business and entrepreneurship as outlets for sexual energy, but otherwise the ideas are very similar.

So with this notion of “sex transmutation”, is Hill recommending that one suppress this “desire for physical contact”? I don’t think so. When he talks about “recharging” one’s mind through sexual contact with another, Hill is clearly talking about real, physical, raunchy, sweaty, panting sex. When he talks about Napoleon being inspired and stimulated by Josephine, Hill is talking about actual sex. The way I see it, “transmutation” is about finding balance between literal sex and the other creative endeavors in one’s life. It’s about bringing the best spirit of sex — creativity, joy, optimism, mutual benefit, banishing all tentativeness and embarrassment — into the rest of one’s endeavors. Our standard of what constitutes “libertinism” may change over time, but the basic principles hold true.