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The Fear of Train Travel May be Directly Linked to Male Sexual Repression


According to some of the most renowned psychoanalysts and psychologists, Freud among them, train travel anxiety is connected to libido problems.

Train travel and sexualilty don’t seem to be related, upon first thought. However, some of the foremost psychoanalysts and psychologists have theorized the opposite.

This is nothing new, as we’re talking about Sigmund Freud, Wilhelm Stekel, and Karl Abraham, among others.

Here’s the gist:

There’s a link between the pleasurable clickety-clack and gentle rocking of traveling by train and feelings of sexual arousal. Also, if a man is feeling particularly repressed sexually, said man may also find themselves scared of train travel.

railroad train tracks
Taken by M. Weidner via unsplash.com. [Public Domain].

Here’s the father of psychoanalysis in his own words (translated into English from German):

The shaking produced by driving in carriages and later by railway-travel exercises such a fascinating effect upon older children that every boy, at any rate, has at one time or other in his life wanted to be an engine driver or a coachman. It is a puzzling fact that boys take such an extraordinary intense interest in things connected with railways, and, at the age at which the production of phantasies is most active (shortly before puberty), use those things as the nucleus of a symbolism that is peculiarly sexual.

A compulsive link of this kind between railway-travel and sexuality is clearly derived from the pleasurable character of the sensations of movement. In the event of repression, which turns so many childish preferences into their opposite, these same individuals, when they are adolescents or adults, will react to rocking or swinging with a feeling of nausea, will be terribly exhausted by a railway journey, or will be subject to attacks of anxiety on the journey and will protect themselves against a repetition of the painful experience by a dread of railway-travel.

Sigmund Freud, The Complete Psychological Work, op. cit., vol. 7, p. 202.

What a doozy, huh?

Karl Abraham, a German psychoanalyst and Freud colleague regarded as his “best pupil,” had even more to say on this very specific connection:

Their fear is related to the danger of finding themselves in a kind of unstoppable motion that they can no longer control. The same patients generally exhibit fear of locomotion in any vehicle they cannot bring to a halt themselves at any time.

Karl Abraham, Psychoanalytische Studien, vol. 2, p. 102.

Abraham connects the a patient’s fear of their inability to control a train with a sexual loss of control.

In a book on traveling by train during the 1800s, Wolfgang Schivelbusch sums it up even better:

The fear of derailment was in fact a feeling of impotence due to one’s being confined in a fast-moving piece of machinery without being able to influence it in the least. The isolation of the compartment that enclosed the passenger intensified this feeling of helpless passivity. While the compartment facilitated the pleasurable experience of mechanical motion, it became, in equal measure, a locus of trauma.

Wolfgang Schivelbusch, The Railway Journey: The Industrialization of Time and Space in the 19th Century, p. 78.

Makes sense, I guess.

And finally, the Austrian psychologist Wilhelm Stekel to run it off the rails:

Railway dread, sea sickness, dread of rocking, are often to be traced to experiences of childhood in which these actions were at first accompanied with pleasure, then caused pain, so that the idea opposed to pleasure, namely, disgust, or the repressed component of the libido, viz., fear, comes to the front.

Another important source of the railway dread is the criminal source. These patients had all played with the fancy that the railway train will run over a hated rivale, e.g., the brother, or the dreaded father. What they wished for others will befall themselves. They will certainly be run over. Thus behind every phobia hides the old infantile criminal phantasy. He who dreads the fire has at some time wished to play the arsonist. He who cannot bear the sight of blood, was once in his phantasies, a murderer.

Wilhelm Stekel, Conditions of Nervous Anxiety and Their Treatment, p. 243

Damn, right?

I’ve always been fascinated myself by trains, from begging my father to take me to the model train store when I was a kid to it still being my preferred form of transport on a trip.

I guess I’ve a healthy coital disposition, according to the greats, right?

Side note: I felt guilty writing this travel blog article on the psychological aspect of train travel and sexuality when it specifically relates to men instead of everyone. I know that back in the day, and still to the present, even learned thinkers were more keen (at best) to study the male side of the species, and I hate to promote that here. However, I found it to be an interesting story for its scientific value, and travel related, so I went ahead and wrote this. Hope I don’t offend anyone or cause anyone to think that this website is in any way geared only towards men!

Well, what do you think? Are you a rail junkie who sees a connection? Do you hate train travel and get what those guys were talking about? Let’s chat below in the comments, and thanks for reading!

Written by
Christian Eilers
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