The line is oh, so familiar . . .
"In an experience of women which extends over many nations and three separate continents, I have never looked upon a face which gave a clearer promise of a refined and sensitive nature."
And ye olde boys of old, who must do as we boys do, chortle "Experience, heh, heh, heh . . . sexual experience."
Then, ignoring all the rest of that sentence, with the limited mental capacity of sexy-time doofusness we focus on the big word, "continents," ignoring the smaller word, "nations," as in "many," did not then stop to go, "Wait, the John H. Watson we saw in as loyal friend to Sherlock Holmes, that kind and just John H. Watson, was just hopping from bed to bed across many nations?!?" Seems a bit cavalier for our Watson, one would think!
And, with Watson as Casanova, we don't even get to the latter part of the statement. Taken alone, it stands as simply this:
"I have never looked upon a face which gave a clearer promise of a refined and sensitive nature."
So we're to believe Watson goes from bragging about banging the babes of MANY nations and then just drops into a lower gear and talks about how none of those women were as refined and sensitive looking as Mary Morstan? That's a really huge tell for "madonna-whore complex," if we're actually reading it as being about a man who went from sex-sex-sex to true love in a single statement.
Taken at a more reasonable, not-so-horny view of the world, Watson had simply met women in many nations, nations in three continents. No big deal there, as we know he hit Europe, Asia, and either Australia or America, depending upon which theory you prefer. And if you give a good dose of saltpeter to that first part of the quote, the second part is rather interesting to analyze.
Why was Watson looking for a woman of "a refined and sensitive nature?" He wasn't entirely sure he had found it yet, which is why he speaks of its "promise." But he plainly has hopes that he is going to follow up on, to see if Mary Morstan is as refined and sensitive as she seems.
So why does he need her to be so refined and sensitive? Watson is not some posh noble needing all the social graces that "refinement" usually calls up. And a man who pals around with a murder investigator and is a medical doctor himself probably would not do well with a very sensitive wife.
No, Watson would only want "refined and sensitive" in a wife because he needed those traits to complement something in him. Sensitive to his special needs and refined in her attitudes to something in Watson's character. He needed a wife who would understand.
And in Victorian England, a wife who "will understand," could mean a couple of things. One, that his war wound, that mixed-up thing of shoulder or Achilles tendon, or both, had taken out his manhood as well, and that he couldn't produce children. Or, two, that it was not a wound that kept him from performing husbandly duties, but a lack of interest in said duties. And you can follow that thread where you will.
The fact that Watson asked Mary Morstan to marry him based on a "promise" that she didn't actually make, a potential that he just saw when he looked at her, could be the very real reason why we never hear the name "Mary" again in reference to his wife after that proposal was made and accepted. Perhaps Mary Morstan was not all that her looks promised she'd be. You can't judge a book by its cover-that-reads-like-it's-all-Sherlock-Holmes-and-then-is-half-anti-Mormon-propaganda . . . oh, wait, that was the other one.
We love Watson's Victorian prose, its elegance, its colour (spelled with a "u" of course), but, man, sometimes you wish he would just come out and say exactly what he means. (Or not, as that's where the fun is.)