Sowing Wild Oats
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
WE are rapidly outgrowing the idea that a young man must necessarily pass through the grossest sort of immoralities in order to graduate into a decent specimen of the masculine sex.
"Sowing wild oats" is in itself a pleasing phrase. It is a nice way of referring to immoralities of the vilest sort.
This "sowing" process usually begins with secret habits, continues with the help of various prostitutes, during which diseases of the most loathsome character are acquired, and is said to end with marriage. But it is well to remember that in many instances marriage is not the end. It is frequently only the beginning, for terrible penalties often follow the "wild-oats" program. Gonorrhea, syphilis and other complaints may be the "harvest" of this sort of dissipation.
Perhaps a man thinks he is cured of any such diseases that he may have had. He marries and settles down. In time a child comes. Its appearance is looked forward to with joyous anticipations. But when it opens its eyes upon the world they are blurred with a disease that renders them sightless. Or it is covered with sores that indicate that dreaded disease, syphilis. This is the beginning of the penalties that often follow the supposedly harmless practice of "sowing wild oats."
A young man has no more right to the perilous privileges indicated by this pretty phrase than his sister or mother. There is no reason why the mind of a boy cannot be imbued with principles of decency.
Prostitution is a mighty evil, a scourge that has grown to be the greatest curse of the age. Consumption, smallpox and cancer are as nothing compared with this tremendously destructive force. For the devitalizing effect of the sowing of "wild oats" renders one more susceptible to every disease.
This sowing process is another of the damnable products of our pitiless prudery. Were boys and girls allowed freely to associate with each other, were they permitted to enjoy the whole-some, upbuilding influence that comes with such companionship, there would be an exchange of magnetism which, to a large extent, satisfies the sexual craving, although there is actually no personal contact or touch. But where young men are much alone, or compelled through the conventional rules that prevail today to associate only with each other, instead of having the company of decent, clean-minded members of the opposite sex, they naturally seek feminine sympathy and affection where they can get it. If they cannot secure companionship of the right sort, they will take the wrong sort. Thousands of young men who are now lured into the arms of prostitutes would be decent and clean-minded if they understood, first of all, the danger of "sowing wild oats," and if they could have, at the same time, opportunities to associate with respectable representatives of the feminine sex.
Thousands of virtuous young women make their homes in furnished rooms and boarding houses, where they actually waste away, often becoming sexless automatons, because of the lack of the masculine companionship which is being squandered upon prostitutes. If there were a convenient method of bringing these men and women together, it would go far toward solving the mighty problem of prostitution. In short, if a man yearns for the association of moral women and means can be found to satisfy this desire, "wild oats" will usually fail to attract him.
The most destructive result of this youthful dissipation is found, of course, in the venereal diseases that almost inevitably follow. Very few young men can go through this experience of "sowing wild oats" without being defiled and tainted with one or more of these complaints. Here is perhaps one of the gravest problems that confronts this age. We can teach young men the horrors associated with the penalties that follow such dissipation, but no matter how plainly these frightful consequences are presented, until conventional law has been so changed that they can find the associations that they crave among the opposite sex, our efforts will be unavailing. You cannot keep men away from women. If they cannot find good women to associate with, then they will accept the company of bad women.
Every reformer who faces this evil squarely and honestly must recognize the truth of this statement.
There is one other phase of the social evil that is especially important, from a preventative standpoint, and that is the intimate relation of prostitution to the habits of drinking and smoking. The average young man, in the beginning, does not realize where or what these influences will lead to. I am personally convinced that if these vices could be done away with it would minimize the social evil to such an extent that it would no longer represent the tremendous problem that it is today.
It is true that so far as smoking and drinking are concerned, alcoholism is by far the greater evil, and the more directly responsible for the young man's first misstep in the direction of sexual license. At the same time, tobacco is also a factor, for it is usually the beginning, and helps to blunt his intelligence and moral sense. And as a general thing the boy or the man who smokes will also drink. If he does not drink in the beginning, it will not be long before he is induced to do so, usually with the feeling, probably, that only one or two drinks cannot hurt anybody. Smoking and drinking, at least in the young fool who is trying to be "smart," almost invariably go together.
Now, when the boy learns to smoke and drink he comes under certain influences. There are new associations. He takes to pastimes and questionable amusements that are common among those who smoke and drink. He probably thinks in the beginning that he is doing something manly, and that it is smart to emulate those older than himself who do these things. He even develops a swaggering air, in many instances. He plays pool or billiards, under surroundings in which he can scarcely avoid drinking. As a general thing he gets interested in playing cards, and in gambling in other forms. And here he drinks still more. The process is usually a more or less gradual one. He goes down • hill step by step, hardly knowing what he is really doing. And then before long there comes the "woman" question as a matter of course. By this time the effect of the nicotine and the alcohol has blunted his moral sense and his judgment.
Almost without exception, just as soon as the young man goes out and drinks much, the fast women will be included in the program. And he thinks he is smart in this, too. Thinks he is really a "man" now. All these things go together. The fact of vital importance, however, is that in practically every case the young man makes his first acquaintance with the arms of the prostitute when he is drunk. Though he is probably a very sober young man some days later when he finds himself infected with venereal disease, especially if it is syphilis.
There may be some who will take exception to the statement that these indiscretions are most commonly committed in a state of drunkenness. Some people distinguish between the man who has "just been drinking," and the man who is "drunk." At the best, however, the difference is only one of degree. The fact that a man can still walk after having imbibed a few drinks does not mean that he is sober or in possession of his faculties unimpaired. It is a matter of scientific demonstration that even a small amount of alcohol clouds a man's judgment and paralyzes his mental faculties at least to some extent. The man who "has been drinking" is no more him-self than the man who is "soused." He is intoxicated, which in its most literal sense means poisoned, and the first effect of this poisoning is upon the very delicate brain cells. He cannot think clearly, his normal standard of conduct is upset, and he will do things which he would never dream of doing when in his right senses. Psychologists all know that normal young men are possessed of a certain degree of sexual "reticence," and this is overcome by the effect of alcohol, just as restraints of every other kind are lost while under this influence.
This drink evil, in fact, has much to do with the problem of prostitution in relation to both sexes. For when the young woman first loses her virtue, in by far the majority of cases she is seduced only because some unscrupulous male libertine has persuaded her to drink until she no longer knows what she is about. She "goes out" innocently enough for a good time, perhaps to a dance where drinks are sold, and even though she may not be "drunk" in the more disgusting sense of the word, yet by the time she has experienced the effects of "a few" cocktails or glasses of wine or champagne, she has lost her better senses and all power of resistance. To a very large extent, this is how girls go wrong. And once having fallen, too many girls think themselves forever "ruined," and are only too willing to drink again to forget, and through this to degrade themselves again in the other way.
Therefore, so far as both sexes are concerned, it appears that the social evil is closely identified with the alcohol evil. This is, indeed, one of the very strongest reasons why it is not safe for a young man to learn to drink. Alcohol is only too likely to be the forerunner of venereal poisoning. Can any young man, or any middle aged man, or old man, afford to take the risk? This is a public question, it is true. And so long as the public refuses to deal with it from this standpoint, little progress can ever be made in the fight against prostitution and venereal disease. But it is also a private question, and it is within the power of every young man, and every young woman, to protect himself or herself from contamination by carefully avoiding alcohol and the other associations that lead to the "sowing of wild oats."