False Popular Notions Of Sex That Imperil The Young
( Originally Published 1940 )
THE monthly sexual secretion of woman has been rather euphemistically called her monthly purification, because in former times it was thought that her blood would be thereby freed from impurities; just as during the puerperium it is termed a purification when the entire open uterine surface cleanses itself. We might with just as much reason call nocturnal emissions a purification, because substances are then excreted which should actually be got rid of. But we are so little accustomed to thinking physiologically, that we take more notice of the external soiling than the internal cleansing.
This soiling occurs so much more easily in young men because there is no wearing of a diaper to help as with girls. This symptom is manifested in the young man quite unexpectedly and at irregular intervals, and any unaccustomed clothing of the parts which could be employed, would only aggravate matters through friction and excite the production of secretion.
I now come to a rather painful question, and I should not have touched on it at all if I had not been so frequently consulted about it in my practice.
Young fellows tell each other that seminal emissions are very harmful; they even think that it is a proof that prostitution is indispensable for them, for a man does not want to "wet the bed" like a baby. This idea scarcely ever fails to convince our young men; yet it is quite erroneous, if only we have the courage to look the facts in the face.
An involuntary escape of urine or faeces is a fearful thing, because the bed or clothing is spoilt at once, though these excreta disturb no one when laid in the proper place. With the seminal secretion, however, the reverse is the case. Here normal sexual intercourse can have the most far-reaching and often terrible results; while the involuntary secretion of these few drops causes far less disturbance than, for instance, when through energetic muscular exercise all our sweat and sebaceous glands start secreting at once. And for this reason we are often obliged to change our linen, and to wash the whole of the body thoroughly, including its lower part. In winter if it is too cold to do this in the bedroom, we should at least rub the entire surface of the skin with a rough towel on rising. If we are also in the habit of going early each morning to stool, we can satisfy all hygienic requirements with a single wash-down. If necessary, we can then change all our clothes, or change day-shirt and night-shirt regularly every night and morning, which is a good habit, from childhood and occasions no special expense.
Where is now your necessity for prostitution? Go and preach that to your young companions who perhaps admire your worldly wisdom, take them to a house of ill-fame and in one night ruin their health and their youth and perhaps all their lives ...but don't prate any more to me about hygiene and cleanliness!
The worthy author of "The Elements of Social Science" goes one step farther. He expresses the opinion that not only are nocturnal emissions injurious, but that they are related to spermatorrhea, which we have already referred to as a symptom of paralysis; whereas in reality nocturnal emissions, which occur with erection during sleep, furnish the best proof of manly vigour, whereby in time of need Nature comes to our assistance with sweet dreams. It is not at all a morbid manifestation, but a natural safety-valve which allows these organs to remain quiescent for long periods without affecting the function, until the happy time when the desired suitable life-partner may be found.
It is idiotic to make such a fuss about this trifling uncleanliness. If we are so particular, we must admit that Nature is never clean, for all living cells contain fluid albumen. If in the spring-time for instance we peel a little twig, the inner bark is quite wet. Everything that we call life makes us unclean. For life is really the absorption of clean elements and the expulsion of unclean ones. Life and cleanliness are material opposites; we cannot eat out of clean dishes.
Especially in the sexual province exaggerated desire for cleanliness may awaken the worst suspicions. Woe to the maiden whose linen is found spotless when it should be soiled! And to the young man too, who thereby reveals that he has gone astray.
Here the same principle applies that obtains for every surgeon and every workman,—it is not becoming dirty that is blameworthy, but remaining dirty. Hygiene does not demand of us that we should remain clean, but that we should continually renew our cleanliness. And cleanliness is a virtue because it must be renewed every day. Our whole life is a fight against dirt, a struggle for life.
In times when man had not become so dualistic, this was better understood than at present, and people were often cleaner than we are, in the disposal of the faeces for instance. Only thus is it comprehensible how among savage races the crudest surgical operations, some of which we hardly dare attempt with all the refinement of our modern science, succeed splendidly. This is because they run fewer risks with bacillus coli and similar germs.
Through an erroneous idea of what cleanliness really is, much harm has been done, especially in the sexual sphere. Reproaches have been hurled a hundred times against young men for such harmless soiling of linen, and they have thus been driven to self-abuse and concealment of the result. But it is only now that we realise how far we have wandered from Nature.
Mothers have had more tact in these matters. If their daughters have been a little alarmed by the first spot of menstrual blood, they have comforted and consoled them, glad that they had now arrived at womanhood. The first seminal stain should also be welcomed as a sign that the youth is now adult. It is the pollen of the flower that unfolds full of hope. He should then be comforted by the thought, as we said in Chapter 2, that the sexual life is not only a secretory function, but a creative new-formation, which should be honoured and not dragged in the mire, and that some day it should bring him the joy of founding a healthy and happy family. Each renewed emission will then serve to remind him of this lofty ideal.
How many men there are whose lives are darkened by despair, and who might have been happily rescued if their mothers had spoken thus with them at first.