Marriage And Masturbation
( Originally Published 1918 )
IT is difficult for the average individual to realize that girls are at all in danger of acquiring the secret vice known as self-abuse or masturbation. We do so like to think of the feminine half of creation as made of entirely different clay from that used for their counterpart, that we are prone to picture them as utterly free from the temptations and dangers that assail the masculine portion of mankind. There is a certain foundation in fact for this feeling. We know that every cell of the woman's body manifests the characteristics of femininity, and in so far is different from every cell of the man's body. Her impulses and inclinations are different from his, and it is equally true that temptations which assail him with pecular force may not have so great an effect upon her. Taking all of these things into account, however, it is nevertheless true that they are both human beings, with physical impulses and appetites which at least correspond.
We have no opportunity for discovering how strong the spontaneous impulse toward masturbation would be in either sex, because we are not able to bring up our children in entirely ideal surroundings where there would be no outward suggestion toward that form of sex gratification. Therefore, we have no opportunity for comparing the strength of this impulse in the two sexes. We are obliged simply to accept conditions as they are, and any one who has been made the confidant of any large number of young women is aware of the fact that many of them have had to meet this temptation.
It would be well for us to consider the natural ways in which this habit may be formed in early childhood, in order that we may rid ourselves of an unnecessary amount of condemnation for those who have succumbed. The holy horror which arises in the breasts of some individuals at the mere suggestion that any one, particularly a young woman, could become the victim of this habit, adds greatly to the difficulty of handling the situation. One of the greatest obstacles to self-mastery in this particular is the depressing effect of extreme condemnation, whether on the part of the victim, or on the part of those about her. These unfortunate creatures are apt to feel that their wrong-doing has placed them beyond the possibility of forgiveness, and that there is, therefore, no use for them to try to change them-selves. The first great essential, in enabling them to secure self-mastery, is to rid them of their terrible sense of shame.
Let us, therefore, turn our attention to the ways in which this habit may be acquired in in-fancy. As this statement would indicate, it does not always come as the result of a definite sex impulse. It may be started in perfectly innocent ways.
For example, consider for a moment the efforts of the little one in the first few months of existence to become acquainted with its own body. The little fingers wander about from one part of the body to another, exploring and discovering, from the double sensations aroused, that first one part of the body and then another belongs to the individual. In this process, it would not be at all strange if the little fingers should stray to that part of the body which we call private, and if the nerves of sensation are thereby aroused into activity and the sensation proves to be more or less pleasurable, it would not be strange if an effort were made to repeat the experience. Thus, quite innocently, the habit of self-abuse may be formed.
Sometimes it is a little neglect on the part of the mother, causing more or less discomfort In these organs, which causes the little one to attempt to relieve the unpleasant sensation by rubbing. It may be that worms which have made their way from the anus into the adjoining parts have set up an itching sensation. It may be that this part of the body is too warmly clothed, causing congestion, or that the clothing is binding, causing irritation. Sometimes-and mothers would do well to take this into account that they may exercise the more careful watchfulness—an ignorant nurse girl will teach the habit to the child, because she has discovered it to be a means of stopping restlessness.
One other matter it is very important for the mother to investigate. Sometimes the covering of the little organ called the clitoris is adherent, and sets up an irritation which calls for constant rubbing. This condition can easily be relieved by a slight surgical operation, and the presence of this habit should always call for a local examination by a physician, in order to discover whether conditions are perfectly normal.
Sometimes a little girl of three or four accidentally discovers that, by rubbing up against a chair or other piece of furniture, she is able to produce a sensation which is pleasurable. Some-times an older child will induct her into wrong-doing.
The mother must be aware of these possibilities, and must be ever on the alert to avert them. Watchfulness on her part, and careful teaching of the little one to avoid all unnecessary handling of this part of the body will, in all probability, prevent the formation of this most undesirable habit. It is possible to teach even the little one of two or three years of age that these organs are just as sensitive as is the eye, and that, as rubbing of the eye will produce sores and other disastrous consequences, so will rubbing of this part of the body.
When a little one is old enough to receive an answer to her natural question as to her own origin, then it becomes possible to make the child understand the sacredness of these organs, in that they enable us to become procreators with God in calling into existence other human beings. Because of the sacred character of these organs, we exercise especial care over them, never allowing ourselves or anyone else to touch them unnecessarily. With this teaching thus early imparted, there is very little probability that either a boy or girl will form the habit of masturbation. Where this teaching is not given, however, children naturally see no convincing reason why this form of pleasure may not be indulged in. ° They see no evidence of immediate harm themselves, and they have no way of knowing about possible serious consequences in the future.
That it is natural for children to meet the temptation to this habit, one could easily allow. The only right and normal thing, however, is for the child to master the temptation.
It will be advisable for us, however, to consider the true seriousness of this physical habit. It has been considered by some the greatest of all sexual evils ; because, in the first place, of its prevalence ; in the second place, because it is of such a nature that there is an unlimited opportunity for excess; and last, but not least, because it is indulged in during the vitally important period of growth when its consequences will be most far-reaching and serious. Its deleterious effects, moreover, are not limited to the body alone. The mind and soul are tainted and dwarfed through its insidious influence.
While it is possible for the habit to be formed innocently in infancy, in the great majority of instances it comes as the result of wrong teaching, and is, therefore, always surrounded by an atmosphere of evil suggestion, which is most detrimental to the sex life. It lays the foundation, in other words, for a lifelong unnatural attitude toward sex. It causes one to feel that everything connected with sex is impure and degrading, and it so deadens the finer sensibilities in connection with this subject that married life itself is often rendered less radiant and inspiring because of the poisonous miasms that arise from the mind and the heart that have been polluted through this degrading habit.
Its most direct effect in childhood is upon the nerve centers. If the practice is frequently indulged in, these become drained of their vital nerve fluid, and the whole system suffers from a greater or less condition of nervous exhaustion. This, of course, has a dwarfing effect upon the physical development, which, while it may not be markedly evident, nevertheless exists. One of the most undesirable effects of the habit, when long continued, is an absolute lack of concentration. The victims give themselves up so repeatedly to their impulses that finally they lose the power to control them, and so are at the mercy of every least suggestion. This means, of course, that their minds are constantly shifted from one point to another without that control and direction which is the essence of concentration. This, doubtless, is the reason why the victims of the vice are such poor scholars and eventually may suffer from a greater or less degree of loss of memory.
One of the first effects of this habit upon the character is the development of furtiveness. There is an instinct within the human breast which warns even the innocent victims of the habit that it is wrong, and consequently, from the very beginning, it is kept more or less hid-den. In time, the one who indulges finds it difficult to look others directly in the face, because there is always the consciousness of a hidden sin. Frequently the furtive look is the first indication the watchful mother receives that the child has acquired this habit. If she finds her little one beginning to avoid her gaze, she would do well to watch him or her carefully, and come at frequent and unexpected periods into the room where the child is playing. Without doubt, early indulgence in the practice may result in premature development of the sex organs, although they will naturally be lacking in the proper amount of vigor.
Masturbation is most commonly practiced, however, in adolescence, the period between childhood and maturity. It is probably natural that the inclination toward it should be felt more at this time than at any other. This is, of course, the very time during which its influence will be most detrimental. It is both destructive to the sexual function itself and debilitating to the constitution.
We know today that the sex organs have a great work to perform in making over the bodily organism of the adolescent boy and girl. The very first work of these organs is the secretion of a fluid which is entirely retained within the body for the purpose of making over every portion of the physical being, and preparing it for the added responsibilities of maturity. Through over-stimulation of these organs the precious fluid, which was intended to be entirely retained within the body, may be drained away and lost, with very detrimental effects to the physical growth. There is no way of measuring the extent of this injury. It should be enough, however, for us to know that the injury exists.
The greatest temptation toward this practice is likely to be experienced by those of a high-strung, nervous temperament, to whom it will also prove most disastrous. The boy or girl of the phlegmatic temperament feels less inclination toward this form of indulgence, and is usually protected by superior vitality from its most disastrous results. The high-strung temperament, however, with its delicately adjusted and keenly sensitive nervous system, may be thrown into a condition of almost complete nervous exhaustion, because of the greater susceptibility to temptation, and the lessened power of resistance to the drain of physical and nervous energy.
The psychic effects of this unfortunate habit are often of such character as to cause an aversion to grow up in the heart of the girl toward the opposite sex, which leads her to keep away from social gatherings, and so may deprive her of an opportunity for a woman's normal life as a wife and mother. It may even lead into a condition of sex perversion, which causes her to seek gratification through undue intimacy with others of her own sex. This is so unnatural a condition that one hesitates even to refer to it; yet it is necessary to warn young girls against those of their own sex, who, being themselves abnormal, might wish to lead them, through their youth and inexperience, into these unnatural practices. Every girl should know that it is her duty to protect herself from undue intimacy with anyone, man or woman, and it is hoped that this word of warning will suffice to put them on their guard and prevent them from being drawn into any such undesirable associations.
There is much to be said in the way of encouragement to the young woman who has formed this habit, but who possibly has not appreciated its seriousness. Many a girl, upon learning the debasing character of this secret habit, feels her-self so degraded that she believes there is no hope for her. In this she is utterly wrong. There is all the hope in the world, if she will but make up her mind to break it. It will not be an easy conquest, but in the process she will build so much of strong character that she need not in the end regret the bitter experience through which she has passed.
In the first place, she should not condemn herself too severely, looking upon herself as an utter outcast from society. She is not alone in this experience. The human race has always had to fight, in some form or other, the battle of the spirit over the flesh. Her struggle is but a part of the struggle of the race. She is fighting for the complete mastery of her soul over her body, and she must always live in the consciousness that she is a soul and that these inclinations are not intrinsically hers. They are the lower impulses of the body.
Whenever these impulses arise, she should say to herself, "This does not belong to me" ; and, by thus denying it as a part of herself, she can more easily free herself from its domination. A little attention on her part will teach her to recognize the very first thoughts which might tend to start the train of impulses leading up to this form of self-gratification. When that time comes, she will be able to divert her thoughts into other channels at their very inception, thus suppressing all possible wrong impulses in the body. It will be of assistance to her if she will carry with her some suggestions of the lines of thought in which she is particularly interested, so that, at the first indication of danger, she may, by activity of the will, direct her thought along one of these other lines. It is much easier to control oneself at the beginning of the impulse than at the end.
Many times young women write to ask if, having had the habit of masturbation at one time in their lives, but having mastered it, they have a right to marry, and whether it will be necessary to confess their previous wrong-doing to their husbands. There is nothing in this habit, unless it is so long continued that its consequences become permanent, to render the young woman unfit for marriage. No young woman who has average health need hesitate at all to accept an offer of marriage, even though she may at one time have been a victim of this habit. It does not have a direct effect upon the creative organs, as so many have seemed to fear, rendering them incapable of performing their function. There is no reason why she may not make a good wife and mother, and, if she will use her own unfortunate experience aright, she will make it a ' means of enabling her to protect her children from duplicating it. The effects of the practice, whatever they may be, are not inheritable, so she is relieved of that worry. Since she has conquered the habit, it does not seem necessary for her to make a confession of it to her husband, any more than she would the habit of thumb-sucking in her infancy, or biting her nails in her early childhood. Since it is quite likely he may have had the same habit, and have overcome it, their position is probably one of equality.
One important physical consideration in this connection is that of genital cleanliness. Any condition which tends to the irritation of these parts will stimulate the brain cells and may thus start undesirable impulses. It is very important, therefore, to make frequent use of soap and water to keep these parts thoroughly free from all possible secretions, or foreign matter, which may gather there. If there is an inflammation which makes them sensitive to soap, a solution of boric acid will be found a good cleansing antiseptic agent.
As I have said elsewhere, the general bodily effects of masturbation, apart from the effect on the generative system itself, are to be seen in a lack of energy or general lassitude, a weakened muscular system, an all-around lack of development, sometimes a dragging gait, weakness of the bladder, or urinary symptoms, a pale or sallow complexion, often with dark rings around the eyes, as well as pimples and blackheads, poor memory, difficulty in study or mental concentration, lack of self-confidence, a tendency to avoid the society of others, especially that of the opposite sex, and an inability to look other people in the eye. Of course, these symptoms are typical only of serious cases. When the habit has not been carried very far, or has not been productive of much. harm, they will not be in evidence. The mental or psychic symptoms are especially important and may be observed in varying degrees. A naturally strong-minded character may overcome some of them, as, for instance, the lack of confidence, by force of will; but in many cases these anti-social symptoms are extremely marked. Weakened memory and poor mental concentration are among the most persistent and common of such symptoms.
So much has been said about pimples on the face as being an indication of the presence of this habit in the individual, that it may be well for us to give a little attention to this subject. Much injustice has doubtless been done through the widespread notion that pimples were always an indication of self-abuse. This, of course, is far from being the fact. We would be much nearer the truth if we made the statement that pimples were always an indication of constipation. They are, in general, an indication that the skin is attempting to do the work of elimination which the eliminatory organs are failing to do. Of course, self-abuse may, in some instances, cause a breaking out upon the face, but even so, this result is likely to have been brought about by the fact that loss of nerve power has made it impossible for the bowels and kidneys to perform their work properly.
The very first thing to do, therefore, in a case of acne, is to see to it that the system is thoroughly cleansed of all waste matter. The general character of the skin has much to do with acne, and persons with clear, smooth skins are often great offenders in the matter under consideration. Persons having naturally oily skins are most likely to be afflected with pimples and blackheads, which are commonly found on the face and shoulders, these being the parts of the body where the sebaceous glands are most plentiful. The so-called "flesh-worm" of the black-head is only an accumulation of the dried oily secretion of a sebaceous gland resulting. from the clogging of the opening. The ordinary pimple is caused by a mild infection which has traveled down the duct of one of these glands, or down the root of a hair. When these tiny glands are especially active, such difficulties are more likely to be met with. The sebaceous glands, like all the other glands of the body, are most active in youth, from the period of puberty until maturity, and it is largely for this reason that young people of this age are so frequently affected with pimples. Masturbation is not necessarily involved. Rigid cleanliness, by preventing the clogging of the tiny ducts, and also by preventing infection, will do a great deal to prevent pimples. Cold water and ice, too, are valuable, be-cause they contract or close the pores. Warm or hot water opens them and should generally be avoided.
At the same time there is another factor to be considered in acne, namely, the question of pure blood and resistance to infection. In vigorous health, the infection cannot gain a foothold. But when the vitality is lowered, the circulation weakened and the vital functions impaired, it is easy to develop pimples. Now, masturbation, of course, tends to derange the internal functions, weakening digestion and otherwise impairing the quality of the blood, and in that way may cause pimples.
In other words, acne is often found upon the face, shoulders, chest and back of masturbators as a symptom of lowered vitality, but it is not the positive indication that some have supposed. In some cases the health is undermined only slowly, during a period of years, and the appearance for a longtime may indicate nothing wrong.
So much has been said in the past about insanity being caused by masturbation, that it would be well for us to give a moment's consideration to it at this time. Probably the prevalence of this belief was due very largely to the books that have been published by quack doctors who endeavor to scare their victims so as to be able to secure their money. The truth of the matter is that no scientific foundation has been discovered for this belief. While it is known that those who have lost their minds are often victims of this habit, the habit is, in all probability, the result of their mental condition, rather than the cause of it. They lack reason and self-control. No per-son suffering from this habit need live in fear of going insane, as so many of them have done in the past.
Since the condition is both physical and mental, the remedial measures must partake of the same two-fold character. It is impossible to say which of these is the more important part of the treatment; both are absolutely essential. Physical vigor, which is built up through proper exercise and food, is essential to the strength of will needed for the rigid restraint which it will be necessary to exercise.
The first step is to build up bodily vigor, not only for its own sake, as has been suggested, but for the sake of the clearer brain and stronger will so essential for victory. These qualties cannot be developed in a body which lacks the proper blood supply to the brain and is suffering from depleted nerves. Everything possible should be done to develop bodily strength and vigor.
The matter of diet is of the greatest importance. Meat and eggs being rich in protein should not be used too freely, and if the assimilation is especially poor it may be better to avoid them entirely for a time. Red meats are especially stimulating and should, therefore, be used sparingly. Fish and chicken are less pronounced in their effect. Not only alcoholic drinks, but even tea and coffee should be avoided. Pepper, hot sauces and condiments of all kinds are especially objectionable. The things that you can eat and enjoy raw, particularly fruits, green sal-ads, nuts and so forth, should be used extensively in the diet.
It is especially important to correct any tendency toward constipation. This is, without doubt, an important factor in many cases, the accumulation of effete matter causing a more or less congested condition which reacts unfavorably upon the brain cells, and may arouse thoughts and impulses which should not be called into activity. Through proper exercise, the drinking of plenty of water, and the eating of the right kind of food, the bowels may be kept open and regular.
The first step in the mental treatment of masturbation is an unfaltering determination to conquer the habit, no matter how long or difficult the fight may be. This is a crisis in your life. You are either going to remain a weakling for the rest of your days, or you are going to rise on the stepping stones of your dead self to a bigger, better, more successful life. You will not conquer this habit in a day, or a week, or a month. Make up your mind, however, to stick to it until you have gained the mastery and kept your promise to yourself. This is the building of character.
The next step is to stop worrying about it and its possible consequences. The condition of worry is very depressing and debilitating, and it makes you fall an easier victim to all sorts of wrong suggestions. Never mind what you have done in the past; the important thing is what you are doing today.
The third step is to fill your life with so many forms of mental activity that the old habit will not have any chance to assert itself. Your mind must be so occupied with other matters that there will be no opportunity for the introduction of impure thoughts.
The fourth step is to avoid being too much by yourself, and to cultivate the society of refined people just as much as you possibly can.
You must not be disappointed if you fail time and again to master your wrong impulses at the beginning of your struggle. Never let such a failure put you permanently into a mood of depression. Say to yourself each time, "Never mind ! I will conquer," and go at it again. Realize that it is more than a physical habit which you are endeavoring to overcome. It is a wrong attitude of mind. Read the books which will help you to have a greater respect for human beings, for the processes of nature, for yourself as an individual. Read books on personality and power. Learn to use the laws of mental suggestion, and see in all of these but an opportunity for developing your own hidden and probably hitherto neglected powers. Look forward to the day when you can make your struggle a means of enabling you to help others, and, for their sakes, pick yourself up after each fall with renewed determination. Realize that every time you resist the wrong impulse you are strengthening your powers of resistance, and constantly encourage your-self to believe that you are gaining the mastery.
Cultivate pride and self-respect. Believe in yourself and make others believe in you. What-ever your work may be, determine to do it to the very best of your ability, and thus you will gain the respect of others as well as of yourself.
Anything that will tend to add to your sense of pride will help you powerfully. You will find personal cleanliness a great aid to this end. Cultivate a fastidious attitude toward cleanliness of person and apparel. The feeling of immaculate cleanliness adds greatly to one's self-respect, and the effect upon the whole moral nature is such that one will less readily stoop to any depraved action.
Above all, do not allow yourself to worry or brood over your trouble. Let the "dead past bury its dead." Live in the present. Look for-ward hopefully to the future, and thank God that you are at last alive in every particle of your being.
Do not allow yourself to pass any time in idleness. Inactivity will give your mind a chance either to dwell upon erotic thoughts, or to worry about your condition, and both of these should be carefully avoided. Make it a habit to get out of bed with a jump. the instant you wake up. Take a quick plunge, or a cold sponge, to finish the waking-up process and enable you to start the day with vim and vigor. Try to have enough physical exercise so that, when bedtime comes, you will drop to sleep as soon as your head touches the pillow.
Cultivate all kinds of hobbies and different sources of interest, especially those which will lead you into physical activity. Do not spend your leisure hours always in sedentary occupations, such as reading, writing, embroidering, playing cards and so forth. Seek your friends amongst those who are actively inclined. Seek out a good gymnasium and learn to enjoy sports of all kinds. In summer, devote yourself to outdoor sports.
It is especially important to keep the mind away from all subjects which can arouse the sex nature. It is possible to masturbate mentally, dwelling upon erotic subjects until the sex nature is so aroused that physical sensations may even result. This is almost as bad as the physical practice, and is usually the first step in that direction. Whenever you find your mind turning in this forbidden direction, get up and do something at once in order to change your current of thought. It does not matter what it is, but do it immediately. Take a cold bath, shake the rugs, play the piano, or do anything else that comes to your mind. The more active and mentally stimulating it is, the better. Plan for some activity to-ward which you can always turn when any undesirable thought of sex enters your mind.
Sometimes the very best way to meet this temptation to wrong thinking is to put yourself at once in the company of refined and agreeable people. The very impulse of the victim of this habit, to get off by herself or himself, would seem to indicate that the best possible treatment would be just the opposite of that impulse. Association with refined, high-minded persons of the opposite sex, if always kept on a high plane, without any of those personal intimacies which young men and women sometimes indulge in, should also prove beneficial.