Margaret Sanger, "What Every Girl Should Know, Part VI," 22 Dec 1912.
Source: " New York Call, Dec. 22, 1912 Margaret Sanger Microfilm, Collected Documents Series C16:0044."
This is the sixth article in an 12-part series. For "Introduction," see Nov. 17, 1912, for "Girlhood-Part I" see Nov. 24, 1912, for "Girlhood-Part II" see Dec. 1, 1912, for "Puberty-Part I" see Dec. 8, 1912, for "Puberty-Part II" see Dec. 15, 1912, for "Sexual Impulse-Part II" see Dec. 29, 1912, for "Reproduction--Part I" see Jan. 2, 1913, for "Reproduction--Part II" see Jan. 19, 1913, for "Some Consequences of Ignorance and Silence--Part I" see Jan. 26, 1913, for "Some Consequences of Ignorance and Silence--Part II" see Feb. 2, 1913, and for "Some Consequences of Ignorance and Silence--Part III" see Mar. 2, 1913.
The sexual impulse is the strongest force in all living creatures. It is this that animates the struggle for existence; it is this that attracts and unites two beings, that they may reproduce their kind; it is this that inspires man to the highest and noblest thoughts; it is this also that inspires man to all endeavors and achievements, to all art and poetry; this impulse is the creative instinct which dominates all living things and without which life must die. If, then, this force, this impulse plays so strong a part in our lives, is it not necessary that we know something of it?
At the time of puberty there comes both to boys and girls two impulses--one, the desire to touch and caress; to come in contact with, to write and to speak to an individual of the opposite sex. This impulse is much stronger in girls than in boys. The other is the impulse that impels the individual to discharge the accumulation of ripe sex cells, and relieve himself of the nervous tension which this accumulation produces. This latter impulse is stronger in boys than in girls. One writer states that this is an unconscious desire for relief from physical congestion, not differing greatly from the sense of relief which the emptying of the bladder or rectum produces.
These two impulses together constitute the Sexual Impulse, and this constitutes the foundation upon which love, the greatest of all emotions, is based.
At the time of puberty, we learned from the last article, that the first manifestations of sexual maturity in the girl is the appearance of the menstrual flow. But also at puberty there comes the sexual impulse, which evidences itself during sleep, in a filmy substance dropping from the mouth of the uterus. This "demunescense" does not appear very often in young girls, but later in life when sex instinct becomes stronger it occurs during sleep, especially in young widows, or women having experienced sexual relations. They are, however, seldom aware of its taking place; consequently, it has not the danger which it presents to the boy.
In the preceding article on puberty, we discussed only the girl at puberty, but here it is necessary to understand that during puberty many changes take place in the boy, such as change of voice, the growth of hair on various parts of the body, and most important, the discharge of the sexual fluid commonly known as seminal emissions. This latter symptom appears in every normal healthy boy on reaching the age of puberty, but unlike the menstrual period which occurs at a stated period in girls, the seminal emissions do not depend upon a special period; they occur at different times, usually twice a month. This expulsion is considered perfectly normal, and is not a sign of physical or sexual weakness, but a sign that a surplus accumulation of ripe sex cells are present and have come to their full development and overflow. Nature takes care of this and uses all of this life giving fluid according to the needs of the individual, casting off the surplus.
It is this symptom that alarms young boys at puberty. It is this overflow which enables quack doctors to play upon the innocent and ignorant boy, telling him that it is an indication of weakness. And it is also this--as the result of telling older boys about it--that leads boys to houses of prostitution; for they are told by their ignorant advisers that they must have sexual relations or endanger their sexual capacity.
It is also this overflow which, occurring in sleep, awakens the boy, and he is conscious of what has occurred; he is conscious also of a pleasurable sensation which this sense of relief produces, and unless warned against it he will try at some later time to bring on this relief by friction or mechanical means, which is known as masturbation -- often called self-abuse. The age of puberty is one of the periods in an individual's life in which it is easiest to acquire this habit, in girls as well as in boys, although the girl may not be conscious of any sensation, through the accumulation of the "demunescense." Yet there is the same nervous tension that exists in boys, due to congestion of the now fully developed genital organs, perhaps slighter in intensity, but it is there and becomes conscious of it.
In talking to older girls about sex, menstruation, etc., she is often led into the habit of masturbation. Cases have been known where children formed this habit in infancy almost, through the ignorance of nurses or even mothers, who, not aware of consequences, have kept babies from crying by gently patting or rubbing the sexual parts. It may be caused also by uncleanliness, itching, tight clothing, etc.
When the habit is formed in very small children, it can be exercised in the very presence of the parents, but they being ignorant of the habit itself, or the consequences, interpret the actions as "baby ways." Again, the habit is formed upon entering school. It is said no school is free from it; and it is a fact that no institution today is free from pupils who practice masturbation.
In public schools are found groups of perverted boys and girls whose depraved ideas sooner or later permeate the place. A recent issue of a conservative woman's journal says: "In absolute filth of conversation nothing could quite equal the talk of boys and girls during recess in our schools. What is still worse is that the child is generally instructed in masturbation, prostitution and sometimes sexual perversity."
This subject of masturbation is at present under discussion from many points of view among the medical profession; some claiming, that, as with venereal diseases, we lay too much stress on the matter, and exaggerate the harm done to the individual by it. One writer plainly states that it is of such common practice that out of a hundred young men and women, ninety-nine are addicted to it, and the hundredth one is lying. Another says that out of a hundred men and women arriving at the age of 25, ninety-nine have practiced it at some time.
Moreover, it is said to be practiced by people of nearly every race on the globe, and even by animals when sexually aroused and their mates are not near. By these examples such writers would try to prove that because ninety-nine people out of one hundred are not in insane asylums the practice cannot be as harmful as is stated by others to be.
Let us take a sane and logical view of this subject and arrive at a decided conclusion.
In children before they have reached the age of puberty, prior to the development of the sexual organs, it stands to reason that to abuse these organs before they are strong enough to be exercised must weaken them for their natural functions. Again, masturbation unlike the sexual act, can be practiced individually and at all times and nearly anywhere. This gives the individual unlimited opportunity for indulgence, and consequently drains and exhausts the system of the vitality necessary for full development.
In the boy or girl past puberty we find one of the most dangerous forms of masturbation, i.e., mental masturbation, which consist of forming mental pictures, or thinking of obscene or voluptuous pictures. This form is considered especially harmful to the brain, for the habit becomes so fixed that it is almost impossible to free the thoughts from lustful pictures. Every girl should guard against the man who invariably turns a word or sentence into a lustful, or commonly termed, "smutty" channel, for nine times out of ten he is a mental masturbator.
Perhaps the greatest physical danger to the chronic masturbator is the inability to perform the sexual act naturally. The strong physical irritants which are used are likely to produce catarrhal disease of these organs in both sexes, producing such irritating sensations that relief is demanded, and this can be obtained only by repeating the habit, and so it continues. The individual promises himself over and over again after such exercises to overcome the habit, but his will power gradually becomes destroyed and the impulse continues. He knows and intuitively feels such practice degrades him and destroys his character; he feels he is losing control of himself, and also realizes that his health, especially his nervous system, is being undermined.
In my personal experience as a trained nurse while attending persons afflicted with various and often revolting diseases, no matter what their ailments, I never found any one so repulsive as the chronic masturbator.
It would not be difficult to fill page upon page of heart-rending confessions made by young girls, whose lives were blighted by this pernicious habit, always begun so innocently.
Before closing this subject, however, I want to tell of a case of an 8-year-old boy I attended during an attack of measles. I found he was shy and unresponsive, and at times very nervous and irritable, with a strong liking to be alone. I observed him closely for a few days and reported the results of my observation to the attending physician. He was convinced of their truth, that the little fellow was masturbating. The physician assigned to me the task of talking to the child, who acknowledged that he was "touching" himself and had been ever since he could remember. The little fellow's mother had died when he was in infancy, leaving beside himself a brother a year older with whom he slept. I explained to him the danger as well as I could and the result was that I was awakened in the night by whisperings and found the little fellow asking the older brother to tie his hands to the bedpost. This the older brother did with a handkerchief, and the child went to sleep in this way every night during the few weeks I was attending him. The first few nights he was awake practically all of the time struggling to overcome this habit, which he finally overcame completely.
At puberty every boy and girl should be taught these dangers and temptations and also how to avoid them, by keeping active, mentally and physically, going to bed only when sleepy, avoiding intoxicating drinks and stimulants.
We have strayed some distance, I know, from the beginning of our subject--Sexual Impulse--to treat of its perversion (masturbation), but next week we shall again take up the normal natural impulse and see what there is that every girl should know.(To be continued.)
Copyright, Margaret Sanger Project