CAUSES OF THE PREVALENCE OF IMPURITY AMONG BOYS.
The evidence I have adduced in the previous chapters will convince most of my readers that few boys retain their innocence after they are of school age. There may, however, be a few who find it impossible to reconcile this conclusion with their ideas of boy nature. I will therefore now examine current conceptions on this subject and expose their fundamental inaccuracy.
There are some people who imagine that a boy's innate modesty is quite sufficient protection against defilement. Does experience really warrant any such conclusion? Those who know much of children will recognise the fact that even the cardinal virtues of truthfulness and honesty have often to be learned, and that ideas of personal cleanliness, of self-restraint in relation to food, and of consideration for others have usually to be implanted and fostered. Among people of refinement these virtues are often so early learned that there is danger lest we should consider them innate. The susceptibility of some children to suggestions conveyed to them by the example and precept of their elders is almost unlimited. Hence a child may, at two, have given up the trick of clearing its nostrils with the finger-nail, and may, before five, have learned most of the manners and virtues of refined people. The majority, however, take longer to learn these things, so that a jolly little chap of ten or twelve is often by no means scrupulously clean in hands, nails, ears, and teeth, is often distinctly greedy, and sometimes far from truthful.
That cleanliness and virtue are acquired and not innate is obvious enough from the fact that children who grow up among dirty and unprincipled people are rarely clean and virtuous. Were it possible for the child of refined parents to grow up without example or precept in relation to table manners and morals, except the example and advice of vulgar people, who would expect refinement and consideration from him? Is there anyone who has such faith in innate refinement that he would be content to let a child of his own, grow up without a hint on these matters, and with such example only as was supplied by association with vulgar people? Yet this is precisely what we do in relation to the subject of personal purity. The child has no good example to guide him. The extent to which temptation comes to those whom he respects, the manner in which they comport themselves when tempted, the character of their sex relations are entirely hidden from him. He is not only without example, he is without precept. No ideals are set before him, no advice is given to him: the very existence of anything in which ideals and advice are needful is ignored.
If in conditions like these we should expect a boy to grow up greedy, we may be certain that he will grow up impure. At puberty there awakes within him by far the strongest appetite that human nature can experience—an appetite against which some of the noblest of mankind have striven in vain. The appetite is given abnormal strength by the artificial and stimulating conditions under which he lives. The act which satisfies this appetite is also one of keen pleasure. He has long been accustomed to caress his private parts, and the pleasure with which he does this is greatly enhanced. He does not suspect that indulgence is harmful. This pleasure, unlike that of eating, costs him nothing, and is ever available. His powers of self-control are as yet undeveloped. He can indulge himself without incurring the least suspicion. He probably knows that most boys, of his age and above, indulge themselves. The result is inevitable. He finds that sexual thoughts are keenly pleasurable, and that they produce bodily exaltation. He has much yet to learn on the subject of sex, and he enjoys the quest. Wherever he turns he finds it now—in his Bible, in animal life, in his classics, in the encyclopædia, in his companions, and in the newspaper. Day and night the subject is ever with him. It is inevitable. And at this juncture comes along the theorist who is aghast at our destroying the lad's "innocence," and at our "suggesting evils to him which otherwise he would never have thought of." "The boy's innate modesty is quite a sufficient protection"!
To me the wonderful thing is the earnestness with which a boy sets about the task of cleansing his life when once he has been made to realise the real character of the thoughts and acts with which he has been playing. Boys, as I find them, rarely err in this matter, or in any other, from moral perversity, but merely from ignorance and thoughtlessness. Severe rebukes and punishments are rarely either just or useful. The disposition which obliges the teacher to use them in the last resort, and the rebellion against authority which is said to follow puberty, arise almost invariably from injudicious training in the home or at school. Boys who have received a fair home training, and who find themselves in a healthy atmosphere at school, are almost invariably delightful to deal with; and even those who have been less fortunate in their early surroundings adapt themselves in most cases to the standards which a healthy public opinion in the school demands.
It may be thought that the mere reticence of adults about reproduction and the reproductive organs would impress the child's mind with the idea that it is unclean to play with his private parts or to talk about their functions with his companions. This is a psychological error. For some years past adults have avoided any allusion to the subject of excretion, and the child assumes that public attention to bodily needs and public reference to these needs are alike indelicate. He does not, however, conclude that excretion in private is an indelicate act, nor does any sense of delicacy oblige him to maintain, with regard to companions of his own sex and age, the reticence which has become habitual to him in his relations with adults. Why should the child think it "dirty" to fondle and excite his private parts or to talk about them with his boy friends? The knowledge which makes us feel as we do is as yet hidden from him.
The same thing is certainly true of conversation about the facts of reproduction when those who converse are uncorrupted. Another element, however, at once appears when these facts are divulged by a corrupt boy, because his manner is irresistibly suggestive of uncleanness as well as of secrecy. Similarly when self-abuse is fallen into spontaneously by a boy who is otherwise clean, no sense of indecency attaches itself to the act. When, however, it is taught by an unclean boy, there is a feeling of defilement from the first. In boys under the age of puberty this feeling may overpower the temptation; in boys above that age it is, as a rule, totally inadequate as a safeguard.
Many people imagine that a boy who is impure must betray himself, and that if no overt acts of indecency are observed the innocence of a boy's mind may be safely inferred. Knowledge on these subjects has, however, been almost invariably gained under conditions of the utmost secrecy, and the behaviour of adults has effectively fostered the idea of concealment. Hence we might expect that the secret would be jealously guarded and that any overt act of impurity would be avoided in the presence of adults with even greater circumspection than the public performance of an excretory act. The habit of self-abuse, moreover, is practised usually under the double cover of darkness and the bed-clothes. The temptation occurs far less by day than by night, and a boy who yields to it in the day invariably chooses a closet or other private place in which he feels secure from detection.
To many people it is inconceivable that a lad can harbour impure feelings and habits without obvious deterioration; but even if a child's lapses into these things were associated with conscious guilt, does our knowledge of human nature justify us in supposing that evil in the heart is certain to betray itself in a visible degradation of the outer life? If we believe the language of the devout, we must admit that the most spiritual of men hide in their heart thoughts of which they are heartily ashamed. It is not into the mouth of the reprobate but into the mouth of her devoted members as they enter upon their sacramental service that the Church puts the significant prayer, "Almighty God, unto whom all hearts be open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid; Cleanse the thoughts in our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit." Inconsistency in adults is far too well recognised to need proof. In children it is even more obvious, and for this reason that, looked at aright, it is the faculty of maintaining the general health of the soul, spite of local morbid conditions—a faculty which is strongest in the simpler and more adaptable mind of the child.
Impurity as a disease has a long incubation period. When he contracts the disease, its victim is often wholly unconscious of his danger; and, both because the disease is an internal one and is slow in development, it is a very long time before obvious symptoms appear. Meanwhile a corruption may have set in which will ultimately ruin the whole life.