It is difficult to exaggerate the evils which result from the present system under which boys grow to manhood without any adult guidance in relation to the laws of sex.

It has already been stated that the immediate physical results of self-abuse are small evils indeed compared with the corruption of mind which comes from perverted sex ideas. They are, however, by no means negligible; and are, in some cases, very serious. The great prevalence of self-abuse among boys, combined with the inevitable uncertainty as to the degree of a boy's freedom from, or indulgence in, this vice, makes it very difficult to institute a reliable comparison between those who are chaste and those who are unchaste. Greater significance attaches, I think, to a comparison in individual cases of a boy's condition during a period of indulgence in masturbation and his condition after its total, or almost total, relinquishment. I have no hesitation in saying that the difference in a boy's vitality and spiritual tone after relinquishing this habit is very marked. The case D quoted in Chapter I. is, in this respect, typical.

In my pamphlet, Private Knowledge for Boys, I have quoted a striking passage from Acton on the Reproductive Organs, in which he contrasts the continent and the incontinent boy. But in the case of men like Dr. Acton—specialists in the diseases of the male reproductive organs—it must be remembered that it is mostly the abnormal and extreme cases which come under their notice: a fact which is liable to affect their whole estimate. The book can be recommended to adults who wish to see the whole subject of sex diseases dealt with by a specialist who writes with a high moral purpose.

My own estimate is given in the pamphlet already referred to. After quoting Dr. Acton's opinion, I add:—

"You will notice that Dr. Acton is here describing an extreme case. I want to tell you what are the results in a case which is not extreme. My difficulty is that these results are so various. The injury to the nerves and brain which is caused by sexual excitement and by the loss of semen leaves nothing in the body, mind or character uninjured. The extent of the injury varies greatly with the strength of a boy's constitution and with the frequency of his sin. The character of the injury varies with the boy's own special weaknesses and tendencies. If he is naturally shy and timid, it makes him shyer and more timid. If he is stupid and lazy, it makes him more stupid and lazy. If he is inclined to consumption or other disease, it destroys his power of resisting such disease. In extreme cases only does it actually change an able boy into a stupid one, an athletic boy into a weak one, and a happy boy into a discontented one; but in all cases it weakens every power a boy possesses. Its most prominent results are these: loss of will-power and self-reliance, shyness, nervousness and irritability, failure of the reasoning powers and memory, laziness of body and mind, a diseased fondness for girls, deceitfulness. Of these results, the loss of will-power leaves the boy a prey not only to the temptations of impurity, but to every other form of temptation: the deceitfulness destroys his self-respect and turns his life into a sham."

Of incomparably greater importance than Acton's wide but abnormal experience and my own narrow but normal experience is the experience of Dr. Clement Dukes, which is very wide and perfectly normal. No man has probably been in so good a position for forming an estimate as he has been. Dr. Dukes thus sums up his opinion: "The harm which results is moral, intellectual, and physical. Physically it is a frequent drain at a critical time of life when nature is providing for growth and development, and is ill able to bear it; it is a powerful nervous shock to the system ill-prepared to meet it.... It also causes muscular and mental debility, loss of spirit and manliness, and occasional insanity, suicide and homicide. Moreover it leads to further uncontrollable passions in early manhood.... Further, this vice enfeebles the intellectual powers, inducing lethargy and obtuseness, and incapacity for hard mental work. And last, and most of all, it is an immorality which stains the whole character and undermines the life."

In this passage Dr. Dukes refers to the intellectual and moral harm of self-abuse as well as to its physical consequences. Intimately connected as these are with one another, I am here attempting to give them separate treatment. It is, however, impossible to treat perverted sex-knowledge and self-abuse separately; for though in young boys they are found independently of one another, and sometimes co-exist in elder boys without any intimate conscious association, their results are identical. In the following pages, therefore, I shall refer to them jointly as impurity.

The earliest evil which springs from impurity is the destruction of the intimacy which has hitherto existed between the boy and his parents. Closely associated with this is that duplicity of life which results from secrets which may be shared with the coarse but must be jealously concealed from everyone who is respected. Untold harm follows these changes in a lad. Hitherto he has had nothing to conceal from his mother—unless, indeed, his parents have been foolish enough to drive him into deception by undue severity over childish mistakes, and accidents, and moral lapses. Every matter which has occupied his thoughts he has freely shared with those who can best lead him into the path of moral health.

Henceforth all is changed. The lad has his own inner life which he must completely screen from the kind eyes which have hitherto been his spiritual lights. Concealment is soon found to be an easy thing. Acts and words are things of which others may take cognisance; the inner life no one can ever know. A world is opened to the lad in which the restraints of adult opinion are not felt at all and the guidance and inspiration of a father's or mother's love never come. How completely this is the case in regard to impurity the reader will hardly doubt if he remembers that all parents believe their boys to be innocent, and that some 90 per cent. of them are hopelessly hoodwinked. But this double life is not long confined to the subject of purity. The concealment which serves one purpose excellently can be made to serve another; and henceforth parents and adult friends need never know anything but what they are told. It is a sad day for the mother when first she realises that the old frankness has gone; it is a very, very much sadder day for the boy. There is no fibre of his moral being but is, or will be, injured by this divorce of home influences and by this ever-accumulating burden of guilty memories. "His mother may not know why this is so," writes Canon Lyttelton; "the only thing she may be perfectly certain of is that the loss will never be quite made up as long as life shall last."

Another injury done by impurity to the growing mind of the lad is that, in all matters relating to sex, he learns to look merely for personal enjoyment. In every other department of life he is moved by a variety of motives: by the desire to please, the desire to excel, by devotion to duty, by the love of truth, and by many other desires. Even in gratifying the appetite most nearly on the same plane as the sexual appetite—namely, that of hunger—he has more or less regard for his own well-being, more or less consideration for the wishes of others, and a constant desire to attain the standard expected of him. Meanwhile, as regards the sexual appetite—the racial importance of which is great; and the regulation of which is of infinite importance for himself, for those who may otherwise become its victims, for the wife he may one day wed, and for the children, legitimate or illegitimate, that he may beget—his one idea is personal enjoyment. One deplorable result of this idea will be adverted to in the next chapter.

When boyish impurity involves a coarse way of looking at sexual relations, as it always must when these are matters of common talk and jest, the boy suffers a loss which prejudicially affects the whole tone of his mind and every department of his conduct—I mean the loss of reverence. It is those things alone which are sacred to us, those things about which we can talk only with friends, and about which we can jest with no one, that have inspiration in them, that can give us power to follow our ideals and to lay a restraining hand on the brute within us. Fortunately the self-control which manifests itself in heroism, in good form, and in the sportsmanlike spirit is sacred to almost all. To most, a mother's love is sacred. To many, all that is implied in the word religion. To a few, sexual passion and the great manifestations of human genius in poetry, music, painting, sculpture, and architecture. Exactly in proportion as these things are profaned by jest and mockery, is the light of the soul quenched and man degraded to the level of the beast. Considering how large a part the sex-passion plays in the lives of most men and women; considering how it permeates the literature and art of the World and is—as the basis of the home—the most potent factor in social life, its profanation is a terrible loss, and the habit of mind which such profanation engenders cannot fail to weaken the whole spirit of reverence. I must confess that the man who jests over sex relations is to me incomparably lower than the man who sustains clean but wholly illegitimate sex relations; and while I am conscious of a strong movement of friendship towards a lad who has admitted impurity in his life but retains reverence for purity, it is hard to feel anything but repulsion towards one who profanes the subject of sex with coarse and ribald talk.

As a result of the two evils of which I have now spoken, together with the physical effects of masturbation, young men become powerless to face the sexual temptations of manhood; and many, who in all other relations of life are admirable, sink in this matter into the mire of prostitution or the less demoralising, but far crueller, sin of seduction.

Thrown on the streets, usually through no fault of her own, often merely from an over-trustful love, the prostitute sinks to the lowest depths of degradation and despair. It is not merely that she sells to every comer, clean or bestial, without even the excuse of appetite or of passion, what should be yielded alone to love; but it is also that to do this she poisons body and mind with spirit-drinking, leads a life of demoralising indolence and self-indulgence, is cut off from all decent associations, and sinks, under the combined influence of these things and of fell disease, into a loathsome creature whom not the lowest wants; sinks into destitution, misery, suicide, or the outcast's early grave. Writing of the young man who is familiar with London, the Headmaster of Eton says: "He cannot fail to see around him a whole world of ruined life—a ghastly varnish of gaiety spread over immeasurable tracts of death and corruption; a state of things so heart-rending and so hopeless that on calm consideration of it the brain reels, and sober-minded people who, from motives of pity, have looked the hideous evil in the face, have asserted that nothing in their experience has seemed to threaten them so nearly with a loss of reason."

Into the contamination of this inferno, into active support of this cruel infamy, many and many a young man is led by the impurity of his boyhood. Such at least is the conclusion of some who know boys best. Thus Dr. Dukes writes:

"This evil, of which I have spoken so long and so freely, is, I believe, the root of the evil of prostitution and similar vices; and if this latter evil is to be mitigated, it can only be, to my mind, by making the life of the schoolboy purer.

"How is it possible to put a stop to this terrible social evil? How is it possible to elevate women while the demand for them for base purposes is so great? We must go to the other end of the scale and make men better; we must train young boys more in purity of life and chastity BEFORE their passions become uncontrollable.

"Whereas the cry of every moralist and philanthropist is, 'Let us put a stop to this prostitution, open and clandestine.' This cannot be effected at present, much as it is to be desired; the demand for it is too great, even possibly greater than the supply. If we wish to eradicate it, we must go to the fountainhead and make those who create the demand purer, so that, the demand falling off, the supply will be curtailed."[C]

[C] The Preservation of Health, p. 161.

To this I venture to add that by teaching chastity we not merely decrease the demand for prostitutes, but we greatly diminish the supply. Few girls, if any, take to the streets until they have been seduced; and the antecedents of seduction are the morbid exaggeration of the sexual appetite, the lack of self-control, and the selfish hedonism which youthful impurity engenders.

The selfishness, and consequent blindness to cruelty, of which I write, manifests itself quite early. A boy of chivalrous feeling, whose blood would boil at any other form of outrage on a girl, will read a newspaper account of rape or indecent assault with a pleasure so intense that indignation and disgust are quite crowded out of his mind.

If, repelled by the coarseness of the streets, the young man allows lust or passion to lead him into seduction, he commits a crime the consequences of which are usually cruel in the extreme; for in most cases the seduced girl sinks of necessity into prostitution. So blind, so callous does impurity make even the refined and generous, that many a young man who can be a good son, a good brother, a noble friend, a patriotic citizen, will doom a girl whose only fault is that she is physically attractive—and possibly too affectionate and trusting—to torturing anxiety, to illness, to the horrible suffering of undesired travail, to disgrace, and in nineteen cases out of twenty to ostracism and the infamy of the streets. Murder is a small thing compared with this. Who would not rather that his daughter were killed in her innocence than that she should be doomed to such a fate?

Many young men are ignorant of the fact that sexual relations with prostitutes frequently result in the foulest and most terrible of diseases. Venereal diseases, as these are called, commence in the private parts themselves, but the poison which they engender soon attacks other parts of the body and often wrecks the general health. It gives rise to loathsome skin disease, to degeneration of the nervous system and paralysis, to local disease in the heart, lungs, and digestive organs, and to such lowering of vitality as renders the body an easy prey to disease generally. No one is justified in looking upon this risk as a matter of merely private concern. Health is of supreme importance not merely to the personal happiness and success of the man himself, but also to the services he can render to his friends, to his nation, and to humanity. Even if a young man is foolish enough to risk his happiness and success for the sake of animal enjoyment, he cannot without base selfishness and disloyalty disregard the duties he owes to others. Further, the man who suffers from venereal disease is certain to pass its poison on to his wife and children—cursing thus with unspeakable misery those whom of all others it is his duty to protect and bless.

One cannot help feeling at times that the blessings of home—and of the monogamy which makes home possible—are terribly discounted by a condition of things which offer a young man no other alternatives to chastity than these terrible evils. Now that year by year the rising standard of living and the increased exactions which the State makes on the industrious and provident cause marriage to be a luxury too expensive for many, and delayed unduly for most, the problem of social purity becomes ever greater and more urgent. The instruction of the young in relation to sex provides the only solution, and is, I venture to think, incomparably the most important social reform now needed.

I am confident that a boy who receives wise training and sex guidance from his early days will never find lust the foul and uncontrollable element which it is to-day in the lives of most men; that in a few generations our nation could be freed from the seething corruption which poisons its life; and that, while freer scope could be given to the ineffable joys of pure sexual love, very much could be done to diminish the awful misery and degradation engendered by lust.

If children had from their infancy an instinctive and growing desire for alcohol, with secret and unrestrained means of gratifying it; if by its indulgence this desire grew into an overmastering craving; if throughout childhood they received no word of warning or guidance from the good, but were tempted and corrupted by the evil, we should have a nation in which most men and women were drunkards, ready to break all laws—human and divine—which stood in the way of an imperious need; a nation in which, among those who declined to yield to iniquity, the craving for drink caused unceasing and life-long struggle.

On the young man of to-day we lay a burden which no ordinary man was ever yet able to bear. His boyhood and youth become, through ignorance, the prey of lust; his passions become tyrannous; his will is enslaved. Even if he contracts marriage, his troubles are not at an end, for man, as an animal, is neither monogamous nor wholly constant. His neglected sex-education makes him far more susceptible to physical attractions than to those qualities which make a wife a good companion, a good housekeeper, and a good mother; and but too often, as a result, the beneficent influence of marriage is transient; the domestic atmosphere ceases to be congenial; both husband and wife become susceptible to other attachments, and the old struggle begins all over again.

Prev | Next | Contents