From Manhood and Marriage by Bernarr Macfadden, 1916.
MASTURBATION, also commonly known as “self-abuse,” is the greatest of all sexual evils, not only because of its widespread practice, and the opportunity for excesses, but especially because of the fact that it generally works its harm during the period of growth, when the results of any sexual mistake or abuse are far more serious than they would be in adult life.
The habit is injurious at any time of life, however, owing to the drain upon the constitution and the weakening or exhaustion of the nerve centers which it involves. It is truly an outrage upon the body — to such an extent that the effects are not only physical but moral or psychic as well. The mind and soul of the victim seem to be tainted at the same time that the body is weakened and sexual power impaired by this degrading practice.
Masturbation is often thought to be more harmful to boys than to girls, because of the direct drain upon the resources of the body in the case of the male through the loss of the seminal fluid. But when one considers the havoc wrought upon the more delicate nervous systems of young women it is not always so certain that they suffer less seriously from the practice than do young men.
Naturally the injury that results from this particular evil is influenced, to a very large ex-tent, by two factors : first, the general vital vigor of the victim, and, second, by the effects on the whole physical fabric. For instance if one is what might be termed “high strung,” possesses a delicately-adjusted and keenly-sensitive nervous system, the effects of a habit of this sort would be far greater than in those who might be de-scribed as phlegmatic in temperament. The phlegmatic temperament is usually protected by superior vitality, but, also by less inclination to indulge in a habit of this sort. Therefore, it might be said that the more ability one possesses, the more alert and keen one’s mental capacity, the greater would be the inclination towards a habit of this sort and the greater would be the harm wrought by its indulgence.
We must also fully admit that the injury resulting there from is very greatly increased because of the usual inclination to worry about it. The mind and body act and react upon each other. The after effects of indulgence of this sort are strongly inclined towards mental. perturbation and’ undoubtedly this tendency has been created as a means of self-protection from the evil, tending naturally to lessen gradually its practice.
Because of the almost universal prevalence of this evil the subject is one to which the closest attention should be given by every one, and especially by parents and educators. It is a possibility in the life of every child, boy or girl, and it is therefore imperative that parents should guard against it, not only by keeping in close touch with their children, but also by gaining and keeping their confidence and warning them of the physical and mental injury that follows self-abuse.
Owing to the secret character of the practice it is impossible to make any definite statements as to the extent to which it is carried on. Many writers of authority have even asserted that among boys the habit is universal. One investigator has said that out of every hundred men ninety-nine have masturbated at one time or another, and the hundredth is a liar. Such a statement is of course the utterance of an extremist. It may not be very far from the truth, but the situation is bad enough without exaggeration. That this secret vice has been practiced by the majority of young men to some extent, at one time or another, there seems to be no doubt. Various careful students have estimated that any-where from seventy-five to ninety-five per cent. of young men have thus defiled themselves, some of them perhaps only for a short time, and to a moderate extent, and others excessively and for long periods. In most cases the practice is commenced in utter ignorance of the harm that may result from it, and when the victim learns that it is injurious and vicious he either stops it, or tries to stop it. In the latter case his struggle against it checks its frequency, and in that way mitigates its evil effects.
Girls are by no means free from the practice, though it is far less common among them, careful students having placed the percentage of those who indulge in it at anywhere from ten to twenty. It may be much more than this, however, owing to the greater secrecy of women in matters of this kind, and the consequent difficulty of obtaining information.
Prudery is undoubtedly one of the chief causes of masturbation, and it does not assume a merely negative role; for it not only keeps the young in ignorance of the harmfulness of the habit, but throws around the whole subject of sex an atmosphere of mystery which serves actively to stimulate the curiosity and interest of the child in this department of life, thereby making him only too ready to be initiated into practices of this kind at the first opportunity.
There is no doubt that the habit is most frequently begun through initiation by vicious or ignorant associates. It may be the stable boy, or the minister’s son, or any of the companions of the school playground. Occasionally it is a stupid, ignorant servant, possibly even a servant girl. The habit spreads as though it were some form of contagion. One learns it from another who has in turn been introduced to it by some one else.
Children are almost invariably ignorant of the fact that they are doing any real wrong, or injuring themselves, when commencing this habit. If the parents had their confidence and had warned them of the danger, they would be protected, to a great extent, against such influences. There is at the present time a considerable number of people who object to the teaching of sex hygiene in the schools, or even elsewhere, on the theory that knowledge alone is not sufficient to prevent wrong doing of this character. That may be true in some instances. Knowledge might not be sufficient in all cases; but it would give the child or youth a fighting chance, and that is something which the secrecy and mystery in which this subject is now involved do not give him. The world is full of young men and women suffering from the weaknesses and mental tortures that follow excessive early indiscretions, and crying out, “If I only had known, if I only had known.” I don’t know how many thousands of letters I have received from men and women appealing for help, most of them explaining the manner in which they commenced this habit, and stating, in practically all cases, that they had no idea that it was injurious. The secrecy regarding sex subjects maintained by their elders had been such that they had had no chance to learn that it was wrong.
It may be true, as respectable, prudish people insist, that knowledge alone is not sufficient to prevent these vices in all cases. But I note that knowledge alone is often sufficient to enable the victim to break the habit, and it is far more difficult to break a habit than to avoid forming it. It is certainly true that character building and religious training count for a great deal in matters of this kind, but Sunday school children, and even adult ministers, preaching the Gospel from the pulpit each Sunday, are sometimes addicted to this habit, often contracted through ignorance. Several State Sunday School Associations now have a Department of Purity,’ and by means of literature, addresses, and conferences are disseminating this much needed knowledge. The value of character building and ethical teaching does not alter the fact that knowledge in itself is both desirable and necessary. What would we think of sending our children to walk blindfolded through a wood filled with pitfalls and quick-sands? Yet that is just what we do in keeping from them the knowledge that is so necessary to their self-preservation. It is prudery that is chiefly at fault.
Sometimes this habit is not acquired from others, but is commenced accidentally, or as a result of curiosity as may be observed in monkeys. Not rarely it is due to some irritation or itching of the parts concerned, which is directly due to lack of cleanliness. If strict cleanliness of these parts is maintained, the young boy or girl will usually be unconscious of their existence, unless attention is drawn to them through outside influences. But even when the habit is commenced for such reasons as these it is still ignorance, and the prudery back of ignorance, that is chiefly at fault.
This question of genital cleanliness is one that is still greatly neglected, even by many who are more or less refined in most other things. The hygienic requirements of the body in this matter should be taught to every child very early in life. Physicians having much experience with genitourinary disorders testify to the fact that cleanliness is still far from being universal, or even general. It would seem almost incredible that such should be true in any civilized country where soap and water are matters of course. The neglect of this important detail of the toilet is sometimes such as to remind one of the filth of the religious ascetics of the dark ages, and often is of similar origin. One Sunday-school teacher, found by his physician to be a frightful offender in this respect, said that he regarded it as sinful to handle or bother about these parts. Even in bathing! The local use of plenty of soap and water is effective in preventing irritation of these parts, and when there is inflammation that makes them sensitive to soap a solution of boric acid will be found a good cleansing and antiseptic agent.
The age at which masturbation is most commonly practiced is between puberty and maturity, although it may be found at almost any time of life. It is carried on by many men and by some women through adult life. It is sometimes begun in early childhood, and even in infancy, usually as the result of irritation. The coming of puberty, however, with the rapid development of the reproductive system and the sex instinct, is the most dangerous period, and it is in the few years following this change that the habit is most weakening, because of the drain on the seminal fluid. Abuses that might be tolerated by an adult with comparatively little inconvenience would at the time of puberty or a little later, be sufficient to wreck the constitution.
The harmful results of masturbation are two-fold in character, the habit being, first, destructive to the sexual function itself, and, second, debilitating to the constitution. In other words, the habit is unsexing on the one hand, and on the other hand tends to undermine the strength of the body generally. It would be hard to say that either form of weakness precedes the other, for cases vary ; as a rule the two results go side by side.
To just what extent is masturbation injurious?
There has been so much difference of opinion expressed upon this point by various writers that even those of my readers who have read much upon the subject will be anxious to get a fairly clear idea of the truth of the matter.
In the first place, there is no question that the harmfulness of the practice was greatly exaggerated by the early writers, and there is no doubt that some of the more recent writers have drawn their conclusions from the statements made by the former. On the other hand, there are many writers of the present time who go to the opposite extreme in declaring that masturbation does little or no harm in most cases.
Both of these extremes are wrong. The fact that a man may survive an experience does not mean that it has been good for him, or without bad effects.
Many writers of the present time are undoubtedly doing much harm by belittling the effects of self-abuse. They have so much to say about the exaggerations of the early writers that the reader is likely to get the impression that the habit is not so injurious after all, and therefore does not try to break it. I quite agree that the alarmist view is not usually desirable, because it sets up a train of worry in the mind of the young man or woman which only aggravates the trouble and makes the struggle against it harder. But at the same time it is foolish to give the impression that the practice is of little importance, or to say that nearly every one has been addicted to it and that most of them have survived with good health and functions unimpaired.
The fact is that masturbation is always detrimental, even in the most moderate degree, and when carried far is extremely destructive. If not commenced until after mature years have been arrived at the results will be less serious. Unfortunately, however, it is practiced, in dearly all cases, before the age of eighteen years, more-often from fourteen to sixteen, and sometimes it is kept up from the age of twelve or fourteen until marriage—occasionally even after that. It is really true that when practiced extensively in the early years of youth the results are often almost serious enough to justify the horrible pen pictures painted by the sensational and exaggerating writers of a generation ago. And even in adult life it is sufficiently debilitating, robbing a man of his bodily energies, his mental strength, his spirit and his ambition, besides weakening the sex function itself and inducing a condition of general unfitness for marriage. It is a serious matter even in adult life.
The great consideration to keep in mind is that the harm depends very largely upon the extent to which, and the length of time during which the practice has been carried on. Fortunately, as I have said, many break the habit as soon as they learn its serious character. In other cases, it may have taken such a hold as to be very difficult to break, but by continually struggling against it the frequency with which the practice is indulged in may be so reduced as to lessen the harm done. In many such cases the habit is finally broken only after two or three years of fighting against it.
It is well to remember, also, that some constitutions seem to be much stronger than others in this respect and can stand far more abuse, just as some men can tolerate more alcohol and tobacco without showing the immediate effects, even though these poisons are continually injuring them. There are some who claim that masturbation never did them any harm. The man who feels this way about it was probably gifted by nature with prodigious sexual strength. But I do not think this can ever be truthfully said. I cannot agree with those who hold that it is only the excess that is harmful. This practice is injurious no matter with what moderation it may be indulged in, just as alcohol and tobacco, even in small quantities, are harmful, in spite of the fact that the user may not be able to see the effect immediately.
The fact is that masturbation is always weakening and devitalizing, either in youth or in adult life. It is a process of accomplishing gradually what castration accomplishes suddenly. It means the slow undermining of manhood and all that goes with it. That the harm is often exaggerated is doubtless true, but in view of the fact that the practice, when carried far enough, utterly unfits a man for marriage and for life, any attempt to minimize its seriousness may be criminally misleading. The fact that the victim may still be able to dress himself and walk about and eat does not necessarily mean that he is a man. It does not indicate that he has not been harmed. The results may range in different cases all the way from nocturnal seminal losses and varicocele down to complete impotence. Let the young man who finds himself hopelessly impotent ask some of these physicians what they mean by saying that the habit is not especially harmful.
What is known as “prematurity,” or precipitate ejaculation, a condition which is nearly as serious as complete impotence in disqualifying the victim for marriage, is one of the most common of the results of masturbation in men. There are, of course, various degrees of prematurity, ranging from a mild case, to an extreme sensitiveness or “hair trigger” condition, in which the ejaculation- may take place upon slight excitement, or even before attempting the relationship. More or less prematurity is invariably the result when masturbation has been practiced to any material extent. In women the most frequent result is to delay the orgasm, perhaps through lessened sensitiveness. In some cases it also leads to prematurity in women. Impotence, too, may be the result in both sexes, or complete absence of any sexual desire.
Masturbation tends to exhaust the nerve-centers of the spine. It also produces such a congestion of the various organs and glands of the reproductive system, and taxes their strength to such an extent as to cause varicocele, prostate enlargement, urethral inflammation, especially of the posterior urethra, possible atrophy of the testicles or other parts, seminal losses and other special disorders which will be taken up thoroughly in later chapters.
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.
The personal appearance does not, however, always indicate addiction to this habit, contrary to the statements of some of the old writers. When the individual has inherited extraordinary vitality, his natural strength may enable him to endure considerable abuse without showing it externally, so that we cannot, as a rule, judge by appearances. There has been much said about the masturbator’s face, which the keen observer is supposed to read like the page of an open book, and also about the masturbator’s walk; but there are thousands of cases in which there is no indication of the habit, either in face or walk. There are some men who are actually impotent, but who yet retain a healthy, good appearance, so far as the face is concerned. Only in a test of athletic strength, or trial of nerves, would they be likely to show plainly the effect of their condition.
Much has been said about the relation of acne, or pimples, to this habit. While this condition is a frequent result, yet it is not always a true indication. The natural character of the skin has much to do with acne, and persons with clear, smooth skins are often great offenders in this respect. Persons having naturally oily skins are most likely to be afflicted with pimples and black-heads, which are commonly found on the face and shoulders, these being the parts of the body where the sebaceous glands are more plentiful. The so-called “flesh worm” of the blackhead 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. Also cold water and ice, because they contract or close the pores, are useful. Warm or hot water opens them, and should be avoided generally.
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 weak and the vital functions impaired, it is easy to develop these pimples. Now, masturbation, of course, tends to derange the internal functions, weakening digestion and otherwise impairing the quality of the blood, so that pimples are likely to occur:
In other words, acne is often found upon the face, shoulders, chest and back of masturbators as a symptom of lowered vitality but 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 long time may indicate nothing wrong.
The nervous results of this habit are serious, being in the case of many women victims, the most pronounced of all. Neurasthenia frequently follows, and failing memory and brain fag are commonly experienced. After the habit has been broken there will be a gradual recovery from these conditions, but so long as one suffers from excessive night losses or spermatorrhea one will continue to feel these effects of nervous depletion.
The question of insanity resulting from masturbation is one that particularly requires attention, inasmuch as all the old writers on the subject had a great deal to say about it. Also, book-lets published by quack doctors for the purpose of scaring their victims into giving up their money, so misrepresent the dangers of insanity from this cause that the truth should be told with all possible emphasis. And the truth is, according to extensive scientific investigations, that no one needs to worry about going insane as a result of this habit. The evil is bad enough without making it worse. Any number of terrified per-sons have written me agonizing letters, imploring me, “for God’s sake,” to save them from the mad-house, to which they were convinced their trouble was driving them.
Now, just to know that masturbation does not cause insanity will relieve the minds of thousands of a fear which is sometimes one of its worst results, for in many cases the mental tortures of the victim who feels himself threatened with loss of reason, are infinitely more injurious to him than the direct physical results of the habit itself.
A great deal of scientific study has been given to this subject of insanity, with encouraging results. The fact is that there is no danger of any one’s going insane from ordinary causes unless he comes from a family in which there has been insanity, and which is characterized by an hereditary weakness of the nervous make-up predisposing toward mental disorders. It used to be said that men went insane from overwork, or from grief, but this actually does not happen in the case of one with a normal nervous constitution. If it were true, millions of us would be insane. Shock or grief, or nerve-strain from overwork, might possibly be the “active” or “exciting” cause of insanity in the case of one having an inherited tendency toward it, but even then it is more likely that the determining factor would be found in alcohol or some real destructive influence. Shock or grief certainly would have no such effect upon a normal man. The “moving picture” scenes in which persons are represented as “going mad,” or “losing their reason,” from any old cause, are unpardonably false and silly. Even when one has an inherited susceptibility, insanity can be avoided by, keeping the blood pure, and living a life that will keep the nerves healthy and strong.
When insanity is not induced by heredity it results from the effect of poisons upon the body and brain, or from injuries to the head. Most in-sanity is directly due to the destruction of brain cells through poisoning. The alcohol poison, for instance, is to blame for one-fourth or more of all cases to be found in the asylums. Habit-forming drugs are often responsible. A large percentage of criminals also are drug-fiends, when they are not alcoholic. The poison of syphilis is another cause of insanity, producing paresis or general paralysis, popularly known as “softening of the brain.” In a similar way the poisons of other diseases sometimes affect the brain.
Feeble-mindedness is sometimes the aftermath of scarlet fever or other childhood infection.
I have, gone to the trouble of explaining all this about insanity simply to show that masturbation is not a factor in producing this condition, as it was once thought to be, and to convince you, if you are one of those who have been losing sleep and undermining your health in the fear of in-sanity, that you can dismiss this worry, at least, from your mind. I want you to understand that the mental symptoms I have mentioned, brain fag, poor memory, inability to concentrate and all, that sort of thing, are purely neurasthenic symptoms, and not evidences of approaching insanity. They simply mean a lack of energy, impoverished blood, a depleted condition of the system, and nothing more.
There is one somewhat misleading fact that has probably had much to do with the belief that masturbation leads to madness. This is the prevalence of the vice among the feeble-minded and the insane. They lack all sense of restraint, and many of them are inclined to indulge in the practice immoderately. We should recognize in such cases that the mental defect is the cause of the habit, instead of supposing that the habit is the cause of the mental defect. It was easy for the old writers to confuse cause and effect.
Another important point. If you are afraid you are going insane it is a sure sign that you are not. Among the certain tests of insanity is the absolute conviction of the patient that he is sane.
If one thinks that he is insane, or is afraid of insanity, he is probably neurasthenic, but it is a pretty safe conclusion that he is not even in danger of insanity. I especially want to make this point clear because worrying about these things is one of the greatest difficulties that the victim of this habit has to contend with. If you are one of this class, you may just as well stop worrying right now on these points.
Practically the same thing applies to locomotor ataxia and other extreme conditions. Locomotor ataxia, like paresis, is usually a result of syphilis. There are some good authorities who still hold that masturbation or sexual excess in exceptional and extreme cases may cause paralysis or locomotor ataxia, and it is possible that these conditions might result from the exhaustion of the nerve-centers of the spine. In many cases those who have abused themselves complain of aches and pains in the spine, which, perhaps indicate the partial breaking down of the nerve-centers, but paralysis and similar disorders, if possible at all, would result only from extreme and pro-longed abuse of this kind.
Remember that the general bodily effect of masturbation is debility, which naturally affects all organs and functions. It is true that masturbation is actually the cause of death in many cases, but it is because the system has been under-mined so that the sufferer becomes an easy victim of tuberculosis or any other disease which may come along. There is no doubt that this habit is the predisposing cause of death in thousands of cases in which the death certificate by the physician names some specific disease.
The important question is, how may the habit be conquered? Following that comes the question, how may one overcome the weakness resulting from it. For we shall have to deal not only with the actual habit, but with the various disorders of the generative system which it leaves be-hind. To a large extent the same treatment that will be required to overcome the effects of the habit will also help one to fight against it and overcome it.
The remedial measures must be of a two-fold character, physical and mental. It would be hard to say which of these is the more important part of the treatment, for both are absolutely essential. One can do nothing without the proper mental attitude and the strengthening of the will that will make possible the rigid restraint it will be necessary to exercise. Habit is the strongest thing in the world, and when this practice has been continued for a long time it is just as well to make up your mind in the beginning that you have a hard fight on your hands, and possibly a long fight. It is a fight, however, in which others have won and in which you can win if you stick to it.
In the first place the building up of bodily vigor is imperative, not only for its own sake but also for the sake of the stronger mind that will result from it and which is necessary for the fight against this evil. Strength of will and mind, you will find, are difficult to develop in a poorly functioning body, with a deficient blood supply to the brain and a broken-down system of nerves. One should therefore do everything possible to cultivate bodily vigor and strength. The more nearly you can attain to a body perfectly developed in other respects, the more hope you may have of regaining your sexual strength. Take a pride in your body and its strength. Build yourself up as nearly as possible into the condition of an athlete, not only by special exercises such as I am describing in another chapter, but by various athletic activities in the open air that are suited to your strength and muscular powers.
Remember that the most effective way of building up any part of the body is to improve the quality of the blood and increase the circulation. It is for this reason that exercise and other measures that tend to build up the entire constitution are essential in overcoming the effects of self-abuse. However, I am going to take up this matter in detail in the later chapters on exercise and other factors in virility building.
The diet is important and should be non-stimulating in character. Meat and eggs should not’ be used too freely, and in some few difficult cases in which the assimilation is especially poor, it would be better to avoid them entirely. The red meats are especially stimulating and objectionable in some cases, although they may be helpful in a case of impotence. Fish and chicken are less pronounced in their effect, and may be used moderately. Not only alcoholic drinks, but even tea and coffee, should be avoided, and it is hardly necessary to say that pepper, hot sauces and condiments of all kinds are objectionable. This does not necessarily apply to salt. Uncooked foods, particularly fruits, green salads, nuts, buttermilk and other things that you can eat and en-joy raw should be used extensively in the diet.
It is also important to avoid any inclination toward constipation. There is no doubt that this is an important factor in many cases, accumulations in the colon naturally pressing upon the prostate and crowding the other structures in such a way as to produce excitement of the parts, or at least to increase it. Therefore the bowels should be kept open and regular. There should be no irritation of the parts through an over-distended colon.
So far as the mental treatment of masturbation is concerned, the first great requirement is to enter into the fight with the unfaltering determination that you are going to break the habit, and then stick to it until you have done so. The second essential is to stop worrying about it, and the third is to become so busy, filling your life with so many forms of mental activity, that the old habit will not have any chance to assert itself or to worry you. Your mind must be so occupied with other matters that there will be no opportunity for dwelling on licentious thoughts. The fourth requirement is to avoid being too much by yourself, and to cultivate the society of refined people just as much as you possibly can.
If the habit has taken a strong hold, you may be disappointed to find that in spite of your best resolutions you have been unable to escape from its bondage. This is a fairly common experience with those who have been addicted to this practice for a considerable time. They struggle with all their will power, restraining themselves for perhaps a considerable period, and then some day the force of the old habit may be too much for them and they “fall.” At least, the result of the struggle has been to make indulgence less frequent, and that is a great deal. But one should not be content with that. One should never stop fighting until the weakness has been mastered, finally and for all. Do not be discouraged if you should have occasional failures, but each time start out again with even greater determination than before to conquer the habit and to build up the physical strength and mental stamina that will make it easier for you to succeed.
Remember that each time you resist the inclination you are helping to form the habit of resistance. Each time you gain in the power to resist, and even though you may backslide occasionally, yet by continually resisting the impulse and fighting the good fight, you will gradually gain the strength of will that will enable you to stop the practice entirely. There are some who are able to break off once and for all in the very beginning. Make up your mind that you are going to be one of that class. But if you fail, don’t be discouraged; just fight all the harder.
Cultivate pride and self-respect. Hold up your head. Make others respect you. No mat-ter what your work may be, even if it is only study of some kind, make up your mind that you will do the best that can be done. In that way you will gain the respect of others as well as of yourself. The psychological effect of your attitude toward others is a tremendous factor. Anything that will tend to add to your sense of pride will help you powerfully.
Personal cleanliness is a tremendous aid in this particular respect. Cultivate even a fastidious attitude toward the cleanliness of your person and your 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. Try it out and you will see.
Many persons are so constituted that, the-manner in which they are dressed has a great deal to do with their mental attitude. As a rule the clothing need not be costly, but it should be kept clean and neat, free from spots of grease and not too much in need of pressing. Collars should he absolutely clean and fresh. It is true, however, that the better the clothes in respect to quality the better one feels in them. If you find that being well dressed as well as being clean is conducive to your sense of pride, then by all means cultivate the habit of dressing well. The psychology of clothes is always worth considering. Do every-thing possible—no matter what—to arouse your pride and self-respect. And especially, clothe your bones with a shapely and well-fitting muscular development. A good chest will do more than anything in the way of clothing to give you pride. If you cultivate a body that you can be proud of, you will be less inclined to abuse it.
Stop worrying and brooding over your trouble. Get your mind away from it. I have already explained that there is no danger of insanity, and that the mental symptoms are simply the result of the debility that naturally follows the loss of the chemically rich and highly vitalized fluids that should have been employed in building strength of brain and bone and muscle. You can absolutely depend upon it that as you tone up your vital organs and strengthen your body as a whole your mental powers will return to their full strength and you will gradually regain your sexual vigor.
So you can simply dismiss all these worries from your .mind and devote yourself heart and soul to the work of getting back your manhood. Forget the past. Live for the present and the future. Make up your mind what you intend to do in a business or professional way, determine to be a success in your chosen work, and then strive for it, forgetting your weakness and the causes of it. Let your thoughts be positive and constructive, and they will crowd out the brooding, gloomy fancies. It is true that it is easier to say “Stop worrying,” than to do it, but the way to do it is to fill your mind up with other things, so that the worry will simply drop out of sight and be forgotten. Let the dead past bury its dead. You are going to make a man of yourself in the best sense of the word, in every sense of the word, and let that determination satisfy you.
Mental activity is the greatest thing in the world by which to combat either this habit or any other. You cannot have too many interests to take up your time and attention. The one thing that will make success impossible is loafing. Idleness is the great insurmountable obstacle. If you have nothing to do, find something. In-activity will give your mind a chance either to dwell upon erotic thoughts or to worry about your condition, and both of these should be rig-idly avoided. Don’t be lazy. Do something! Do many things ! In the very first place, get out of bed with a jump the instant you wake up. Make it a habit. Don’t lie in bed for a while, even if it does feel soft and warm. If you are on the go from the time you wake up, you will be tired enough to sleep when you go to bed, so that you will have little time to lie awake.
To keep your mind occupied, cultivate all kinds of hobbies and sources of interest. It does not matter what these are, so long as they take up your whole attention. This keeping busy will do more than anything else to enable you to conquer the habit. Be as much of a faddist as you like. Take up singing. It will do you good. It has an inspirational quality as well as being physically beneficial. Or take up any other kind of music. Play in the band, if you like. That would give you the company of others, so much to be desired. If you are interested in art, study that. If you like writing, or amateur acting, try your hand at one or the other of them. Any-thing to keep your mind filled with healthy, constructive thoughts. If chemistry appeals to you, follow it up. Perhaps, you are good at mechanics, in which case cultivate your mechanical sense and skill. Motor-boating or any other form of motoring can be commended. Photography, wireless telegraphy or the making of model aeroplanes might interest you. Every one can find things that appeal to him.
Above all, don’t forget the great outdoor pas-times. You may not have the muscular strength in the beginning to take up cross-country running, or real athletic pursuits, but at least you can start in with walking and possibly a little short run each day, until you build up the strength to engage in the more vigorous pastimes. According as they are suited to your strength, swimming, skating, hockey, handball, rowing, tennis, baseball, golf, riding, gardening, mountain climbing, tree climbing, cross-country walks—anything that keeps you away from idleness and at the same time builds up your body—will be useful.
It is of course imperative that you should avoid allowing your mind to dwell upon lustful fancies. Keep the thought of sex out of your head. Re-member what I have said about “mental masturbation,” which is almost as bad as the actual practice, and which is usually the first step toward self-abuse. Whenever you find your mind occupied with thoughts of this kind, immediately get up and do something active. It doesn’t matter what it is. Run around the block. Stand on your head. Fix the back fence, or the front window, or attack any other little job that needs doing. 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 that you can always turn to immediately when any thought of sex enters your mind. The only way you can keep these thoughts out is by getting other things into your head to crowd them out. If you will follow my suggestion about having no idle time on your hands, you will have no trouble.
Perhaps the one best thing you can do when the old habit tempts you is to place yourself at once in the company of other people, when that is possible. Don’t spend too much time by yourself.
The psychological effect of masturbation in causing a lack of self-confidence, timidity in meeting people, and a tendency to avoid them, especially members of the opposite sex, is a very curious one. It demonstrates that this practice is not only an offense against the physical integrity of the body, but that it is a spiritual and moral offense as well. After all, not much is known about psychology. The mysteries of the human mind are still unexplained, for the most part. However, it is at least clear in a case of this kind that the very heart and soul of the young man have been shocked and outraged by this unnatural act, and this shock apparently makes a profound impression upon the subconscious mind. The term, “soul-wound,” as used by some of the psychologists, might express it. The impression must be very severe to bring about such strange deviations from the normal social attitude as is seen in this shrinking from other people and the inability to look them in the eye. It is perhaps a manifestation of a subconscious conscience. Apparently, down in the sub-conscious mind the masturbator carries a deep sense of his wrong-doing, and this works out in his guilt-like avoidance of the gaze and society of his fellows, and especially of those of the opposite sex.
Whatever the explanation, the practical thing to do in breaking away from this habit is to cultivate the company of others instead of avoiding it. The greatest of all mistakes is to be too much alone. If you could even manage to spend every minute of your waking time in the society of others it would keep you out of trouble and would make it easy to break the habit absolutely. In any case, be with others as much as possible, though of course they should not be people of vulgar tastes or with a vicious point of view. Bad associates would naturally be worse than none. However, fight against the tendency to-ward timidity or lack of confidence, and you will soon find that you are not so easily embarrassed. As you leave the habit further behind you you will find yourself more and more free from this curious mental condition.
Most of all I would strongly urge you to seek the company of refined, members of the opposite sex. This is almost the best advice that I can offer. In an early chapter of this ,book I have already expressed the view that masturbation is to some extent the result of too much separation of the sexes. I am inclined to think that if there were more constant association between boys and girls there would be much less inclination to commit any such unnatural crime against the body. The mutual enjoyment of social intercourse between the two sexes is natural, and conduces to the physical, moral and spiritual welfare of both. Of course in the company of the opposite sex there should be no holding of hands or personal intimacies. It is often a good plan to join some congenial social group, such as ‘ is found in churches, the Y. M. C. A. and other social or religious organizations.
It will of course be necessary for each one to study his own problem. In the light of what I have said any one should be able to plan some system of safeguarding himself against yielding to the force of habit. If there is any special excitement of the generative system, a cold spinal pack applied for twenty minutes or longer, will have a satisfactory depressing effect. Fold a towel lengthwise, wring out of cold water and place upon the spine. This will not have the injurious reaction of the bromide or other drug treatment for allaying sexual excitement.
In occasional instances, it might possibly be a good plan to change one’s location, to occupy a different room, or even to go away into an entirely new environment. In this way one would be better able to get away from the force of suggestion that might cling to old surroundings. I do not say this is necessary, but it would often help.
Good books, poetry, history, oratory, music and all inspiring forms of art are among the re-fining influences that are valuable to’ raise the level of one’s thoughts to a higher plane. Beautiful pictures are helpful.
To what extent can one overcome the effects of self-abuse? It would be impossible to give an answer to this question that would fit all cases. It depends partly upon the natural strength possessed by each individual, partly upon the extent to which he has indulged in the practice and partly upon how long and faithfully he works to improve himself. In what I may call the aver-age case the prospects of satisfactory results are always good. Cases even much worse than the average are always hopeful. Even where there is impotence it is often possible to recover a fair degree of virility.
I do not mean to say that a man can always regain quite the same degree of sexual strength that he would have possessed if he had never abused himself excessively, but as a rule what I would term a satisfactory degree of manhood can be regained. If one has not gone too far, such a degree of vigor may be recovered that no permanent injury will be noticeable. In any case, the results are more than worth striving for. ‘
I will say frankly that one cannot expect to bring about revolutionary changes in a week or a month. It would take a considerable time. If the habit has extended over a period, of years it may take two or three years of persistent physical culture, clean living and clean thinking to realize a satisfactory change for the better. Re-member that I cannot promise such quick or such complete results in extreme eases as in the aver-age. Yet a few months will accomplish wonders for some persons. Perhaps I might say that as a general rule the length of time for getting satisfactory results depends partly upon the number of years during which the victim has been under the influence of the habit, with the reservation that the condition is much more serious when the practice has been commenced at or near puberty than when it has been begun in maturity or near maturity.
In a few instances in which complete impotence has existed for a number of years, following prolonged and violent indulgence in this vice, it is not possible to promise marked results. In many such cases improvement is possible. In some it is not. When persistent efforts do not produce results in these exceptional cases I feel that it is usually because the nerve-centers involved have been exhausted, literally used up or “burned out.” But the cases in which no sexual improvement is possible are rare indeed and even in these the general health and vigor may be improved, with probably better functioning of the reproductive glands, to the extent that they may react upon the general health, though “potency” is not recovered.
There is another important question that I have been asked so many times in letters written to me for advice that I am sure it will be of interest to thousands of others as well. It is whether or not it is possible for the victim of masturbation to have normal and healthy children, after attaining good health. In reply to this I would say that it is entirely a question of your present vitality. If you have built up robust physical health, if you are happily married and seem to have fully recovered from the weakening effects of past follies, then you can rest assured that you will have normal and healthy children. It is not so much a question of your past as of your present condition. It is true that your past has had much to do with determining what your present condition is, but if you are sound and vigorous today, that is the important point. It is true that masturbation may be the cause of temporary sterility, the general debility reducing the vitality of the spermatozoa, but this condition may be overcome by increasing the constitutional strength.
In many letters I have been asked if the past practice of this habit„ long since discontinued, would leave any mental effect or hereditary stamp upon the offspring. There is no fear of this. The germ-plasm has been pretty well protected by kind and far-seeing Mother Nature against influences of this kind. The chief thing to consider, so far as healthy children are concerned, is the question of physical vitality, perfect nutrition and freedom from alcohol or other poisons. If both parents are properly nourished, if they have plenty of vitality, and are free from the effects of stimulants and poisons, they can be sure ‘of normal, vigorous children.
Another question of vital interest has to do with the advisability of marriage following masturbation. This again depends upon individual circumstances and the present physical and sexual condition, rather than upon the question of past errors. Considering that without doubt the vast majority of men have masturbated at one time or another, it will be evident that the greater number of those who are now married must have done so. I do not mean that all married men are satisfactory husbands, but I do mean to say that the man who has masturbated and has not only discontinued the practice but recovered a fair degree of health is as fit for marriage as the majority of his sex. To him marriage is not only possible but advantageous.
Marriage should not be undertaken, however, in the rash manner commonly advised by the “family physician.” One should first undertake a serious and persistent course of physical up-building to ensure a fit condition for marriage. In case of partial impotence or marked debility, two or three years of virility-building methods are advisable. Marriage has been much advised as a cure for masturbation. In some instances it is true that it may prove to be a complete solution of the problem, if the abuse has not been carried too far, and has been practiced in adult life chiefly because of an unmated existence. But when one is a slave to the habit, and has been decidedly weakened by it, marriage is the most dangerous of all remedies. Unless properly regulated it may weaken the sufferer still further, causing absolute impotence. Again, in many cases, the force of the habit is so strong that it is continued even after marriage, which certainly is not to be recommended. One should conquer the habit first. If the masturbator is able to demonstrate that he can refrain from his injurious practices for a period of several months at a time, that he is master of himself, and that he is a man in the true sense, then marriage might be permitted. With these pointers for guidance, any man should be able to solve the problem in his own case.
Image Credits: Male masturbation art by Leslie Dorcus