Searchlights on Health/The Dangerous Vices

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The Dangerous Vices.

Few persons are aware of the extent to which masturbation or self-pollution is practiced by the young of both sexes in civilized society.


The hollow, sunken eye, the blanched cheek, the withered hands, and emaciated frame, and the listless life, have other sources than the ordinary illnesses of all large communities.

When a child, after having given proofs of memory and intelligence, experiences daily more and more difficulty in retaining and understanding what is taught him, it is not only from unwillingness and idleness, as is commonly supposed, but from a disease eating out life itself, brought on by a self-abuse of the private organs. Besides the slow and progressive derangement of his or her health, the diminished energy of application, the languid movement, the stooping gait, the desertion of social games, the solitary walk, late rising, livid and sunken eye, and many other symptoms, will fix the attention of every intelligent and competent guardian of youth that something is wrong.


Nor are many persons sufficiently aware of the ruinous extent to which the amative propensity is indulged by married persons. The matrimonial ceremony does, indeed, sanctify the act of sexual intercourse, but it can by no means atone for nor obviate the consequences of its abuse. Excessive indulgence in the married relation is, perhaps, as much owing to the force of habit, as to the force of the sexual appetite.


More lamentable still is the effect of inordinate sexual excitement of the young and unmarried. It is not very uncommon to find a confirmed onanist, or, rather, masturbator, who has not yet arrived at the period of puberty. Many cases are related in which young boys and girls, from eight to ten years of age, were taught the method of self-pollution by their older playmates, and had made serious encroachments on the fund of constitutional vitality even before any considerable degree of sexual appetite was developed.


Here, again, the fault was not in the power of passion, but in the force of habit. Parents and guardians of youth can not be too mindful of the character and habits of those with whom they allow young persons and children under their charge to associate intimately, and especially careful should they be with whom they allow them to sleep.


It is customary to designate self-pollution as among the "vices." I think misfortune is the more appropriate term. It is true, that in the physiological sense, it is one of the very worst "transgressions of the law." But in the moral sense it is generally the sin of ignorance in the commencement, and in the end the passive submission to a morbid and almost resistless impulse.


The time has come when the rising generation must be thoroughly instructed in this matter. That quack specific "ignorance" has been experimented with quite too long already. The true method of insuring all persons, young or old, against the abuses of any part, organ, function, or faculty of the wondrous machinery of life, is to teach them its use. "Train a child in the way it should go" or be sure it will, amid the ten thousand surrounding temptations, find out a way in which it should not go. Keeping a child in ignorant innocence is, I aver, no part of the "training" which has been taught by a wiser than Solomon. Boys and girls do know, will know, and must know, that between them are important anatomical differences and interesting physiological relations. Teach them, I repeat, their use, or expect their abuse. Hardly a young person in the world would ever become addicted to self-pollution if he or she understood clearly the consequences; if he or she knew at the outset that the practice was directly destroying the bodily stamina, vitiating the moral tone, and enfeebling the intellect. No one would pursue the disgusting habit if he or she was fully aware that it was blasting all prospects of health and happiness in the approaching period of manhood and womanhood.


The effects of either self-pollution or excessive sexual indulgence, appear in many forms. It would seem as if God had written an instinctive law of remonstrance, in the innate moral sense, against this filthy vice.

All who give themselves up to the excesses of this debasing indulgence, carry about with them, continually, a consciousness of their defilement, and cherish a secret suspicion that others look upon them as debased beings. They feel none of that manly confidence and gallant spirit, and chaste delight in the presence of virtuous females, which stimulate young men to pursue the course of ennobling refinement, and mature them for the social relations and enjoyments of life.

This shamefacedness, or unhappy quailing of the countenance, on meeting the look of others, often follows them through life, in some instances even after they have entirely abandoned the habit, and became married men and respectable members of society.

In some cases, the only complaint the patient will make on consulting you, is that he is suffering under a kind of continued fever. He will probably present a hot, dry skin, with something of a hectic appearance. Though all the ordinary means of arresting such symptoms have been tried, he is none the better.

The sleep seems to be irregular and unrefreshing—restlessness during the early part of the night, and in the advanced stages of the disease, profuse sweats before morning. There is also frequent starting in the sleep, from disturbing dreams. The characteristic feature is, that your patient almost always dreams of sexual intercourse. This is one of the earliest, as well as most constant symptoms. When it occurs most frequently, it is apt to be accompanied with pain. A gleety discharge from the urethra may also be frequently discovered, especially if the patient examine when at stool or after urinating. Other common symptoms are nervous headache, giddiness, ringing in the ears, and a dull pain in the back part of the head. It is frequently the case that the patient suffers a stiffness in the neck, darting pains in the forehead, and also weak eyes are among the common symptoms.

One very frequent, and perhaps early symptom (especially in young females) is solitariness—a disposition to seclude themselves from society. Although they may be tolerably cheerful when in company, they prefer rather to be alone.

The countenance has often a gloomy and worn-down expression. The patient's friends frequently notice a great change. Large livid spots under the eyes is a common feature. Sudden flashes of heat may be noticed passing over the patient's face. He is liable also to palpitations. The pulse is very variable, generally too slow. Extreme emaciation, without any other assignable cause for it, may be set down as another very common symptom.

If the evil has gone on for several years, there will be a general unhealthy appearance, of a character so marked as to enable an experienced observer at once to detect the cause. In the case of onanists especially there is a peculiar rank odor emitted from the body, by which they may be readily distinguished. One striking peculiarity of all these patients is, that they cannot look a man in the face! Cowardice is constitutional with them.


1. The first condition of recovery is a prompt and permanent abandonment of the ruinous habit. Without a faithful adherence to this prohibitory law on the part of the patient all medication on the part of the physician will assuredly fail. The patient must plainly understand that future prospects, character, health, and life itself, depend on an unfaltering resistance to the morbid solicitation; with the assurance, however, that a due perseverance will eventually render, what now seems like a resistless and overwhelming propensity, not only controllable but perfectly loathsome and undesirable.

2. Keep the mind employed by interesting the patient in the various topics of the day, and social features of the community.

3. Plenty of bodily out of door exercise, hoeing in the garden, walking, or working on the farm; of course not too heavy work must be indulged in.

4. If the patient is weak and very much emaciated, cod liver oil is an excellent remedy.

5. DIET. The patient should live principally on brown bread, oat meal, graham crackers, wheat meal, cracked or boiled wheat, or hominy, and food of that character. No meats should be indulged in whatever; milk diet if used by the patient is an excellent remedy. Plenty of fruit should be indulged in; dried toast and baked apples make an excellent supper. The patient should eat early in the evening, never late at night.

6. Avoid all tea, coffee, or alcoholic stimulants of any kind.

7. "Early to bed and early to rise," should be the motto of every victim of this vice. A patient should take a cold bath every morning after rising. A cold water injection in moderate quantities before retiring has cured many patients.

8. If the above remedies are not sufficient, a family physician should be consulted.

9. Never let children sleep together, if possible, to avoid it. Discourage the children of neighbors and friends from sleeping with your children.

10. Have your children rise early. It is the lying in bed in the morning that plays the mischief.