This section is from the book "The Transmission Of Life. Counsels On The Nature And Hygiene Of The Masculine Function", by George H. Napheys. Also available from Amazon: The Transmission of Life.
It is not uncommon to find desire present, and yet the consummation of marriage to be impossible from a wan.t of power, although the individual is by no means impotent. This condition is called " false impotence," and often causes great alarm, though generally unnecessarily. In persons of nervous temperaments, though otherwise perfectly healthy, the force of imagination, the novelty, the excitement, and the trepidation attendant upon the ceremony of marriage completely overpower them, and they are terrified to find it impossible to perform the duties of their new relation. Sometimes this state of the system lasts for days, weeks, and months. Recollecting perhaps some early sins, the young husband believes himself hopelessly impotent, and may in despair commit some violent act forever to be regretted.
In the superstitions of the middle ages this temporary incapacity was deemed to be the work of some sorcerer or witch. In France the spell was known under the name of nouement d'aiguillette, and many a poor wretch has expiated this imaginary and impossible crime with severe tortures and life itself. The French perhaps, as a nation with a prevailing nervous temperament, may have been subject to such an affection more than others. Montaigne in one of his essays speaks of it as something very common, and with the enlightened spirit which characterized him. derided the superstitions with which it was associated by the vulgar. He says in his essay on the force of imagination: " I am not satisfied, and make a very great question whether those marriage locks and impediments, with which this age of ours is so fettered that there is hardly anything else talked of. are not merely the impressions of apprehension and fear." This rational explanation was not received generally then, because the trouble was imputed to witchcraft; nor now, because it is attributed to permanent incapacity. But in all nations and ages the nervous system is and has been liable to such sudden prostrations.
Herodotus, the Greek historian, relates that Amasis, King of Egypt, having married a Greek virgin famous for her beauty, by name Laodicea, found himself deprived of all power to complete the marriage. Under the impression that she had used some enchantment, he ordered her beheaded. But Laodicea begged time and opportunity to erect a statue to Venus, before the completion of which she assured Amasis, his faculties would be restored him. The king granted her request, and she thus saved her life.
Such instances not unfrequently come to the notice of the physician, and if he is a judicious one, he refrains from calling into requisition any of those powerful drugs which act as stimulants to the functions, but rather writes for some carminative, and assures the patient of its efficacy. His promises are rarely falsified, for the mind once convinced that the corrective has been found, the nervous debility de-parts.
The case is different and more serious in that form of debility attended by premature loss of the secretion, or a defective erectile power. To be sure, this too may arise from the novelty of the act, want of power of the will, undue excitement, apprehension, fear, or disgust, and in these instances, its treatment is obvious. But it is also one of the commonest consequences of excess, of venereal diseases, especially gonorrhoea, of solitary vice, and of all those causes which we have previously enumerated as exerting a debilitating influence on the masculine function. Concerning its prevention and treatment we refer to what we have already said in the second part of this work. Usually this form of debl cy is associated with considerable irritability, that is, persons so afflicted are on the one hand very readily excited by the presence of the other sex, or other causes, and yet are weak, and unable satisfactorily to complete the conjugal duty.
All such persons should sedulously avoid every kind of artificial excitement, make free use of cold water as douche and hip-bath, and often they require special surgical treatment, or the employment of electricity or galvanism. Sometimes this irritability arises from an accumulation of matter under the foreskin, or from the too great tightness of this part. Debility may result from wearing trusses for ruptures, as these mechanical appliances interfere with the circulation, and hence impair the secretion of the fluid. Should this impairment extend to the degree of threatening entire loss of power, the question would arise whether the hernia should not be cured by what is known in surgery as the "radical operation."
A diet exclusively or largely vegetable is supposed by many to weaken the powers, especially of such vegetables as are chiefly made up of fibre and water, as cabbage, turnips, beets, etc. So, too, any diet which is not nourishing interferes with the functional vigor. The monks of La Trappe are obliged by the rules of their order to abjure meat altogether, and to subsist upon a loaf of black bread and water each day. They are famous for the rigidity of their vows, and the success with which they maintain them.