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.
The same unfortunate interpretation of the Christian doctrines produced similar violations of natural laws throughout the Middle Ages. The violence done to the natural impulses by an enforced and unwilling celibacy showed itself in prevailing dissoluteness of life, and too often those who should have been the models and exemplars of holy Life, were the leaders in profligate ways.
The struggle by which others attempted to maintain a formal continence, while their imaginations were uncontrolled, remained, and ever will remain, bitter and hopeless. The unavoidable continence of the monasteries was not slow to foster vices of a more deleterious character than licentiousness itself, and consequently to injure rather than to benefit the general weal. Of course, we do not mean that this was commonly or even frequently the case, but there is too much evidence from original records to deny that much moral tur-pitude arose from this misunderstood position of the procrea-tive instinct in the economy.
Matrimonial life itself felt the effects of this erroneous view. It was looked upon as an allowable, but not the most holy condition of life. That there was real chastity in marriage, though perhaps conceded in words, was not in act and belief, for the condition of virginity was constantly upheld as the only really pure state of living. " To cut down by the axe of virginity the wood of marriage is the true object of the saint," is the energetic metaphor of Saint Jerome. The consequence of this belief that the marriage state was inconsistent with pure holiness was that when a strong religious fervor fell upon a husband or wife, its first effect was to make any continuation of happy married life out of the question. The more religious partner at once desired and attempted to lead a solitary life, or to join some monastery or sisterhood.
In other words, it came to be generally understood that married people, by the very act of marriage, put themselves upon a lower plane of morality.
The inevitable consequence was a loss of self-respect, a diminished esteem for marital purity, and a visible tendency to infidelity in the marriage relation. It is not too much to say that an impartial student of national traits can still distinguish the fruits of these views in the southern nations of the European continent.
In Modern Times. In more modern times the inconsistencies and the incorrectness of these views of the relations of the sexes became apparent, and able men rose who maintained that neither continence nor virginity was more pleasing in the sight of God than married chastity and fidelity, and that any doctrine to the contrary, so far from elevating a national standard of morality, did exactly the reverse. These teachers further maintained that the sexual impulse is not in itself evil, nor is it any more liable to result in evil than any other passion or appetite appertaining to man; and that, in refer' ence to its temperate indulgence under proper and legal restrictions, it is entirely in accordance both with the laws of natural science and the maxims of pure Christianity.
This was, indeed, a step in advance, and it has redounded to the well-being of those who have appreciated and recognized it. But in its full bearings in social and individual life, it is still too superficially understood by the masses.
This is, in a measure, owing to a general hesitation in stating distinctly to the public the nature and laws which govern the more recondite functions of the human frame. As far as this has been done, it has been by those very insufficiently qualified to act as the interpreters of scientific results, and much more for selfish and immediate ends than from any abstract desire to promote the comfort and the happiness of their fellows.
Yet the various facts which we have adduced, not from remote or limited fields, but from the general history of the race, prove conclusively how intimately associated with man's moral nature, and consequently with his life hereafter, are these questions concerning his peculiar powers.
In a double sense is there a perpetuity connected with the exercise of this function. In our article on Inheritance we have told how distant generations will certainly be moulded in their moral, mental, and physical natures by the actions of their ancestors now living. Now, we call attention to the individual destiny of each as dependent, to no small extent, upon the same actions. Impressed, as we hope our readers will be by this double responsibility, they should seek to learn how to perform these important duties intelligently.
The practical deductions which we could make from such facts are that we should not supinely fold our hands and sit contented with indolence and ignorance in the face of these demands upon our attention.
No one denies that almost the greatest scourges of modern societies are still the products of a want of regulation in the sexual relations. Hitherto, renouncing as unsuited to the refinement and purity (!) of our social life the plain and direct admonitions which God saw fit to impart to His chosen people that they might be kept unspotted from the evils which surrounded them, we have tried the plan of saying nothing and doing nothing. We have hoped that by a well-bred silence on the subject of carnal abominations, they would presently disappear and be forgotton.
The result has unfortunately not yet justified this agreeable expectation. If anything, it seems that these vices are increasing at quite as fast a rate as population, wealth, and luxury increase. The simplicity of the Society of Friends, the severity of the Pilgrim Fathers, or the heroism of the Huguenot refugees which marked the early history of our country, were hard to discover now in any corner of our wide domain.