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 readiness of doctors to disagree has often been a subject of sarcastic allusion, and certainly they have often justly exposed themselves to censure for hasty decisions. This may be partly attributed to the prejudices which warp every man's judgment, partly to deficiency in opportunities of observation, and partly to the circumstances, more or less different, which affect every phenomenon.
One would think, however, that on such a broad question, one apparently so easy of solution as the effect on the system produced by indulgence in solitary vice, there would be no great divergence of opinion.
Yet such is not the case. Among recent eminent writers there is one who has expressed himself so strongly on this subject that his words have led us to survey the ground again with especial care, and the result has been that we are convinced that he has vastly underrated the evil results of the habit.
As his name is now the most famous among the surgeons of Great Britain, and his opinions must necessarily, through his works, republished in this country, exercise a wide influence, we feel it a duty in this book to quote his words, and subject them to the test of others' experience, and the conditions of life and disease as they appear with us.
The writer referred to is Sir James Paget, Surgeon in Ordinary to the Queen, and the passage of his writings we have in mind is the following extract from a lecture deliv-ered to physicians and students in a London hospital:-
"With careful and positive teaching you will cure the ignorant, and do good to all, except those whose hypochondria is near to complete insanity. But on some subjects of your teaching you will have to be very clear as to matters of fact; especially, for instance, as to the practice of masturbation, to which many of your patients will ascribe their chief distress.
"Now, I believe you may teach positively that masturbation does neither more nor less harm than intercourse practiced with the same frequency in the same conditions of general health, age and circumstances. Practiced frequently by the very young, that is, at any time before, or at the beginning of puberty, masturbation is very likely to produce exhaustion, effeminacy, over-sensitiveness and nervousness; just as equally frequent intercourse at the same age would probably produce them. Or practiced every day, or several times a day, either act is likely to produce such symptoms. And the mischiefs are likely or nearly sure to happen, and to be greatest if the excesses are practiced by those who, by inheritance or circumstances, are liable to any nervous disease, to spinal irritation, epilepsy, insanity, or any other.
"But the mischiefs are due to the quantity, not to the nature of the excesses; and the quantity is to be estimated in relation to the age and power of the nervous system. I have seen as numerous and as great evils consequent upon excessive intercourse as on excessive masturbation; but I have not seen or heard anything to make me believe that the occasional practice of this latter vice has any other effects on one who practices it than has occasional intercourse. I wish I could say something worse of so nasty a practice; an uncleanliness, a filthiness forbidden by God, an unman-liness despised by men."
While so much of this opinion will be generally acknowledged to be true as asserts that the occasional indulgence in this detestable habit may not leave after it those permanent effects which the quacks pretend, and the dread of which drive so many almost to despair, yet, on the other hand, it has been abundantly shown that there is in the habit itself a peculiar and distressing wear on the nervous system which leaves most serious traces for a long time.
It has, for instance, been demonstrated by Professor Gross, of Philadelphia, that a variety of stricture is brought on by masturbation, which may in turn lead to most serious consequences. These are, in the milder forms, undue sensitiveness of the urethra, with slight inflammation along its tract, and the erections become imperfect and feeble, and ejaculation too precipitate. This may continue until sexual desire is abolished, and a condition of hypochondria sets in, with all those difficult features which we have previously described.
There are, moreover, other very serious differences between intercourse and the solitary vice. The temptation to carry the latter to excess is far greater than is the case with the former; and the excitations, abnormal and excessive, which are encouraged to provoke it, cannot but have a long-continued disastrous influence.
Another grave charge against it is its prevalence in early, we may say very early life. Even in infants it is not unknown, and should be carefully watched for. An able American writer on diseases of children, Dr. Jacobi, has recently called especial attention to this subject. He points out that young children may be prompted to it by some condition of the urine, by the presence of seat worms, or by acquired nervous derangements, as well as by the vicious instructions of those around them.
. He recommends that regular bathing and constant occupation under intelligent supervision, are important precautions. Children must not be permitted to sit on the floor too long; they should not be allowed to remain in bed after waking up, but induced to rise and dress at once. Habits of solitude, and the inclination to indulge the imagination, should be broken up, and active out-door exercise insisted on.