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.
Let it be distinctly understood, therefore, that it is alto-gether advisable, and the only consistent hygienic course, to defer as long as possible the development of the sexual in-stinct. It will surely come soon enough, and the danger only. is that it will come too soon.
There are, indeed, instances of precocity, apparently without entailing debility or disease, which are not readily explained. Several cases are on record in medical works, where children at the age of three and four years manifested a complete development of sexual power. But apart from the liability to error which rests over these observations, such exceptional instances must be classed with what medical writers term idiosyncrasies, and no inferences for general guidance can be drawn from them.
Apart from moral reasons which urge the retardation of the sexual change, there are sanitary arguments of the weightiest character which tend in the same direction. Foremost of these is the danger of solitary vice, and of illicit pleasures, with their so frequent and terrible penalties. The less, indeed, that the boy and the youth think about, or in any way have their attention directed to the sexual distinc-tions, the better. Does it follow from this that it is the duty of parents and teachers sedulously and wholly to refrain from warning them, or giving instructions of a private nature ? This important question has been frequently discussed, and there are now, as there always have been, men of influence who answer it in the affirmative. But it is also worth remarking that without an exception those medical authors who have given most constant and earnest attention to the diseases and disorders which arise from the prevailing ignorance in such matters, are earnest and emphatic in then: recommendations to educators and to parents to give sound advice to boys, and to urge upon them the observance of pertain precautions, which tend to remove premature excitements.
It is one of the most important duties of those who have charge of youths to see that neither by ignorance nor urged by opportunity or intellectual stimulants, they forestall nature's own good time. Most inexcusable is the false modesty which, on the ground of fear lest indecorous thoughts should be awakened, serves as the plea for wholly neglecting this vital department of sanitary supervision. Not unfrequently Borne physical ailment, some local irritation leads to an afflux of blood to the parts, which prompts the boy to thoughts and deeds far more blameworthy than any to which he could be led by grave and serious admonition.
"We will briefly rehearse what sanitary regulations should be instituted in schools and in private families to prevent un-natural precocity, and to avoid the necessity of repetition hereafter, we add that these same regulations, altered more or less to suit circumstances, are of the utmost value alter puberty is established, to escape unnecessary sexual excite ment, and to aid in the treatment of diseases which arise, or are associated with irritability of this function. "We shall on a later page refer to them in these connections.
The most potent of all means to this end is muscular development. Systematic, daily, regulated exercise, pushed to the verge of fatigue, and varied so as to keep up the interest of the pupil, cannot be too much insisted upon. This alone is worth all other precautions, and is almost indispensable. Now that most large schools have gymnasiums attached, and especially as light gymnastics have been so widely introduced, and can be put in practice at such small expense, there is no excuse for neglecting this precept. Parents will do well to decline sending their boys to any institution which has no provisions for physical culture.
Cleanliness is next to be mentioned. It were an excellent arrangement for every boy to be induced to take a sponge-bath, or, what is better, a shower-bath, every morning, in cool or cold water. They should be told that a sense of heat or irritation about their parts may arise from a want of thorough cleansing. One of the most distinguished authorities on these subjects, Mr. William Acton, of London, says: "My own opinion is that a long prepuce in children is a much more frequent cause of evil habits than parents or medical men have any idea of. But I have never heard of any steps ever having been taken by those having the care of youth to induce boys to adopt proper habits of cleanliness in this respect. Probably no nurse, parent, or schoolmaster, would at first relish the proposal that a boy of twelve should be told to draw back his foreskin and cleanse the part thoroughly. In my own experience of children I have found this practice so beneficial that I never hesitate to recommend it in any cases where there is the least sign of irritation from this cause."
" One of the common causes of premature excitement, even as early as infancy," says Mr. W. P. Teevan, a writer in a recent number of the British Medical Journal (May, 1870), "is a tight foreskin. It is a cause of much evil, and it ought always to be remedied." This can generally be accomplished by giving a boy proper directions, but, if not, there should be no hesitation in recommending a surgical operation. The rite of circumcision is in this respect extremely salutary, and some physicians have recommended its general adoption, no longer on religious but on hygienic grounds. At any rate the above advice from so eminent a quarter is deserving the highest respect, and may, with proper caution, be carried out where the observant guardian considers it applicable.
Avoidance of irritation from any cause is always essential. It may arise from ill-fitting drawers or pants, or from an uncomfortable seat, or from constipation of the bowels, or from an unhealthy condition of the urine or bladder, from piles, and much more frequently from worms, especially those familiarly known as seat-worms. Soft cushions should be dispensed with; cane-bottomed chairs and benches are for many reasons preterable. Certain varieties of skin diseases of a chronic character are attended by such a degree of heat and itching that the child is led involuntarily to scratch and rub the affected part. Whenever they attack the inside of the thighs or lower part of the abdomen, they should receive prompt and efficient treatment.
The dormitory regulations should invariably be of a character to promote modesty. Never should two or three boys be allowed to sleep in the same bed, and it were more prudent to assign each a separate chamber. They should be encouraged by precept and example to avoid needless exposure of the person and indecorous gestures. The beds should be tolerably hard, mattresses of hair or with springs being greatly preferable to those of feathers, cotton, or sponge. These latter are heating, and, therefore, objectionable. The bed clothing should be light, thick comfortables being avoided and the chambers should be cool and well ventilated. Every boy should be required before retiring to empty the bladder, as the presence of much fluid in that organ acts as a source of irritation on the surrounding parts. When a boy wets his bed during sleep, it may be taken as evidence that he either neglects this duty, or else that there is some local irritation present which requires medical attention. Sleeping on the back should be warned against, as this is one of the known causes of nocturnal excitement and emissions.
Fortunately, the prevalence of flogging as a punishbraent is by no means what it once was. "We say fortunately, for through ignorance of physiological laws this method of discipline was calculated to stimulate precisely what it was intended to check. It is well known that switching across the seat is one of the most powerful excitants of the reflex nerves of the part, and is resorted to by depraved and worn-out debauchees for that very purpose. How unwise, how reprehensible, therefore, to employ it on the persons of boys, in whom such a stimulant is most dangerous. Readers of French literature may remember an instructive example in the Confessions of Jean Jacques Rousseau, where that depraved and eccentric, though gifted man, acknowledges to have rather enjoyed than otherwise the floggings he received when at school.
Equally important as these physical regulations is it that the boy should be assiduously trained to look with disgust and abhorrence on whatever is indecent in word or action. Let him be taught a sense of shame, that modesty is manly and honorable, and that immodesty is base and dishonorable. Establish in a school a high and pure tone of feeling in regain to such matters. It can be accomplished by a skilful master more easily than one might suppose. Let some of the older and abler pupils have explained to them its neces-sitv. and the risks and evils of an opposite course, and they can readily be enlisted on the side of purity and health.
Nor should it be overlooked that the mental food presented to the boy may serve to evoke dangerous meditations. Many passages in the classics, many of the fables of mythology, much of the poetry, and the prose of modern and especially French writers, contain insinuations and erotic pictures. seductive and hazardous to the eager and impressible mind of boyhood. We have little reaped for the man or woman who "sees obscenity in pure white marble," or who can discern only vulgarity in the myths of antiquity, or the warm delineations of the poets; but what is meat for the strong man may be poison to the child.