Page images

The male now, as amongst all other insects, speedily dies after the impregnation of the female has been effected: but the female from this period begins to swell enormously, from the development of her countless eggs, and by the time she is ready to commence laying, her abdomen is about 1500 to 2000 times larger than all the rest of her body,"

Of course any such epileptic attack in man is only the rare exception. In a young, healthy, fully-developed adult, the shock which the nervous system receives is recovered from immediately. Ejaculation is in him a healthy function, from which he rallies directly; and the act may be, and is, repeated with impunity by some men, at very short intervals.

In other instances, however, particularly in those who suffer from any of the severer functional affections spoken of in this volume, the act is followed by intense depression, and a day or two may pass before the system rallies. In such instances, I believe, it will generally be found that the frame has previously been enfeebled by great excesses, and then each act of insemination produces serious depressing effects, far different from the natural ones.

I have been consulted by some few persons, on the other hand, who never appear to suffer from the act, although excesses may be committed to a great extent.

This tolerance of the orgasmwhich is remarkable in individual cases, and which permits the frequent recurrence of the shock without any ill effect either at the time or later-must depend upon some constitutional difference of nervous system of which we are ignorant.

We may, however, for the present, neglect both of these extremes—the persons who die or seriously suffer from one act of coition, and those who can commit almost satyrine excesses with apparent, though temporary, impunity. The question we have to consider is, what effect the act has upon ordinary men. I conceive, most important to have correct notions upon this subject, to be neither alarmed by vague fears nor led astray by rash ignorance.

It is, of course, the nervous system which is primarily affected. The ancients had some curious, and I need not say erroneous,

It is,

notions on these matters. They believed that emission was the actual passage of brain down the spinal cord; and we find them speaking of connection being followed by the stillicidium cerebri.

Hippocrates says: “The humors enter into a sort of fermentation, which separates what is most precious and most balsamic, and this part thus separated from the rest is carried by the spinal marrow to the generative organs.”—DE GENITURA, Foesius,

p. 231.

This popular notion is not yet extinct. It is not long since I heard one man of the world coolly asserting to another, his entire belief that Lord —, a noted old libertine, was killing himself by inches; that he had long since ceased to emit semen; and under unnatural excitement the substance of the brain was now passing away in the venereal orgasm, as was proved by the great nervous depression which was known to follow each sexual effort. The narrator moreover asserted most confidently that his lordship was aware of the fact; but, in spite of all remonstrance, no sooner did the old debauchee recover from the effects of one loss, than he incurred another.

Tabes dorsalis (apparently the ancient term for what the moderns call spermatorrhæa) is described by old writers as wasting of the spinal cord. So late as the time of Richerand, we find him, in his “Physiology,” seriously asking his readers “if the nervous depression which follows connection depends upon the fatigue of the organs, or, as some metaphysicians have believed, is it caused by the confused and indistinct notion that the soul takes of its own destruction ?”

M. Parise also, in his valuable book on the diseases of old age, uses figurative but no less erroneous expressions to the same effect, which he has gleaned from the old writers.

“Semen is life itself under a fluid form—the vital principle condensed and perceptible. Camus said it was composed of microscopical brains directly emanating from the great brain. The ancients considered this liquid as a discharge from the spinal marrow and brain, and called it cerebri stillicidium."

“Its importance is demonstrated by the fact that the smallest quantity contains life in activity, and can communicate it; that its presence and its secretion impress the organization with an extra quantity of force and energy, whereas repeated loss of it ennervates and rapidly wears out the body. Nothing costs the economy so much as the production of semen, and its forced ejaculation. It has been calculated that an ounce of semen was equivalent to forty ounces of blood. According to Bichat, the secretion of sperm is in an inverse proportion to the secretion of fat; and we at once see the reason, semen is the essence of the whole individual. Hence Fernel has said, 'totus homo semen est. It is the balm of life—one of its best and most powerful stimulants. That which gives life is intended for its preservation.” (Reveillé-Parise, “ De la Vieilesse,” p. 415.)

Of course these alarming statements are not such as modern science can at all indorse. Nevertheless it should be remembered that the semen, as I have pointed out above, is a highly organized fluid, requiring the expenditure of much vital force in its elaboration and in its expulsion. Even in the strongest adult, and much more in the youth or the weakly man, the whole of the functions connected with it are most vital and important—the last that should be abused.



We have now to consider the disorders that may complicate or interfere with the ejaculatory part of the sexual act. It has been generally supposed that the loss of semen was the sole cause of sexual debility in the male. That such is not the case is proved by the nervous depression coming on in young children from sexual excitement before they can be said to secrete semen. Similar exhausting nervous effects are noticed in women, who do not secrete any such fluid, but merely mucus,' and yet may experience the nervous orgasm or spasm which acts as harmfully on them, when much indulged in, as on males. The immediate cause of this nervous depression has, within the last few years, excited a good deal of attention ; and I, in common with many modern writers, have come to the conclusion that there is a good deal of evidence now existing which shows that shocks constantly received and frequently repeated on the great ganglionic centres may produce irritation in them, and thus cause many of the obscure forms of disease to which we have hitherto failed in discovering a key. If there is any cause which is likely more than another to produce undue excitement of the ganglionic system, it is the too frequent repetition of acts involving this nervous orgasm.

1 No woman, any more than any other female animal, secretes or loses semen, or anything analogous to it during the sexual orgasm. The spent secretion contains no spermatozoa. What passes, if examined under the microscope, consists of mucus or the debris of epithelium. Nevertheless, as an effect of long-continued, and often repeated sexual shocks, women may exceptionally-feeble as their sexual tendencies are compared with men's—become subject to epileptiform attacks, and various nervous affections, as well as local affections of the uterus, direct consequences of sexual excesses. The womb, as has been well observed, is the centre round which women's sentient feelings radiate. No one who has treated a large number of women laboring under uterine affections, but must have been struck with the haggard feverish pinched cast of countenance which too often characteristically denotes the existence of long-standing uterine affections. In every way it resembles the look of the young libertine who has given way to a long-continued course of sexual excesses; and the long lank hair of the enfeebled delicate girl-like boy tends often to make the delusion more perfect. I had the painful duty lately of inspecting some photographs of boys who had for some time ministered to the depravity of the vilest men, and the lens had but too truly depicted, and perhaps exaggerated, the hang-dog look which these youthful miscreants exhibited; but I must admit that there were other portraits of youths who presented all the external symptoms of perfect blooming health, and could not be distinguished from ordinary well-conditioned young men.

It has been clearly proved by Brachet that if the solar plexus and semilunar ganglion in an animal be irritated, it will, as soon as the parts become inflamed, express feelings of suffering. When the communication is cut off between these ganglia and the spinal cord, all symptoms of pain or irritation of the ganglia cease.

Hence we should infer, I think, that undue excitement of the generative functions may set up irritation of these ganglia, and


that this undue excitement will be communicated to the spinal cord, producing depression of spirits, pain at the pit of the stomach, and general prostration. I may, moreover, remark, that if this is the modus operandi of such lesions, it is not surprising that in many cases where we notice the effects of excesses in

young men, nature should be with difficulty able to recover from such rapidly repeated shocks. We have reason, also, to believe that the irritation set up has in such cases so morbidly excited the channels of nervous influence, that they have received some permanent damage which they very slowly recover from. Müller considers the ganglia as the source of the energies of the sympathetic nerves, and the fountain from which the ganglionic system draws the constant, gradual, galvanoid action which is kept up in the capillaries throughout the frame.

Many of my readers will probably agree with me in considering that this view of the subject is the one most in accordance with our knowledge of physiological phenomena of the nervous system; of course it does not admit of positive proof, but it has the most recent indications of experiment on its side, and is in strict accordance with our observations on the living. If these views are correct, we should the more insist upon the necessity, in susceptible individuals, of great moderation in exciting the nervous system by repeated sexual shocks, and upon the baneful effects of any such excitement on the youthful frame before it has arrived at maturity.

Mr. Paget has kindly favored me with his opinion as to the probable morbid state of the nervous system induced by excesses.

“I believe that the morbid state of the nervous system—more particularly of the spinal cord—which is produced by excessive sexual intercourse, is analogous to that which is sometimes observed in muscles after excessive exercise. The history of some of the cases of progressive muscular atrophy' makes it evident that, in some persons, the excessive employment of single muscles, or groups of muscles, may lead to their complete atrophy; and that this atrophy may be manifested sometimes by simple wasting of the muscular tissue, sometimes by fatty degeneration, sometimes by these forms of atrophy combined in various pro

« PreviousContinue »