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Several confessions that have been made to me, induce me to suggest for the consideration of parents and schoolmasters, whether the practice of climbing in gymnasia is not open in some degree to objections. The muscles chiefly called into action in climbing are those, the excessive exertion of which tends to. excite sexual feelings. Boys have, as I know, sometimes discovered this, for more than one person has told me that, when at school, he had found that he derived pleasure from the exercise, and had repeated it quite in ignorance of the consequences.
I shall not be suspected of undervaluing athletic exercises, but if this particular one has the effect I have described, I should certainly advise its discontinuance.
Those who have the care of children cannot bear this fact too constantly in mind, that the tendency of all irritation or excitement of the generative system, either mental or physical, is to induce the youngest child to stimulate the awakened appetite, and attempt to gratify the immature sexual desires which should have remained dormant for years to come. In a state so artificial as that of our modern civilization, the children of the upper classes are sadly open to this temptation. An enervated sickly refinement, tells directly on the children that are at once its offspring and its victims, begetting precocious desires, too often gratified, and giving rise to the meanest and most debasing of all vices. Of this melancholy and repulsive habit as it appears in, and affects young children, I shall say something here. Its effects in after life will be dealt with hereafter.
CHAPT. II.-MASTURBATION IN CHILDHOOD.
This term, like the word Chiromania, can properly be applied, in the case of males, only to emission or ejaculation produced by masturbation, or undue excitement of the sexual desires. It affords an additional surface for the excitement of the reflex action, and aggravates an instinct rather than supplies a want. In the unmarried it additionally excites the sexual desires, which it is our object to repress. Most men require restraint, not excitement, of their sexual instincts. The organs of animals are generally differently formed from those of man, and in them, not unfrequently, the prepuce, besides protecting the delicate glans penis from injury, seems requisite to enable the intromittent organ of the male to be brought into an erect state.
titillation and friction of the virile member with the hand : and in the course of the next few pages such will be the meaning of the term. Use has, however, given it a larger signification. It is now employed to express ejaculation or emission attained by almost any other means than that of the natural excitement arising from sexual intercourse, and in children too young to emit semen, it is liable to produce that nervous spasm which is, in the adult, accompanied by ejaculation.
This degrading practice in a young child may arise in a variety of ways. The most common is of course the bad example of other children. In other cases, vicious or foolish female servants suggest the idea: In such sexually disposed children as have been described, the least hint is sufficient, or indeed they may, without any suggestion from others, invent the habit for themselves. This latter origin, however, is rare in very early life.
As to the frequency of the habit at present among children, or even boys at school, I have been unable to obtain any very trustworthy information. Patients from whom in the confessional of the consulting room, the truth on such subjects is mostly learnt, speak rather of what existed in their day. On the whole, I am disposed to hope that in most public schools, the feeling is strongly against these vile practices. Still, every now and then, facts leak out, which show that, even into these establishments, evil influences sometimes find their way, and the destructive habit
take root and become common. In private schools, however, which are to a great extent free from the control of that healthy public opinion that, even among boys, has so salutary an effect, there is too much reason to fear that this scourge of our youth prevails to an alarming extent.
1 I have heard of a vile habit which some foreign nurses have (I hope it is confined to the continent) of quieting children when they cry by tickling the sexual organs. I need hardly point out how very dangerous this is. There seems hardly any limit to the age at which a young child can be initiated into these abominations or to the depth of degradation to which it may fall under such hideous teaching. Books treating of this subject are unfortunately too full of accounts of the habits of such chil en. Parent Duchâtelet mentions a child, which, from the age of four years, had been in the habit of abusing its powers with boys of ten or twelve, though it had been brought up by a respectable and religious woman. (" Annales d'Hygiène Publique,” tome vii, parte 1832, p. 173.)
I cannot venture to print the accounts patients have given me of what they have seen or even been drawn into at schools. I would fain hope that such abominations are things of the past, and cannot be now repeated under more perfect supervision, and wider knowledge of what is at least possible.
THE SYMPTOMS which mark the commencement of the practice are too clear for an experienced eye to be deceived. As Lallemand remarks: “However young the children may be, they get thin, pale, and irritable, and their features become haggard. We notice the sunken eye, the long, cadaverous-looking countenance, the downcast look which seems to arise from a consciousness in the boy that his habits are suspected, and, at a later period, from the ascertained fact that his virility is lost. I wish by no means to assert that every boy unable to look another in the face, is or has been a masturbator, but I believe this vice is a very frequent cause of timidity. Habitual masturbators have a dank, moist, cold hand, very characteristic of great vital exhaustion; their sleep is short, and most complete marasmus comes on; they may gradually waste away if the evil passion is not got the better of; nervous symptoms set in, such as spasmodic contraction, or partial or entire convulsive movements, together with epilepsy, eclampsy, and a species of paralysis accompanied with contractions of the limbs.” (Vol. i, p. 462.)
Besides the physical symptoms, there are many signs which should warn a parent at once to use all precautionary measures. Lallemand truly remarks—“When a child, who has once shown signs of a good memory and of considerable intelligence, is found to evince a greater difficulty in retaining or comprehending what he is taught, we may be sure that it does not depend upon indisposition, as he states, or idleness, as is generally supposed. Moreover, the progressive derangement in his health, and falling off in his activity, and in his application, depend upon the same cause, only the intellectual functions become enfeebled in the most marked manner.” (Vol. iii, p. 165.)
Provided the vicious habit is left off, or has not been long practised, the recuperative power of Nature in the boy soon repairs the mischief, which appears to act principally on the nervous system,' for in very young boys no semen is lost. If, however, masturbation is continued, Nature replies to the call of the excitement, and semen, or something analogous is secreted. Occasionally, the emission gives pleasure, and there is then great danger of the habit becoming confirmed. The boy's health fails, he is troubled with indigestion, his intellectual powers are dimmed, he becomes pale, emaciated, and depressed in spirits ; exercise he has no longer any taste for, and he seeks solitude. At a later period the youth cannot so easily minister to his solitary pleasures, and he excites his organs the more, as they flag under the accustomed stimulus. There is a case, related by Chopart, of a shepherd boy who was in the habit of passing a piece of twig down the urethra, in order to produce ejaculation, when all other means had failed.
PROGNOSIS.—Evil as the effects are, even in early childhood, the prognosis of the ailment, looking on it as an ailment, is not, in children, unfavorable. Lallemand observes :—“In respect to the evil habit in children, it is easy to re-establish the health, if we can prevent the little patient masturbating himself, for at this period the resources of nature are great;" the French professor does not, however, think that it is so easy to repair the injury inflicted on nutrition during the development of the body; nevertheless he has seen the consequences disappear readily, and all the functions become re-established; not so, however, when masturbation occurs after puberty.” (Vol. I, p. 468.)
i Lallemand admits that in children it is not the loss of semen which can produce the usual effects of spermatorrhæa, but that the symptoms must depend upon the influence exercised on the nervous system, or what he terms the ébranlment nerveux épileptiforme, the loss of nervous power which follows over-excitement, tickling, or spasmodic affections in young and susceptible children, and which may produce such a perturbation of the nervous system as to occasion even death. He gives an instance of this, which he attributed to the effect produced on the brain by repeated convulsive shocks similar to those which susceptible subjects receive when the soles of the feet are tickled. (See Lallemand, pp. 467-8.)
PREVENTIVE TREATMENT.-I cannot but think that much of this evil could be prevented, by wisely watching children in early life; and, where a sexual temperament, a suspicion of the practice having been only recently indulged in, or other circumstances render it desirable, by pointing out the dreadful evils that result from the practice, and kindly but solemnly warning them against it. I have noticed that all patients who have confessed to me that they have practised this vice, have lamented that they were not, when children, made aware of its consequences, and I have been entreated over and over again to urge on parents, guardians, schoolmasters, and others interested the education of youth, the necessity of giving their charges some warning, or some intimation of their danger. Almost all sufferers coincide in the opinion that at the early age at which these practices are learnt, it is generally mere curiosity which prompts to them. And it is often only when too late, that the adult finds out that the idle and ignorant trick of the child has resulted in seriously impaired health, if not in calamities that embitter his whole after life. It is not to be denied, however, that there are great difficulties in the way of carrying out this protective method. I find, for instance, that the parents of boys about to be sent to school are—not unnaturally—most unwilling to speak of these matters to their sons. In addition to the instinctive shrinking which every right-minded person must feel from putting ideas of impurity into a child's innocent mind, a parent's pride leads him to hope that his boy would not indulge in any such mean and disgusting practices, while he trusts that at any rate he can leave these matters to the master whose interest, as well as duty it is to check such evils.
The schoolmaster, on the other hand, is just as disinclined to interfere. Till it is positively forced upon his notice, he will, most naturally, affirm that the practice never has existed, or will be countenanced in his school. Many masters feel, and say, that such things are no business of theirs. They hint at the delicacy of the subject and ask how they can even allude to matters of this kind, which do not properly come under their supervision. They say, as we might expect, that it is a parent's task, and that