Celibacy Quotes

The Truth About Masturbation Part 1

Bernarr Macfadden

Excerpt from Manhood
and Marriage
(1916)

Ch. 23, p. 150

Masturbation, also commonly known as "self-abuse," is the greatest of all sexual evils, not only because of its widespread practice, and the opportunity for excesses, but especially because of the fact that it generally works its harm during the period of growth, when the results of any sexual mistake or abuse are far more serious than they would be in adult life.

The habit is injurious at any time of life, however, owing to the drain upon the constitution and the weakening or exhaustion of the nerve centers which it involves. It is truly an outrage upon the body — to such an extent that the effects are not only physical but moral or psychic as well. The mind and soul of the victim seem to be tainted at the same time that the body is weakened and sexual power impaired by this degrading practice.

Masturbation is often thought to be more harmful to boys than to girls, because of the direct drain upon the resources of the body in the case of the male through the loss of the seminal fluid. But when one considers the havoc wrought upon the more delicate nervous systems of young women it is not always so certain that they suffer less seriously from the practice than do young men.

Naturally the injury that results from this particular evil is influenced, to a very large extent, by two factors : first, the general vital vigor of the victim, and, second, by the effects on the whole physical fabric. For instance if one is what might be termed "high strung," possesses a delicately-adjusted and keenly-sensitive nervous system, the effects of a habit of this sort would be far greater than in those who might be described as phlegmatic in temperament. The phlegmatic temperament is usually protected by superior vitality, but, also by less inclination to indulge in a habit of this sort. Therefore, it might be said that the more ability one possesses, the more alert and keen one's mental capacity, the greater would be the inclination towards a habit of this sort and the greater would be the harm wrought by its indulgence.

We must also fully admit that the injury resulting there from is very greatly increased because of the usual inclination to worry about it. The mind and body act and react upon each other. The after effects of indulgence of this sort are strongly inclined towards mental. perturbation and undoubtedly this tendency has been created as a means of self-protection from the evil, tending naturally to lessen gradually its practice.

Because of the almost universal prevalence of this evil the subject is one to which the closest attention should be given by every one, and especially by parents and educators. It is a possibility in the life of every child, boy or girl, and it is therefore imperative that parents should guard against it, not only by keeping in close touch with their children, but also by gaining and keeping their confidence and warning them of the physical and mental injury that follows self-abuse.

Owing to the secret character of the practice it is impossible to make any definite statements as to the extent to which it is carried on. Many writers of authority have even asserted that among boys the habit is universal. One investigator has said that out of every hundred men ninety-nine have masturbated at one time or another, and the hundredth is a liar. Such a statement is of course the utterance of an extremist. It may not be very far from the truth, but the situation is bad enough without exaggeration. That this secret vice has been practiced by the majority of young men to some extent, at one time or another, there seems to be no doubt. Various careful students have estimated that anywhere from seventy-five to ninety-five per cent of young men have thus defiled themselves, some of them perhaps only for a short time, and to a moderate extent, and others excessively and for long periods. In most cases the practice is commenced in utter ignorance of the harm that may result from it, and when the victim learns that it is injurious and vicious he either stops it, or tries to stop it. In the latter case his struggle against it checks its frequency, and in that way mitigates its evil effects.

Girls are by no means free from the practice, though it is far less common among them, careful students having placed the percentage of those who indulge in it at anywhere from ten to twenty. It may be much more than this, however, owing to the greater secrecy of women in matters of this kind, and the consequent difficulty of obtaining information.

Prudery is undoubtedly one of the chief causes of masturbation, and it does not assume a merely negative role; for it not only keeps the young in ignorance of the harmfulness of the habit, but throws around the whole subject of sex an atmosphere of mystery which serves actively to stimulate the curiosity and interest of the child in this department of life, thereby making him only too ready to be initiated into practices of this kind at the first opportunity.

There is no doubt that the habit is most frequently begun through initiation by vicious or ignorant associates. It may be the stable boy, or the minister's son, or any of the companions of the school playground. Occasionally it is a stupid, ignorant servant, possibly even a servant girl. The habit spreads as though it were some form of contagion. One learns it from another who has in turn been introduced to it by some one else.

Children are almost invariably ignorant of the fact that they are doing any real wrong, or injuring themselves, when commencing this habit. If the parents had their confidence and had warned them of the danger, they would be protected, to a great extent, against such influences. There is at the present time a considerable number of people who object to the teaching of sex hygiene in the schools, or even elsewhere, on the theory that knowledge alone is not sufficient to prevent wrong doing of this character. That may be true in some instances. Knowledge might not be sufficient in all cases; but it would give the child or youth a fighting chance, and that is something which the secrecy and mystery in which this subject is now involved do not give him. The world is full of young men and women suffering from the weaknesses and mental tortures that follow excessive early indiscretions, and crying out, "If I only had known, if I only had known." I don't know how many thousands of letters I have received from men and women appealing for help, most of them explaining the manner in which they commenced this habit, and stating, in practically all cases, that they had no idea that it was injurious. The secrecy regarding sex subjects maintained by their elders had been such that they had had no chance to learn that it was wrong.

It may be true, as respectable, prudish people insist, that knowledge alone is not sufficient to prevent these vices in all cases. But I note that knowledge alone is often sufficient to enable the victim to break the habit, and it is far more difficult to break a habit than to avoid forming it. It is certainly true that character building and religious training count for a great deal in matters of this kind, but Sunday school children, and even adult ministers, preaching the Gospel from the pulpit each Sunday, are sometimes addicted to this habit, often contracted through ignorance. Several State Sunday School Associations now have a Department of Purity, and by means of literature, addresses, and conferences are disseminating this much needed knowledge. The value of character building and ethical teaching does not alter the fact that knowledge in itself is both desirable and necessary. What would we think of sending our children to walk blindfolded through a wood filled with pitfalls and quicksands? Yet that is just what we do in keeping from them the knowledge that is so necessary to their self-preservation. It is prudery that is chiefly at fault.

Sometimes this habit is not acquired from others, but is commenced accidentally, or as a result of curiosity as may be observed in monkeys. Not rarely it is due to some irritation or itching of the parts concerned, which is directly due to lack of cleanliness. If strict cleanliness of these parts is maintained, the young boy or girl will usually be unconscious of their existence, unless attention is drawn to them through outside influences. But even when the habit is commenced for such reasons as these it is still ignorance, and the prudery back of ignorance, that is chiefly at fault.

This question of genital cleanliness is one that is still greatly neglected, even by many who are more or less refined in most other things. The hygienic requirements of the body in this matter should be taught to every child very early in life. Physicians having much experience with genito-urinary disorders testify to the fact that cleanliness is still far from being universal, or even general. It would seem almost incredible that such should be true in any civilized country where soap and water are matters of course. The neglect of this important detail of the toilet is sometimes such as to remind one of the filth of the religious ascetics of the dark ages, and often is of similar origin. One Sunday-school teacher, found by his physician to be a frightful offender in this respect, said that he regarded it as sinful to handle or bother about these parts. Even in bathing! The local use of plenty of soap and water is effective in preventing irritation of these parts, and when there is inflammation that makes them sensitive to soap a solution of boric acid will be found a good cleansing and antiseptic agent.

The age at which masturbation is most commonly practiced is between puberty and maturity, although it may be found at almost any time of life. It is carried on by many men and by some women through adult life. It is sometimes begun in early childhood, and even in infancy, usually as the result of irritation. The coming of puberty, however, with the rapid development of the reproductive system and the sex instinct, is the most dangerous period, and it is in the few years following this change that the habit is most weakening, because of the drain on the seminal fluid. Abuses that might be tolerated by an adult with comparatively little inconvenience would at the time of puberty or a little later, be sufficient to wreck the constitution.

The harmful results of masturbation are two-fold in character, the habit being, first, destructive to the sexual function itself, and, second, debilitating to the constitution. In other words, the habit is unsexing on the one hand, and on the other hand tends to undermine the strength of the body generally. It would be hard to say that either form of weakness precedes the other, for cases vary ; as a rule the two results go side by side.

To just what extent is masturbation injurious?

There has been so much difference of opinion expressed upon this point by various writers that even those of my readers who have read much upon the subject will be anxious to get a fairly clear idea of the truth of the matter.

In the first place, there is no question that the harmfulness of the practice was greatly exaggerated by the early writers, and there is no doubt that some of the more recent writers have drawn their conclusions from the statements made by the former. On the other hand, there are many writers of the present time who go to the opposite extreme in declaring that masturbation does little or no harm in most cases.

Both of these extremes are wrong. The fact that a man may survive an experience does not mean that it has been good for him, or without bad effects.

Many writers of the present time are undoubtedly doing much harm by belittling the effects of self-abuse. They have so much to say about the exaggerations of the early writers that the reader is likely to get the impression that the habit is not so injurious after all, and therefore does not try to break it. I quite agree that the alarmist view is not usually desirable, because it sets up a train of worry in the mind of the young man or woman which only aggravates the trouble and makes the struggle against it harder. But at the same time it is foolish to give the impression that the practice is of little importance, or to say that nearly every one has been addicted to it and that most of them have survived with good health and functions unimpaired.

The fact is that masturbation is always detrimental, even in the most moderate degree, and when carried far is extremely destructive. If not commenced until after mature years have been arrived at the results will be less serious. Unfortunately, however, it is practiced, in dearly all cases, before the age of eighteen years, more-often from fourteen to sixteen, and sometimes it is kept up from the age of twelve or fourteen until marriage—occasionally even after that. It is really true that when practiced extensively in the early years of youth the results are often almost serious enough to justify the horrible pen pictures painted by the sensational and exaggerating writers of a generation ago. And even in adult life it is sufficiently debilitating, robbing a man of his bodily energies, his mental strength, his spirit and his ambition, besides weakening the sex function itself and inducing a condition of general unfitness for marriage. It is a serious matter even in adult life.

The great consideration to keep in mind is that the harm depends very largely upon the extent to which, and the length of time during which the practice has been carried on. Fortunately, as I have said, many break the habit as soon as they learn its serious character. In other cases, it may have taken such a hold as to be very difficult to break, but by continually struggling against it the frequency with which the practice is indulged in may be so reduced as to lessen the harm done. In many such cases the habit is finally broken only after two or three years of fighting against it.

It is well to remember, also, that some constitutions seem to be much stronger than others in this respect and can stand far more abuse, just as some men can tolerate more alcohol and tobacco without showing the immediate effects, even though these poisons are continually injuring them. There are some who claim that masturbation never did them any harm. The man who feels this way about it was probably gifted by nature with prodigious sexual strength. But I do not think this can ever be truthfully said. I cannot agree with those who hold that it is only the excess that is harmful. This practice is injurious no matter with what moderation it may be indulged in, just as alcohol and tobacco, even in small quantities, are harmful, in spite of the fact that the user may not be able to see the effect immediately.

The fact is that masturbation is always weakening and devitalizing, either in youth or in adult life. It is a process of accomplishing gradually what castration accomplishes suddenly. It means the slow undermining of manhood and all that goes with it. That the harm is often exaggerated is doubtless true, but in view of the fact that the practice, when carried far enough, utterly unfits a man for marriage and for life, any attempt to minimize its seriousness may be criminally misleading. The fact that the victim may still be able to dress himself and walk about and eat does not necessarily mean that he is a man. It does not indicate that he has not been harmed. The results may range in different cases all the way from nocturnal seminal losses and varicocele down to complete impotence. Let the young man who finds himself hopelessly impotent ask some of these physicians what they mean by saying that the habit is not especially harmful.

What is known as "prematurity," or precipitate ejaculation, a condition which is nearly as serious as complete impotence in disqualifying the victim for marriage, is one of the most common of the results of masturbation in men. There are, of course, various degrees of prematurity, ranging from a mild case, to an extreme sensitiveness or "hair trigger" condition, in which the ejaculation- may take place upon slight excitement, or even before attempting the relationship. More or less prematurity is invariably the result when masturbation has been practiced to any material extent. In women the most frequent result is to delay the orgasm, perhaps through lessened sensitiveness. In some cases it also leads to prematurity in women. Impotence, too, may be the result in both sexes, or complete absence of any sexual desire.

Masturbation tends to exhaust the nerve-centers of the spine. It also produces such a congestion of the various organs and glands of the reproductive system, and taxes their strength to such an extent as to cause varicocele, prostate enlargement, urethral inflammation, especially of the posterior urethra, possible atrophy of the testicles or other parts, seminal losses and other special disorders which will be taken up thoroughly in later chapters.

The general bodily effects of masturbation, apart from the effect on the generative system itself, are to be seen in a lack of energy or general lassitude, a weakened muscular system, an all-around lack of development, sometimes a dragging gait, weakness of the bladder, or urinary symptoms, a pale or sallow complexion, often with dark rings around the eyes, as well as pimples and blackheads, poor memory,. difficulty in study or mental concentration, lack of self-confidence, a tendency to avoid the society of others, especially that of the opposite sex, and an inability to look other people in the eye. Of course these symptoms are typical only of serious cases. When the habit has not been carried very far, or has not been productive of much harm, they will not be in evidence. The mental or psychic symptoms are especially important and may be observed in varying degrees. A naturally strong-minded character may overcome some of them as for instance the lack of confidence, by force of will, but in many cases these anti-social symptoms are extremely marked. Weakened memory and poor mental concentration are among the most persistent and common of such symptoms.

The personal appearance does not, however, always indicate addiction to this habit, contrary to the statements of some of the old writers. When the individual has inherited extraordinary vitality, his natural strength may enable him to endure considerable abuse without showing it externally, so that we cannot, as a rule, judge by appearances. There has been much said about the masturbator's face, which the keen observer is supposed to read like the page of an open book, and also about the masturbator's walk; but there are thousands of cases in which there is no indication of the habit, either in face or walk. There are some men who are actually impotent, but who yet retain a healthy, good appearance, so far as the face is concerned. Only in a test of athletic strength, or trial of nerves, would they be likely to show plainly the effect of their condition.

Much has been said about the relation of acne, or pimples, to this habit. While this condition is a frequent result, yet it is not always a true indication. The natural character of the skin has much to do with acne, and persons with clear, smooth skins are often great offenders in this respect. Persons having naturally oily skins are most likely to be afflicted with pimples and black-heads, which are commonly found on the face and shoulders, these being the parts of the body where the sebaceous glands are more plentiful. The so-called "flesh worm" of the blackhead is only an accumulation of the dried oily secretion of a sebaceous gland resulting from the clogging of the opening. The ordinary pimple is caused by a mild infection which has traveled down the duct ' of one of these glands, or down the root of a hair. When these tiny glands are especially active such difficulties are more likely to be met with. The sebaceous glands, like all the other glands of the body, are most active in youth, from the period of puberty until maturity, and it is largely for this reason that young people of this age are so frequently affected with pimples. Masturbation is not necessarily involved. Rigid cleanliness, by preventing the clogging of the tiny ducts, and also by preventing infection, will do a great deal to prevent pimples. Also cold water and ice, because they contract or close the pores, are useful. Warm or hot water opens them, and should be avoided generally.

At the same time there is another factor to be considered in acne, namely, the question of pure blood and resistance to infection. In vigorous health the infection cannot gain a foothold. But when the vitality is lowered, the circulation weak and the vital functions impaired, it is easy to develop these pimples. Now, masturbation, of course, tends to derange the internal functions, weakening digestion and otherwise impairing the quality of the blood, so that pimples are likely to occur:

In other words, acne is often found upon the face, shoulders, chest and back of masturbators as a symptom of lowered vitality but is not the positive indication that some have supposed. In some cases the health is undermined only slowly, during a period of years, and the appearance for a long time may indicate nothing wrong.

The nervous results of this habit are serious, being in the case of many women victims, the most pronounced of all. Neurasthenia frequently follows, and failing memory and brain fag are commonly experienced. After the habit has been broken there will be a gradual recovery from these conditions, but so long as one suffers from excessive night losses or spermatorrhea one will continue to feel these effects of nervous depletion.

The question of insanity resulting from masturbation is one that particularly requires attention, inasmuch as all the old writers on the subject had a great deal to say about it. Also, booklets published by quack doctors for the purpose of scaring their victims into giving up their money, so misrepresent the dangers of insanity from this cause that the truth should be told with all possible emphasis. And the truth is, according to extensive scientific investigations, that no one needs to worry about going insane as a result of this habit. The evil is bad enough without making it worse. Any number of terrified persons have written me agonizing letters, imploring me, "for God's sake," to save them from the madhouse, to which they were convinced their trouble was driving them.

Now, just to know that masturbation does not cause insanity will relieve the minds of thousands of a fear which is sometimes one of its worst results, for in many cases the mental tortures of the victim who feels himself threatened with loss of reason, are infinitely more injurious to him than the direct physical results of the habit itself.

A great deal of scientific study has been given to this subject of insanity, with encouraging results. The fact is that there is no danger of any one's going insane from ordinary causes unless he comes from a family in which there has been insanity, and which is characterized by an hereditary weakness of the nervous make-up predisposing toward mental disorders. It used to be said that men went insane from overwork, or from grief, but this actually does not happen in the case of one with a normal nervous constitution. If it were true, millions of us would be insane. Shock or grief, or nerve-strain from overwork, might possibly be the "active" or "exciting" cause of insanity in the case of one having an inherited tendency toward it, but even then it is more likely that the determining factor would be found in alcohol or some real destructive influence. Shock or grief certainly would have no such effect upon a normal man. The "moving picture" scenes in which persons are represented as "going mad," or "losing their reason," from any old cause, are unpardonably false and silly. Even when one has an inherited susceptibility, insanity can be avoided by, keeping the blood pure, and living a life that will keep the nerves healthy and strong.

When insanity is not induced by heredity it results from the effect of poisons upon the body and brain, or from injuries to the head. Most in-sanity is directly due to the destruction of brain cells through poisoning. The alcohol poison, for instance, is to blame for one-fourth or more of all cases to be found in the asylums. Habit-forming drugs are often responsible. A large percentage of criminals also are drug-fiends, when they are not alcoholic. The poison of syphilis is another cause of insanity, producing paresis or general paralysis, popularly known as "softening of the brain." In a similar way the poisons of other diseases sometimes affect the brain.

Feeble-mindedness is sometimes the aftermath of scarlet fever or other childhood infection.

I have, gone to the trouble of explaining all this about insanity simply to show that masturbation is not a factor in producing this condition, as it was once thought to be, and to convince you, if you are one of those who have been losing sleep and undermining your health in the fear of insanity, that you can dismiss this worry, at least, from your mind. I want you to understand that the mental symptoms I have mentioned, brain fag, poor memory, inability to concentrate and all, that sort of thing, are purely neurasthenic symptoms, and not evidences of approaching insanity. They simply mean a lack of energy, impoverished blood, a depleted condition of the system, and nothing more.

There is one somewhat misleading fact that has probably had much to do with the belief that masturbation leads to madness. This is the prevalence of the vice among the feeble-minded and the insane. They lack all sense of restraint, and many of them are inclined to indulge in the practice immoderately. We should recognize in such cases that the mental defect is the cause of the habit, instead of supposing that the habit is the cause of the mental defect. It was easy for the old writers to confuse cause and effect.

Another important point. If you are afraid you are going insane it is a sure sign that you are not. Among the certain tests of insanity is the absolute conviction of the patient that he is sane.

If one thinks that he is insane, or is afraid of insanity, he is probably neurasthenic, but it is a pretty safe conclusion that he is not even in danger of insanity. I especially want to make this point clear because worrying about these things is one of the greatest difficulties that the victim of this habit has to contend with. If you are one of this class, you may just as well stop worrying right now on these points.

Practically the same thing applies to locomotor ataxia and other extreme conditions. Locomotor ataxia, like paresis, is usually a result of syphilis. There are some good authorities who still hold that masturbation or sexual excess in exceptional and extreme cases may cause paralysis or locomotor ataxia, and it is possible that these conditions might result from the exhaustion of the nerve-centers of the spine. In many cases those who have abused themselves complain of aches and pains in the spine, which, perhaps indicate the partial breaking down of the nerve-centers, but paralysis and similar disorders, if possible at all, would result only from extreme and pro-longed abuse of this kind.

Remember that the general bodily effect of masturbation is debility, which naturally affects all organs and functions. It is true that masturbation is actually the cause of death in many cases, but it is because the system has been undermined so that the sufferer becomes an easy victim of tuberculosis or any other disease which may come along. There is no doubt that this habit is the predisposing cause of death in thousands of cases in which the death certificate by the physician names some specific disease.

NEXT: Part 2, THE TREATMENT

truth-about-masturbation-part-2-treatment.htm

top of page