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When boyish impurity involves a coarse way of looking at sexual
relations, as it always must when these are matters of common talk and
jest, the boy suffers a loss which prejudicially affects the whole
tone of his mind and every department of his conduct - I mean the loss
of reverence. It is those things alone which are sacred to us, those
things about which we can talk only with friends, and about which we
can jest with no one, that have inspiration in them, that can give us
power to follow our ideals and to lay a restraining hand on the brute
within us. Fortunately the self-control which manifests itself in
heroism, in good form, and in the sportsmanlike spirit is sacred to
almost all. To most, a mother's love is sacred. To many, all that is
implied in the word religion. To a few, sexual passion and the great
manifestations of human genius in poetry, music, painting, sculpture,
and architecture. Exactly in proportion as these things are profaned
by jest and mockery, is the light of the soul quenched and man
degraded to the level of the beast. Considering how large a part the
sex-passion plays in the lives of most men and women; considering how
it permeates the literature and art of the World and is - as the basis
of the home - the most potent factor in social life, its profanation is
a terrible loss, and the habit of mind which such profanation
engenders cannot fail to weaken the whole spirit of reverence. I must
confess that the man who jests over sex relations is to me
incomparably lower than the man who sustains clean but wholly
illegitimate sex relations; and while I am conscious of a strong
movement of friendship towards a lad who has admitted impurity in his
life but retains reverence for purity, it is hard to feel anything but
repulsion towards one who profanes the subject of sex with coarse and
ribald talk.

As a result of the two evils of which I have now spoken, together with
the physical effects of masturbation, young men become powerless to
face the sexual temptations of manhood; and many, who in all other
relations of life are admirable, sink in this matter into the mire of
prostitution or the less demoralising, but far crueller, sin of

Thrown on the streets, usually through no fault of her own, often
merely from an over-trustful love, the prostitute sinks to the lowest
depths of degradation and despair. It is not merely that she sells to
every comer, clean or bestial, without even the excuse of appetite or
of passion, what should be yielded alone to love; but it is also that
to do this she poisons body and mind with spirit-drinking, leads a
life of demoralising indolence and self-indulgence, is cut off from
all decent associations, and sinks, under the combined influence of
these things and of fell disease, into a loathsome creature whom not
the lowest wants; sinks into destitution, misery, suicide, or the
outcast's early grave. Writing of the young man who is familiar with
London, the Headmaster of Eton says: "He cannot fail to see around him
a whole world of ruined life - a ghastly varnish of gaiety spread over
immeasurable tracts of death and corruption; a state of things so
heart-rending and so hopeless that on calm consideration of it the
brain reels, and sober-minded people who, from motives of pity, have
looked the hideous evil in the face, have asserted that nothing in
their experience has seemed to threaten them so nearly with a loss of

Into the contamination of this inferno, into active support of this
cruel infamy, many and many a young man is led by the impurity of his
boyhood. Such at least is the conclusion of some who know boys best.
Thus Dr. Dukes writes:

"This evil, of which I have spoken so long and so freely, is, I
believe, _the root of the evil of prostitution_ and similar vices; and
if this latter evil is to be mitigated, it can only be, to my mind,
by making the life of the schoolboy purer.

"How is it possible to put a stop to this terrible social evil? How is
it possible to _elevate women_ while the demand for them for base
purposes is so great? We must go to the other end of the scale and
make men better; we must train young boys more in purity of life and
chastity BEFORE their passions become uncontrollable.

"Whereas the cry of every moralist and philanthropist is, 'Let us put
a stop to this prostitution, open and clandestine.' This cannot be
effected at present, much as it is to be desired; the demand for it is
too great, even possibly greater than the supply. If we wish to
eradicate it, we must go to the fountainhead and make those who create
the demand purer, so that, the demand falling off, the supply will be

[Footnote C: _The Preservation of Health_, p. 161.]

To this I venture to add that by teaching chastity we not merely
decrease the demand for prostitutes, but we greatly diminish the
supply. Few girls, if any, take to the streets until they have been
seduced; and the antecedents of seduction are the morbid exaggeration
of the sexual appetite, the lack of self-control, and the selfish
hedonism which youthful impurity engenders.

The selfishness, and consequent blindness to cruelty, of which I
write, manifests itself quite early. A boy of chivalrous feeling,
whose blood would boil at any other form of outrage on a girl, will
read a newspaper account of rape or indecent assault with a pleasure
so intense that indignation and disgust are quite crowded out of his

If, repelled by the coarseness of the streets, the young man allows
lust or passion to lead him into seduction, he commits a crime the
consequences of which are usually cruel in the extreme; for in most
cases the seduced girl sinks of necessity into prostitution. So blind,
so callous does impurity make even the refined and generous, that many
a young man who can be a good son, a good brother, a noble friend, a
patriotic citizen, will doom a girl whose only fault is that she is
physically attractive - and possibly too affectionate and trusting - to
torturing anxiety, to illness, to the horrible suffering of undesired
travail, to disgrace, and in nineteen cases out of twenty to ostracism
and the infamy of the streets. Murder is a small thing compared with
this. Who would not rather that his daughter were killed in her
innocence than that she should be doomed to such a fate?

Many young men are ignorant of the fact that sexual relations with
prostitutes frequently result in the foulest and most terrible of
diseases. Venereal diseases, as these are called, commence in the
private parts themselves, but the poison which they engender soon
attacks other parts of the body and often wrecks the general health.
It gives rise to loathsome skin disease, to degeneration of the
nervous system and paralysis, to local disease in the heart, lungs,
and digestive organs, and to such lowering of vitality as renders the
body an easy prey to disease generally. No one is justified in looking
upon this risk as a matter of merely private concern. Health is of
supreme importance not merely to the personal happiness and success of
the man himself, but also to the services he can render to his
friends, to his nation, and to humanity. Even if a young man is
foolish enough to risk his happiness and success for the sake of
animal enjoyment, he cannot without base selfishness and disloyalty
disregard the duties he owes to others. Further, the man who suffers
from venereal disease is certain to pass its poison on to his wife and
children - cursing thus with unspeakable misery those whom of all
others it is his duty to protect and bless.

One cannot help feeling at times that the blessings of home - and of
the monogamy which makes home possible - are terribly discounted by a
condition of things which offer a young man no other alternatives to
chastity than these terrible evils. Now that year by year the rising
standard of living and the increased exactions which the State makes
on the industrious and provident cause marriage to be a luxury too
expensive for many, and delayed unduly for most, the problem of social
purity becomes ever greater and more urgent. The instruction of the
young in relation to sex provides the only solution, and is, I venture
to think, incomparably the most important social reform now needed.

I am confident that a boy who receives wise training and sex guidance
from his early days will never find lust the foul and uncontrollable
element which it is to-day in the lives of most men; that in a few
generations our nation could be freed from the seething corruption
which poisons its life; and that, while freer scope could be given to
the ineffable joys of pure sexual love, very much could be done to
diminish the awful misery and degradation engendered by lust.

If children had from their infancy an instinctive and growing desire
for alcohol, with secret and unrestrained means of gratifying it; if
by its indulgence this desire grew into an overmastering craving; if
throughout childhood they received no word of warning or guidance from
the good, but were tempted and corrupted by the evil, we should have a
nation in which most men and women were drunkards, ready to break all
laws - human and divine - which stood in the way of an imperious need; a
nation in which, among those who declined to yield to iniquity, the
craving for drink caused unceasing and life-long struggle.

On the young man of to-day we lay a burden which no ordinary man was
ever yet able to bear. His boyhood and youth become, through
ignorance, the prey of lust; his passions become tyrannous; his will
is enslaved. Even if he contracts marriage, his troubles are not at an
end, for man, _as an animal_, is neither monogamous nor wholly
constant. His neglected sex-education makes him far more susceptible
to physical attractions than to those qualities which make a wife a
good companion, a good housekeeper, and a good mother; and but too
often, as a result, the beneficent influence of marriage is transient;
the domestic atmosphere ceases to be congenial; both husband and wife
become susceptible to other attachments, and the old struggle begins
all over again.



The reader who has followed me through the preceding chapters will, I
hope, feel that, whatever objections there may be to giving explicit
instruction on sex matters to the young, such instruction is immensely
to be preferred to the almost inevitable perversion which follows
ignorance. If we had to choose between a state of "innocence" and a
state of reverent knowledge, many people would doubtless incline to
the former. No such option exists. Our choice lies between leaving a
lad to pick up information from vulgar and unclean minds, and giving
it ourselves in such a manner as to invest it from the first with
sacredness and dignity.

Even if the reader is still inclined to think that sex-knowledge is,
at best, an unholy secret, he will hardly doubt that it can be
divulged with less injury by an adult who is earnestly anxious for the
child's welfare than by coarse and irreverent lips.

I am not content to leave the reader in this dilemma. I am confident
that the following words of Canon Lyttelton spring from the truest
spiritual insight: "To a lover of nature, no less than to a convinced
Christian, the subject ought to wear an aspect not only negatively
innocent, but positively beautiful. It is a recurrent miracle, and yet
the very type and embodiment of law; and it may be confidently
affirmed that, in spite of the blundering of many generations, there
is nothing in a normally-constituted child's mind which refuses to
take in the subject from this point of view, provided that the right
presentation of it is the first."

Nothing more forcibly convicts the present system of the evil which
lies at its door than the current beliefs on this subject. At present,
sexual knowledge is picked up from the gutter and the cesspool; and no
purification can free it entirely in many minds from its original

"Love's a virtue for heroes! - as white as the snow on high hills,
And immortal as every great soul is that struggles, endures,
and fulfils."

This is the prophet's belief, and yet, putting on one side those who
actually delight in uncleanness, there appear to be many people who
look upon the marriage certificate as a licence to impurity, and upon
sexual union as a form of animal indulgence to which we are so
strongly impelled that even the most refined are tempted by it into an
act of conscious indelicacy and sin. Such people read literally the
psalmist's words: "Behold, I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my
mother conceive me." It is surely some such feeling as this which
makes parents shrink from referring to the subject, which underlies
the constant use of the word "innocence" as the aptest description of
a state of mind which precedes the acquisition of sexual knowledge.

That individuals, at least, have risen to a loftier conception than
this is certain; and the only possible explanations of the prevalence
of the current idea are that sex-knowledge has almost always been
obtained from a tainted source; and that, while the coarse have not
merely whispered their views in the ear in the closet, but have, in
all ages, proclaimed them from the house-tops, the refined have hardly
whispered their ideas, much less discussed them publicly. Children
growing up with perverted views have listened to the loud assertions
of disputants on the one side, have witnessed the demoralisation which
so often attends the sexual passion, but have received no hint of what
may be said on the other side of the question.

An instructed public opinion would be horrified at our sovereign's
taking shares in a slave-trading expedition as Queen Elizabeth did. We
are aghast at the days when crowds went forth to enjoy the torture at
the stake of those from whom they differed merely on some metaphysical
point. We have even begun to be restless under man's cruel domination
over the animal creation. But we have made far less advance in our
conceptions on sexual matters; and we are content here with ideas
which were current in Elizabethan days. But for this, no passion for
conservatism, no reverence for a liturgy endeared by centuries of use,
could induce us to tell every bride as she stands before God's altar
that it is one of her functions to provide an outlet for her
husband's passion and a safeguard against fornication. Lust is at
least as degrading in married life as it is outside it. No legal
contract, no religious ceremony, can purify, much less sanctify, what
is essentially impure.

Those who desire to assist in the uplifting of humanity cannot afford
to be silent and to allow judgment to go against them by default.
Courage they will need; for a charge of indecency is sure to be
levelled against them by the indecent, and they may be misjudged even
by the pure.

This is not the place in which so delicate a matter can be fully
discussed, nor does space permit; but if the movement towards sex
instruction is not to be stultified by the very ideas which evidence
the need for it, the subject cannot be wholly ignored here, and I
venture to throw out a few suggestions.

Are we indeed to believe that the noblest and most spiritual of men
will compromise themselves in the eyes of the woman they love best,
and whose respect they most desire, by committing in her presence and
making her the instrument of an indelicate act? A great poet, who
remained an ardent lover and a devoted companion until his wife died
in his arms - blissfully happy that she might die so - has written:

"Let us not always say,
'Spite of the flesh to-day
I strove, made head, gained ground upon the whole.'
As the bird wings and sings,
Let us cry, 'All good things
Are ours, nor soul helps flesh more, now, than flesh helps soul.'"

Again: are we, who believe in a Divine government of the world, able
to imagine that God has made the perpetuation of the race dependent
upon acts of sin or of indelicacy? Did He who graced with His presence
the marriage at Cana in Galilee really countenance a ceremony which
was a prelude to sin? Did He who took the little children in His arms
and blessed them know, as He said "for of such is the kingdom of
heaven," that not one of them could have existed without indelicacy,
and that they were but living proof of their fathers' lapses and their
mothers' humiliation? Is He whom we address daily as "Our Father"
willing to be described by a name with which impurity is of necessity
connected? And has He implanted in us as the strongest of our
instincts that which cannot elevate and must debase?

Again: it needs no wide experience of life, nor any very indulgent
view of it, to feel some truth at least in the words Tennyson puts
into the mouth of his ideal man:

"Indeed I knew
Of no more subtle master under heaven
Than is the maiden passion for a maid
Not only to keep down _the base in man_,
But teach high thought, and amiable words,
And courtliness, and the desire for fame,
And love of truth, and all that makes a man."

And yet this passion is indisputably sexual passion, and the chastest
of lovers has bodily proof that the most spiritual of his kisses is
allied to the supreme embrace of love. Our body is the instrument by
which all our emotions are expressed. The most obvious way of
expressing affection is by bodily contact. The mother fondles her
child, kisses its lips and its limbs, and presses it to her breast.
Young children hold hands, put their arms round one another and kiss;
and, although later we become less demonstrative, we still take our
friend's arm, press his hand with ours, and lay a hand upon his
shoulder; we pat our horse or dog and stroke our cat. The lover
returns to the spontaneous and unrestrained caresses of his childhood.
These become more and more intimate until they find their consummation
in the most intimate and most sacred of all embraces. From first to
last these caresses - however deep the pleasure they bestow - are sought
by the mother or the lover, not _for the sake of_ that pleasure, but
as a means of expressing emotion. He only who realises this fact and
conforms to it can enter on married life with any certainty of
happiness. The happiness of very many marriages is irretrievably
shattered at the outset through the craving for sexual excitement
which, in the absence of wise guidance, grows up in every normal boy's
heart, and by the contemplation of sexual intercourse as an act of
physical pleasure.

And once again: It is the experience of those who have given
instruction in sex questions to the young that by those whose minds
have never been defiled the instruction is received with instant
reverence, as something sacred; not with shame, as something foul. I
venture once more to quote Canon Lyttelton, who sets forth his
experience and my own in language the beauty of which I cannot

"There is something awe-inspiring in the innocent readiness of little
children to learn the explanation of by far the greatest fact within
the horizon of their minds. The way they receive it, with native
reverence, truthfulness of understanding, and guileless delicacy, is
nothing short of a revelation of the never-ceasing bounty of Nature,
who endows successive generations of children with this instinctive
ear for the deep harmonies of her laws. People sometimes speak of the
indescribable beauty of children's innocence, and insist that there is
nothing which calls for more constant thanksgiving than that influence
on mankind. But I will venture to say that no one quite knows what it
is who has foregone the privilege of being the first to set before
them the true meaning of life and birth and the mystery of their own

To the arguments thus briefly indicated it is no answer to say that
sexual union is essentially physical, and that to regard it in any
other way is transcendental. Among primitive men eating and drinking
were merely animal. We have made them, in our meals, an accompaniment
to social pleasures, and in our religious life we have raised them to
a sacramental level.



We have now seen that impurity is almost universal among boys who have
been left without warning and instruction; that, under these
conditions, it is practically inevitable; that its direct results are
lowered vitality and serious injury to character, its indirect results
an appalling amount of degradation and misery; finally, that there is
nothing in sex knowledge, when rightly presented, which can in the
least defile a child's mind. All that now remains is for us to
consider by whom and under what circumstances instruction on this
subject should be given, and what assistance can be rendered to boys
who desire to lead chaste lives.

Without doubt, instruction should be given to a boy by his parents in
the home. When young children ask questions with regard to
reproduction, parents should neither ignore these question nor give
the usual silly answers. If the occasion on which the question is
asked is not one in which an answer can appropriately be given, the
child should be gently warned that the question raised is one about
which people do not openly talk, and the promise of an answer
hereafter should be made. Then, at the first convenient hour, the
child can either be given the information he seeks or told that he
shall hear all about the matter at some future specified time, as for
example, his sixth or eighth birthday.

In the absence of questions from a child, the ideal thing would be for
the child, at the age of six, seven, or eight, to learn orally from
his mother the facts of maternity and to receive warning against
playing with his private parts. Whether at this time it is best to
teach him the facts of paternity is, I think, doubtful. Canon
Lyttelton is strongly of opinion that the father's share in the
child's existence should be explained when the mother's share is
explained, and there is much weight in what he says. If the question
of paternity is reserved, it should not be on the ground that there is
anything embarrassing or indelicate about the matter, and, when the
facts are revealed, the child should clearly understand that they have
been withheld merely until his mind was sufficiently developed to
understand them. The only safe guide in such matters is experience,
and of this as yet we have unfortunately little.

The question next arises: should it be the mother or the father who
gives this instruction? As regards the earlier part of the instruction
a confident reply can be made to this question. The information should
be given by the parent whose relations with the child are the more
intimate and tender, and whose influence over him is the greater.
This will, of course, usually be the mother. The subject of paternity
may, if reserved for future treatment, be appropriately given by the
father, provided that he and his son are on really intimate terms. If
timely warning is given to a child about playing with his private
parts, no reference need be made to self-abuse until a boy leaves home
for school, or until he is nearing the age of puberty.

There are many mothers whose insight and tact will enable them to
approach these questions in the best possible way and to say exactly
the right thing. There are others - a large majority, I think - who
would be glad of guidance, and there are not a few who would certainly
leave the matter alone unless thus guided. It was mainly to assist
parents in this work that I published last year a pamphlet entitled
_Private Knowledge for Boys_.[D] This embodies just what, in my
opinion, should be said to an intelligent child, and it has, in my own
hands, proved effective for many years past. In the case of _young_
children the teaching should certainly be oral, _provided_ that the
mother knows clearly what to say, has sufficient powers of expression
to say it well, and can talk without any feeling of embarrassment.
Unless these conditions co-exist I recommend the use of a pamphlet. As
I have found that children often do not know what one means by the
"private parts," I make this clear at the outset.

[Footnote D: To be obtained post free for nine stamps from Mr. M.
Whiley, Stonehouse, Glos.]

Some into whose hands this book may come and who have boys of twelve
and upwards to whom they have never given instruction, may possibly be

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Online LibraryMary ScharliebYouth and Sex → online text (page 6 of 7)