IF we want in the waking state to experience all the pleasures of love and passion, with the highest altruistic ecstasy, this is best attained in a licit union of two lovers who mutually love and respect each other, as should occur in an ideal marriage.
And we must once more observe that other function, so that we can understand how much higher this ideal of ethical and physiological satisfaction stands than all others.
What does a loving mother do when her little darling has a strong desire to urinate and weeps because he cannot do so? To relieve the cramps and pains the mother lays hot wet compresses on his little body, gently rubs and massages the abdomen, and does not leave off until the crisis is over and the little one is relieved.
Now we understand better why in the sexual life natural cohabitation between man and woman is the gentlest and best of all methods of relieving the tension, not in sleep but in the intoxication of love.
Ordinary, regular intercourse, as it occurs in a happy marriage, disturbs us the least and calms us the most effectually.
It is most astonishing to reflect how Nature has so arranged this procedure that it falls to the lot of both partners to be operator and subject at the same time. After all the preliminary difficulties and obstacles, Nature at last surprises us with the simplicity and easy solution of this problem, because such a beautiful result is obtained with so little trouble, and even with organs which were already useful for other ends. Thus is actually realised the classical “tuto, cito, jucundo,” 1 which medical science in the olden times accepted as its ideal.
This mutual satisfaction of the two sexes, this heterosexual mode of satisfaction, is in every respect as well adapted to its end as if it had been prepared for us by a loving mother.
But we do not want to rush on too fast with the realisation of this ideal of our age. Before we have reached the point where all these conditions are fulfilled in a happy marriage, we may possibly be for a tong time at the mercy of our mother Nature who so often subjects us to a severe trial. Yet at last she takes pity on us. For long before our marriage, the above-named conditions are often fulfilled while we are lying asleep alone and quiet in our beds. That is her time to bring us secret relief.(2)
During sleep the sexual excitement does not easily attain the excessive degree which frequently occurs during the daytime. The antagonistic resistance is not so powerful, and above all the manifold complications of our consciousness are almost entirely absent. Everything occurs so gently that sleep is not disturbed at all; at most one experiences agreeable dreams. A little congestion can scarcely be avoided in this congestive function, but everything takes place in the best way possible.
With masturbation, the voluntary touching of one’s own body in solitude, however, the opposite is the case. For then one is awake; the brain and spinal cord are stimulated and irritated to the highest degree; there is no peaceful rest, no mutual warmth, none of the intoxication of love. One performs this delicate biological function roughly, and becomes so accustomed to crude means, that later in marriage, one scarcely feels any satisfaction from the gentler physiological procedures.
For it is a fixed law that every mode of satisfaction that has become a habit, makes us less susceptible to other modes with other associations. Love, the one essential condition, is lacking and with it all holiness. Of course, the secretion may be evoked by means of this brutal act, as by an artificial operative procedure, but it is by no means the beautiful natural function. Before dealing further with the subject of masturbation, we must define the term more precisely. By masturbation, which is also called onanism, self-pollution, etc., we mean any kind of manipulation destined to provoke sexual excitement in oneself. From the ethical standpoint, the solitude and secretiveness of it are typical.
The name comes from manus-the hand, and stuprumunchastity, and means sexual impropriety with the hand, or by any other means of massage.
The popular name onanism comes quite wrongly from the biblical mention of Onan (Genesis 38.9), for in this verse a voluntary interruption of the procreative act was referred to (coitus interruptus (3) ), an act that was considered so shameful in Onan because he thus sinned against the law of Moses (Deuteronomy, 25:5-10).
This erroneous interpretation of the story of Onan has led public opinion into error not only in regard to masturbation but also to coitus interruptus, as though in each case we were speaking of a mortal sin. Through this fatal error countless people have been led to despair, and instances are not rare where it has led to suicide, sometimes of the most horrible nature, in the hope of escaping from the torments of hell fire.
This psychological anxiety has done more harm through the centuries than any physiological damage due to coitus interruptus, and yet well-intentioned but erroneous authorities still frighten young people who practice masturbation, by quoting the story of Onan.
A name that has led to so much error and despair should no longer be maintained. In practice, we doctors employ many different names for masturbation, because it may assume so many different forms. In children it is generally only a bad habit due to improper training; in adolescents obstinacy, brutality, sometimes even vice, or a morbid symptom; in old men frequently a sign of dementia.
A special sub-division is mutual masturbation, when the same crude act is practiced on another person, generally of the same sex (homosexual), a phenomenon ethically quite different, because it is not practiced in solitude. If the ordinary masturbator is frequently shamefaced and shy of other people, mutual masturbation leads on the contrary to shamelessness. It is the preparatory school to the brothel, especially when practiced on a large scale as often happens in boarding school and barracks. But we shall only speak of ordinary masturbation in the remainder of this chapter.
As a basis for a rational hygiene, it is of the highest importance to study and compare these two alternatives of youth: masturbation or nocturnal emissions.
We have referred to the distinction between violent masturbation and nocturnal emissions occurring during sleep. This distinction, however, is not always so categorical; emissions are sometimes found less salutary; the fatigue or exhaustion due to masturbation may vary within very wide limits. On account of their practical importance, I will now be rather more explicit.
With an emission it may happen that we were indeed more or less stupefied by sleep, but that at the actual moment the whole experience was very closely related to masturbation. And conversely, after long continued abstinence we may while half asleep, masturbate so gently and involuntarily that it takes place like a spontaneous emission, without shock or nervous tension.
But no matter how soundly we sleep, we may feel exhausted and depressed on awaking in the morning after a nocturnal emission. This is often taken to prove that such emissions are harmful, and that prostitution and other such indulgences are much better for young folks.
I do not object to the observation, but I do to the conclusions. All that has been demonstrated is that one feels miserable on awakening while still under the influence of the emission. The causal nexus may however lie elsewhere. Perhaps too much was eaten or drunk the night before, for instance sweet drinks like chocolate, punch, champagne, etc., which cause extreme heat in the night; or perhaps one lay in a constrained position, e.g., on the back, with venous stasis in the cerebellum or spinal cord. In all these cases one may have had a troubled sleep and uneasy dreams, which might well be the cause of the emissions. Therefore, before drawing such unhygienic conclusions in the name of hygiene, one should carefully look for all causes which may have produced such uncomfortable sensations, whether with or without emissions, so as to avoid them in future.
I have not said that masturbation always has serious consequences. The con-sequences only become grave when one is the slave of the habit, just as with alcohol; for one can never tell beforehand how much one may be predisposed to them. Principiis obsta! From the very beginning we should be on our guard.
It is also true of masturbation that the younger one begins it, the worse the consequences may be. Also, the more violently the emission is induced, the worse it is; and really it should never be a deliberate excitement of the sexual impulse, but at most a final yielding, if the degree and duration of the excitement have become overpowering.
I go a step farther, for Nature is never absolute in her laws. Just as emissions may depress us, so masturbation may sometimes protect us from something worse. It is above all in the sexual sphere that we sometimes meet with the most intricate complications and insoluble conflicts of duty. As compared with prostitution and seduction, masturbation appears to be the lesser evil.
If one finds himself in such a position that he does not feel ethically quite sure of what he ought to do and after examining his conscience he thinks there is an urgent reason to masturbate, he can then best guard against self-deception by making a rule to allow 24 hours to elapse between the intention and the deed.
This then follows the same rule as the death penalty once did; for the difference between murder and execution often lay in the fact that in the latter case a certain time was always allowed to elapse between sentence and execution. Like that old Roman, who when his slaves made him angry, cried out: “Oh! what a thrashing I would give you if I were not so angry!” But after all everyone feels that it would be better if thrashings and the death sentence were abolished altogether.
In Chapter 65 we consider the two different methods of treating habitual masturbation.
It is frequently stated that masturbation is much more common in females than in males, but this is difficult to prove because this act leaves no visible traces. At most the experienced physician may sometimes notice that one side of the trousers is more worn than the other on account of the rubbing of the nails of the right hand. Then again, girls are less scolded than boys for a little sleepiness or a dreamy look which is often the consequence of masturbation.
One only knows the beauty of sexual intercourse, the ecstasy of love, when one can experience this impulse with a loved one who meets it with an equal passion.
This spiritual rapture may be the principal factor, and it is not necessarily man and woman who feel themselves drawn together; a youth may be charmed by another youth, and how often there is a passionate attachment between two young girls.
There are males who feel themselves attracted sexually only to members of their own sex, and also women who can only have passionate intercourse with their own sex.(4)
This, however, must always remain an exception, because only the minority of people are so constituted 5 and persons who are not so predisposed will not lightly renounce the magic charm of the opposite sex with its physiological advantages in the procreative act. And for this reason the over-zealous activities of the moralists and legislators who jealously strive to preserve the monopoly of heterosexuality may be considered quite superfluous. From a material point of view, there is not a solitary method of homosexual satisfaction which possesses the slightest advantage over the ordinary heterosexual intercourse, which can quite well stand competition; and survival in the sense of Darwin’s theory by means of descendants is of course quite impossible. It goes without saying that every case of the sexual seduction of children should be punishable, even when this is heterosexual and therefore doubly dangerous. Otherwise, however, from a legal standpoint, every adult should decide for himself in what manner he finds his own sexual satisfaction; on condition that he does no injury to anyone else and creates no public scandal by it.
Meanwhile public opinion, mingled with fanaticism, considers that homosexual inclinations are terribly immoral, whereas we see every day before our eyes what an endless amount of immorality and misery are caused by heterosexuality. Although inferior and depraved persons sometimes commit homosexual acts with seduction, prostitution, violence, etc., unfortunately these shocking things come forth out of the realms of darkness still oftener in the heterosexual sphere; and the climax of cruelty and horror, lust-murder, has, so far as I am aware, been observed as exclusively of heterosexual origin.
And then there is always the fantastic idea that homosexuality only knows the pederastic mode of satisfaction, that is to say the anal instead of the vaginal method. This is of course a custom that is most repulsive to us, but it was very highly prized in antiquity, and at the present time is still held in high honour in many parts of the world. In the oriental view of life, this act was perhaps considered animistically as contributing strength of mind, besides which it has often been intended as a symbol of the most intimate love-union, and felt to be the highest expression of passion. Further in many cases it is only an obsession arising sporadically and originating from childhood, when we watched the mating of animals with astonished eyes, without really understanding them.
But we must not generalise. In regard to all female homosexuals, who are probably in the majority, these theories are not applicable, and we learn from the experience of homosexual men that this modus vivendi does not offer so many advantages after all as has been stated.
There is hardly an organ of the body or a method that might not be employed as a means of stimulus and satisfaction, and that will not be used on occasion. Indeed, even in heterosexual intercourse, anal connection is by no means unknown as a preventive method; so it cannot be regarded exclusively as a characteristic of homosexuality.
Frederick the Great said that every man should be happy in his own way. And if vaginal connection, which has been found the most suitable simply because it is the only method which can not only give pleasure but can also fecundate, will always occupy its favoured position, that does not prove that where this method is not possible other harmless methods cannot provide the same delights if only the love stimulus is sufficiently strong.
The essential thing in the sexual function is the contact. Which of the poles of the body it is that feel drawn to each other is unimportant. Psychical rapture is not dependent on such insignificant details.
1 The remedy should be “sure, quick and agreeable”.
2 Regarding female erotic dreams, see Chapter 18.
3 As a common and still much used preventive method, coitus interruptus is often termed the French method; but a method was known at the Renaissance in Italy, which was probably identical, and was at that time known in France as the Italian method, Goethe refers to it in his translation of the Life of Cellini (who lived in the 16th century), Book 3. Chapter 7.
4 The opinions expressed in the last part of this chapter sound surprising and perhaps shocking to us British, emancipated in our views of sex though we may think ourselves. We must remember that in many Continental countries, not only is homosexuality regarded much more lightly by public opinion, but the law considers it a matter of personal taste and leaves it quite unpunished, except where the protection of minors or the maintenance of public decency is concerned. This is the case in Holland, where Dr. Rutgers lives and writes. (Translator’s note.)
5 This inclination seems only to develop so thoroughly exclusively when the material reasons for it are present (see chapter 4).