JOHN HUMPHREY NOYES
PUBLISHED BY THE ONEIDA COMMUNITY.
OFFICE OF ONEIDA CIRCULAR,
ONEIDA, N. Y.
Part I - Background
THE Oneida Community has long been receiving almost daily letters of inquiry respecting its method of controlling propagation. Many of these letters evidently come from intelligent and respectable persons. We will give a few recent specimens. Here is one from an English clergyman:
London, March 11, 1872.
MR. J. H. NOYES:
For some time past I have wished to ask you to inform me what is the "scientific discovery" you have made relating to Male Continence, referred to by Hepworth Dixon in New America, 6th Ed., 1867. As a clergyman I think a knowledge of it would be exceedingly useful to me and to some of my brethren in pastoral work.
Hoping you will take the trouble to answer my request, I am, Dear Sir,
Yours most truly,
The following is from an American clergyman:
Ohio, May 11, 1872.
MR. J. H. NOYES:
Please send me a copy of your letter on "Male Continence." My object is to get some reliable information as to how to prevent conception, without injury to either husband or wife. I am a married man; and the delicate state of my wife's health, besides having a family of seven children, renders it very desirable, if not absolutely necessary, to adopt some safe means to prevent conception in the future. Any information you can give will be thankfully received.
I am a Congregational minister by profession.
Very respectfully yours,
We have on file many letters from intelligent men and women in ordinary married life, who were induced to seek information about Male Continence by seeing and suffering the miseries of involuntary propagation. Here is a specimen remarkable for its details of horrors, which, according to recent disclosures, are being enacted everywhere, even in the high places of society, though seldom exposed. It is a mother who writes.
May 12, 1872.
(Addressed to a lady in the Community.)
I must tell you a sad story. Two years ago last September my daughter was married; the next June she had a son born; the next year in July she had a daughter born; and if nothing happens to prevent she will be confined for the third time in the coming June; that is three times in less than two years. Her children are sickly, and she is sick and discouraged. When she first found she was in the family way this last time, she acted like a crazy person; went to her family physician, and talked with him about having an operation performed. He encouraged her in it, and performed it before she left the office, but without success. She was in such distress that she thought she could not live to get home. I was frightened at her looks, and soon learned what she had done. I tried to reason with her, but found her reason had left her on that subject.
She said she never would have this child if it cost her life to get rid of it. After a week she went to the doctor again. He did not accomplish his purpose, but told her to come again in three months. She went at the time appointed in spite of my tears and entreaties. I told her that I should pray that Christ would discourage her; and sure enough she had not courage to try the operation, and came home, but cannot be reconciled to her condition. She does not appear like the same person she was three years ago, and is looking forward with sorrow instead of joy to the birth of her child. I often think if the young women of the Community could have a realizing sense of the miseries of married life as it is in the world, they would ever be thankful for their home.
Your sincere friend,
It has been impossible to refuse sympathy to such inquirers, or to entirely neglect their requests for information. But considering ourselves engaged in an unfinished experiment of social science, and therefore in the stage of learners rather than teachers, we have for many years contented ourselves with very brief answers. And we have been induced to pursue this policy partly by the fear that bad men might avail themselves of our sexual theories for licentious purposes. This fear, however, has proved to be nearly groundless, at least so far as the doctrine of Male Continence is concerned, for we have found licentious persons almost uniformly opposing that doctrine with bitterness and scorn. The real self-denial which it requires cannot be adjusted to their schemes of pleasure-seeking. And in any case the actual use of it by such persons could only improve their morals and mitigate the evils of their misdoings.
Six years ago we ventured a little beyond the limits of our reticent policy on the occasion of receiving the following letter from a Medical student:
New York, July 20, 1866.
EDITOR OF THE CIRCULAR:
I have taken your paper for several months, and although I do not agree with all your religious theories, I have read each paper attentively, and with special interest in your communistic ideas. I am now preparing to go to Europe to study medicine, and shall therefore no longer be able to receive your paper. But before bidding good-bye, I would like to avail myself of your invitation to those who are not satisfied with your account of the Oneida Community as published in the CIRCULAR, to ask further. As I am to be a medical man, I would like to know definitely what you mean by your principle of "Male Continence." I have just graduated from college, and after hearing considerable discussion there in the shape of lectures, some relating directly to this subject, I am ignorant of any means of legitimate Male Continence except abstinence from intercourse. Of course I am well aware of the tricks of the French voluptuaries, by which Male Continence is effectually secured on all occasions, but such barbarous means of procedure cannot possibly be employed by you. These and all other artificial methods are liable to the charge of abusing the organs, which should above all things be held sacred and kept sound. I would like to have a detailed account of your process, which could not but be interesting to any professional man.
I remain yours,
To this inquiry we returned the following answer:
New York, July 26, 1866.
DEAR SIR :
Your letter addressed to the CIRCULAR, asking for information in regard to our method of controlling propagation, has been sent to me, and as it seems to come from a well-disposed person (though unknown to me), I will endeavor to give it a faithful answer - such, at least, as will be sufficient for scientific purposes.
The first question, or rather, perhaps I should say, the previous question in regard to Male Continence is, whether it is desirable or proper that men and women should establish intelligent voluntary control over the propagative function. Is it not better (it may be asked), to leave "nature" to take its course (subject to the general rules of legal chastity), and let children come as chance or the unknown powers may direct, without putting any restraint on sexual intercourse after it is once licensed by marriage, or on the freedom of all to take out such license? If you assent to this latter view, or have any inclination toward it, I would recommend to you the study of Malthus on Population; not that I think he has pointed out anything like the true method of voluntary control over propagation, but because he has demonstrated beyond debate the absolute necessity of such control in some way, unless we consent and expect that the human race, like the lower animals, shall be forever kept down to its necessary limits, by the ghastly agencies of war, pestilence and famine.
For my part, I have no doubt that it is perfectly proper that we should endeavor to rise above "nature" and the destiny of the brutes in this matter. There is no reason why we should not seek and hope for discovery in this direction, as freely as in the development of steam power or the art of printing; and we may rationally expect that He who has promised the "good time" when vice and misery shall be abolished, will at last give us sure light on this darkest of all problems - how to subject human propagation to the control of science.
But whether study and invention in this direction are proper or not, they are actually at work in all quarters, reputable and disreputable. Let us see how many different ways have already been proposed for limiting human increase.
In the first place, the practice of child-killing, either by exposure or violence, is almost as old as the world, and as extensive as barbarism. Even Plato recommended something of this kind, as a waste-gate for vicious increase, in his scheme of a model republic.
Then we have the practice of abortion reduced in modern times to a science, and almost to a distinct profession. A large part of this business is carried on by means of medicines advertised in obscure but intelligible terms as embryo-destroyers or preventives of conception. Every large city has its professional abortionist. Many ordinary physicians destroy embryos to order, and the skill to do this terrible deed has even descended among the common people.
Then what a variety of artificial tricks there are for frustrating the natural effects of the propagative act. You allude to several of these contrivances, in terms of condemnation from which I should not dissent. The least objectionable of them (if there is any difference), seems to be that recommended many years ago by Robert Dale Owen, in a book entitled Moral Physiology; viz., the simple device of withdrawing immediately before emission.
Besides all these disreputable methods, we have several more respectable schemes for attaining the great object of limiting propagation. Malthus proposes and urges that all men, and especially the poor, shall be taught their responsibilities in the light of science, and so be put under inducements not to marry. This prudential check on population - the discouragement of marriage - undoubtedly operates to a considerable extent in all civilized society, and to the greatest extent on the classes most enlightened. It seems to have been favored by Saint Paul; (see 1st Cor. 7); and probably would not be condemned generally by people who claim to be considerate. And yet its advocates have to confess that it increases the danger of licentiousness; and on the whole the teaching that is most popular, in spite of Malthus and Paul, is that marriage, with all its liabilities, is a moral and patriotic duty.
Finally, Shakerism, which actually prohibits marriage on religious grounds, is only the most stringent and imposing of human contrivances for avoiding the woes of undesired propagation.
All these experimenters in the art of controlling propagation may be reduced in principle to three classes, viz.:
- Those that seek to prevent the intercourse of the sexes, such as Malthus and the Shakers.
- Those that seek to prevent the natural effects of the propagative act, viz., the French inventors and Owen.
- Those that seek to destroy the living results of the propagative act, viz., the abortionists and child-killers.
Now it may seem to you that any new scheme of control over propagation must inevitably fall to one of these three classes; but I assure you that we have a method that does not fairly belong to any of them. I will try to show you our fourth way.
We begin by analyzing the act of sexual intercourse. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Its beginning and most elementary form is the simple presence of the male organ in the female. Then usually follows a series of reciprocal motions. Finally this exercise brings on a nervous action or ejaculatory crisis which expels the seed. Now we insist that this whole process, up to the very moment of emission, is voluntary, entirely under the control of the moral faculty, and can be stopped at any point. In other words, the presence and the motions can be continued or stopped at will, and it is only the final crisis of emission that is automatic or uncontrollable.
Suppose, then, that a man, in lawful intercourse with woman, choosing for good reasons not to beget a child or to disable himself, should stop at the primary stage and content himself with simple presence continued as long as agreeable? Would there be any harm? It cannot be injurious to refrain from voluntary excitement. Would there be no good? I appeal to the memory of every man who has had good sexual experience to say whether, on the whole, the sweetest and noblest period of intercourse with woman is not that first moment of simple presence and spiritual effusion, before the muscular exercise begins.
But we may go farther. Suppose the man chooses for good reasons, as before, to enjoy not only the simple presence, but also the reciprocal motion, and yet to stop short of the final crisis. Again I ask, Would there be any harm? Or would it do no good? I suppose physiologists might say, and I would acknowledge, that the excitement by motion might be carried so far that a voluntary suppression of the commencing crisis would be injurious. But what if a man, knowing his own power and limits, should not even approach the crisis, and yet be able to enjoy the presence and the motion ad libitum? If you say that this is impossible, I answer that I know it is possible - nay, that it is easy.
I will admit, however, that it may be impossible to some, while it is possible to others. Paul intimates that some cannot "contain." Men of certain temperaments and conditions are afflicted with involuntary emissions on very trivial excitement and in their sleep. But I insist that these are exceptional morbid cases that should be disciplined and improved; and that, in the normal condition, men are entirely competent to choose in sexual intercourse whether they will stop at any point in the voluntary stages of it, and so make it simply an act of communion, or go through to the involuntary stage, and make it an act of propagation.
The situation may be compared to a stream in the three conditions of a fall, a course of rapids above the fall, and still water above the rapids. The skillful boatman may choose whether he will remain in the still water, or venture more or less down the rapids, or run his boat over the fall. But there is a point on the verge of the fall where he has no control over his course; and just above that there is a point where he will have to struggle with the current in a way which will give his nerves a severe trial, even though he may escape the fall. If he is willing to learn, experience will teach him the wisdom of confining his excursions to the region of easy rowing, unless he has an object in view that is worth the cost of going over the falls.
You have now our whole theory of "Male Continence." It consists in analyzing sexual intercourse, recognizing in it two distinct acts, the social and the propagative, which can be separated practically, and affirming that it is best, not only with reference to remote prudential considerations, but for immediate pleasure, that a man should content himself with the social act, except when he intends procreation.
Let us see now if this scheme belongs to any of the three classes I mentioned. 1. It does not seek to prevent the intercourse of the sexes, but rather gives them more freedom by removing danger of undesired consequences. 2. It does not seek to prevent the natural effects of the propagative act, but to prevent the propagative act itself, except when it is intended to be effectual. 3. Of course it does not seek to destroy the living results of the propagative act, but provides that impregnation and child-bearing shall be voluntary, and of course desired.
And now, to speak affirmatively, the exact thing that our theory does propose, is to take that same power of moral restraint and self-control, which Paul, Malthus, the Shakers, and all considerate men use in one way or another to limit propagation, and instead of applying it, as they do, to the prevention of the intercourse of the sexes, to introduce it at another state of the proceedings, viz., after the sexes have come together in social effusion, and before they have reached the propagative crisis; thus allowing them all and more than all the ordinary freedom of love (since the crisis always interrupts the romance), and at the same time avoiding undesired procreation and all the other evils incident to male incontinence. This is our fourth way, and we think it the better way.
The wholesale and ever ready objection to this method is that it is unnatural and unauthorized by the example of other animals. I may answer in a wholesale way, that cooking, wearing clothes, living in houses, and almost everything else done by civilized man, is unnatural in the same sense, and that a close adherence to the example of the brutes would require us to forego speech and go on "all fours!" But on the other hand, if it is natural in the best sense, as I believe it is, for rational beings to forsake the example of the brutes and improve nature by invention and discovery in all directions, then truly the argument turns the other way, and we shall have to confess that until men and women find a way to elevate their sexual performances above those of the brutes, by introducing into them moral culture, they are living in unnatural degradation.
But I will come closer to this objection. The real meaning of it is, that Male Continence in sexual intercourse is a difficult and injurious interruption of a natural act. But every instance of self-denial is an interruption of some natural act. The man who virtuously contents himself with a look at a beautiful woman is conscious of such an interruption. The lover who stops at a kiss denies himself a natural progression. It is an easy, descending grade through all the approaches of sexual love, from the first touch of respectful friendship, to the final complete amalgamation. Must there be no interruption of this natural slide? Brutes, animal or human, tolerate none. Shall their ideas of self-denial prevail? Nay, it is the glory of man to control himself, and the Kingdom of Heaven summons him to self-control in ALL THINGS. If it is noble and beautiful for the betrothed lover to respect the law of marriage in the midst of the glories of courtship, it may be even more noble and beautiful for the wedded lover to respect the laws of health and propagation in the midst of the ecstasies of sexual union. The same moral culture that ennobles the antecedents and approaches of marriage will some time surely glorify the consummation.
Of course, you will think of many other objections and questions, and I have many answers ready for you; but I will content myself for the present with this limited presentation.
J. H. NOYES.
This letter soon after its date was printed in tract form, as a convenient answer to many letters of inquiry that were pouring in upon the Editors of the CIRCULAR. That little tract is all that we have offered the public directly on the subject of Male Continence since 1866; and it has been sent only where it was explicitly demanded. Four editions of it have been called for and exhausted, and the demand still continues and increases. Thus the time seems to have come for something more elaborate; and meanwhile our experience has been maturing, so that we have more to say. Instead, therefore, of issuing simply a fifth edition of the tract, it has been thought best now to make the exposition more complete by adding to the brief theory therein presented, some account of the origin, history, and practical results of that theory.