Chapter 4: The Problem of Masturbation

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MASTURBATION CANNOT be regarded as a perversion.

According to estimates made by investigators in this field, masturbation is practiced by 90 per cent of children all over the world; it is also practiced, more or less occasionally, by about 70 per cent of adults - a group which includes both married couples and elderly persons. Most of the remaining 10 per cent of the children who have never masturbated turn out to be neurotics, perverts or sufferers from impotence or frigidity.

That college students of both sexes have to struggle with the problem of masturbation is indicated by the following occurrence at the University of California.

In a discussion with a leading personality of the University my urgent request that sex education be introduced was rejected on the ground that students after the age of eighteen do not require such instruction.

Nevertheless, on February 28, 1939, the author was called by the University of California Extension Division to speak about masturbation before teachers and child educators.

The discussion following the lecture disclosed that a large number of the audience were opposed to any rational consideration of the problem and unwilling to make any effort to overcome the ignorance, prejudice and disgust commonly felt concerning it. How can such teachers be of any help to the unfortunate children in their care?

A few days later, a professor of the University announced a

lecture on this subject to take place on March 5, 1939, on the campus in Berkeley, before students of both sexes.

Many members of the faculty were shocked. Some thought it a ridiculous assumption that masturbation could interest college students - adults. Counting on a very limited audience, the authorities assigned the lecturer a small room. Long before the time announced the room was already overcrowded and the lecture had to be transferred to larger quarters. But soon the second hall also was full. The lecture was finally held in the large auditorium, and even then it was necessary for the police to close the doors. The hall, seating over 2,000, was filled to capacity and overflowing. But a crowd of men and women students, seeking admission, broke through the police lines, and adjoining rooms were equipped with loud speakers to enable this additional throng to hear the lecture.

What does such a degree of interest in this subject prove? That "well-informed" college students want knowledge about it.

Opponents of these lectures argued that three-fourths of the audience were there out of curiosity and a flair for the sensational. But even this would indicate a wish to learn something concerning sex matters. I was present at this lecture and the urgent desire of these young people to receive reliable answers to their questions was demonstrated beyond a doubt. Their eagerness proved that neither the information provided by their parents and teachers, nor discussions among themselves, nor any obtainable literature on sex had fully satisfied their yearning for knowledge concerning masturbation.

If we consider the amount of effort expended by parents, by society and by the church to cope with this "crime," which still retains its predominant position among sex taboos, if we consider the violent opposition to masturbation, then, in the light of the statistics just quoted concerning its prevalence, it becomes obvious that the best efforts of parents, society and

the church to repress this sexual practice have been futile.

They cannot hope to succeed as long as they continue to make two incompatible demands of the children: first, dominate your urgent impulses; second, remain ignorant of the real nature of these impulses. In short, the opponents of the practice of masturbation ask of children a superhuman task; namely, to conquer, without any help, one of the strongest of our instincts, the sex instinct, at the moment of its most overwhelming strength - the time of puberty. Adults, enjoying a normal sex fulfillment with a decreasing output of sex hormones, have entirely forgotten the torturing tension of youth's sex organs. Satiated people cannot imagine the sensation of hunger.

To quote, in part, a letter from a twenty-one year old college student:

... The tragedy of sex .... All my experiences of late are concerned with this scourge ... ; I spent a horrible night with a prostitute. As inexorable as was the urge was my repugnance afterwards. Bodily misery was followed by mental agony .... Sexual desire rears its head again and again .... I struggle against the powers of temptation in vain. I am driven again to masturbate; - afterwards inescapable emptiness, repugnance, despair! ...

Thus a young man cries out; thus suffer legions of his fellows. And thus, too, suffer innumerable young girls.

After centuries of failure, society's methods of combatting masturbation remain the same: the instillment of fear, threats, punishments; and with the same futile results, as the statistics prove. But these methods are not merely ineffectual; they also have disastrous consequences as well to the obedient as to the disobedient children.

Methods to solve this problem have been discussed ad nauseam. Can anything new be said about masturbation?


If we face facts and deal with them as scientifically as possible, something new may appear. As in the matter of sex union, so also in the question of masturbation, findings in the realm of physics may help.

According to the Bible (Deut. 25:5-10) an old custom in Judea required that when a man died his unmarried brother should marry the widow. This is called levirate marriage. In Genesis 38:8-10 we read how Onan, the son of Judas, in order to evade this duty, did not complete the sex act with his brother's widow but withdrew and spilled his semen on the ground. Thus sexual satisfaction without the sex union came to be called Onanism, although we now more frequently use the word masturbation. Onan was punished with death, an indication of how ancient is the horror toward this act. The revulsion against masturbation, as either a reprehensible, a sinful or a dangerous sexual activity, is deep-seated.

To reach an objective opinion about this question we have, first of all, to make it clear that there are different kinds of masturbation among children of both sexes, occurring at different periods. There is masturbation before and after puberty; among boys first without, then with, the discharge of sperm cells. Girls masturbate at both periods by friction of the clitoris, labia or vagina. Masturbation can be performed by children separately or mutually. Mutual masturbation among adults is considered a homosexual practice.

What provokes desire in children for friction of the sex organs? It arises normally with the production of sex hormones, which is especially strong in the periods of sex development.

The sex hormones stimulate the production of sperm cells in the testicles. The tension in these organs, induced by the increase in the number of sperm cells, is a further source of the desire in boys to get rid of this local pressure through the discharge of their semen.

But sex hormones can also be produced prematurely. This may happen, for instance, from too vivid sensations, startling impressions and great excitement, such as dramatic scenes between parents, or early sexual experience.

The production of sex hormones stimulates the development of sex cells (the immature egg cells in the ovaries, or the sperm cells in the testicles); it irritates the nerves leading to these organs and fills the many little glands around the sex organs with liquid, until they strain under the tension and violently demand relaxation, like urine in a full bladder.

To get rid of the tension in the whole body a child is driven, more or less unconsciously, to seek bodily contact with adults, mostly with one of the parents. The love of such a child is based on the need of bodily relaxation. An infant begins to cry and becomes restless until the mother fondles him, whereupon he immediately calms down. A little devil of a child will become obedient and happy if the mother takes him into bed with her, or even strokes his hair or body softly, thus relieving him of his tension.

Nevertheless, the local tension in the sex region remains. The irritation produced in the sex organs, together with the tension in the different glands around the sex organs, drives children to manipulate this region of their bodies until a local relaxation is achieved through a discharge in the glands. This tension is usually abated in one of two ways: either self-induced friction by the child, or - according to the customs of certain primitive peoples - old women quietly lay their hands on the testicles of little boys and old men on the vulvas of little girls, holding them thus for some time.

Similar practices were noted by Professor Malinowsky among the Melanesian people in the Trobriand Islands. The relaxing effect on the children produced by these "sex educators" was more satisfactory than masturbation by the child. Why? Because every irritation of the sex organs, whether di

rect or indirect, increases the tension of the body. Children cannot diminish their bodily tension by masturbation, because the palms of their hands and their sex organs do not differ in the quality of their radiations; this we will discuss later.

From this we may derive one very important conclusion: if the masturbatory play with the sex organs brings about a quick discharge of the sperm cells in a boy, or of the contents of the glands in a girl, then local relaxation is achieved without relaxing the irritating tension in the body and this drives many children to an early repetition of the masturbatory act. But, because new semen in boys is not produced immediately, the succeeding masturbation must go on for a still longer time before discharge takes place; this longer and stronger irritation of the sex organs increases the tension. A vicious circle is thus established and the child becomes the victim of a false hope. This can be avoided if the child is taught to understand his mechanism.

In the opinion of some tribes of Central Africa, masturbation taught by an elder of the opposite sex is an important developmental factor in the life of a child.

Because masturbation of this kind is permitted and even enjoined, as part of sacred taboos, reactions of repugnance, depression or guilt feelings are unknown among these children. They become relaxed, satisfied and happy, and thus are able to develop undisturbed by emotional conflicts.

Among the Melanesian Islanders, where often a highly developed, ancient culture exists, this training is considered most important; they look upon it as preparation for future happiness in the love life of their children.

A girl who is incapable of attaining a strong, releasing orgasm in sexual intercourse with her partner, or who has not learned to abandon her immature sensations in the clitoris in favor of the awakening, matured feeling in the vagina, would

lose all hope of marrying, as she would be considered inferior.1

The Melanesians are certain that children whose sex impulses are not correctly developed can never become experts in love. However strongly western opinion may repudiate the practices this doctrine entails, we are obliged to admit that nowhere on earth do we find a happier love life than among these island peoples. Instead of becoming depraved as most moralists would expect, we are reliably informed that their children are a healthy, happy lot, normally shy, occupied with their dolls and their games - indistinguishable, in short, from "innocent" children.

But the primitive peoples of the South Sea Islands are not the only ones whose example should tend to correct our prejudice against masturbation in childhood. Among civilized peoples also, in China, in India, even in that venerable cradle of Western culture that was ancient Greece, the cultivation of sex life has been accorded an important and sacred role.

Experience demonstrates that children who have not masturbated have small chance of becoming artists in their later love life. It would seem therefore, that the damage done by masturbation does not arise from the effect of such action on the sex organs of the child, but from fears implanted in him of its injurious consequences. If a child is constantly threatened with falling ill, going to pieces intellectually, committing sin,

or being punished (even threatened with castration or becoming insane), he experiences terrible inner conflicts. If, however, instinct is stronger than fear and the child does masturbate - for he knows of no other way to rid himself of the accumulated tension of his sex substances which often cannot find a natural outlet in "wet dreams" - masturbation then causes the most serious damage. Feelings of guilt are connected with sexual activity, fears of being caught, with all the consequences, connect themselves in his nerve paths sometimes to such an extent that the child - this is especially true of girls - is prone, later on, to feel that every sexual intercourse is a forbidden activity. Thus such children are liable to fail in married life, not on account of masturbation, but because of their mental disturbances.

If fear overwhelms the sexual instinct and the child does not masturbate, one of two consequences may ensue. Through constant restraint of the nerves in the sex organs, sexual development may be disturbed. These children, when they become adults, cannot attain complete sexual desire and their sexual sensation is impaired. With the others, the struggle between wish and compulsion becomes so unbearable that these victims of a false education see no other way out than to flee into a latent or manifest perversion. These children become neurotics or perverts.

Parents, or prospective parents, should consider the disastrous consequences of the usual methods employed to break children of what are commonly called "unhealthy sex practices." The parents themselves will not see these consequences in their children; for, in correcting them, they have raised a barrier and their children are no longer frank with them. But psychologists see these consequences and can tell them. The vast army of neurotics who come to us with their fears, their inferiority complexes, their depressions and suicidal intentions, induced by avoiding, denying, and despising their sex

impulses to the point of frigidity and impotence - almost all are victims of the mistaken attitude toward masturbation

Again we ask: How can we expect children at the time of puberty, when they are harassed by sex forces, to master their impulses, unless they are given a clear understanding of these instincts and how to deal with them? Admonitions and threats only drive children to seek a secret outlet, make them cowardly, tricky, dishonest, deceitful, and create dangerous conflicts within them.

Whoever among educators is still of the opinion that not only early sex activity, but the mere explanation of things endangers "the purity and innocence of children," should study the behavior of children in other lands. Although these children know more about sex in theory and practice than many adults in civilized countries, they are - I repeat - more childlike and joyful, more pure and innocent, more harmonious, happy and relaxed, than most of our children. Innocent all children remain, who never are burdened with guilt. Only parents and teachers, with their attitude toward sex, render the little ones guilty.

This does not mean that the author has no objections against masturbation. I have some very important objections. But before offering them it is necessary to break down the readers' fears and overcome their horror of this sex taboo.

What, then, are the objections to masturbation? There are three: First, from what has been said earlier, it is obvious that, although masturbation is locally relaxing, too much masturbation has a weakening effect sometimes even an exhausting one. However, excessive masturbation does not occur if the children have had all their questions concerning sex answered in an open-minded and honest way from earliest childhood, and if they have been encouraged in outdoor sports. The sex instincts are dangerous as long as they are not understood and the mounting energy in the growing child has no adequate

outlet. Excessive masturbation (several times a day) is often a child's desperate effort to protect himself against an unknown enemy, his increasing bodily tension; or it may be an expression of defiance towards his parents, his way of taking revenge on them; or, sometimes, it is the expression of a self-destructive tendency.

The second objection against masturbation is that, if self-performed, it increases bodily tension.

The third objection is that, as long as a person masturbates, his sex life remains egocentric, and he remains immature.

That the road to adult sex development lies, usually, during puberty, through masturbation of one kind or another is a simple fact. Just as a child has to learn to control his bodily functions during the first three years of his life, so, during puberty, must he try to control increasing pressure in the awakening sex organs. This is a time when children badly need help. They need to be calmed down by being led to understand what is going on in them, and why they are so restless and tense. If they learn to control their sex impulses now they will have laid the groundwork for the mastery of the problem of self-control in all its phases throughout their lives. This stormy period at the beginning of sex life is revolutionary in every normal child. Sometimes the production of sex cells in a boy is so prolific that some relaxation or discharge becomes absolutely necessary. But if the flow of the nerve streams to the sex glands is blocked in these young people by sex taboos imposed by parents and educators, the undisturbed production of sex cells in them is arrested, as well as other essential products of these glands, the sex hormones; and the children become weak, morose, depressed or neurotic. Thus afflicted, obstacles bar their way to a healthy, satisfactory, mature marital life.

If, along with proper sex education, educators will teach the children in their care how to sublimate their abundant sex

energy, they will have fulfilled their task and can safely leave the young people to solve the masturbation problem without interference.

There remains the question: Is masturbation dangerous? What danger there is in the practice does not arise from the loss of semen, or other secretions of the sex glands, if not exhausted too frequently, but from the emotional conflicts which the sex taboo excites around it, and their disturbing effect on both intellectual and physical activities. By reason of these conflicts many children lose their religious beliefs, become agnostics or atheists, and soon find themselves without inner or outer guidance, adrift in a complex world, either confused and unhappy, or rudderless and frivolous.

To sum up the measures I would recommend for dealing with the problem of masturbation:

First, I advocate education in self control - this to be accomplished by teaching the nature and function of the essential sex occurrences, but never by threats and punishments, which only serve to instill feelings of fear, guilt and sin.

Second, I affirm that a child has to learn through mistakes; let him make his own experiments. As soon as he understands the real nature and cause of his tension, let him alone. Armed by knowledge, he no longer will be disturbed by the turmoil of puberty and will find out by himself the best method for dealing with his problem. The self-determined decision to dominate the sex instinct will make a boy proud of himself and mature him in much the same way as that in which a girl matures by abandoning the sensation of the clitoris.

The social relationships between boys and girls during the time of their adolescence will thus become normal and relaxed, their friendships will be conducted in a more decent and understanding manner than is possible among young people who are not free from unsatisfied and therefore furtive sex curiosity. Enforced sex prohibitions leave the children who

obey them immature and neurotic, and drive the children who disobey them to obscenity and duplicity.

These methods for coping with the problem of masturbation prove more successful in practice than those usually employed by society and by the church.

  • 1. Dr. Robert Dickinson fears that this advice might beget frustration:
    "Clitoris orgasm in coitus is more common than vaginal and quite as strong." Certainly, he is right. But this frustration exists only temporarily until the woman has learned to change the place of concentration from the clitoris to the vagina. That an orgasm of the clitoris can be as strong as that of the vagina may be true. But the local relaxation of the clitoris makes the supreme relaxation of the whole organism in a sex union impossible, as chapters VI and VII will explain.

    There are different degrees of sex satisfaction ranging from slight to ecstatic pleasure. Nobody can become a master in any field without training and patience. The same rules apply to those who wish to obtain the highest degree of sex satisfaction, especially where a woman has first to repress an old habit: the clitoris sensation.