Skip To Content

    This Is What Teenage Girls Were Taught About Masturbation In 1918

    Raise your hand if you're suddenly really happy you weren't born in 1900.

    This is the author of What A Young Woman Ought To Know, Mary Wood Allen.

    In 1918, she wrote the book, which contained advice for young women about relationships, diet, and beauty.

    The book was part of the "Self and Sex" series, but never shall the twain meet.

    Here's a chapter of the book titled, uh, "Solitary Vice" (emphasis ours):

    As the reproductive system awakens to activity it naturally attracts the attention of the girl, and an effort should be made to call her thoughts to other themes.

    As I have said before, the reading of sensational love stories is most detrimental. The descriptions of passionate love scenes arouse in the reader a thrill through her own sexual organism that tends to increase its activity and derange its normal state. Girls often mature into women earlier than they should, because through romances, through jests of associates in regard to beaus and lovers, and through indulgence in sentimental fancies their sexual systems are unduly stimulated and aroused. This stimulation sometimes leads to the formation of an evil habit, known as self-abuse. The stimulation of the sex organs is accompanied with a pleasurable sensation, and this excitement may be created by mechanical means, or even by thought. Many girls who are victims of this most injurious habit are unaware of its dangers, although they instinctively feel that they do not want it known. Others who would not stoop to a mechanical exciting of themselves do so through thoughts, and do not know that they are just as truly guilty of self-abuse as the girl who uses the hand or other mechanical means.

    The results of self-abuse are most disastrous. It destroys mental power and memory, it blotches the complexion, dulls the eye, takes away the strength, and may even cause insanity. It is a habit most difficult to overcome, and may not only last for years, but in its tendency be transmitted to one's children.

    If you have from the first thought nobly of yourself, you will have fallen into no such debasing habit. But if, through ignorance, you have acquired it, how shall you overcome it?

    I should hesitate to write more on this subject did I not know that many girls fall victims to this evil through ignorance, and many who thus fall could and would have been saved had they been rightly instructed. I therefore desire that you shall be wise.

    Every normal function of the body is attended with a pleasurable sensation. We enjoy eating, seeing, walking. Odors bring sensations which are agreeable, the sense of touch may give pleasure, and as we enjoy these sensations in fact, so we may enjoy them in memory or in imagination. We can recall the beauty of the rose, the perfume of the mignonette, the flavor of the orange, or we can imagine new combinations of these delights. We feel joy or grief through reading vivid descriptions, or we can ourselves create imaginary scenes in which we are actors, who suffer or enjoy.

    The reproductive system is the seat of great nervous susceptibility, and the excitation of these nerves gives a pleasurable sensation. This excitation may be thought a local mechanical irritation or it may be mental. In little children it may be caused by lack of cleanliness of the external organs. An irritation is produced, and an attempt to allay this by rubbing produces an agreeable feeling, which may be repeated until the evil habit of self-abuse is formed.

    Sometimes constipation, by creating a pelvic congestion, will have the same result. Sometimes clothing which is too small may, by undue pressure on the parts, call the thought of the child to these organs, and in an attempt to remove the pressure by pulling the clothing away the habit may be begun.

    Sometimes the tiny pin-worms in the rectum may wander into the vagina, and the little girl feel a constant annoyance, which rubbing allays temporarily, but which results in the evil habit of the use of the hands to produce an agreeable sensation. Thus through avoidable causes the evil habit may be acquired. Then it may be taught by one thus learning it to another who, without this instruction, would never have acquired it.

    But new dangers arise as the girl approaches the age when the reproductive system begins to take on the activity that indicates approaching womanhood. The normal congestion of the parts causes a hitherto unknown consciousness of sex, and unless she is warned she may at this period acquire the habit without knowing its evils.

    All functions necessary to the preservation of the individual life are attended with pleasure, and so are those which are for the continuation of the species. While the emotion may be pleasurable, it is at the same time the most exhausting, that can be experienced. We see that in some forms of animal existence parenthood is purchased at the expense of the life of the parent; and while in the human being the procreative act does not kill, it exhausts, and no doubt takes from the vital force of those exercising it. One can feel justified to lose a part of her own life if she is conferring life upon others, but to indulge in such a waste of vital force merely for pleasure is certainly never excusable, and least excusable of all is the arousing of pleasurable emotions by a direct violation of natural law.

    The only natural method of arousing a recognition of sexual feeling is as God has appointed in holy marriage, and the self-respecting girl feels that no approach of personal familiarity is either right or proper. But it may be that she does not know that feelings may be awakened by the imagination which are as wrong morally as, and more injurious physically than, actual deeds, and so may allow her mind to revel in fancies that would shock her as actualities.

    I received a letter not long ago from a young woman who most emphatically asserted that she would never, never, never permit familiarities, and then most innocently says, "but it wouldn't be wrong to imagine yourself enjoying the embrace of some certain one, would it?"

    It is just this idea that there is no wrong in thought that weakens virtue's fortress and renders it easily demolished. Girls who would shrink from use of mechanical means to arouse sexual desire will permit themselves to revel in imaginary scenes of love-making with real or unreal individuals, or in mental pictures which arouse the spasmodic feelings of sexual pleasure, and yet be unaware that they are guilty of self-abuse.

    Sexual feeling in itself is not base, but it can be debased either in thought or in deed. Rightly considered, it is the indication of the possession of the most sacred powers, that of the perpetuation of life.

    "Passion is the instinct for preservation of one's kind, the voice of the life principle, the sign of creative power." These last four words open before us a wonderful field of thought. "Creative power!" What does that mean? Is creative power limited to reproduction of kind? Do you not create when you work out with brain some idea and then embody it in some visible form? Worth is said to create an artistic dress, the actor creates his part in the play, the musician creates the arrangement of harmonies which are represented in musical signs, and in the same sense you may be in a myriad of ways a creator.

    With the beginning of activity of sexual life in yourself came increased development and new energy, beauty, and power, and the preservation and right use of that life will continue to be a source of power. "When the signs of this creative power come throbbing and pulsing in every fiber, it only shows that one has more and greater ability to create than ever before. One knows by this that she can now do greater work than she has done or is doing;" so says one writer.

    Is it not a beautiful thought that this feeling, which we have supposed we must fight as something low, is in reality the stirring of a divine impulse which we can control and govern and make to serve us in all high and noble deeds?

    If you hold such noble thoughts in your heart concerning yourself, you will need no threatenings to keep you from self-debasement and self-defilement. You will not need to be told of the loss of physical strength or of beauty, of memory or of reason, through evil habits of solitary vice, for they will have no temptation for you, even as you do not need threats of police and prisons to keep you from stealing, because honesty is the active and guiding principle of your life.

    But supposing you have already acquired the evil habit and are now awakened to the wrong you are doing yourself; you observe the lack of lustre in the eye, the sallow, blotched complexion; you realize your loss of nerve-power manifested in cold and clammy hands, backache, lassitude, irritability, lack of memory, and inability to concentrate thought. What shall you do to overcome and to gain control of yourself? The question is a serious one, for no habit is more tyrannical than the dominion of unrestrained sexual desire. Its victims often fight for years, only to be conquered at last. If there was no cure but in fighting, I should feel that the case was almost hopeless.

    The very first thing to do is to change the mental attitude in regard to the whole matter of sex; to hold it in thought as sacred, holy, consecrated to the highest of all functions, that of procreation. Recognize that, conserved and controlled, it becomes a source of energy to the individual. Cleanse the mind of all polluting images by substituting this purer thought; then go to work to establish correct habits of living in dress, diet, exercise, etc. See to it that there [158]are no such causes of pelvic congestions as prolapsed bowels, caused by tight clothing or constipation; keep the skin active; and, above all, keep the mind healthfully occupied.

    The victim of self-abuse has, through the frequent repetition of the habit, built up an undue amount of brain that is sensitive to local irritation of the sex-organs or to mental pictures of sex-pleasure. She must now allow this part of the brain to become quiescent, and she should go to work to build up other brain centers. Let her train her sight by close observation of form, color, size, location. Let her cultivate her sense of hearing in the study of different qualities of sound, tone, pitch, intensity, duration, timbre; her sense of touch, by learning to judge with closed eyes of different materials, of quality of fiber, of the different degrees of temperature, of roughness or smoothness, of density; in fact, let her endeavor to become alert, observant, along all the lines of sense-perception. Let her study nature, leaf-forms, cloud-shapes, insects, flowers, birds, bird-songs, the causes of natural phenomena; and, above all, let her keep out of the realm of the artificial, the sentimental, the emotional, and, holding firmly to the thought that creative energy is symbolized by desire and can be dignified and consecrated to noblest purposes, she will find herself daily growing into a stronger, more beautiful self-control.

    In short: WHOA, Mary Wood Allen.

    Are you for real?

    I have never been so glad to be an '80s kid.