Why Sex Knowledge is of Paramount Importance to Girls and Women--Reasons
Why a Misstep in a Girl Has More Serious Consequences than a Misstep in a
Boy--The Place Love Occupies in Woman's Life--Woman's Physical
All are agreed--I mean all who are capable of thinking and have giventhe subject some thought--that for the welfare of the race and for hisown physical and mental welfare it is important that the boy be givensome sex instruction. All are not agreed as to the character of theinstruction, its extent, the age at which it should be begun and as towho the teacher should be--the father, the family physician, theschool teacher or a specially prepared book--but as to the necessityof sex knowledge for the boy there is now substantial agreement--amongthe conservatives as well as among the radicals.
No such agreement exists concerning sex knowledge for the girl. Manystill are the men and women--and not among the conservatives only--whoare strongly opposed to girls receiving any instruction in sexmatters. Some say that such instruction--except a few hygienic rulesabout menstruation--is unnecessary, because the sex instinct awakensin girls comparatively late, and it is time enough for them to learnabout such matters after they are married. Others fear that sexknowledge would destroy the mystery and romance of sex, and would robour maidens of their greatest charms--modesty and innocence. Stillothers fear that sex instruction would tend to awaken the sex instinctin our girls prematurely; would direct their thoughts to matters aboutwhich they would not think otherwise; and they argue that the warningsabout venereal disease, prostitution, etc., which are an integral partof sex instruction, tend to create a cynical, inimical attitudetowards the male sex, which may even result in hypochondriac ideas andantagonism to marriage.
I do not deny that there is a grain of truth in all the aboveobjections. Sex instruction does cause _some_ girls to think of sexmatters earlier than they otherwise would, and some girls have beenmade bitter and hypochondriac, and disgusted with the male sex. But itwould not be difficult to demonstrate that it was not sex instruction_per se_ that was responsible for these deplorable results; it was the_wrong_ kind of instruction that was to blame--it was the wrongemphasis, the lurid exaggerations that caused the mischief, and notthe truth. In other words, it is not sex information, it is sexmisinformation, that is pernicious. And, of course, to this everybodywill agree: rather than false information, better no information atall.
But if the information to be imparted be sane, honest and truthful,without exaggerating the evils and without laying undue emphasis onthe dark shadows of our sex life, then the results can be onlybeneficent. And the task I have put before myself in this book is togive our girls and women sane, square and honest information abouttheir sex organs and sex nature, information absolutely free fromluridness, on the one hand, and maudlin sentimentality, on the other.The female sex is in need of such information, much more so than isthe male sex. Yes, if boys, as is now universally agreed, are in needof sex instruction, then girls are much more in need of it. Why? Forseveral important reasons.
The first reason why sex instruction is even more important for girlsthan it is for boys is because a misstep in a girl has much moredisastrous consequences than it has in a boy. The disastrous resultsof a misstep in a boy are only physical in character; the results ofthe _same_ misstep in a girl may be physical, moral, social andeconomic. To speak more plainly. If a boy, through ignorance, rashlyindulges in illicit sexual relations, the worst consequence to him maybe infection with a venereal disease. But he is not consideredimmoral, he is not despised, he is not ostracized, he does not losehis social standing in the slightest degree, and when he is cured ofhis venereal disease he has no difficulty in getting married. He doesnot even have to conceal his past sexual history from his wife. But ifa girl makes a misstep the consequences to her are terrible indeed; itmay not only cost her her health and social standing, she may have topay with her very life. She runs the risk of venereal infection thesame as the boy does, but in addition she runs the risk of becomingpregnant, which in our present social system is a catastrophe indeed.To save herself from the disgrace of an illegitimate child she mayhave an abortion produced; the abortion may have no bad results, butit may, if performed bunglingly, leave her an invalid for life, or itmay kill her outright. If she is so unfortunate as to be unable to getanybody to produce an abortion, she gives birth to an illegitimatechild, which she is forced in most cases to put away in an institutionof some sort where she hopes and prays it may die soon--and, ingeneral, it does. If it does not die, she has for the rest of her lifea Damocles' sword hanging over her head, and she is in constant terrorlest her sin be found out. She does not permit herself to look for amate, but if she does get married, the specter of her antematrimonialexperience is constantly before her eyes. After years and years ofmarried life, the husband may divorce her if he finds out that she had"sinned" before she knew him. And unless the husband is a broad-mindedman and loves her truly and unless she made a clean breast ofeverything to him before marriage, her life is continuous torture. Buteven if the girl escaped pregnancy, the mere finding out that she hadan illicit experience deprives her of social standing, or makes her asocial outcast and entirely destroys or greatly minimizes her chancesof ever marrying and establishing a home of her own. She must remain alonely wanderer to the end of her days.
The enormous difference in the results of a misstep in a boy and agirl is clearly seen, and for this reason alone, if for no other, sexinstruction is of more importance to the girl than it is to the boy.
But there are other important reasons, and one of them is beautifullyand truthfully expressed by Byron in his two well-known lines.
Man's love is of man's life a thing apart, 'Tis woman's whole existence.
Yes, love is a woman's whole life.
Some modern women might object to this. They might say that this wastrue of the woman of the past, who was excluded from all other avenuesof human activity. The woman of the present day has other interestsbesides those of Love. But I claim that this is true of only a smallpercentage of women; and in even this small minority of women, social,scientific and artistic activities cannot take the place of love; nomatter how busy and successful these women may be, they will tell youif you enjoy their confidence that they are unhappy, if their lovelife is unsatisfactory. Nothing, nothing can fill the void made by thelack of love. The various activities may help to cover up the void, toprotect it from strange eyes, they cannot fill it. For essentiallywoman is made for love. Not exclusively, but essentially, and a womanwho has had no love in her life has been a failure. The few exceptionsthat may be mentioned only emphasize the rule.
But not only psychically is a woman's love and sex life more importantthan a man's, physically she is also much more cognizant of her sexand much more hampered by the manifestation of her sex nature thanman is. To take but one function, menstruation. From the age 13 or 14to the age of forty-five or fifty it is a monthly reminder to womanthat she is a woman, that she is a creature of sex; and, while to manywomen this periodically recurring function is only a source of someannoyance or discomfort, to a great number it is a cause of pain,headache, suffering, or complete disability. Man has no suchphenomenon to annoy him practically his whole life.
But more important are the results of love-union, of sex relations. Aman after a sexual relation is just as free as he was before. A woman,if the relation has resulted in a pregnancy, which is generally thecase, unless special pains are taken it should not so result, has ninetroublesome months before her, months of discomfort if not of actualsuffering; she then has an extremely trying and painful ordeal, thatof childbirth, and then there is another trying period, the period oflactation or of nursing and of bringing up the baby. The penalty seemsalmost too great.
And when the woman is on the point of ceasing to menstruate she doesnot do so smoothly and comfortably. She has to go through a periodcalled the menopause, which may last one or two years and which maybring discomforts and dangers of its own. Man does not have to gothrough such a distinct period of demarcation separating his sexualfrom his non-sexual life. Altogether it cannot be denied that woman ismuch more a slave of her sex nature than man is of his. Yes, Naturehas handicapped woman much more heavily than she has man.
In short, both in view of the fact that sexual ignorance with itspossible missteps has much more disastrous consequences for the girlthan it has for the boy, and in view of the fact that the sex instinctand its physical and psychic manifestations occupy a much moreimportant part in woman's life than they do in the life of man, weconsider the necessity of sex instruction much greater in the case ofwoman than in the case of man. I do not wish to be misunderstood asunderestimating the need of sex instruction for the male--only Iconsider the need even greater in the case of the female.