Circular No. 7
Social Hygiene for Young Women
Published for Distribution by THE SPOKANE SOCIETY OF SOCIAL AND MORAL HYGIENE, SPOKANE, WASH. An Organization of Medical Men and the Laity President, Dr. N Fred Essig, Traders' Building First Vice President, Judge William A Huneke. Second Vice President, Mr. J. C. Ralston. Third Vice President, Superintendent Bruce M. Watson. Secretary and Treasurer, Dr. J. G. Harbison, Old National Bank Building. For Term Expiring 1913 — Mr. J. T. Burcham, Principal H. M. Hart, Mr. R. C. Sweatt, Professor H. C. Blair, Mr. J. C. Ralston. Prepared by the Committee on Literature and approved by the Executive Committee of the Society. Second edition. For Term Expiring 1912 — Dr. X. L. Anthony, Dr. Geo. K. McDowell, Judge Wm. A. Huneke, Superintendent Bruce M. Watson, Dr. W. W. Potter. For Term Expiring 1911 — Dr. N. Fred Essig, Dr. Carroll Smith, Mr. Adolph Munter, Dr. J. G. Harbison. A list of other circulars published by this Society may be had upon application to the Secretary, 420 Old National Bank Building. November, 1910.
To the average young woman or girl many things pertaining to her sex remain as a closed book, until by experience she is brought face to face with certain facts and conditions, which should have been made known to her earlier, and ignorance of which may result in a life of sorrow and invalidism. A little knowledge beforehand may prevent the harm that afterwards may even be beyond all human power to remedy. "If I had only known," has been the please of many a girl who has gone down to ruin.
Civilization and society in the past have believed that a knowledge of the sexual organs is shameful and debasing, and until recently the discussion of that subject has been under the bad, especially as concerns the female sex. We need to rid our minds of the idea that sexual subjects are impure or vulgar. They only become so when they are discussed with impure purpose. Abuse of the sexual organs, more than of any others in the body, plays an important part in the downfall of men and women; and a proper knowledge of them is certainly desirable if it can be the means of preventing such downfall.
The Sex Organs and Their Purpose
The female organs are located in the lower abdominal cavity of the pelvis, and consist chiefly of the uterus or womb, and the ovaries, one on each side, each of which is connected with the uterus by a small tube. Each ovary contains numerous ova, or germs, which in themselves have the possibility of developing into new human beings, under certain conditions. The uterus is a hollow organ, in which this development of the germ takes place. Each ovum is invisible to the naked eye, being about 1–120 of an inch in diameter.
In the girl, up to a certain age these organs lie dormant, but at about the age of 12 to 14, sometimes earlier or later, they become active. This is one of the indications of the change from girlhood into young womanhood, and this period is known as the age of puberty. The first visible sign of this activity is that of menstruation, which is a discharge of a small quantity of blood coming from the uterus through the external genital organs. It occurs normally once every four weeks, and lasts on the average about four days. This flow of blood is an indication that the girl has reached the child-bearing age. Every monthly period is supposed to be attended by the maturation or ripening of one or more ova or germs, which then burst from the ovary and pass through the tube into the uterus. If an opportunity has not been offered for the ovum to become fertilized, that is, to unite with the male germ, it escapes with the flow. The sexual organs then return to their normal condition, and this phenomenon continues to be repeated month after month until about the age of 40 or 45, when it ceases.
But if the ovum becomes fertilized by a union with the male germ, it is arrested and becomes lodged in the lining membranes of the uterus. This union marks the beginning of a new life. Any interference with this life from this time forward is recognized by law and morals as being just as much criminal as would be the taking of the life after birth. The germ, nourished by the blood of the mother, continues to develop and grow in size for about nine months. At the end of this period it has reached that stage of development where it is able to continue its life alone, when it is expelled by the uterus, or born into the world, as a fully formed babe. During the time of its uterine development the menstrual flow is absent.
Every normal woman is fitted by nature for the function of motherhood. To ignore that function until it has been called into action has been the custom of society, though there is no more reason in so doing that there would be in ignoring our offspring after birth. To be well born is the right of every child. Emerson has well said that a child's education should be begun a hundred years before its birth. Every girl nearing maturity should know that a child will inherit the physical, mental and moral characteristics of its father and mother, and especially those present in the mother during its period of development before birth. A child, strong in mind and body, cannot be born of parents with weak minds or unhealthy bodies. The Spartans developed a powerful race, because they allowed only the physically perfect to grow up.
A Young Woman's Health
Bearing these facts in mind, therefore, a girl should give some consideration to them in her daily habits of living, especially during the years of young womanhood. Her physical health should not be neglected. Muscular excercise and the deep breathing of out-of-door air is necessary, and not less than three hours a day, if possible, should be spent in the open air. A general bath twice a week, or preferably daily, eight hours sleep with the windows freely open all night, plain wholesome food taken at regular meal times, with an abundance of water between meals, are all necessary to good health. The clothing of women is open to much criticism; and it is the concensus of medical opinion that the tightly laced corset and other tight bands about the waist make a most marked contribution to the ailments of women. By them the abdominal and chest organs are restricted in their natural movements; the lungs are prevented from expanding to their limit; pressure on the stomach and liver causes congestion and sluggishness, with indigestion sooner or later. Perhaps the worst effect is seen in the pelvic organs. Drawing the waist inward forces the lower abdominal organs still lower, which in turn causes displacements and congestions of the pelvic organs. In time this causes chronic disease which unfits them for their function of menstruation and reproduction. Because of the intimate connection of these organs with the nervous system, pelvic disease is responsible for many cases of headache, backache, hysteria, sleeplessness and general ill health. Another factor in causing displacements is the narrow, high-heeled shoe in which the heel is placed too far forward. This throws the body forward, and also, by lessening the base of support, causes the wearer to be on a constant muscular tension in order to maintain her equilibrium. Tight shoes not only cause deformities of the feet, but also disturbances in the circulation and in the nervous system. Much of the suffering of menstruation and many of the difficulties of childbirth are due to faulty habits of dress which have been forced upon women from the time of childhood when they were unable to protest against them.
During the menstrual period more rest is ordinarily required than at other times. Excessive exercise and late hours are to be avoided, as well as anything that would tend to cause nervous strain. Exposure to cold and wet weather, especially of the feet, is likely to cause sudden cessation of the flow, with more or less pain and nervous symptoms as a result. If this should occur, a hot bath, as hot as can be borne, should be taken at once; if this does not relieve, it may be necessary to call a physician. If menstruation is regularly attended by pain, requiring that part of the time be spent in bed, the family physician should be consulted, as these troubles are more easily remedied in early life than later.
The sexual organs should be cleansed along with the rest of the body in the general bath. The habit of handling the improperly, or self-abuse, as it is termed, often arises as a result of uncleanliness or of some diseased condition resulting in irritation of the parts. If these conditions cannot be relieved by hygienic living, a physician should be consulted. Such a habit, if formed, should be broken off, as it may itself lead to disease of the genital organs; on the other hand, it may also be followed by nervous and mental disorders, together with a lessened regard for morals and self respect. To overcome a habit once formed, will power and self control are required, and the mind should be kept busy with thoughts on healthy subjects and away from the sexual. Good physical health must also be maintained.
A Young Woman's Relations With Men.
Whether she recognizes it or not, every young girl and woman possesses the instinct of motherhood. Morally and legally, this instinct is not to be satisfied, except under the marriage tie. In her social or daily business life a girl comes in contact with many men. The most of them it is to be hoped are of good character; but she should bear in mind that, in the highest as well as in the lowest walks of life, will be found unprincipled men, seeking to take advantage of her. She will be tempted by them to yield herself to illicit sexual indulgence, under promise of marriage, or by the offer of money or other gifts, or social pleasures. Or a girl may yield herself without such promise, simply for the love she may feel for the man. She may do this, thinking that the sin of it will go no farther than the immediate present. Many a girl learns too late that such sexual union results in impregnation, or, in other words, that it will place her in the way of becoming a mother. According to the standards of society this is an unpardonable sin. When a girl becomes aware that motherhood is about to be thrust upon her, she is tempted to still greater sin by the destruction of either the life of the unborn babe, or of her own life. One is just as criminal as the other.
One can see by this the train of evils that follows the girl who only once yields up her virtue, which should be held by her above all other things in value. She should remember that "A good name is more to be desired than great riches." A girl should consider it an insult for any man to suggest that she should yield herself to him sexually, and should treat him as her worst enemy.
By her general demeanor a girl may encourage or discourage any improper advances on the part of a man. If she have a loud, flippant manner; if she be given to loose conversation; or if she wear immodest or suggestive clothing — by any or all of these she may be aiding in her own destruction. Many a girl has been started downward by the dance, especially the public dance; by frequenting public places of amusement and there picking up a clever acquaintance; or by indulging in a social glass of liquor now and then with a supposed friend. Only a little alcohol is required to take away one's good judgment and discretion. A girl's proper conduct wherever she may be is her own best protector, for she will be respected by others according to the degree in which she respects herself.
Many girls do not need these warnings, but that there are many who do, is the experience of every physician. Anyone who reads this and thinks the girl should not know of such things will have to meet the following evidence. Statistics from the records of a certain general public hospital in one of our large cities show that during the year of 1906 there occurred there the births of 451 children. Of this number 172, or over 38 per cent, were born of unmarried girls; yet this was not a home for that sort of cases. Of these illegitimate births, more than half were by mothers from 16 to 20 years of age, and the largest number occurred at 19 years of age. Yet this is only a small part of the evil that is going on in only one city of our country.
By yielding herself to illicit sexual indulgence, a girl not only loses her virtue, but she also renders herself liable to two of the most serious diseases known to mankind — gonorrhoea and syphilis. These diseases are contracted by intercourse with an individual already infected, and unfortunately a very large proportion of all men, at least in large cities, have one of the other of these diseases at some time in their lives.
The Venereal Diseases.
Syphilis is one of the worst plagues of mankind today. Once acquired it cannot be eradicated under the most rigid treatment in less than two to three years. During that period it may break out afresh at any time if not kept under treatment. Every organ and tissue in the body may be affected by it. It is the only known chronic disease which children may inherit and be afflicted with at the time of birth. It is the opinion of high authorities that the death rate among infants suffering from hereditary syphilis is from 60 to 85 per cent, and the small number that survive either die during childhood or grow up diseased in mind and body. Syphilis may be transmitted to the third generation. Authorities also say that it is the direct cause of from one-fourth to one-third of all cases of insanity. A person suffering from it may transmit it to the innocent through the medium of kissing, or the using of the same drinking vessels, as the secretions of the mouth are infectious.
The other venereal plague is known as gonorrhoea, a specific inflammatory disease of the sexual organs. Every year is adding to the seriousness with which physicians regard this disease. Good authorities estimate that from 50 to 80 per cent of all men in large cities have had gonorrhoea once or several times, and that a large per cent of these who become husbands infect their wives. Various authorities estimate that from 40 to 60 per cent of all operations upon women for disease of the generative organs are necessitated by gonorrhoea. Various authorities also estimate that at least 20 per cent of all blindness is caused by it, by the germs getting in the eyes of children at birth, from mothers infected with it. A large per cent of all women affected by gonorrhoea are absolutely sterile, so they can never bear children after the infection.
That this condition of affairs exists, is due to the double standard of morality which time and custom have established. It is an evil system that permits a man to have unbridled sexual license while requiring of the woman alone absolute restraint. The idea that sexual indulgence is necessary to a man's physical health is false. That "a young man must sow his wild oats" is an old saying, but the man who does so will reap a harvest of wild oats, in the form of disease, sorrow, and death — not only for himself, but often also for his wife and children. Many a young man considered to be of good standing, may be courting a girl from whom he expects absolute purity, and at the same time be making visits to a prostitute with more or less frequency. Even some women of good character and average intelligence look complacently upon the sowing of wild oats and therefore unthinkingly, by their attitude of indifference, encourage it. A man will not ordinarily live up to a higher standard than is expected of him. As great a degree of chastity should be required of a man as of a woman, and only by demanding this can the standard of morality be raised.
When a girl accepts a man's courtship with marriage in view, she usually knows something about his social, financial and business standing. She also has a right to know his physical condition, especially as regards his sexual health; but as a rule no question is ever raised concerning it. A man would never think of marrying a woman who is sexually imperfect; no more should a woman be expected to marry a man of similar condition. A girl contemplating marriage should require that her intended husband present satisfactory evidence of freedom from venereal disease. This could be done through her father or her brother, or the family physician. She may have unbounded faith in his good character, and he may appear an ideal man, but neither of these is a guarantee that he is free from infection. She had far better remain single than marry a gonorrheic or a syphilitic, for he may convey his disease to her and to her children with all the suffering that attends it. Many such marriages as this end in the divorce courts; but because of the shame the reason is seldom made public, the separation being effected on some other grounds. That people are waking up to the seriousness of this evil is shown by the fact that in Indiana, now, the applicant for a marriage license must swear to his freedom from all transmissible diseases.
Marriage has for its purpose the founding of a home, and the home is the unit upon which our social and political structure is built. The community can never be better than the average of the homes which compose it. Every young woman, therefore, should live with the idea of giving her future offspring the best possible advantage in life. In choosing her husband she should consider whether his character is what she would like to see exemplified in her children. What a child inherits by birth is the factor which determines whether it will be easy for him to live right or wrong. To have the elements of a good character, and a body and mind free from disease, should be the birthright of every child.
Prepared by the Committee on Literature and approved by the Executive Committee of the Society. Second edition.
A list of other circulars published by this Society may be had upon application to the Secretary, 420 Old National Bank Building, Spokane, Wash.