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Normal Childhood sexuality: a heinous sin of self pollution

By Muniini K. Mulera
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Normal Childhood sexuality: a heinous sin of self pollution

Few things shock my people more than being told that children are sexual beings just like their parents. To hear that masturbation is a perfectly normal activity even among infants might drive some to call the morality police.


Conjecture, bias, superstition, fossilized cultural beliefs, skewed interpretation of the scriptures and information deficit continue to inform attitudes toward new ideas.


Prejudice conspires against scientific evidence, oftentimes with disastrous consequences. Fear of the unknown is a particularly powerful emotion, made worse by pronouncements by the powerful and influential, whether politicians, patriarchs, priests or professionals.

Scientific inquiry is relegated to the shadows. Personal opinion becomes received wisdom, amplified in a market too lazy to engage evidence, preferring to embrace speculation as truth.


We find an example of this in the myths that were engendered by fear of masturbation in eighteenth and nineteenth century Europe and North America. One of the experts on the subject published a volume called “The Heinous Sin of Self-Pollution”, in which he assured young lads that continued indulgence in masturbation would unman them and render them “ridiculous to women.”


In fact all sexual activity, not just masturbation, was considered dangerous to one’s health. Sylvester Graham, the best- known American merchant of this opinion, assured his contemporaries in 1834 that most treacherous of the sexual acts was what he called the “solitary vice”, his term for masturbation. Why, the practice was a guaranteed cause of insanity!


“This general mental decay,” Graham wrote, “ continues with the continued abuses, till the wretched transgressor sinks into a miserable fatuity, and finally becomes a confirmed and degraded idiot, whose deeply sunken and vacant glassy eye, and livid, shriveled countenance, and ulcerous, toothless gums, and fetid breath, and feeble broken voice, and emaciated and dwarfish and crooked body, and almost hairless head – covered, perhaps, with suppurating blisters and running sores – denote a premature old age – a blighted body – and a ruined soul!”


There was only one cure for this – circumcision for males and removal of the clitoris for women. Many doctors believed it and brought out the scalpels.


Meanwhile, writing in 1828, Dr. Reveille Parise declared: “In my opinion, neither plague, nor war, nor small pox, nor similar diseases, have produced results so disastrous to humanity as the pernicious habit of masturbation. It is the destroying element of civilized societies, which is constantly in action and gradually undermines the health of a nation.”


Throughout the nineteenth century, masturbation was cited as a frequent cause of heart disease, epilepsy, consumption (tuberculosis) and, of course, insanity. A good parent was one who made unannounced visits to his children’s bedrooms in the hope of catching the rascals in the act of self-pollution in which case the recommended treatment was circumcision of the boys or clitoris removal “without the benefit of anesthesia.”


An even more fascinating development came with the advent of the bicycle. Newly introduced in England in the late 1860s, bicycle riding became the craze as young men crisscrossed the villages and counties of England atop the two-wheeled contraptions that were known as “bone shakers.”

Their joy was blunted by a dire warning that came from Dr. S.A.K. Strahan, the Assistant Medical Superintendent of the County Asylum, Northampton, England who pointed out some “alarming evils” of bicycle riding in the Sept. 20, 1884 edition of the Lancet.

“The pressure upon the perineum must be injurious especially to growing boys,” he wrote. “It must cause irritation and congestion of the prostate and surrounding parts, tends to exhaust and atrophy the delicate muscles of the perineum, and also call attention to the organs of generation, and so lead to a great increase in masturbation in the timid, to early sexual indulgence in the more venturesome and ultimately to early impotence in both.”


We look back at these beliefs with incredulity and a knowing smile. Yet the folks back then were as sure of the dangers of bicycle riding and masturbation as many of my people in East Africa are of the horrors of little children doing what we in medicine know to be normal.

None of the above will sway the minds of those who are terrified of new knowledge and better understanding of the human being. Only time will show them that human biology has no racial prejudice.


Only time will reveal to them that denying reality does not change that reality. Only time will reveal that, like bicycle riding, the normal sexual developmental pursuits of children will neither ruin them nor destroy Africa’s morals.

It took them more than a century, but the Europeans and North Americans eventually discovered that adolescent self-stimulation did not cause insanity or other disease.


It took them shorter to discover that the bicycle was an innocuous boneshaker that was not injurious to growing lads. Science will overturn the myths and superstition that inform a large section of East African society.

Level 1 (XP: 100)
When babies fondle themselves,that is part of a psycho sexual development.The phalic stage is the third stage of psychosexual development, spanning the ages of three to six years, wherein the infant's libido (desire) centers upon his or her genitalia as the erogenous zone.Masturbation on the other hand appears to have a different connotation.Children need to be guided not to delve into details of sexual activity lest they face dire consequences. A lot has been talked about sex and sexuality and the fear of it among our tradition,however as parents and gate keepers of children we should learn how and when to begin this discussion.
Reply by Muniini K. Mulera
last year
To what extent is this aspect of child health and behaviour taught at the Makerere School of Health Sciences and other medical schools in East Africa?

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