Why women marry, is a question that has long puzzled the philosophers, and becomes more and more difficult to answer as one by one the avenues of professional and business life often to them. It is impossible to believe that any considerable portion of them do so because only through marriage can they attain to that most exalted office open to humanity–motherhood–and perhaps we cannot do better than content ourselves with the answer that it is because marriage is an institution established by the Creator Himself, and rooted into the very basis and fibre of human nature, and because in the case of each individual married woman, some man asked her.
But both portions of that answer plead, in their very statement, for more sound and complete instruction for the young, and especially for girls, on all subjects connected with this institution. Unfortunate, unhappy, unworthy marriages are matters of almost every day occurrence; immature young girls are asked by boys and men, of whose real character they know, and can know almost nothing, to enter a state of which, in its real significance and relations, they are absolutely ignorant beyond, perhaps, the facts that the majority of grown-up folk are, or have been married, and that only such, for some mysterious reason, are burdened with the nuisance of children. We shall not be rid of matrimonial blunders; of marrying for money, for a home, for convenience; of ruined health; of blighted happiness; of worthless, incompetent mothers, and frivolous, unprincipled children; or of our disgraceful divorced record, until we begin to give our daughters sound ideas of the meaning and importance of marriage, and wise and practical guidance in forming their opinions of boys and men; and to do this successfully, experience shows that we must begin early, long before school-days are over.
The best school for the girl, as for the boy, is the mixed school, and until the highest grades are reached, as a rule, it is better to avoid both the boarding, and the city public school. As the home itself is by far the best place in which to train and develop the character of the young, so the home and family model- male and female, man and women, boy and girl, sharing together the tasks, the experiences, the joys, the troubles, that go to make up life–is the best one to adopt as far as it can be made to apply to those means of education which cannot be brought under the domestic roof. The monastic system is a failure, at least, it has no relation to our modern conception of social and family life. To prevent the evils of ill-assorted marriages, educate young people, and especially girls, on this very subject. And the only way to teach a girl what a boy or man is, or should be, is to put her in contact with him. Let her study the same books in the same classes, meet him at the same games, and discuss the same problems and every-day affairs with him, and thus she will best learn how to judge him when he asks her to risk life’s voyage with him, and at the same time how best to make true men out of her own boys in the future.
And teach her plainly and truly what marriage is and what it signifies. Root out that false idea that it is founded upon love, while at the same time you teach that its relations are so intimate and binding that there is no possible safety for those entering its bonds unless they are absolutely certain that there is between them that devoted, pure, self-sacrificing love which the Master’s command makes it the duty of each of His creatures and disciples to feel for all his fellows. And on the other hand save her from the conception of marriage that has given polygamous Mormonism its power, namely, that its sole object is the preservation of the species, while at the same time you teach that no one has a right to enter this holy estate unless willing to accept all the duties and responsibilities, including parent-hood, which the all-wise Father has seen fit to associate with this institution.
The object of marriage is the development of character; it is founded not upon love but upon sexual instincts, which, though given by the Creator, honorable in all, and beautiful in their proper uses and relations, are yet unworthy the sacred name of Love. Teach your daughter that these instincts, of which she probably knows comparatively little in her own body before marriage, are the impelling motive in the man who seeks her hand and heart. Teach her that without these sexual desires no man would ever sacrifice his personal liberty, or see the many charms her lover now discovers in her person or in the thought of being ever near her, no matter how many and how different causes combine with this one to make her attractive to him; and you have given her more profit than she could find in a hundred romantic novels. Let her know that her failure as a wife, whatever the cause, to meet and fall in with the instincts in her husband upon which marriage is founded, will almost certainly alienate from her his affections sooner or later, no matter how faithful he may seem or how congenial otherwise she may be; and you have given her a secret which will do more to secure for her happiness in the married state than all the fashion plates and cookery recipes in existence. Health and happiness are not prizes drawn in a lottery; they are the result and evidence of right living. Sexual organs and instincts are heaven-implanted, and the women who marries has not merely a privilege regarding them, it is her duty to her husband, her children and herself, to heartily enjoy with her husband sexual intercourse, and to keep herself in such condition that she may enjoy it.
And this involves knowledge of the significance of marriage before its consummation. The day for this event should be selected so as to be as remote as possible from the monthly flow, for, as a general rule through life, a woman should be excused from sexual intercourse during her periods, and her first experiences of that act should interfere as little as possible with them. The only exception to the rule just given is that in case a woman seems barren, and no other time of meeting her husband results in conception, a union during her period may be tried as an experiment that sometimes succeeds if tried with sufficient caution and gentleness. And gentleness should always characterize the performance of this act. Usually at the beginning it is necessary that the membrane which closes in the vagina to a greater or less extent, be broken and this is commonly more or less painful to the woman, besides being attended with some loss of blood. Any violence on the part of the husband in effecting this initial connection is far worse than unnecessary–it is brutal, and quite likely to result in permanent injury to the wife, possibly making all future sexual intercourse painful instead of pleasurable to her. Once the membrane is fairly broken and the act completed the woman ought to be allowed an interval of several days before repeating inter-course, to allow the healing of the wounded parts in their new conditions; then the act may be safely and pleasantly performed with due moderation in the future, and without so much likelihood of evil consequences.
This membrane which closes the vagina is called the hymen, and its object is undoubtedly to serve as an evidence of virginity. But it should never to forgotten that it is far from being a positive or infallible evidence. It is even possible for it to persist after marriage, and cases have been known in which this membrane has been found impeding the progress of an infant on its way into the world. Such a state of things is, however, extremely rare, while the absence of the membrane in a young and innocent virgin is by no means uncommon. A certain class of midwives and wet-nurses frequently make it a point to break up the membrane in new-born girls, and necessary surgical interferences and occasional accidents destroy the hymen in others. Then, too, the hymen is a variously-shaped organ and is sometimes so small as scarcely to be noticed by an unprofessional person. Undoubtedly it is broken in some cases by attempts at masturbation, and occasionally girls are born without this membrane. All these things make it highly unjust to entertain the slightest suspicion of a woman’s virtue solely because at her marriage the hymen is not present.
After its rupture the membrane curls up at the sides of the vagina and shrivels away, but if during this process it is irritated and inflamed by repeated acts of sexual indulgence it is apt to become a permanent source of pain of a neuralgic character, lasting often until the birth of a child so alters the arrangement of parts as to cure the difficulty.
With regard to the repetition of the sexual act, what was said on a preceding page must apply here. When anything more than a temporary feeling of lassitude succeeds it, indulgence is probably excessive. A woman ordinarily can endure more indulgence than can a man, but she ought to be entirely excused during her period, and even for a day or so after it, and also during any illness, since a woman can hardly be ill without experiencing some untoward effects in the sexual region of her body. And again after a “confinement,” a woman ought to excuse herself from the approaches of her husband for from three to six months, that the greatly distended parts may have ample time and rest to resume the normal conditions.
The sexual act is to be looked upon both as a pleasure and a duty. A legitimate and exquisite pleasure if properly performed; whenever it becomes anything else, errors or disease are to be suspected. Considered as a duty toward one’s husband, it cannot be properly fulfilled except when it is a pleasure to both parties. Clothing of any kind is an obstacle to proper sexual intercourse, at the act is never what it should be unless it is an expression of perfect confidence and mutual affection, as well as an accompaniment of endearing caresses otherwise expressed. Evidence is sadly, shamefully abundant in the practice of every physician, that a wife cannot count on her husband’s faithfulness unless she is both able and willing to satisfy the craving which with him is vastly the most important incentive to marry. This is exactly one of the facts concerning which the ignorance of young women is so general and so lamentable. Having been so persistently and industriously taught that everything connected with the sexual act, or even the sexual organs, is a shame and a disgrace, they learn after marriage rather slowly and reluctantly what the true estimation, importance, and relations of these organs and acts really are. Anything bordering upon animalism or sensuality, in either man or woman, is, of course, shameful and disgraceful, and too much care can hardly be expended in guarding against it. But that is a poor cure which degrades natural instincts till it can be thought that the Creator has made a mistake or dishonored his creatures by so endowing them. Give them their proper place–the lowest among the gifts and endowments of the body, perhaps–never cultivate them, but rather cultivate body, mind, and spirit at their expense and with the object of keeping them within bounds; but recognize them as a legitimate and necessary element in life, a source of real pressure if exercised in accordance with the laws of their Maker, and, at least in the man, as imperiously demanding gratification, because upon their fulfilling their function the life of the race depends.
Sexual health in the marriage relation requires moderation and consideration in undertaking its duties. The wretched fashion of taking a bridal journey immediately after the ceremony should be condemned from every point of view. The bride is usually exhausted with her preparations for the event and the excitement of anticipation, and is in no condition for either her new physical experience or her journey. To put both on her at once is a serious mistake, and one that results in much harm to health. The first approach should be accomplished at a time of as much physical and mental quiet as possible. Three or four days should elapse before a repetition of the act, to allow the parts of the woman’s body to recover from the changes and injuries which the first connection usually involves.
Persons who have passed the prime of life should indulge sexual desires with less and less frequency as they find power and inclination to do so dying out; and as it is important that these matters should be mutual in all respects, it is well worth while to consider, in contracting a marriage, that sexual life ceases in woman at an earlier age than in man, and that, therefore, a man should select a life partner some years younger than himself.
Just when sexual powers will begin to decrease in any individual is, of course, a matter that cannot be accurately fore-told. It will depend on many considerations of general health and physical activity, and especially upon the moderation of indulgence in early life. Therefore it is impossible to say just how many years should separate the ages of husband and wife. Life is not very accurately measured in years at any rate; but probably from three to fifteen years would be the limits within which the differences in ages should range, the man, of course, being the elder. With regard to the proper age at marriage of each contracting party, it may be said that physical maturity should have been attained in order that a sound and well developed body may be handed down to offspring; but, that secured, the younger the marriage takes place the better will the couple succeed in blending their two lives into one, by mutual concessions to the ruts and habits of each other. For the man the best years are from twenty-four to thirty-six, for a woman, from twenty to thirty.
A more significant consideration than age, for those contemplating marriage, is temperament, and it is, perhaps, at once the most neglected and, in a medical sense, the most important item bearing upon this institution. The objections to the marriage of cousins are not due to the mere fact of blood-relationship between the parties, but to the almost certain consequences of that consanguinity, namely, similar temperament and a tendency toward similar diseases, which are almost certain to show themselves with fatal effect in the offspring of such marriages. But persons who appreciate the sin of marrying cousins, and who would on no account risk parenthood if they knew themselves to be afflicted with diseases which would probably occasion the early death of their children, will yet ally themselves with those of identical temperament, in ignorance of the fact that in so doing they are forming a union more objectionable than the marriage of cousins, objectionable for precisely the reasons that should keep blood relatives apart, and more likely to result in short-lived offspring than is the existence of transmissible disease in a parent.
Identical temperaments are childless. Persons whose temperaments are nearly alike, if married, are likely to beget children who, if born alive, will die young, or manifest physical or mental weakness through life. Consumption, meningitis, rickets, scrofula, and the like, are carrying off every year thousands and thousands of young persons, and making thousands more weakly and burdensome to themselves, their friends, and the world; and for the cause of this state of things we must look to the ill-considered and unwise, if not criminal marriages. Yet the world goes on refusing to allow young people to learn the true significance of marriage, and acquiescing in the foolish idea that because a young man and maiden love each other, or fancy that they do there is reason enough for their union.
As a rule, cousins and second cousins should not marry. Persons of similar temperament should never marry, and the more pronounced the lymphatic temperament is in any young person, the more careful he or she should be to choose as a life partner one in whom no trace of its predominance can be found. A person in whom the mental or nervous temperament is marked should be careful to choose predominantly vital characteristics in a conjugal companion, and, of course, every effort should be made in cases where any diseased tendency is suspected, to be sure that nothing at all similar exists in the person or the family of the one he or she intends to wed.
The bed chamber should be a large, airy, and sunny room, well-ventilated and containing about twelve hundred cubic feet of space for each individual. The custom in America is for a married couple to occupy the same bed, but on many accounts the European custom of separate beds is better, especially for young persons, who can but find difficulty in keeping the gratification of desire within due bounds of moderation if opportunity for indulgence be so convenient, and in those cases where either husband or wife is seriously ill or liable to be disturbed during the night. Separate rooms are not necessary, but a single bed for each individual has much to recommend it.
With regard to the avoidance and limitation of offspring there is but one sure, safe, and proper plan for the healthy, and that is to remain single, or, being married, to live as if single. Any interference with the course of Nature is a fraud that she will be sure to punish, and any attempt to rid the healthy body of the fruits of conception otherwise than by natural labor, is certainly a cowardly crime, if it be not actual murder. No such attempts can be made without risking the life or health of the woman, and nothing can ever excuse them except the moral certainty than without them her life will be sacrificed.
Much has been written about the predetermination of the sex of the offspring, but no theory is as yet generally accepted. The difficulty of getting at a sufficient number of undoubted facts regarding conception in the human family effectually prevents the formulation of any law by which parents may infallibly decide in advance whether they will produce boys and girls. The probabilities, however, are, that intercourse soon after menstruation or just before it, if fruitful, will result in female offspring; while the conceptions occasioned in the latter part of the interval between the menses will result in male children. The relative age, health, development, and, perhaps, desires of the parents may influence the matter, however, and some women seem incapable of conception at all during a variable time in each interval between their periods, and just before the return of the flow.
In conclusion, the author would quote St. Paul, (seventh chapter of his first letter to the Corinthians), as good authority for his advice to those men and women who have a purpose and an object in living, who can rule their own bodies and spirits, and who wish to attain to the highest development and usefulness of which human nature is capable, not to marry. The life of chaste celibacy, chaste in thought, word, and deed, devoted to some high purpose and unselfishly spent for the advantage of mankind–this is undoubtedly the highest ideal and gives best promise of health, happiness, and usefulness. For woman, it is true, the highest office is motherhood, but not all are capable of filling that office worthily, and not all desire it. Any man or woman is living best when filling the highest office for which he or she is adapted, and many a woman as well as man will find that sphere outside of marriage.
But for the majority, now as ever, the married state is the natural and proper one, honourable in all, and best adapted for the development of individual character and the welfare of society. Health, happiness, and usefulness await those who enter this state from pure motives, accept its responsibilities, live up to its duties, and share its joys in moderation, and with due regard to that proportionate exercise of all the bodily, mental, and spiritual powers and faculties which alone can result in perfect health.