Margaret Sanger, "What Every Girl Should Know," 8 Dec 1912.
Published article. Source: New York Call, Dec. 8, 1912 , Margaret Sanger Microfilm C16:0034 .
Part III of an an 11-part series. For "Introduction," see Nov. 17, 1912, for Part I "Girlhood" see Nov. 24, 1912, for Part II "Girlhood" see Dec. 1, 1912, for Part IV "Puberty" see Dec. 15, 1912, for Part V "Sexual Impulse" see Dec. 22, 1912, for Part VI "Sexual Impulse" see Dec. 29, 1912, for Part VII "Reproduction" see Jan. 3, 1913, for Part VIII "Reproduction" see Jan. 19, 1913, for Part IX "Some Consequences of Ignorance and Silence" see Jan. 26, 1913, for Part X "Some Consequences of Ignorance and Silence" see Feb. 2, 1913, and for Part XI "Some Consequences of Ignorance and Silence" see Mar. 2, 1913.
Puberty is the age at which the girl or boy becomes capable of reproduction. Writers differ in the use of the word. Many use it to denote the whole period of time during which the procreative ability continues which is usually from the 14th to the 45th year. There are still other uses of the word, but we will use it as the age when the boy or girl becomes sexually matured or ripe, the first indication of which is the menstrual flow in the girl and seminal emissions in the boy.
This age of puberty is celebrated by initiations among savage peoples, mostly for the purpose of trying the powers of endurance in the boy or girl. The boy is taken away among strange tribes, is subjected to the greatest physical pain and hardship, and among some tribes is circumcised. The girl is often subjected to a vaginal incision and should she cry out or show any sign of suffering she is disgraced among the women of her tribe and promptly expelled from the settlement. In Ellis' Psychology of Sex the author relates of the Yuman Indians of California how the girls prepare for marriage at the first sign of menstruation by being wrapped in blankets and placed in a warm pit for four days and nights. The old women of the tribe dance about them and sing constantly; they give away coin, cloth and wheat to teach the girls generosity, and sow wild seeds broadcast over the girls to cause them to be prolific. These and various other initiations are practiced by nearly all savage tribes. The boys and girls receive their sex knowledge at this time, and are instructed in the duties of married life.
The girls are fully informed of the menstruation. It has been said the knowledge of sexual relations is openly discussed and naturally taught; that therefore, it has no glamour for men, and that in consequence the women of these tribes are virtuous.
Perhaps you will wonder what bearing all this has on What Every Girl Should Know. I relate it only to show that the savages have recognized the importance of plain sexual talks to their young for ages, while civilization is still hiding itself under the black pall of prudery.
When we speak of puberty it is necessary to have some knowledge of the organs of reproduction and their structure. So far the physiology taught in the public schools has not treated of these organs. In order to get books on this subject a girl is met with the question: "Are you a nurse or physician?" If not, the books are denied her. Consequently the average girl is kept in ignorance of the function of these organs, and is at a loss to know where to go for clean information. It is necessary, therefore, to give this information here, without mincing words, if there is any benefit to be derived from the following articles. It is very simple for the girl to learn the correct names of these organs and call them by such names. They are the ovaries, fallopian tubes, uterus, vagina and breasts. The breasts were not always classed as reproductive organs, but later writers recognize their relation to them, and as such they are now included.
Let us first take the ovaries, which are two small glands about the size and shape of an almond, placed one at each side of the extreme lower part of the woman's abdomen. They are imbedded in large muscles which also help to hold the uterus (the womb) in place. Inside the ovaries are thousands of little eggs called ovules, which have been there since the birth of the girl. The work of the ovary is to develop and mature these eggs, and send them on to be fertilized. At the time of puberty, these eggs are all in different stages of development. Those in the center of the ovary ripen first and burst through the outer cover of the ovary (which is like a capsule and at the time of menstruation becomes swollen and congested). The ovule is caught by the fringy ends of the fallopian tubes, which are in a constant lashing motion, which motion sends the egg through the tube to the uterus.
The fallopian tubes join the ovaries to the upper and outer angle of the uterus. Sometimes the sperm cell from the male comes up into the tube to meet the egg and it is fertilized here, but this is not the nest nature has prepared for the egg's development, and unless it returns into the uterus it causes serious trouble and an operation is necessary. Impregnation in the tube is very rare, but it is possible.
The uterus, often spoken of as the womb, is a hollow muscular organ into which the egg comes from the tubes to be fertilized. After fertilization it remains here, is nourished and developed until it can develop no more. Then it is thrown out by the contraction of the muscles, which process we call the birth of the child. The uterus is about three inches long, its shape is like a pear with the small end downward. It is not fastened to any of the bony parts, but is held in place by the ligaments and muscles, which also allow it to move with different movements of the body. One of the most interesting features about the uterus which is so small in its cavity is that it can attach to accommodate the growing child within it to the length of nineteen to twenty-one inches. This is because it is one and one-half inches thick and composed of layers of muscles which are tough and yet elastic. At the upper side of the uterus are the openings into the fallopian tubes. At the small end of uterus is another opening leading into the vagina. It is through this opening the sperm of the male comes in order to fertilize the egg. Thus you can readily see the uterus is the nest or cradle where the egg is to live until it becomes strong enough to subsist on other nourishment.
The vagina is a muscular tube-like passage which extends from the small part of the uterus (called the neck) to the outer surface of the body where its opening is usually partly closed in virgins by a thin membrane or film known as the hymen. The walls of the vagina are also very thick and elastic. This is sometimes called the birth canal. The hymen was for years a subject for discussion in the professional world among physicians. In my talks to girls I find it a subject of great interest and often anxiety to many of them, for the average girl seems possessed with the old idea that the presence of the hymen is necessary to marital happiness. The time was not long ago when its absence was considered cause for serious discord between husband and wife, and I have been told that under the old law its absence was sufficient ground for divorce.
Fortunately, modern science has thrown some light on this subject and disproved the theory that its absence was necessarily due to a woman's having had sexual relations. There are cases on record of women who have lived four and five years in prostitution who were found with perfectly preserved hymen. It is important to know that it differs in size and shape in women. Also, that in some women it has been entirely absent since birth. It can be destroyed by accident or injured by operations, or examinations where the physician did not use the greatest care. In some women it is easily destroyed; in others it is more difficult. It is not at all uncommon for a physician to find the hymen unruptured when he comes to deliver the first born child. All of which goes to prove that neither its presence nor its absence is necessarily the sign of virginity.
Now that we have some idea of the situation of the reproductive organs and their relations to one another we shall be ready next week to consider in greater detail the ovule or egg in the ovary.(To be continued.)
Copyright 2003. Margaret Sanger Project