Margaret Sanger, "What Every Girl Should Know," 2 Feb, 1913.
Published article. Source: New York Call, Feb. 2, 1913, 15 , Margaret Sanger Microfilm C16:0057 .
This is the eleventh article in an 12-part series. For "Introduction," see Nov. 17, 1912, for "Girlhood-Part I" see Nov. 24, 1912, for "Girlhood-Part II" see Dec. 1, 1912, for "Puberty-Part I" see Dec. 8, 1912, for "Puberty-Part II" see Dec. 15, 1912, for "Sexual Impulse--Part I" see Dec. 22, 1912, for "Sexual Impulse-Part II" see Dec. 29, 1912, for "Reproduction--Part I" see Jan. 2, 1913, for "Reproduction--Part II" see Jan. 19, 1913, for "Some Consequences of Ignorance and Silence--Part I" see Jan. 26, 1913, for "Some Consequences of Ignorance and Silence--Part III" see Mar. 2, 1913.
The two venereal diseases which I will tell you something of here are those most commonly known to all, gonorrhea and syphilis.
Gonorrhea is an inflammation of the urethra (water passage) characterized by redness, swelling, smarting pain on the passing of water, and accompanied by a thick purulent (poisonous) discharge, at first creamy in color, and later a greenish yellow. It is considered by the highest authorities as solely a sexual disease in adults, depending almost exclusively upon sexual intercourse as its mode of origin and infection. In children, however, it is not the rule, especially in infants and little girls, who can be infected by the hands of the mother or nurse being soiled with the discharge, also where the fresh discharge is on towels, toilets, etc. It starts as an inflammation of the outer delicate parts but seldom enters the urethra.
In former days gonorrhea was considered an ordinary catarrhal inflammation, "no worse than a bad cold," the old saying went. It was thought to originate in women with the discharge at the end of the menstrual period, or leucorrhoea; in fact, any secretions from the uterus, of an irritating character, were thought to be sources of gonorrhea. However, with the discovery of the microbe "gonococcus," in 1879, by Dr. Neisser, it is now an established fact that the disease comes from a source where there is either latent or chronic gonorrhea, which of course, means that the gonococcus is present. It is considered a conservative estimate that at least 50 per cent of the adult population in this country have suffered from gonococca infection. More men than women have been and are infected.
The first symptoms of the disease appear from three to seven days after infection, and under proper treatment the discharge may disappear in six or eight weeks.
If the man or woman places himself under the care of a specialist within forty-eight hours after infection, the disease is often of much shorter duration. When allowed to become chronic, it is called gleet. Too much emphasis cannot be out upon the danger of placing any one with the disease into the hands of doctors who advertise so conspicuously, claiming rapid and complete cures for all sexual diseases. Experience has found that thousands of boys and young men, attracted by such alluring promises as only the quack can put forth, have been under such treatment, only to find later that the disease was allowed to remain in the tissues, the discharge only having been dried up. The germs were allowed to continue their work on up into the bladder, kidneys, joints, heart and even to the brain. The germs can live for years in the body hidden away in the gland ducts, the mucous membrane of the organ first attacked being in a normal state, yet when a condition arises when the vitality of the tissues in which the germs are lodged is lowered, or which gives the germs themselves more nourishment or stimulus, such as alcohol or excessive intercourse, they almost always become active again.
In women the small part of the womb (cervix), as well as the urethra, are favorite places of attack. When the disease attacks the cervix a woman may not be conscious of it, and so, unless prominent symptoms attend it, she may infect many persons in the meantime. In man, on the other hand, the disease cannot be present without his knowing there is something wrong, and it should be impressed upon him that it is a moral obligation on his part not to have sexual relations until he has been examined and pronounced cured by a specialist in genito-urinary diseases.
Your general practitioner will always recommend to you a specialist if you ask him to. When the disease attacks the uterus and ovaries it very often blocks the fallopian tubes and prevents the impregnation of the ovum. It is said that over one-third of the childless marriages are due to gonorrhea in women innocently contracted from their husbands. Both men and women can become sterile from this disease. The seminal tubes in the man become blocked, thus disabling him from impregnating the ovum.
Again, when the disease attacks the organs of generation, unless speedily attended to, the organs get into a chronic state of inflammation. They are therefore more difficult to reach, the chances of cure more difficult, and it usually means an operation for the woman.
The great mass of ailing women who trace their misery back to never seeing a well day since marriage, can be classed among those suffering with this disease, as can also that army of women whose illness is classed among "female disorders."
A curious point to know is that a man may have a hidden or latent gonorrhea, infect a clean, healthy woman during the sexual relations, and she, in turn, can infect him with the same disease. The great majority of infections in women are contracted from men who believe themselves cured, being under the false impression that they are cured because the discharge has ceased.
At a lecture given by a well-known physician in this city last winter, the physician advised every girl whose sweetheart, lover, or expected husband had a history of inflammatory rheumatism of the joints back of him, that as she valued her life and future health, not to marry that man without a thorough examination by a specialist in these diseases. He declared: no young man should have inflammatory rheumatism. This statement is considered somewhat exaggerated by some making more recent investigations, yet all seem to agree that a very large majority of cases of inflammatory rheumatism of the joints have the gonococcus present.
If the woman is not made sterile by the disease and is able to carry the child to full term labor, then there is another danger of infecting the child's eyes during the process of labor, when the secretions lodge themselves into the delicate membrane of the eyes. Then, unless quick action is applied, the sight of both eyes can be lost. Over 80 per cent of blindness in babies is due to this germ. It can be carried into the eyes of both children and adults by any means which can carry the discharge to the eyes. Upon the slightest suspicion that this has been done, medical aid should be summoned at once.
There is one fortunate thing to know , that the germ cannot live for a great length of time outside its natural or proper environment , though it can for years be hidden in the body. It dries up very quickly, and special solutions of both bichloride and permanganate of potash will kill the germs with which the solutions come in contact. There is but one course to follow, that upon any of the symptoms mentioned above, go at once to a reliable physician and follow his instructions closely. And remember that the causes which retard recovery are alcoholic drinks, lack of rest, spicy food and SEXUAL EXCITEMENT. It is said there is no positive proof against this disease, except continency until marriage and then monogamy.
That both the United States army and navy give out special instructions to the soldiers and sailors to enable them to avoid infection so far as possible is now generally known.
A story is told of a young Irish physician, who, being asked how he treated gonorrhea, replied most tersely, "with contempt." That this was for a time a general feeling is agreed, but with the knowledge that so many persons, especially women, contract the disease under the moral, as well as legal, conditions of present society, the feeling has changed. A woman is infected by her husband after the marriage is sanctioned by the state and blessed by the church, neither taking the interest in the woman's future to guarantee to her a clean individual as a husband. Prostitution has been upheld and women segregated for man's sexual use, the government going to the extent of authorizing examinations of the women for venereal diseases to insure MAN'S safety from these diseases. Yet there has been no such protection given either the woman prostitute or the wife that the man's body is free from them. On the other hand, every means to keep a married woman in ignorance of the source of her infection is made by church, state and society in general. Every law to protect the man's crime is made for his use, while women remain unprotected victims of his guilt. And this, they say, is "to protect the family and the home!"
Dr. James S. Wood tells a story of his experience with a young woman of 25, married five years, when she came to him. The husband admitted having had gonorrhea previous to marriage. The doctor found her flowing excessively, the cervix badly torn, the uterus sharply bent back and fixed, ovaries bound down and adherent, the tubes thickened; a leuchorreal discharge was present which contained gonococci, and other symptoms which made her sick and miserable. The doctor operated upon her, scraping her womb, sewing the torn cervix, opening the abdomen to remove the thickened appendix and inflamed ovaries and tubes. She convalesced beautifully, and had no bad or unusual symptoms for six months, at which time she returned with a renewed infection. Careful questioning extracted from the husband the confession that he had been "out with the boys," and had had a recurrence of gonorrhea. Most of the good which came from the operation was spoiled by this second infection.
This is only one simple example of what is meant by preserving the home and family at the terrible cost of women's lives. Women should protest against the so-called medical secret which decrees that they be kept in ignorance where their health, as well as life, is directly concerned. That there are men in the medical profession in this country, as well as in Europe, who have openly protested against respecting the secret where another life is involved, seems a cheerful signal of a general social awakening in this field.
In the Medical Record, April 20, 1912, Maude Glasgow says: "After suffering for years a woman becomes a feeble, wornout, nervous wreck: her life is a burden. The operating table is her only hope and she leaves it deformed, mutilated and sexless."
If women voluntarily exposed themselves to diseases which would sap the husband's vitality, making him a dependent invalid, or expose him to the shock of a mutilating operation or death--would men continue to suffer? Would they allow the medical secret to protect women in this alleged "freedom"? Every girl knows he would neither protect her nor continue to suffer. It is women only who have allowed the double standard of morals to stand so long, giving men the purest and best of their womanhood, but not demanding the same from them. As soon as women realize the danger to themselves and their children which they are likely to incur from men who have lived promiscuously, they will revolt against such standards.
Gonorrhea differs from syphilis, and though it is not a disease which can be transmitted from the parent to the children, as syphilis can, yet it is a subtle, wrecking disease and can do almost as much harm to the individual.(To be continued.)
Copyright 2003. Margaret Sanger Project