“A Secret Sin”. The Issue of Children’s Sexuality, Considered in the Light of Handbooks from the Second Half of the 19th Century and the Early 20th Century

Article Polish OPEN
Nawrot-Borowska, Monika (2016)
  • Publisher: Edukacja Elementarna w Teorii i Praktyce
  • Journal: Elementary Education in Theory and Practice (issn: 2353-7787, eissn: 1896-2327)
  • Related identifiers: doi: 10.14632/eetp_39.5
  • Subject: Education | children’s sexuality; sex education; masturbation; guides; 19th/20th century | pedagogika | seksualność dziecka; wychowanie seksualne; onanizm; poradniki; XIX/XX wiek

The issue of childhood masturbation, rarely addressed up to now in historical and pedagogical studies, is the subject of the research presented here. The demarcatory timelines for the analysis carried out encompass the second half of the 19th century and the early 20th century. Our source material is educational handbooks (including religious ones), as well as those related to hygiene and health care, published in printed form on Polish territory in the period under consideration. The aim of the research is to systematize the views on this issue offered by the authors of those works (teachers and educators, doctors, priests), and to present their evolution. As those findings indicate, in most of the guides, masturbation was treated as a form of sexual self-abuse, leading to serious diseases and, consequently, to death. In religious and educational handbooks it was placed in the category of being a mortal sin. The contents of the advice given focused on how to recognize the symptoms of masturbation in children, and how to prevent it effectively. Parents were to play a special role in the courses of action recommended. It should be emphasized that it was only at the beginning of the 20th century that works (developed mainly in medical circles) began to appear, aimed at making people aware that masturbation was not as dangerous as it had been thought to be over the preceding centuries, and that, when practised in moderation, it did not affect the health of the person practising it in any way. It was still suggested, however, that children be protected from falling victim to what was considered a morally offensive activity.
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