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Male Continence, by John Humphrey Noyes [1872], at

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To those who regard the principle of Male Continence as a valuable addition to science, it will be interesting to learn how it was discovered; and the misrepresentations on this point which have been put in circulation by Hepworth Dixon and others make it proper and even necessary that the true story of the discovery should be put on record. I tell that story in few words thus:

I was married in 1838, and lived in the usual routine of matrimony till 1846. It was during this period of eight years that I studied the subject of sexual intercourse in connection with my matrimonial experience, and discovered the principle of Male Continence. And the discovery was occasioned and even forced upon me by very sorrowful experience. In the course of six years my wife went through the agonies of five births. Four of them were premature. Only one child lived. This experience was what

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directed my studies and kept me studying. After our last disappointment, I pledged my word to my wife that I would never again expose her to such fruitless suffering. I made up my mind to live apart from her, rather than break this promise. This was the situation in the summer of 1844. At that time I conceived the idea that the sexual organs have a social function which is distinct from the propagative function; and that these functions may be separated practically. I experimented on this idea, and found that the self-control which it requires is not difficult; also that my enjoyment was increased; also that my wife's experience was very satisfactory, as it had never been before; also that we had escaped the horrors and the fear of involuntary propagation. This was a great deliverance. It made a happy household. I communicated my discovery to a friend. His experience and that of his household were the same. In the course of the next two years I studied all the essential details and bearings of the discovery. In 1846 we commenced Community life at Putney, Vt. In 1848, soon after our removal to Oneida, I published the new theory in a pamphlet which passed through several editions, but is now out of print. This is the only true account of my discovery of Male Continence.

The pamphlet referred to embraced a general exhibition of the principles of the kingdom of heaven promised in the Bible, and for this reason it was entitled The Bible Argument; but the most important chapter of it was that which undertook to show "How the sexual function is to be redeemed and true relations between the sexes are to be restored." Under this caption the doctrine of Male Continence was propounded substantially as it is in the letter to the Medical student, but more in detail and with less reserve. For the sake of showing what we believed and printed on this subject twenty-five years ago - which therefore essentially belongs to the history of Male Continence - I will now venture to reprint that notable chapter.

From The Bible Argument, printed in 1848.

The amative and propagative functions of the sexual organs are distinct from each other, and may be separated practically. They are confounded in the world, both in the theories of physiologists and in universal practice. The amative function is regarded merely as a bait to the propagative, and is merged in it. The sexual organs are called "organs of reproduction," or "organs of generation," but not organs of love or

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organs of union. But if amativeness is the first and noblest of the social affections, and if the propagative part of the sexual relation was originally secondary, and became paramount by the subversion of order in the fall [as had previously been shown], we are bound to raise the amative office of the sexual organs into a distinct and paramount function. It is held in the world, that the sexual organs have two distinct functions, viz., the urinary and the propagative. We affirm that they have three - the urinary, the propagative, and the amative, i. e., they are conductors, first of the urine, secondly of the semen, and thirdly of the social magnetism. And the amative is as distinct from the propagative, as the propagative is from the urinary. In fact, strictly speaking, the organs of propagation are physiologically distinct from the organs of union in both sexes. The testicles are the organs of reproduction in the male, and the uterus in the female. These are distinct from the organs of union. The sexual conjunction of male and female no more necessarily involves the discharge of the semen than of the urine. The discharge of the semen, instead of being the main act of sexual intercourse, properly so called, is really the sequel and termination of it. Sexual intercourse, pure and simple, is the conjunction of the organs of union, and the interchange of magnetic influences, or conversation of spirits, through the medium of that conjunction. The communication from the seminal vessels to the uterus, which constitutes the propagative act, is distinct from, subsequent to, and not necessarily connected with, this intercourse. On the one hand, the seminal discharge can be voluntarily withheld in sexual connection; and on the other, it can be produced without sexual connection, as it is in masturbation. This latter fact demonstrates that the discharge of the semen and the pleasure connected with it is not essentially social, since it can be produced in solitude; it is a personal and not a dual affair. This, indeed, is evident from a physiological analysis of it. The pleasure of the act is not produced by contact and interchange of life with the female, but by the action of the seminal fluid on the internal nerves of the male organ. The appetite and that which satisfies it are both within the man, and of course the pleasure is personal, and may be obtained without sexual intercourse. We insist, then, that the amative function - that which consists in a simple union of persons, making "of twain one flesh," and giving a medium of magnetic and spiritual interchange - is a distinct and independent function, as superior to the reproductive as we have shown amativeness to be to propagation.

We may strengthen the preceding argument by an analogy. The mouth has three distinct functions, viz., those of breathing, eating, and speaking. Two of these, breathing and eating, are purely physical; and these we have in common with the brutes. The third function, that of speaking, is social, and subservient to the intellectual and spiritual. In

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this we rise above the brutes. They are destitute of it except in a very inferior degree. So, the two primary functions of the sexual organs - the urinary and reproductive - are physical, and we have them in common with the brutes. The third, viz., the amative, is social, and subservient to the spiritual. In this again we rise above the brutes. They have it only as a bait to the reproductive. As speech, the distinctive glory of man, is the superior function of the mouth, so the social office of the sexual organs is their superior function, and that which gives man a position above the brutes.

The method of controlling propagation which results from our argument is natural, healthy, favorable to amativeness, and effectual.

First, it is natural. The useless expenditure of seed certainly is not natural. God cannot have designed that men should sow seed by the way-side, where they do not expect it to grow, or in the same field where seed has already been sown and is growing; and yet such is the practice of men in ordinary sexual intercourse. They sow seed habitually where they do not wish it to grow. This is wasteful of life and cannot be natural. So far the Shakers and Grahamites are right. Yet it is equally manifest that the natural instinct of our nature demands frequent congress of the sexes, not for propagative, but for social and spiritual purposes. It results from these opposite indications, that simple congress of the sexes, without the propagative crisis, is the order of nature for the gratification of ordinary amative instincts; and that the act of propagation should be reserved for its legitimate occasions, when conception is intended. The idea that sexual intercourse, pure and simple, is impossible or difficult, and therefore not natural, is contradicted by the experience of many. Abstinence from masturbation is impossible or difficult, where habit has made it a second nature; and yet no one will say that habitual masturbation is natural. So abstinence from the propagative part of sexual intercourse may seem impracticable to depraved natures, and yet be perfectly natural and easy to persons properly trained to chastity. Our method simply proposes the subordination of the flesh to the spirit, teaching men to seek principally the elevated spiritual pleasures of sexual connection, and to be content with them in their general intercourse with women, restricting the more sensual part to its proper occasions. This is certainly natural and easy to spiritual men, however difficult it may be to the sensual.

Secondly, this method is healthy. In the first place, it secures woman from the curses of involuntary and undesirable procreation; and, secondly, it stops the drain of life on the part of man. This cannot be said of Owen's method or of any other that merely prevents the propagative effects of the emission of the seed, and not the emission itself.

Thirdly, this method is favorable to amativeness. Owen can only say

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of his method that it does not much diminish the pleasure of sexual intercourse; but we can say of ours, that it vastly increases that pleasure. Ordinary sexual intercourse (in which the amative and propagative functions are confounded) is a momentary affair, terminating in exhaustion and disgust. If it begins in the spirit, it soon ends in the flesh; i. e., the amative, which is spiritual, is drowned in the propagative, which is sensual. The exhaustion which follows naturally breeds self-reproach and shame, and this leads to dislike and concealment of the sexual organs, which contract disagreeable associations from the fact that they are the instruments of pernicious excess. This undoubtedly is the philosophy of the origin of shame after the fall. Adam and Eve first sunk the spiritual in the sensual, in eating the forbidden fruit; and then, having lost the true balance of their natures, they sunk the spiritual in the sensual in their intercourse with each other, by pushing prematurely beyond the amative to the propagative, and so became ashamed, and began to look with an evil eye on the instruments of their folly. On the same principle we may account for the process of "cooling off" which takes place between lovers after marriage and often ends in indifference and disgust. Exhaustion and self-reproach make the eye evil not only toward the instruments of excess, but toward the person who tempts to it. In contrast with all this, lovers who use their sexual organs simply as the servants of their spiritual natures, abstaining from the propagative act, except when procreation is intended, may enjoy the highest bliss of sexual fellowship for any length of time, without satiety or exhaustion; and thus marriage life may become permanently sweeter than courtship or even the honey-moon.

Fourthly, this method of controlling propagation is effectual. The habit of making sexual intercourse a quiet affair, like conversation, restricting action of the organs to such limits as are necessary to the avoidance of the sensual crisis, can easily be established, and then there is no risk of conception without intention.

Ordinary sexual intercourse, i. e., the performance of the propagative act without the intention of procreation, is properly to be classed with masturbation. The habit in the former case is less liable to become besotted and ruinous than in the latter, simply because a woman is less convenient than the ordinary means of masturbation. It must be admitted, also, that the amative affection favorably modifies the sensual act to a greater extent in sexual commerce than in masturbation. But this is perhaps counterbalanced by the cruelty of forcing or risking undesired conception, which attends sexual commerce, and does not attend masturbation.

Our theory, separating the amative from the propagative, not only relieves us of involuntary and undesirable procreation, but opens the way for

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scientific propagation. We are not opposed, after the Shaker fashion, or even after Owen's fashion, to the increase of population. We believe that the order to "multiply" attached to the race in its original integrity, and that propagation, rightly conducted and kept within such limits as life can fairly afford, is a blessing second only to sexual love. But we are opposed to involuntary procreation. A very large proportion of all children born under the present system are begotten contrary to the wishes of both parents, and lie nine months in their mother's womb under their mother's curse or a feeling little better than a curse. Such children cannot be well organized. We are opposed to excessive, and of course oppressive procreation, which is almost universal. We are opposed to random procreation, which is unavoidable in the marriage system. But we are in favor of intelligent, well-ordered procreation. The physiologists say that the race cannot be raised from ruin till propagation is made a matter of science; but they point out no way of making it so. Propagation is controlled and reduced to a science in the case of valuable domestic brutes; but marriage and fashion forbid any such system among human beings. We believe the time will come when involuntary and random propagation will cease, and when scientific combination will be applied to human generation as freely and successfully as it is to that of other animals. The way will be open for this when amativeness can have its proper gratification without drawing after it procreation, as a necessary sequence. And at all events, we believe that good sense and benevolence will very soon sanction and enforce the rule that women shall bear children only when they choose. They have the principal burdens of breeding to bear, and they rather than men should have their choice of time and circumstances, at least till science takes charge of the business.

The separation of the amative from the propagative, places amative sexual intercourse on the same footing with other ordinary forms of social interchange. So long as the amative and propagative are confounded, sexual intercourse carries with it physical consequences which necessarily take it out of the category of mere social acts. If a man under the cover of a mere social call upon a woman, should leave in her apartments a child for her to breed and provide for, he would do a mean wrong. The call might be made without previous negotiation or agreement, but the sequel of the call - the leaving of the child - is a matter so serious that it is to be treated as a business affair, and not be done without good reason and agreement of the parties. But the man who under the cover of social intercourse commits the propagative act, leaves his child with the woman in a more oppressive way than if he should leave it full born in her apartment; for he imposes upon her not only the task of breeding and providing for it, but the sorrows and pains of pregnancy and childbirth. It is right that law, or at least public opinion, should frown on

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such proceedings even more than it does; and it is not to be wondered at that women, to a considerable extent, look upon ordinary sexual intercourse with more dread than pleasure, regarding it as a stab at their life, rather than a joyful act of fellowship. But separate the amative from the propagative - let the act of fellowship stand by itself - and sexual intercourse becomes a purely social affair, the same in kind with other modes of kindly communion, differing only by its superior intensity and beauty. Thus the most popular, if not the most serious objection, to communistic love is removed. The difficulty so often urged, of knowing to whom children belong in complex-marriage, will have no place in a Community trained to keep the amative distinct from the propagative. Thus also the only plausible objection to amative intercourse between near relatives, founded on the supposed law of nature that "breeding in and in" deteriorates offspring (which law, however, was not recognized in Adam's family) is removed; since science may dictate in this case as in all others, in regard to propagation, and yet amativeness may be free.

In society trained to these principles, as propagation will become a science, so amative intercourse will have place among the "fine arts." Indeed, it will take rank above music, painting, sculpture, etc.; for it combines the charms and benefits of them all. There is as much room for cultivation of taste and skill in this department as in any.

The practice which we propose will give new speed to the advance of civilization and refinement. The self-control, retention of life, and ascent out of sensualism, which must result from making freedom of love a bounty on the chastening of physical indulgence, will raise the race to new vigor and beauty, moral and physical. And the refining effects of sexual love (which are recognized more or less in the world) will be increased a thousand-fold, when sexual intercourse becomes an honored method of innocent and useful communion, and each is married to all.


This exposition, designed, as it manifestly was, to sweep the whole theoretical area of Male Continence and glance at all its logical results, present and prospective, was nevertheless hedged about with much practical conservatism. It stood in the midst of a serious religious theory, and expressly declined all responsibility for the doings of those who should attempt to make a separate hobby of it, and carry it into practice without the fear of the Lord. The keynote of the whole Bible Argument, reiterated on every page of it, is heard in such passages as these:

The theory thus carefully launched was not left to a chance-career. The Oneida Community in an important sense owed its existence to the discovery of Male Continence, and has evidently been the Committee of Providence to test its value in actual life. The original conservatism and other qualifications of this Committee were set forth in the introduction to the Bible Argument in the following specifications:

  • It is not immodest, in the present exigency, to affirm that the leading members of the Putney Association belonged to the most respectable families in Vermont, had been educated in the best schools of New England morality and refinement, and were by the ordinary standards irreproachable in their conduct, so far as sexual matters are concerned, till they deliberately commenced, in 1846, the experiment of a new state of society, on principles which they had been long maturing and were prepared to defend before the world.
  • It may also be affirmed without fear of contradiction, that the main body of those who have joined the Community at Oneida are sober, substantial men and women, of good previous character and position in society.
  • The principles discussed in the ensuing argument have never been carried into full practical embodiment, either at Putney or Oneida, but have been held by the Community as the principles of an ultimate state, toward which society among them is advancing slowly and carefully, with all due deference to sentiments and relations established by the old order of things.
  • The Community, in respect to practical innovations, limits itself to its own family circle, not invading society around it; and no just complaint of such invasions can be found at Putney or Oneida.

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