William Acton, The Functions and Disorders of the Reproductive Organs in Childhood, Youth, Adult Age, and Advanced Life Considered in their Physiological, Social and Moral Relations ( 1857), 4th edn. ( London: John Churchill, 1865), 1-3, 7-8, 9, 25-6, 28-9, 183-4.
This much reprinted work is primarily devoted to a study of male sexuality. Despite Acton's opening remarks, it soon becomes clear that he fears that very few children remain in the state of sexual innocence he deems so desirable. In his fears about the dire effects of masturbation, Acton follows a line of thought made popular by Tissot at the end of the eighteenth century, and revitalized in England in the 1840s by the publication of the work of the French doctor, Claude François Lallemand , A Practical Treatise on the Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment of Spermatorrhoea ( 1847). Spermatorrhoea, a condition of enervation caused by loss of semen, was taken up by quack doctors who made a thriving trade out of male sexual fears. Acton, whilst indignant at the quacks, nonetheless regarded spermatorrhoea as a real condition, caused predominantly by masturbation, but also by other forms of excessive drains on the body's resources, as illustrated in the final case-study offered here. Acton argued throughout for continence, an economic hoarding of energy rather than reckless, undirected spending.
In a state of health no sexual idea should ever enter a child's mind. All its vital energy should be employed in building up the growing body, and in storing up external impressions and educating the brain to receive them. During a well- regulated childhood, and in the case of ordinary temperaments, there is no temptation to infringe this primary law of nature. The sexes, it is true, in English