Young men are not so often taught to repress, but neither are they taught to swing their vital energies into altruistic channels through sublimation. Since the woman of his class will not marry him until he has money, the young man too often satisfies his undirected instincts in a commercial way. The statistics of venereal diseases prove that here, as elsewhere, goods subject to barter are subject to contamination. In a late marriage, too often a contaminated body accompanies the material possessions which the standards of society have demanded of a husband.
But the woman pays in still other coin for the repressions arising from faulty childhood training. Unable to find expression for herself either in marriage or in devotion to work, because some old childish repression is still denying all outlet to her legitimate desire, she frequently falls into a neurosis; or if she escapes a real breakdown, she gives expression to unsatisfied longings in some isolated nervous symptoms which in many cases center about the organs of generation. There then results any one of the various functional disturbances which are only too often mistaken for organic disease. What is needed in cases like this is not a gynecologist nor a surgeon, but a psycho-pathologist—or perhaps only a grasp of the facts. Let us look at the more common of these disturbances in order to gain an understanding of the situation.
=Potential Motherhood.= Among the normal phenomena of a woman’s life is the recurring cycle of potential motherhood. Every three or four weeks a new ovum or egg matures in the ovary and undergoes certain chemical changes, which send into the blood a substance called a hormone. This hormone is a messenger, stimulating the mucous membrane of the womb into making its velvet pile longer and softer, and its nutrient juices more abundant in readiness for the ovum.
The same stimulus causes the whole organism to make ready for a new life. As in hunger, the chemistry of the body produces the muscle-tension that is felt as a craving for food, so this recurring chemical stimulus produces a definite craving in body and mind. This craving brings about an increased irritability or sensitiveness to stimuli which may result either in a joyous or a fretful mood.
During sleep the social inhibitions are felt less distinctly and the sleeper dreams love-dreams woven from messages coming up from all the minute nerve-endings in the expectant reproductive organs. But if no germ-cell travels up the womb-canal and tube to meet and impregnate the ovum, the womb-lining rejects the egg as chemically unfit. All the furbishings are loosened from the walls and slowly cast out, constituting the menstrual flow. The phenomenon as a whole is a physiological function and should be accompanied by a sense of well-being and comfort as is the exercise of any other function, such as digestion or muscular activity. Only too often, however, it is dreaded as an unmitigated disaster, a time for giving up work or fun and going to bed with a hot-water bottle until “the worst is over.” Let us see how this perversion comes about.