Adolescence in the girl is the period when she develops into a woman. It is that stage in female life embraced between the ages of twelve or fourteen and twenty-one years. Elasticity of body, a clear complexion, and a happy control of her feelings should mark the young girl at this time, if she has been so fortunate as to escape the dangers and baneful influences of childhood and infancy. Her numerous bodily functions should be well performed. Thus constituted she should be in a condition to take up her coming struggle with the world, and the sex problem it will present.
It has been noticed that in the case of girls, puberty usually occurs earlier in brunettes than in blondes. In general, it makes its appearance earlier in those of a nervous or bilio-nervous temperament than in those whose temperament is phlegmatic or lymphatic. In the United States fourteen and a half years is the usual age of puberty in girls. In tropical lands, however, it is not uncommon for a girl to be a mother at twelve. Country girls (and boys) usually mature several months or a year later than those living in cities. Too early a puberty in girls may well arouse concern. It usually indicates some inherent constitutional weakness. Premature puberty is often associated with premature decay.
In the girl the sign of puberty is the growth of hair about the pubes, private organs and armpits. Her whole frame remains more slender than in the male. Muscles and joints are less prominent, limbs more rounded and tapering. Internal and external organs undergo rapid enlargement, locally. The mammæ (the breasts) enlarge, the ovaries dilate, and a periodical uteral discharge (menstruation) is established.
No young girl should feel alarmed if, owing to the negligence of her parents or guardians to prepare her, she is surprised by this first flow from the genital organs. Puberty is the proper time for the appearance of menstruation. This is the periodical development and discharge of an ovule (one or more) by the female, accompanied by the discharge of a fluid, known as menses or catamenia. Menstruation, in general good health, should occur about every twenty-eight days, or once in four weeks. This rule, however, is subject to great variation. Menstruation continues from puberty to about the forty-fifth year, which usually marks the menopause, or “change of life.” When it disappears a woman is no longer capable of bearing children. Her period of fertility has passed. In rare cases menstruation has stopped at 35, or lasted till 60.
When the period arrives a girl or woman has a feeling of discomfort and lassitude, there is a sense of weight, and a disclination for society. Menstruation should not, however, be regarded as a nuisance; a girl's friends respect her most when she is “unwell.” She should keep more than usually quiet while the flow continues, which it will do for a few days. Also, she should avoid all unnecessary fatigue, exposure to wet or to extremes of temperature. Some girls are guilty of the crime of trying to arrest the menstruation flow, and resorting to methods of stopping it. Why? In order to attend a dance or pleasure excursion! Lives have been lost by thus suppressing the monthly flux. Mothers should instruct their daughters when the menses are apt to begin, and what their function is. During menstruation great care must be taken in using water internally. A chill is sufficient to arrest the flow. If menstruation does not establish itself in a healthy or normal manner at the proper time, consult a physician in order to remove this abnormal condition. Any disturbance of the delicate menstrual functions during the period, by constrained positions, muscular effort, brain work and mental or physical excitement, is apt to have serious consequences.
Continence is, as a rule more easily observed by the adolescent girl than by the adolescent youth. Ordinarily the normal young girl has no undue sexual propensities, amorous thoughts or feelings. Though she is exposed to the danger of meeting other girls who may be lewd in thought and speech, in the houses of friends or at school, she is not apt to be carried away by their example. Yet even a good, pure-minded young girl may be debauched. Especially during adolescence, the easy observance of natural continence depends greatly on the proper functioning of the feminine genital organs. These may be easily disturbed. The syringe used for injections, for so-called purposes of cleanliness, is in reality a danger. The inner organs are self-cleansing. Water or other fluids cast into them disorder the mucous follicles, and dry up their secretions, preventing the flowing out of some of Nature's necessities. A daily washing of the inner organs for a long period with water also produces chronic leucorrhea.
Lack of proper early training, abnormal sex instincts, weak good nature, poverty, all may be responsible for a young girl's moral downfall. As a general thing, right home training and home environment, and sane sex education will prevent the normally good girl from going wrong. It should be remembered, though, that a naturally more gentle and yielding disposition may easily lead her into temptation. Girls who are sentimentally inclined should beware of giving way to advances on the part of young men which have only one object in view: the gratification of their animal passion.
The holding of hands and similar innocent beginnings often pave the way for more familiar caresses. Passionate kisses—the promiscuous kiss, by the way, may be the carrier of that dread infection, syphilis—violently awaken a young girl's sex instincts. The fact is that many innocent girls idealize their seducers. They believe their lying promises, actually come to love them, and think that in gratifying their inflamed desires, they are giving a proof of the depth and purity of their own affection.
Here, as in the case of the young man, self-control should be the first thing cultivated. And self-control should be made doubly sure by never permitting one of the opposite sex to show undue familiarity. Many a seemingly innocent flirtation, begun with a kiss, has ended in shame and disgrace, in loss of social standing and position, venereal disease, or even death. The pure-minded and innocent girl often becomes a victim of her ignorance of the consequences entailed by giving in to the desires of some male companion. The girl who has a knowledge of sex facts is less apt to be taken advantage of in this manner.
Excessive Freedom.—The excessive freedom granted the young girl, especially since the World War, must be held responsible for a great increase in familiarity between the adolescent youth of both sexes. Many young girls of the “flapper” type, in particular, are victims of these conditions of unrestrained sex association. Sex precocity is furthered in coeducational colleges, in the high school and the home. Adolescents of both sexes too often are practically unhampered in their comings and goings, their words and actions. The surreptitious pocket flask, filled with “hooch,” is often a feature of social parties, dances and affairs frequented by young people. Girls and boys drink together, and as alcohol weakens moral resistance in the one case, and stimulates desire in the other, deplorable consequences naturally result. In the United States the number of girls “sent home” from colleges, and of high-school girls being privately treated by physicians to save them from disgrace, is incredibly large.
Parents who do not control the social activities of their daughters, who permit them to spend their evenings away from home with only a general idea of what they are doing or whom they are meeting, need not be surprised if their morals are undermined.
The Auto.—The advent of the automobile is responsible for an easy and convenient manner of satisfying precociously aroused sex instincts in young girls and boys. Often, unconscientious pleasure-seekers roam the roads in their auto. They accost girls who are walking and offer them a “lift.” When the latter refuse to gratify their desires they are often beaten and flung from the car. The daily press has given such publicity to this civilized form of “head hunting,” that it is difficult to sympathize with girls who are thus treated. They cannot help but know that in nine cases out of ten, a stranger who invites them to a ride, who “picks” them up, does so with the definite purpose already mentioned in view.
Poverty.—Poverty, too, plays a large part in driving young girls into a life of vice. In all our large cities there are hundreds of young women who earn hardly enough to buy food and fuel and pay for the rent of a room in a cheap lodging house. Feminine youth longs for dress, for company, for entertainment. It is easy enough to find a “gentleman friend” who will provide all three, in exchange for “companionship.” So the bargain is struck. These conditions exist in a hundred and one occupations. A young woman may go to a large city as pure as snow, but finding no lucrative employment, lonely and despondent, she is led to take her first step on the downward path. Soon daily contact with vice removes abhorrence to it. Familiarity makes it habitual, and another life is ruined. The heartless moral code of the cynical young pleasure-seeking male is summed up in the cant phrase anent women: “Find, ... and forget!” It is these girls, who are victimized by their lack of self-restraint or moral principle, their ignorance or weakness, who make possible the application of such a maxim.
Both mental and physical purity are rightfully required of the young girl about to marry. How shall she acquire and maintain this desirable state of purity? The process is a simple one. She must let a knowledge of the true hygienic and moral laws of her sex guide her in her relations with men. She must cultivate clean thought on a basis of physical cleanliness. She need not be ignorant to be pure. Men she should study carefully. She should not allow them to sit with their arm about her waist, to hold her hand, to kiss her. No approach nor touch beyond what the best social observance sanctions should be permitted. Even the tendernesses and familiarities of courtship should be restrained. An engagement does not necessarily culminate in a marriage, and once the foot has slipped on virtue's path the error cannot be recalled. These considerations, together with those adduced in the preceding section, “Why Young Girls Fall,” are well worth taking to heart by every young woman who wishes to approach matrimony in the right and proper way.