1888: Smelly feet, a sign of teenage masturbation

Miss Priscilla Barker was a late 19th-century social purist. In 1888 she published The Secret Book, a guide for girls and their parents containing information about dress, cosmetics, deportment and medical matters. It also contained information and advice about sexual behaviour, which Barker considered a matter “extreme delicacy… too vulgar for discussion” but included out of “a sense of duty”.

Among her advice was a curt warning to teenage girls about the intentions of their boyfriends:

“Beware of men who will come to you with the appearance of honour, integrity and love, but who in the secret of their hearts only hunt for women as the huntsman hunts for game. That gilded hero, that demigod of yours, that ideal man, is a sensual and heartless destroyer of female virtue for his own bestial self-gratification.”

Like others of her ilk, Barker was obsessed with masturbation – or more specifically the prevention of it. The main cause of self-abuse, she believed, was reading romantic novels, which excited “premature feelings” in young women. Once provoked these “inroads of self-abuse… leave the citadel of womanhood unprotected and at the mercy of the enemy”.

Barker told concerned parents that if their daughters started masturbating, “the terrible demon of lust” would “brand his bestial mark” on their appearance:

“The face loses its colour and the eyes grow dull, heavy and weak; the hands feel soft and clammy; and often the smell of the feet is unbearable… Another victim came to into my notice [with a] mouth full of saliva… The first moment I looked at her I felt that I had before me a fearful victim of self-abuse.”

Source: Priscilla Barker, The Secret Book containing Private Information and Instruction for Women and Young Girls, 1888. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2019-23. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.