On Becoming a Man – A Book for Teen-Age Boys


Some sound advice for our younger readers today, as Steerforth discovers a 1950s sex guide for boys…

Not long ago I found a very instructive book called On Becoming a Man – A Book for Teen-Age Boys by Harold Shryock, M.A., M.D., a teacher at the University of Loma Linda in California.

Published in 1951 it is, first and foremost, a sex guide, but has chapters encouraging financial prudenc e, good posture, regular church attendance and military service.

There is also a stern warning about the dangers of reading fiction, with a fascinating anecdote about a missionary wife who became addicted to novels during a stay in Africa:

This young woman was not able to take advantage of the opportunity to do a work that would have made her a blessing to humanity – all because she had formed the habit of living in the realm of make-believe as created by the authors of the books she read.

Dr Shryock also takes pains to warn his young readers of another danger:

There is a freakish manifestation of human friendship regarding which I shall take this occasion to warn you. I refer to those relationships between members of the same sex that are included in the term homosexuality.

Like some Victorian self-help guides I’ve come across, On Becoming a Man is a curious mixture of sound common sense and the sort of utter nonsense that must have made some of its readers feel completely awful.

On the plus side, it does have some great illustrations:

“Any youth is wise who controls his special friendship”
(No they’re not. I deeply regret behaving so properly in my youth)


“Teen-age boys think very differently from teen-age girls”


“The remarkable growth of a teen-age boy is often a source of astonishment to his friends and his family”
(I’ve always wondered what The Proclaimers’ home was like)


“A worthy counsellor will not be arbitrary in his judgements”
(But beware of the man in the basebell cap who always has his curtains drawn)


“For each teen-ager, each new venture brings with it a new thrill and a new opportunity”
(Whatever happened to angst and alienation?)


“The habit of saving should be established early in life.”
(So that you can blow it in your early 20s on loose women and poker games)


“Reading is without doubt one of the best means of personal development.”
(In this young man’s case, he’s learning how to build a small explosive device)

This photo is from a 1968 reprint:


“Jack and Joanne had been special friends for about a year. Because of common interests, it was natural for them to begin going steady.”
(Hopefully a common interest in saucy photos)

If a “teen-age” boy can heed Dr Shryock’s advice, then this is the golden future that awaits him:


After all these years, I can finally see the appeal of Jack Kerouac.

Steerforth is a gentleman bookseller from East Sussex, who blogs at The Age of Uncertainty.
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Steerforth is a gentleman bookseller from East Sussex, who blogs at The Age of Uncertainty.

5 thoughts on “On Becoming a Man – A Book for Teen-Age Boys

  1. peter.burnet@hotmail.com'
    July 21, 2014 at 11:08

    In fairness to the 1950’s, the University of Loma Linda is a church-run Seventh-Day Adventist school. Were you hoping for tips on safe sex and how to roll reefers?

    (It’s really too bad that, in cautioning against fiction, Professor Shyrock, didn’t warn that too much of it could result in one becoming a dabbler).

  2. Worm
    July 21, 2014 at 12:43

    the graduate in the last picture looks remarkably similar to Russell Brand, proof that this is indeed a satanic work of great evil

  3. johngjobling@googlemail.com'
    July 21, 2014 at 15:20

    The second illustration neatly captures the atmosphere of the time, ‘courting couples’ being the official description, ‘attempting to get a leg over’ the male equivalent and ‘if this spotty herbert thinks he’s getting inside my knickers he’s delusional’ is the female take on events. Mum, of course, is weighing up the financial prospects, dad is in the back garden pruning roses and ruminating ‘he looks like a randy little sod, hope he keeps his hands off’. Those were the days of the corset, one not only had to be on heat but also a time-served mechanic.

    Happy days, walking through the doors of the Orchid Ballroom on a hot, sultry Saturday evening with the whiff of Coty L’Aimant redolent in the ether, dope, internet dating and garage music as yet unheard of. Innocent? depends upon your definition.

    • peter.burnet@hotmail.com'
      July 21, 2014 at 19:18

      malty, in those days, young, spotty North American cads and braggarts expressed the extent of their amorous conquests using baseball imagery—first base, second base, third base, home. Was there anything similar over there respecting soccer or cricket?

      • johngjobling@googlemail.com'
        July 21, 2014 at 21:21

        “Did you score at the weekend” may not have alluded to the goalmouth, cricket and sex? chalk and cheese dear boy, chalk and cheese.

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