Masturbation kills!

The dawn of science and the transformation of sin to modern insanities

Masturbation is considered harmful, dangerous and epidemic. In addition to the two main discourses, which here describe the black and the red thread, we can also divide the course of history roughly into three eras; the pre-modern, the modern and the post-modern. While we have so far been occupied with the pre-modern era, we now gradually move into the modern era. Theories on sexuality first started to appear in the 1700th century (the start of the era known as modernism), but implicitly these theories carried with them the inheritance from the Abrahamitic religions. The inheritance mainly consisted of the views on sexuality the act of reproduction was considered the only natural use of sex. As a result of this, any other sexual expression was considered “unnatural”, “impure”, and thus also “abnormal” and even “damaging”.

Scientific fundamentalists are no more charming than religious fundamentalists (N.N.)

This meta-theoretic basis permeates all statutory prohibitions, theories and forms of therapy that emerged by the end of the 1700th century, and all of them (and somewhat still do) has one thing in common – they try to curb and restrain the “dangerous and dirty” sexuality. In addition, masturbation – or self-contamination as it was also called – was subject to a massive and pathologizing focus. Perhaps the “contamination” itself was viewed as love for oneself – or love for the same sex, instead of the opposite? Meanwhile, the woman was gradually desexualized/asexualized. Still, masturbation was once a high-grade sexual act. For instance the Egyptian god Atum, the first force of the universe that arose from the original darkness, masturbated and turned into the god Ra – god of the Sun. From his semen the first divine beings arose, Shu and Tefenet. These again gave life to heaven (Nut) and the earth (Geb). An old papyrus scroll shows the earth’s self-preservative fertility, where Geb performs auto-fellatio (the act of performing oral sex on oneself) and swallows his own semen. This is the oldest known illustration of the holy power of masturbation.

However, as we have seen, the Semitic religions did not share this spiritual view on masturbation. Even though it was firmly established that masturbation was a major sin, there was still no one who claimed that masturbation was dangerous until around the end of the 16th century. However, during that time sexuality was subjected to focus from medical circles. It all probably started with a book that was published in England at the beginning of the 17th century. The book was called “Onania, or the Heinous Sin of Self-Pollution, and All its Frightful Consequences in Both Sexes, Considered. With Spiritual and Physical Advice who have already injur’d Themselves by This Abominable Practice”. With this book the term Onanism was born.

“Onanism” comes from the biblical story about Onan, a story that actually doesn’t tell about masturbation at all. Simply put, Onan refused to fertilize his dead brother’s wife to save the honour of the dead and childless brother. Instead, he let his semen fall to the earth, and God thus let him die. The book was published under a pseudonym, but it has been claimed later that it was the self-appointed doctor John Martens who was behind it. Thankfully, he also had a curative mixture, which he sold for 12 shilling a bottle.

Onanism was in a record-breaking short span of time established as a conception within the circles of both the faithful and the scholarly - as Dr. Langfeldt expresses it: “This term, onania, brought religion and medicine together in an ungainly discourse” - and from this point on, masturbation and homosexuality was in focus. And as we soon shall see, these two behaviours were also seen in relation to one another, in no small ways thanks to Rousseau’s hypothesis on seduction. But, before that, this “self-contamination” was transformed to life-threatening heights by a Swiss doctor and epidemiologist by the name Samuel Auguste David Tissot – and onanism became a medical diagnosis, in spite of no serious research to support this claim.

An honourable exception to this, though, was the British doctor John Hunter, who claimed that it was the inflicted shame and guilt that was damaging – but his publications was later censored. Masturbation was allegedly the cause of tuberculosis, madness, epilepsy, blindness – even death in young age – among others. Towards the end of the 18th century it was common to circumcise boys in Great Britain and in the USA to prevent masturbation. It was all built on short circuiting, a meta-theoretic inheritance from the Abrahamitic religions about “unnatural” sexuality.

Another person who would receive a lot of influence on this discourse was the Swiss philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, noted in short above. Rousseau is most likely known for most people as the writer of “Du contrat social”, also known as the catechism of the revolution. But, at the same time, he also published a thesis on the bringing up of children. Here, he claimed, among others, that parents hurt their children through sickly relations to sexuality and exposure of this. He viewed a child as a sort of “Tabula Rasa” (empty board / not described page), inspired by the philosopher Aristotle. Just after the publishing of this thesis, he also established familiarity with Tissot, and his thesis on masturbation. Rousseau himself was an unhappy sadomasochist, and he claimed that his sexual disposition had its cause in a childhood experience where he as an eight year old boy had lain with a naked abdomen on his governess’ lap, while she spanked him.

The combination of “Tabula Rasa” and his own childhood experience most likely based the foundation of what has later been deemed the hypothesis on seduction. Meanwhile, masturbation and homosexuality was also associated, probably as a result of homosexual acts usually involving mutual masturbation. This also fit, hand in glove, with the hypothesis on seduction, as well as the understanding of the human as a tabula rasa. Masturbation was not only damaging by itself, but it also lead to the widespread adoption of homosexuality.

Masturbation had now truly reached the “epidemic” heights! The hypothesis on seduction was not disposed of until 1981 through one of the most extensive studies on sexuality that has ever been conducted (Bem-2007). But even so this mentality still lives on among people today, but in the “free” world is probably most widespread in the USA. In this regards it is also interesting to note that “Behaviourism”, also called “The Second Force of Psychology”, has had, and still has, a strong foothold in the USA. This builds on the understanding that the individual is a tabula rasa (Engler-1995) – simply put: Everything is learned.

It was also the Anglo-American cultures that became the greatest opponents of masturbation in the 18th century. One of the American pioneers of fighting masturbation, Sylvester Graham, claimed that the diet was an important factor of fighting this vice. Among other things, one should avoid white bread, pork meat and tobacco, and substitute these with whole-grain products. Graham in turn inspired Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, and his brother, who at the end of the 18th century introduced a cereal that should reduce sexual urges, and as such prevent masturbation – a product known today as “Kellogg’s Corn Flakes”.

This might seem innocent enough, but far worse was the fact that it was the same Dr. Kellogg who recommended circumcision of boy children to cure masturbation. This should preferably be done without anaesthesia, because the pain of the operation would have an amplifying effect on the expected result. For girls, he recommended the usage of pure carbolic acid on the clitoris, to lessen this abnormal tension.

In Norway, Dr. Ludvig Dahl, our first Director of Medicine, introduced gymnastics in the schools to prevent sexual desires. He claimed that blood gathered in the head and groin when the pupils sat still too long, and that this stimulated the desire to masturbate (Magasinet-2004). This sickly attitude towards masturbation still lives on in several cultures and environments in modern days. In 1994 the American Minister of Health Jocelyn Elders, was fired because she suggested that masturbation should be a part of the sexual education of American schools (CNN-2005). And here in Scandinavia the preacher Runar Søgaard still travels around and fights masturbation through prayer (Magasinet-2004).

One can safely establish that neither prayer, corn flakes or gymnastics has worked as intended – but the side effects can be said to be okay. Corn Flakes for instance don’t taste all that bad...

Translated by Morten Wattø

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