1821: Hot iron and straightjacket cures self pollution

self pollution
One word: “Ouch”.

In 1826 the British medical journal Lancet reported a case of “idiocy accompanied with nymphomania”, successfully treated by Dr Graefe of Berlin. The unnamed patient was born in 1807 and remained apparently healthy until 14 months of age, at which point she was struck down by severe fever and bedridden for almost two years. This illness took a toll on the girl’s mental faculties: according to her childhood physician she was unable to talk and “exhibited unequivocal marks of idiocy”.

The patient’s deterioration continued until 1821, shortly after her 14th birthday, when Dr Graefe was first called to attend:

“He soon perceived that the girl had an insatiable propensity for self-pollution, which she performed either by rubbing her extremities on a chair or by the reciprocal fright of her thighs. From this time there could be no doubt [about] the treatment of the case.”

Dr Graefe ordered a three-step treatment for self-pollution:

“A bandage was applied, capable of preventing friction in the sitting position… A straight waistcoat was put on her at bedtime, and counter-irritation by the application of a hot iron to the neighbourhood of the part affected.”

In June 1822 Dr Graefe, deciding that insufficient progress had been made, carried out an “excision of the clitoris”. After the wound had healed the patient made a slow but steady recovery, to the point where she can “talk, read, reckon accounts, execute several kinds of needlework and play a few easy pieces on the pianoforte.”

Source: Revue Medicale, Oct. 1826, cited in The Lancet, vol. 9, 1826. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2016. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

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