1842: Masturbation kills, writes Dr Alfred Hitchcock

In 1842, a Boston medical journal published a short essay titled ‘Insanity and Death from Masturbation’. Its author, the appropriately named Doctor Alfred Hitchcock, claimed that:

“The mass of community remain profoundly ignorant on this subject and are ready to attribute diseases from this habit to any but their true cause. Within ten years a number of fatal cases have fallen under my observation, where death was clearly traceable to that cause alone. In each of these cases, friends and neighbours assigned ‘disappointed love’ as the fons et origo mali [source and origin of the evil].”

Dr Hitchcock described one particular case at length, a 23-year-old man who came to him in 1840. The patient suffered from nervousness, fatigue, anaemia, sleeplessness, poor posture, dry skin, body odour and bad breath. He eventually confessed to masturbating for six years and Dr Hitchcock immediately diagnosed this as the cause of his illness.

The patient refused to give up self-pleasure, however, and his condition deterioriated until his death five months later. Dr Hitchcock attended an autopsy on the corpse, noting in an I-told-you-so manner that the testicles were dried and shrivelled while the abdomen, intestines and lower spine were all infected and surrounded by pus.

Dr Hitchcock later headed the American Medical Association’s committee on insanity and worked as a battlefield surgeon in the US Civil War.

Source: Dr A. Hitchcock, “Insanity and Death from Masturbation” in The Boston Medical and Surgical Journal, vol. 26, June 1842. 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.