1889: Bowen’s pubic hair-pulling anti-masturbation device

In the late 19th century, the United States was gripped by anti-masturbation hysteria. Fuelled by the writings of Tissot, Kellogg and others, scores of American physicians warned that “self-pollution” was an avenue to physical infirmity, mental illness and even death.

This hysteria gave rise to numerous cures and treatments, as well as several inventions. Between 1856 and 1918, the United States Patent and Trademark Office approved 35 patent applications for anti-masturbation devices. As might be anticipated, the majority of these were intended for male use.

Several were based on the chastity belt principle, encasing the genitals or hands and rendering them untouchable. A lockable belt and apron device, designed by Thomas Thomas (1907, patent 852638), prevented the wearer from sleeping on his or her back and touching their groin. Henry A. Wood (1910, patent 973330) submitted a patent for ‘night mittens’ that prevented any dextrous use of the hands and fingers. There were also three patented alarm systems, designed to wake the wearer or the parents in the event of an erection.

Perhaps the most elaborate patent was granted to Frank Orth (1893, patent 494437). Orth’s device connected a pair of rubber underpants, an electric pump and a water cistern. In the event of arousal or self manipulation, this machine pumped cold water around the genitals to lower their temperature.

Frank Orth, 1893

The most bizarre contraptions, however, used pain and discomfort as a disincentive to arousal or self pleasure. Albert V. Todd (1903, patent 742814) submitted two designs: one delivered a mild electrical shock to the erectile penis, the other employed a series of spikes.

Todd, 1903

Harry F. Bowen’s machine (1918, patent 1266393) also delivered electric shocks.

Bowen, 1918

More simple in its design was a “surgical appliance” suggested by James H. Bowen (1889, patent 397106). Bowen’s device consisted of a lockable metal penis cap connected to small cables that were clamped to strands of pubic hair. In the event of an erection the cables would stretch taut and pull the pubic hair, causing the wearer considerable pain.

James Bowen, 1889

Source: US Patent and Trademark Office database, patent numbers as listed. 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.