1898: Dr Warren’s cure for masturbation: sleep with a friend

Doctor Ira Warren (1806-64) was a Boston physician and the author of one of the 19th century’s most trusted medical guides. Warren’s Household Physician first appeared in the early 1860s and remained in print for more than 40 years. Like most guides of its ilk, the Household Physician condemned the habit of masturbation and warned against its physical and moral effects:

“There is probably no vice to which so many boys and young men, and even girls and young women, are addicted, and from which so many constitutions break down, as self-pollution. Small boys and girls learn the vile practice of the larger ones at school and generally continue it up to maturity, without the least suspicion that they are inflicting upon themselves either a moral or a physical injury.”

According to the 1898 edition, the symptoms of prolonged self-abuse included:

“..headache, wakefulness, restless nights, indolence, indisposition to study, melancholy, despondency, forgetfulness, weakness in the back and private organs, a lack of confidence in one’s own abilities, cowardice, inability to look another full in the face… There are few objects more pitiable to behold than a young man in this condition…”

The Household Physician did not provide specific instructions for treating chronic masturbation but offered a few general guidelines. The patient, it suggested, should only be permitted to mix with “intellectual and virtuous females”. He should also make himself busy with “useful and agreeable employment”. Furthermore, he should:

“..avoid solitude and sleep with some friend. He should sleep on a mattress and never on feathers; always on the side, never on the back.”

Source: Ira Warren, The Household Physician; for the Use of Families, Planters, Seamen and Travellers, 1898 edition. 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.