Category Archives: Masturbation

1891: The foreskin: an “evil genie” that will land you in jail

Peter Remondino (1846-1926) arrived in the United States from Italy in the 1850s and was raised in rural Minnesota. He later studied medicine in Philadelphia and served as a doctor during the American Civil War.

In the 1870s, Dr Remondino relocated to California and became one of San Diego’s most prominent and sought after physicians. Though best known for his specialisation in respiratory illnesses, Remondino was also a vocal advocate for circumcision. His central argument was that the foreskin was a redundant organ. When man was a hunter-gatherer, the foreskin:

“..provided him with a sheath, wherein he carried his procreative organ safely out of harm’s way during wild steeplechases through thorny briars and bramble… This leathery pouch also protected him from the many leeches, small aquatic lizards or other animals that infested the marshes or rivers… or served as a protection from the bites of ants or other vermin…”

But now, Remondino argues, the foreskin is nothing but trouble, exerting:

“…a malign influence in the most distant and apparently unconnected manner. Like some of the evil genies or sprites in the Arabian tales it can reach from afar the object of its malignity, striking him down unawares in the most unaccountable manner; making him a victim to all manner of ills, sufferings, and tribulations… and other conditions, calculated to weaken him physically, mentally and morally… to land him perchance in the jail, or even in a lunatic asylum.”

It goes without saying that Dr Remondino recommended circumcision to treat or circumvent a number of ailments, including masturbation, nocturnal emissions, bedwetting, venereal diseases, timidity and insecurity, even cancer. Remindino also called for the “wholesale circumcision of the Negro race”, a measure he claimed would curtail the interest of black men in white women, reducing a great deal of racial tension and a “great number of lynchings”.

Source: Dr Peter Remondino, History of Circumcision from the Earliest Times to the President, Philadelphia, 1891; “Questions of the Day: Negro rapes” in National Popular Review, v.4, January 1894. 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.

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.

1872: Headmaster uses barbed wire to thwart sexual hijinks

Edward White Benson (1829-96) was an Anglican clergyman who for the last 16 years of his life served as Archbishop of Canterbury. He started his career as a schoolmaster at Rugby before becoming the foundation headmaster of Wellington College, Berkshire, in 1859.

As an educator, Benson was a disciplinarian especially tough on sexual misconduct or antics. Students caught masturbating, dallying with other boys or girls from outside the school were punished severely. Several students were expelled, including one senior who fornicated with a teenaged servant over the Christmas holidays and returned to Wellington with a sexually transmitted disease.

Benson also moved to prevent unhealthy relationships by separating older students from much younger ones. Mixed-aged dormitories were dissolved and restrictions were imposed on ‘fagging’. Concerned that students were breaching these rules by climbing over dormitory dividers after lights out, Benson personally strung two tiers of barbed wire along the tops of each cubicle.

Rudyard Kipling’s son John attended Wellington College in the years before World War I. In 1912 Kipling wrote to John warning him to steer clear of:

“..any chap who is even suspected of beastliness… Give them the widest of berths. Whatever their merits may be in the athletic line, they are at heart only sweeps and scum, and all friendship with them ends in sorrow and disgrace. More on this subject when we meet.”

Source: D. Newsome, A History of Wellington College, 1959; Rudyard Kipling letter to John Kipling, May 1st 1912. 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.

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.

1892: Dr Morris: “Nature is trying to abolish the clitoris”

Robert T. Morris was an American physician of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Morris had a busy practice on Madison Avenue and was considered an expert on sexual, reproductive and gynaecological matters.

Like many doctors of his era, Morris was an advocate of clitoridectomy, a surgical procedure to remove the clitoris as a treatment for masturbation, hysteria and female depression. He considered the clitoris a redundant organ that caused more trouble than its worth:

“The clitoris is a little electric button which [when pressed] rings up the whole nervous system… a very common factor in invalidism in young women.”

Morris also made the extraordinary claim that the clitoris was dying out, at least in white women. While still pronounced in primates and African-American females, “in about 80 per cent of all Aryan American women” the organ was concealed by genital folds; as a consequence it was undeveloped and too easily aroused or irritated. From this Morris concluded that:

“Nature is trying to abolish the clitoris as civilisation advances. The degenerative process… is characteristic of the civilised type of homo sapiens.”

Source: Dr Robert T Morris, writing in Transactions of the American Association of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, vol. 5, 1892. 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.

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.

1861: Tory MP cleared of fondling himself at his window

Sir John Shelley (1808-1867) was a Conservative politician who served several terms in the House of Commons between 1830 and 1865. Shelley was “also a sportsman of some renown on the turf and with the trigger”, an “eminent agriculturist” and, from all reports, something of a ladies’ man.

In June 1861, Shelley, then the Tory MP for Westminster, appeared in a London court charged with gross indecency. Several witnesses testified seeing Shelley expose and fondle himself in the window of his apartment in St James Street. According to Mrs Susan Stafford:

“I was at the window and Sir John… came to his drawing room window. He had no trousers on but loose drawers and a white or light-coloured dressing gown. I distinctly saw him expose his person. He looked direct to [my house] and used his hands incidentally, and then kissed his hands towards our house. There were ladies and servants at our windows.”

Mrs Stafford’s housemaid also testified in a similar fashion. Miss Mary Griffiths, a relative staying with Mrs Stafford, said under oath that she saw Sir John:

“…standing at the window; he appeared to have some loose gown on and drawers but his legs were bare… He exposed his person and did it again several times in the course of the afternoon.”

Maria Hartley, a nurse, said she saw:

“Sir John at the first floor window, that nearest Piccadilly. I had known him by sight before… I saw him put his hands down and open his drawers and I turned away… I had seen him that day do it two or three times. I have seen him frequently since do it… On those occasions I saw his private parts naked.”

Sir John Shelley’s barrister responded by claiming the defendant had disrobed to his underwear due to the heat; the witnesses, he claimed, had accidentally spied him through a thin curtain. The judge accepted this, noting that Sir John was a “gentleman” and “it was only an illusion”. He dismissed the charge and Sir John “left the court unstained in character by this case”.

Source: Reynold’s Newspaper, London, June 30th 1861. 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.

1877: French physician spies self-pleasuring seamstresses

Thésée Pouillet was a French physician who researched female sexuality during the mid-19th century. In his 1877 book De l’onanisme chez la Femme (‘The Onanism of Women’), Pouillet describes his visit to a Paris workhouse, where he observed two seamstresses using mechanical vibrations to self-pleasure. He spotted the first from the frantic speed of her pedalling and the excessive noise from her sewing machine:

“I looked at the person who was working it, a brunette of 18 or 20. While she was occupied with the trousers she was making on the machine, her face became animated, her mouth opened slightly, her nostrils dilated, her feet moved the pedals with constantly increasing rapidity. Soon I saw a convulsive look in her eyes… a suffocated cry, followed by a long sigh…”

Pouillet later witnessed a similar ritual, performed by a different worker. A female supervisor told him that such incidents weren’t uncommon in the workhouse, particularly among the younger workers, who sat on the edge of their seats to “facilitate the friction of their labia”.

Source: Thésée Pouillet, De l’onanisme chez la Femme, 1877. 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.

1866: Clergyman blames the French for masturbation in England

Edward Bouverie Pusey (1800-1882) was an Anglican theologian and Oxford professor, known for his austerity and social conservatism. In mid-1866 Pusey launched a letter-writing campaign, penning missives to several English newspapers and journals to warn of the deadly peril of teenage masturbation. Just 50 years before, Pusey argued, the “despicable sin” was hardly known in England, and was:

“..unknown at most of our public schools. Now, alas, it is the besetting trial of our boys; it is sapping the constitutions and injuring in many the fineness of intellect.”

Pusey offered a cause for this alarming increase in masturbation – the restoration of diplomatic relations, trade and travel with France since the Napoleonic Wars. Pusey suggested that self-pollution had crossed the Channel from the schools, barrack-houses and tenements of France, where:

“ has for centuries been practised with a contemptible openness, often in groups.”

Source: Dr E. B. Pusey, letters to The Times and the Medical Times and Gazette, June 1866. 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.

1722: Joseph Moody gives spicy weather reports

Joseph Moody was born in York, Massachusetts (now in Maine) in 1700. Moody belonged to a prominent family: his father was a reverend, his great uncle a chief justice of Massachusetts. At age 14, Moody was sent off to attend Harvard. He graduated four years later and returned to York as the local schoolmaster.

Moody kept a diary for the duration of his adult life. Much of it is concerned with his courtships and marriage, work, his religious beliefs and cursory observations about the weather – but Moody’s chronicle also contains some quite frank references to masturbation. Many of these self-pleasuring episodes occurred after romantic flirtations with women. Several follow liaisons with his future wife, Lucy White.

In November 1721, Moody kissed and fondled a 17-year-old girl, the appropriately named Patience Came. He later wrote that “I defiled myself” after she had left. A sampling of similar entries from Moody’s diary follows:

Thursday July 19th 1722
This morning I got up pretty late. I defiled myself, though wide awake. Where will my unbridled lust lead me?

Wednesday November 28th 1722
…We called on Captain Allen. I sat quietly with my beloved. Certain people are here at midnight. I defiled myself.

Thursday February 28th 1722
Raw south wind at night. I lay in bed late… David Storer lodged with me. At first we talked obscenely. Thereafter I defiled myself.

Wednesday March 13th 1722
Raw, cold. Snow at night. I polluted myself without any foregoing lust, and from mere desire…

Thursday April 25th 1723
…I called on Mrs Harmon. I was in a measure, frightened by a thunder storm; nevertheless, when half awake, I polluted myself.

Wednesday June 12th 1723
Very hot. Fresh W. wind. After I had got up, I knowingly and intentionally defiled myself…

Saturday June 16th 1723
Cloudy and cool. My anxiety, as on several occasions before, brought on a diarrhea… Nonetheless, at night, while awake, I defiled myself.

Friday July 5th 1723
Cloudy and Cool, few drops of rain… I spent only one hour with my beloved. I did not defile myself.

Saturday August 31st 1723
Pretty Calm and Warm. Hazy… Last evening, lying in bed, I knowingly and intentionally defiled myself after I had looked into the girls’ chamber.

Monday April 13th 1724
I stayed up with my love, not without pleasure, but I indulged my desire too freely, and at night the semen flowed from me abundantly.

Monday July 6th 1724
Not hot. Flying clouds. N. W. Breeze. Last night, at first, I handled my member, planning as I thought, nothing evil. In the end, though, I defiled myself…

Moody married Lucy White in November 1724. In 1732 he became a pastor but became notoriously unstable, once delivering an entire sermon with his face covered by a handkerchief. He died in 1753.

Source: Diary of Joseph Moody, York, 1723-24. 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.