Category Archives: Masturbation

1861: Masturbators lick walls and eat pencils, says Dr Jackson

James C. Jackson (1811-95) was a New England journalist who in middle age abandoned writing to train as a doctor. He became a prolific writer and an advocate for vegetarian diets. In 1863, Jackson invented a coarse breakfast cereal called ‘granula’. A forerunner to granola, it was designed to replace red meat consumption and therefore reduce “animal lusts”.

Like his fellow food reformers Sylvester Graham and John Harvey Kellogg, Jackson was obsessed with curtailing masturbation. In an 1861 book about sexual health and reproduction, Jackson advised parents and guardians to be ever vigilant for signs their offspring might be indulging in “furtive nocturnal activities”. He offered several tips for spotting the regular masturbator, including changes in behaviour, loss of memory, poor posture and an irregular walk:

“A masturbating girl who is past the age of puberty may be known by her gait… Their style of motion may be characterised as a wiggle rather than a walk… Were I a young man, I should always at the outset be suspicious [of a woman] if, when I saw her walk, she should exhibit this peculiar wiggle.”

One of the most visible signs of a masturbating teenager, according to Jackson, is unusual or bizarre eating habits. Self-polluters are “exceedingly capricious in their appetites” and “not satisfied with any food unless it is richly seasoned or highly flavoured”. They can sometimes be found in the kitchen gulping down spoonfuls of spices like cloves, cinnamon and mace. Jackson also cited cases of masturbators who could not resist eating “lumps of salt”, licking “lime off the wall” or chewing up “slate pencils”.

Source: James C. Jackson, The Sexual Organism, 1861. 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.

1894: Kansas asylum de-sexes chronic masturbators

In 1894, the activities of Dr F. Hoyt Pilcher, superintendent of the Kansas Asylum for Idiots and Imbecile Youth in Winfield, came to light in the press. According to outraged reports, Pilcher had personally castrated any inmate found to be a “confirmed masturbator”. A total of eleven teenaged boys had so far been deprived of their testicles. Dr Pilcher was accused of “diabolism” and treating his patients no better than “the farmer treats his hogs”.

The Kansas Medical Journal, however, laughed off the press and hailed Pilcher as a hero:

“This abuse weakened the already imbecile mind and destroyed the body. The practice is loathsome, disgusting, humiliating and destructive of all self-respect and decency, and had a bad moral effect on the whole school… Dr Pilcher, like a brave and capable man, sought something better… He could give back a restored mind and robust health, a bestial function destroyed, and he did it.”

Newspaper investigations into Pilcher and his activities continued undaunted. One paper reported that Pilcher was unqualified for the position he held and that he was addicted to drink. There were also claims, apparently corroborated, that Pilcher had raped several young females in his care:

“Mrs Murray, who had been employed by Dr Pilcher in some capacity about the institution, testified that two of the girls, Alice and Nora, came to her crying and testified that Dr Pilcher had taken them into his private office and locked the door and taken liberties with their persons. These stories were further substantiated by Miss Johnson, who was a teacher in the school.”

Pilcher denied any allegation of sexual impropriety, though he reportedly admitted to stripping the girls in his office for an ‘inspection’. Despite these claims, Pilcher kept his job and the Asylum continued to neuter its patients, eventually performing as many as 150 male and female sterilization.

Pilcher retired in 1899 but the Asylum remained very popular among eugenics-driven doctors and parents alike, tripling in size by the outbreak of World War I.

Source: Kansas Medical Journal, vol. 6, September 1894; The Iola Register, Kansas, August 31st 1894. 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.

1654: Four men hold masturbation contest on Long Island

In June 1654, four men from East Hampton on Long Island were hauled before town leaders and charged with staging a masturbation contest. Accused of public self-pleasuring were two married men, Daniel Fairfield and Fulke Davis, Fulke’s young son John Davis and another teenager, John Hand Jnr. It is not known whether they were caught ‘in the act’ or informed upon after the event.

The nature of their contest is also unrecorded, as is the winner, if there was one. Whatever the details, the incident caused considerable public outrage in staid East Hampton. The punishments, however, were light – at least in comparison to what they might have been. Fulke Davis, as the oldest and supposedly wisest of the quartet, received the harshest penalty. John Hand Jnr. was not punished at all, perhaps on account of his age:

“After extended examination and serious debate and consultation with their Saybrook neighbours, the townsmen , not deeming the offence worthy of the loss of life or limb, determine that Fulke Davis shall be placed in the pillar and receive corporal punishment; and John Davis and Daniel Fairfield shall be publicly whipped, which was done and witnessed…”

According to genealogical records, Fulke Davis had a history of rubbing his neighbours up the wrong way. His name appears in at least three different legal and property disputes. In the 1660s Fulke and his wife were chased out of East Hampton, allegedly for “molesting men” and “practising witchcraft” respectively. Fulke died in Jamaica, New York, around 1687.

Source: Records of the town of East Hampton, Suffolk County, New York, vol.1, 1639-1680. 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.

1888: Smelly feet, a sign of teenage masturbation

Miss Priscilla Barker was a late 19th-century social purist. In 1888, Barker published The Secret Book, a guide for girls and their parents containing information about dress, cosmetics, deportment and medical matters. It also contained information and advice about sexual behaviour, which Barker considered a matter “extreme delicacy… too vulgar for discussion” but included out of “a sense of duty”.

Among her advice was a curt warning to teenage girls about the intentions of their boyfriends:

“Beware of men who will come to you with the appearance of honour, integrity and love, but who in the secret of their hearts only hunt for women as the huntsman hunts for game. That gilded hero, that demigod of yours, that ideal man, is a sensual and heartless destroyer of female virtue for his own bestial self-gratification.”

Like others of her ilk, Barker was obsessed with masturbation – or, more specifically, the prevention of it. The main cause of self-abuse, she believed, was reading romantic novels that excited “premature feelings” in young women. Once provoked these “inroads of self-abuse… leave the citadel of womanhood unprotected and at the mercy of the enemy”. Barker told concerned parents that if their daughters started masturbating, “the terrible demon of lust” would “brand his bestial mark” on their appearance:

“The face loses its colour and the eyes grow dull, heavy and weak; the hands feel soft and clammy; and often the smell of the feet is unbearable… Another victim came to into my notice [with a] mouth full of saliva… The first moment I looked at her I felt that I had before me a fearful victim of self-abuse.”

Source: Priscilla Barker, The Secret Book containing Private Information and Instruction for Women and Young Girls, 1888. 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.

1889: Standing on one foot leads to masturbation

Mary Wood-Allen – keep both feet on the ground please, girls.

Mary Wood-Allen (1841-1908) was an American physician, paediatrician and temperance advocate. Like many others of her generation, Wood-Allen was a social purist who was obsessed with the promotion of cleanliness, morality and wholesome thoughts. By the 1890s, Wood-Allen was a public speaker in high demand and a prolific author of guidebooks on adolescence. Her message was strident and consistent: children must be protected from premature development, precocious sexual thoughts or activity and, above all, masturbation.

In her 1889 book What a Young Woman Ought to Know, Wood-Allen walked young girls through life from puberty to marriage, outlining the ‘cans’ and ‘cannots’ of these formative years. Reading novels, for example, was a strict ‘no no’:

“It is not only that novel-reading engenders false and unreal ideas of life, but the descriptions of love-scenes, of thrilling, romantic episodes, find an echo in the girl’s physical system and tend to create an abnormal excitement of her organs of sex, which she recognizes only as a pleasurable mental emotion, with no comprehension of the physical origin or the evil effects. Romance-reading by young girls will, by this excitement of the bodily organs, tend to create their premature development, and the child becomes physically a woman months, or even years, before she should.”

Another forbidden act was the seemingly benign habit of standing on one foot. According to Wood-Allen, continually favouring one foot could lead to uterine displacement, menstrual difficulties and constipation. And constipation itself exerted pressure on sexual organs, something “known to incite self-abuse”:

“…The common habit of standing on one foot is productive of marked deformities of both face and body and of serious displacements of internal organs… Standing continually with the weight on the left foot is more injurious than bearing it on the right foot, for it causes the uterus and ovaries to press upon the rectum and so produces a mechanical constipation, especially during menstruation.

Source: Dr Mary Wood-Allen, What a Young Woman Ought to Know, London, 1889. 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.