Category Archives: Masturbation

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. His 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 2016. 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 2016. 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 2016. 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:

“…it 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 2016. 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 Moody’s courtships and marriage, his 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 verbatim sampling of 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 was later 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 2016. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.