Dr Joseph Howe was a professor of surgery at New York University and one of many 19th century specialists in ‘self-pollution’. He claimed to have had success ‘treating’ habitual masturbators with a course electric shocks to the genitals. The Howe method involved an electrode inserted into the urethra, while the other was held behind the scrotum.
In this extract from an 1884 book, Howe claims to have cured a 29-year-old book-keeper, ‘J.S.’. of the “foul habit” with electricity:
“He had indulged in onanistic exercises during his school boy days… His memory was not so good as in former years and his ability to endure mental and physical labour comparatively small. He received applications of electricity every other day for two months, took cold water sponge baths and tonics… He was discharged at the end of the period mentioned and entered the marriage state, feeling well and competent to perform all his functions properly.”
Despite Howe’s claims, he admits there are some ‘lost causes’ for whom masturbation is a daily occurrence; they are “nearly always beyond the reach of moral or medical treatment”:
“Use the baths, tonics and electricity for a few weeks, and then if there is no good result, the patient should be castrated without delay, and the penis, pubes and perineum covered with cantharidal collodion… If these measures fail, I see no objection to removing the whole of the external genital apparatus.”