In 1691 Joseph de Arostegui of Calahorra, northern Spain, petitioned for divorce from his wife, Antonia Garrido, based on her alleged impotence. According to his testimony, there had been no consummation of their four-year marriage because his wife “does not have her parts like other women”. Antonia contested her husband’s claim for divorce, her lawyer asserting that Antonia’s genitals were fully functional but had been affected by “evil spells and witchcraft”. As was usual in early modern trials where impotence was alleged, Antonia was ordered to submit to at least two examinations by doctors and midwives. At the second of these examinations:
“…the [surgeon] Francisco Velez inserted into the said parts of the said Antonia Garrido a stem of cabbage in a shape similar to a virile member… and seeing that it entered with liberty…”
The examiners, content that penetration had been achieved, ruled that Antonia was capable of intercourse, and the church court turned down Joseph’s petition for divorce. The fate of their marriage after this is unknown.
Samuel Gregory (1813-1872) was an American physician who specialised in several areas, including obstetrics and women’s health. Born and raised in Vermont, Gregory obtained a medical degree at Yale, graduating in 1840. Eight years later he founded the New England Female Medical College, the first medical school for women in the United States, if not the world. Gregory was no champion of gender equality or women’s rights, however. He was simply a prude who considered it highly inappropriate for male doctors to be at the pointy end during childbirth. The business of delivering children and inspecting lady parts, Gregory argued, should be left to suitably trained women.
Like other wowsers of his day Gregory was also obsessed with sex and masturbation. In 1857 he published a short but pointed diatribe titled Facts and Important Information for Young Women on the Self Indulgence of the Sexual Appetite. Gregory’s tract drew heavily on other anti-masturbation hysterics like Tissot. The first half of Gregory’s book contained case studies of young women who, after becoming addicted to self pleasure, either wasted away or ended up “masturbating their way to a state of idiocy”. He followed this with his list of ‘dos and don’ts’ for avoiding temptation – and it was a long list. Foods that “stimulate the animal propensities” should be avoided, including tea, coffee, candies, meat, chocolate, spices and alcoholic drinks. Certain behaviours in young girls also needed curtailing:
“Young persons should not be permitted to lie on [feather down] beds, nor to sit on soft chairs, to which rush or wooden-bottomed ones are greatly preferable. Neither should they be allowed to remain in bed longer than requisite, or to lie down needlessly on couches.”
Doctor Gregory also blamed literature and the creative arts, which had the capacity to stimulate unhealthy desires in young women:
“All books depicting exaggerated sentiments must be withheld… Even the study of the fine arts may render the imagination too active… Music, being the language of passion, is the most dangerous, especially music of the more impassioned and voluptuous nature… Fashionable music, especially the verses set to it, being mostly love sick songs, [are] all directly calculated to awaken these feelings.”
Francois Chopart (1743-1795) was a French physician and surgeon. Born and trained in Paris, Chopart became professor of surgery at the Ecole Pratique before his 30th birthday. During his medical career, Chopart developed several new procedures, including facial surgery, skin grafts and partial amputations of the foot. He was best known, however, for his pioneering research into urology and urological disorders. Writing in his 1791 book Traité des Maladies des Voies Urinaires, Chopart described the strange case of a French shepherd, whose masturbatory habits led him to cleave his penis into two:
“A shepherd from Languedoc named Gabriel Gallien engaged in acts of onanism [masturbation] from the age of 15, sometimes as many as eight times each day. In time he would persevere for an hour without emission, sometimes only passing blood… He employed his hand for 11 years [but] by his 27th year could only induce a state of constant erection, which he attempted to resolve by introducing a piece of wood, six inches in length, into the urethra…”
Gallien found that inserting and gently pistoning this foreign object in his urethra enabled him to reach orgasm. He maintained this method for another six years until, according to Chopart, the inside of his urethra became “hard, insensitive and calloused”. Gallien was again reduced to a state of constant erection. Being “of total repugnance to women, which is often the case with masturbators” the frustrated shepherd had no means of sexual relief. It was then he took drastic measures:
“In utter despair he took a pocket knife and made an incision in the glans of the penis. This was accompanied by minimal pain but was followed by an agreeable sensation and orgasm and copious emission… Once again able to satisfy his venereal desires, he frequently performed the same operation, with the same result. After carrying out this shocking mutilation perhaps a thousand times, he at length failed. He then divided the penis, by a lengthways incision, into two equal halves, from the opening of the urethra to the symphysis pubis [base of the penis].”
Such a development might have concerned others but Gallien simply tied a ligature around his now two-pronged member. He also kept masturbating, “introducing a thin piece of wood into what remained of the urethra, titillating the seminal ducts and producing an ejaculation”. He persisted with this method for another ten years until the wood ended up lodged in his bladder, triggering an infection and requiring a hospital visit. Doctors found Gallien’s penis in two halves, both capable of erection. It was then that Gallien was questioned and recounted his tale of self-mutilation in search of self-pleasure. The dual-pronged shepherd from Languedoc died three months later from a chest abscess. Though probably unconnected, doctors attributed this abscess to almost 40 years of masturbation. Francois Chopart himself died of cholera in 1795.
In the summer of 1934, future United States president John F Kennedy was in his junior year at the prestigious Choate School in Connecticut. He was also plagued by ill health. Kennedy was unwell through much of his childhood, beginning with a near-deadly case of scarlet fever before his third birthday. At Choate, a good deal of his time was spent in its sick bay. Though active and seemingly fit, 17-year-old Kennedy struggled with a number of ailments including fatigue, dizziness, fainting spells, joint soreness, back pain and dangerous weight loss. Baffled doctors suggested everything from influenza to an ulcer to leukaemia. In June 1934 his frustrated parents booked Kennedy into the renowned Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, where he was subjected to a battery of tests. Doctors at Mayo pricked and probed the future president for two weeks, trying to find a reason for his general illness and fatigue. Some of these tests were painful and humiliating, leading Kennedy to describe Mayo as the “god-damnest hole I’ve ever seen”. He went into more detail in letters to a high school friend, Lem Billings:
“I’ve got something wrong with my intestines. In other words, I shit blood… Yesterday I went through the most harassing experience of my life… [A doctor] stuck an iron tube, 12 inches long and one inch in diameter, up my ass… My poor bedraggled rectum is looking at me very reproachfully these days…”
Kennedy’s notes to Billings were also filled with banter about girls and sex. The two boys had lost their virginity earlier in the year, Kennedy to a white prostitute in Harlem, and sex was very much on his mind:
“I’m still eating peas and corn for food, [but] I had an enema given by a beautiful blonde. That is the height of cheap thrills…”
“The nurses here are the dirtiest bunch of females I’ve ever seen. One of them wanted to know if I would give her a work-out last night… I said yes, but she was put off duty early…”
“I have not [experienced] orgasm for six days, so feel kind of horny, which has been increased by reading one of the dirtiest books I’ve ever seen…”
Kennedy was eventually diagnosed with ulcerative colitis and placed on a bland diet of rice, potatoes and milk. This did not improve his health – and as later history suggests, it did nothing to alleviate his sexual appetite either.