Category Archives: Sexuality

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.

1878: Man unfairly arrested for loitering in Paris urinal

A Paris urinal c.1880 – not much privacy for anything really

In the 1870s, Paris’ police and civic leaders railed against what they considered a significant problem: men soliciting sex from other men at public urinals. While consensual homosexuality was not illegal in France (it had been decriminalised during the Revolution), public displays of homosexual behaviour were nevertheless prosecuted as “offences against public decency”.

Between 1870 and 1872, more than 100 men were arrested for loitering or acting suspiciously around street toilets in Paris. In 1876, police even found Count Eugene de Germiny, a conservative member of the city council, in a lavatory clinch with a young man named Pierre.

After de Germiny’s arrest, the concern about nefarious activities in public toilets reached fever pitch. One Paris physician, Maurice Laugier, attempted to penetrate the hysteria with an 1878 essay titled Du role de l’expertise médico-légale dans certains cas d’outrage public a la pudeur (“The role of forensic evidence in certain cases of outraging public decency”). Dr Laugier described several cases where men with verifiable medical conditions were unfairly dealt with by police, including one man:

“…suffering from a urinary tract infection… who was observed and questioned by the police [for his] very prolonged stay in a urinal and the manoeuvres that he was exercising on his penis.”

Men suspected of dubious activity in or around public toilets, wrote Laugier, should be questioned about their medical history and afforded a full medical examination before being charged or presented for trial.

Source: Dr Maurice Laugier, “Du role de l’expertise medico-legale dans certains cas d’outrage public a la pudeur” in Annales d’hygiene Publique et Medecine Legal, 1878. 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.

1587: Mrs Wanker and the Widow Porker carted for “whoredom”

During the Tudor period, the back-ends of carts often doubled as places of punishment for minor criminals and delinquents. Though the exact origins are unclear, to be dealt with at the rear of a cart marked one’s fall from civilised society. Scores of prostitutes and adulterers were ordered to be “tied to a cart’s arse” and either whipped there or paraded around town for public humiliation.

In 1555, a London man named Manwarynge was “carted to Aldgate with two whores from The Harry, for bawdry and whoredom”. In 1560 “the woman who kept the Bell in Gracechurch” was carted for pimping. Sir Thomas Sothwood, an Anglican priest, was carted for “selling his wife”.

In North Carolina Mary Sylvia was found guilty of blasphemy and “carted about town with labels on her back and breast, expressing her crime”. Some were also punished for slanders involving carts. Sir Thomas Wyatt was thrown into prison in 1541 for telling others that Henry VIII should be “thrown out of a cart’s arse”.

Another brief but interesting mention of ‘carting’ comes from King’s Lynn, Norfolk, where in 1587:

“John Wanker’s wife and the Widow Porker were both carted for whoredom…”

Source: Benjamin Mackerell, The History and Antiquities of the Flourishing Corporation of King’s Lynn &c., London, 1738. 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.