While there are no direct references to masturbation in cave paintings or other prehistoric artifacts, the practice of masturbation by Bonobo chimpanzees, which share 98.4% percent of our DNA, provides some confirmation that masturbation has likely been practiced since the dawn of mankind.

The Ancient World
In the ancient world, depictions of male masturbation are relatively common.  The Egyptians, for example, celebrated masturbation as the process by which the sun god, Atum, created the first Adam and Eve equivalents, Shu and Tefnut.  "With the hand of God, Atun masturbated and brought forth the first pair of souls."

The Sumerians, who invented the first written Western language, make reference to the Mesopotamian god Enki masturbating, his ejaculation filling the Tigris River with flowing water.

Condemnation of masturbation is as old as fertility-worship and is probably based on early man’s realization that there is safety in numbers.  A bigger tribe is more likely to gain new territory and expand its power base.  In theory, this is this reason that any form of sexual pleasure unlikely to result in a population increase (e.g. masturbation, homosexuality, oral/anal sex) has routinely been denounced as wrong.  While in today’s overpopulated world this rationale no longer makes logical sense, this belief structure continues to drive the moral attitudes of many people.

In the Judeo-Christian tradition prevalent throughout Western society, the main Scripture quoted by Christians to denounce masturbation is Genesis 38.  In biblical times, under Jewish law, a brother was required to procreate with his brother's widow. Onan of Judah refused, and "spilled his seed" (i.e. ejaculate), on the ground instead. This is the origin of the term Onanism (The Sin of Onan) which is incorrectly used in place of masturbation — in fact, what really happened was premature withdrawal (i.e. coitus interruptus).

18th & 19th Centuries
It was primarily during the 1700s and 1800s when masturbation was first associated with mental and physical deficiencies. Some prominent physicians, scientists, philosophers, and religious leaders believed that illnesses such as insanity, vision and hearing problems, epilepsy, mental retardation, and general health problems were caused by self-stimulation.  In fact, over 60% of medical and mental illnesses were blamed on masturbation.[1]

The fear of masturbation was so great that throughout the world, extreme preventative measures were instituted including the use of mechanical restraints, genital surgery, and physical discipline.[2] By the 19th century the cereal magnate John Harvey Kellogg declared "sex for anything but reproduction" to be "sexual excess." Kellogg and others began advocating routine circumcision of males as a deterrent to masturbation.

The term, spermatorrhea, was even invented to explain nocturnal emissions, as no man was willing to admit to masturbating. Between 1856 and 1932, the U.S. Patent Office, awarded 33 patents to inventors of anti-masturbation devices.

Here are some examples antimasturbation devices:

1. Simple Bondage-- For some, the simple answer was to tie the masturbators up and prevent them from touching themselves.

2. Leather-Jacket Corset-- A corset made out of leather and steel to be used by boys, was created by Dr. Fleck in 1831. It included a metal penis tube and "a steel band riveted to the shield permanently and attached to the body with an encircling steel band in such a manner that it cannot be removed and prevented access to the testicles." The doctor once reported that "it closes with greatest accuracy, fits to perfection, and the boy wears it continuously without having succeeded even once in reaching his genitals or pulling the machine away from his body so as to produce friction on his genitals."

3. Spike-lined Ring-- Created to prevent the nocturnal emissions and any display of nighttime sexuality, spike-lined penis rings were created in the 1950's by doctors in Boston.

4. Spermatorrhea Bandage-- These devices kept the penis tightly bound, thus making it impossible to have an erection.

5. Stephenson Spermatic Truss-- Patented in 1876, this device placed the penis in a pouch, and then stretched and tied down between the legs, which made erection impossible. Stephenson changed his device slightly 21 years later, adding a metal hood under which the penis could move freely. Any erection would drive the penis against painful spikes.

6. Bowen Device-- This device was like a cup that was placed over the head of the penis and attached to pubic hair by chains and clips. When the wearer got an erection, the pubic hair would be plucked painfully and the wearer would have to respond.

7. The Cage-- The Handbook of Medicine in 1885 offered a metal cage that could be put around a boys genitals. It would allow erections, which weren't seen as wrong, yet would prevent the boy from touching himself.

8. Dr. Moodie Apparatus for Boys-- Scotch physician John Moodie invented this truss-and-shield device in 1848. It included a penis tube with a slot on the side for the boy to push his penis out in order to urinate.

9. Penis-Cooling Devices-- These devices cooled an impending erection with either air or water; Frank Orth invented both types and patented them in 1893. He said that "the penis is inserted in the hole and between the levers so that if during the night an erection occurs, the dilatation of the penis spreads the levers, thus separating the jaws, and permitting the cold water to flow through the tube to the sack or envelope. The cold water... cools the organ of generation, so that the erection subsides and no discharge occurs."

10. Sexual Armor-- A jacket with leather pants which supports a large piece of steel armor. Perforations in the armor allowed urine to escape, yet the bolted, padlocked trapdoor at the rear would have to be opened for other business...

Information from Sex Lovers Book of Lists by Ron Louis and David Copeland

20th Century
In the 20th Century, individuals within the medical community began questioning whether or not masturbation was independent from the various psychiatric and medical illnesses to which it was historically linked.  During the 1950s and 1960s, with greater discussion of sex and sexuality and lessening conservative social attitudes along with greater medical research on the topic of masturbation,  the thought that the act of self-stimulation is associated with medical and mental illnesses dissipated.

Beginning with the Kinsey Report of 1948, masturbation was demystified and even discovered to be beneficial. In 1966, Masters & Johnson (see photo) revealed the practice to be virtually universal in North America, cutting across all boundaries of sex, age, race, and social class. In 1971 Goldstein, Haeberle & McBride determined masturbation to be the most common form of sexual activity among humans.

It is clear that masturbation has had a dynamic and varied history.  It now almost universally accepted by the medical community that masturbation is a common, safe, and normal practice which occurs in infants, teenagers, and adults.

Despite this new attitude, the actual practice and discussion of masturbation continues to be a social taboo within most societies.  Former Surgeon General Jocelyn Elder was immediately dismissed by President Clinton in 1994 after she stated that masturbation “is something that is part of human sexuality and its part of something that perhaps should be taught.”[3]

[1] Greydanus DE and Geller B. Masturbation: historic perspective. New York State Journal of Medicine, November 1980.

[2] ibid.

[3] Frankel D. US Surgeon General forced to resign. Lancet 1994; 34:1695.





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