8/1/13 - masturbation, musicals, and urinals

In today's encore selection -- physicians in the 19th and early 20th centuries warned against masturbation (and nocturnal emissions) which they counseled must be avoided because it could lead to "not only impotence, but blindness, heart trouble, insanity, stupidity, clammy hands, suppurating pustules on the face, acrid belches, a flow of fetid matter from the fundament, tongue coatings, stooped shoulders, flabby muscles, under-eye circles, and a draggy gait." Oh but how to prevent?

"On the simple side, there was the Penile Pricking Ring. Invented in the 1850s, this was an adjustable, expandable metal ring slipped onto the penis at bedtime. If the sleeper's penis begins to expand, it forces the ring open wider, exposing metal spikes....

"Many of these devices included an option for daytime use, along with a lock-and-key mechanism. For the true target customer was not the penitent masturbator, but the worried parent and, even more so, the insane asylum caretaker. ...

"Happily, parents of K-through-8 masturbators were encouraged to try less drastic preventive measures. Little hands were tied to headboards, and trousers fashioned without pockets. Hobbyhorses were taken away, and climbing ropes removed from school gymnasiums. One of the biggest spoilsports in the antimasturbation crusade was American physician William Robinson. His 1916 Practical Treatise on the Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment of Sexual Impotence and Other Sexual Disorders in Men and Women includes a long chapter on preventing the premature awakening of the sexual instinct in children. 'I strongly urge parents to keep their boys away from sensuous musical comedies and obscene vaudeville acts,' tutted Robinson, ... 'Many of my patients told me that their first masturbatory act took place while witnessing some musical show.' ...

"In Masturbation: The History of a Great Terror, ... a Dr. Crommelinck ... advocated memorizing difficult passages on philosophy or history when overcome by the desire to masturbate.

"Truly it seemed that any activity undertaken -- sleeping, thinking, eating spiced food, taking in a matinee of Mame -- led the heedless male down the path to self-pollution. A man couldn't even relieve himself without having to worry. Crommelinck urged gentlemen to avoid touching their genitals at all times, lest they inadvertently arouse themselves -- even at the urinal. 'Urinate quickly, do not shake your penis, even if means having several drops of urine drip into your pants.'

"Those who could not manage to curb their impulses with philosophical tracts and antimasturbation gadgetry faced a withering assortment of brutal treatments. Robinson casually states that in two or three cases he applied 'a red hotwire' to a child's genitals.

"The bitter irony here is that regularly spilling one's seed serves a valuable biological function. Sex physiologist Roy Levin explained to me that sperm which sit around the factory a week or more start to develop abnormalities."



Mary Roach


Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex


W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.


Copyright 2008 by Mary Roach


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