Let’s Talk about Sex: Victorian Anti-Masturbation Devices

Perhaps it’s not something I’d blurt out at a dinner party, but between you and me, the number of anti-masturbation devices I come across in my research is astonishing!

The Victorians were obsessed with preventing acts of self-love.

Take the example to the left. This terrifying contraption is called a ‘jugum penis.’ It was designed to prevent both masturbation and ‘nocturnal incontinence.’  Should a man become aroused in the middle of the night, this contraption would clamp down, extinguishing both his desire as well as his erection in a very sudden and painful way!

But why were the Victorians so obsessed with what they termed ‘self-abuse?’ Many medical practitioners during this period believed that masturbation caused a wide range of mental and physical disorders, and could even prove fatal over time.  Doctors and surgeons alike devoted their lives to finding a ‘cure.’

The fact that the Victorians were so preoccupied with making sure no one was ‘buffing the banana’ may not shock us. After all, they aren’t exactly known for their sexual openness.

Representing the last stage of mental & bodily exhaustion from self-pollution.

Representing the last stage of mental & bodily exhaustion from self-pollution (1845)

But you may be surprised to discover that this idea began to take root nearly a hundred years earlier. In 1758, the Swiss doctor, Samuel Auguste Tissot, claimed that masturbation was more dreadful than smallpox because it depleted the body of sperm, which provided vital energies. Those who regularly masturbated could expect to form ‘suppurating pustules on the face, the nose, the chest, the thighs,’ amongst other things! [1]

These beliefs weren’t confined to Europe.

Back in America, Dr John Harvey Kellogg, suggested smalls boys be circumcised ‘without administering an anaesthetic, as the brief pain attending the operation will have a salutary effect upon the mind.’ [2] For young girls, he ‘found the application of pure carbolic acid to the clitoris an excellent means of allaying the abnormal excitement.’ [3]

Kellogg believed that the masturbator ‘literally dies by his own hand,’ and was hellbent on preventing this from happening. One method that he was particularly fond of involved inserting silver sutures into the penis to prevent an erection:

The prepuce, or foreskin, is drawn forward over the glans, and the needle to which the wire is attached is passed through from one side to the other. After drawing the wire through, the ends are twisted together, and cut off close. It is now impossible for an erection to occur, and the slight irritation thus produced acts as a most powerful means of overcoming the disposition to resort to the practice. [4]

Kellogg also believed that a diet rich in fibre and poor in taste was essential to dampening those lusty urges. While working as the director of Michigan’s Battle Creek Sanitarium in the latter half of the 19th century, the good doctor created oatmeal and cornmeal biscuits to feed to patients. Later, he and his brother developed the perfect anti-masturbatory breakfast which could be consumed by the public at large: Kellogg’s Cornflakes.

Dr Kellogg wasn’t the only person to believe in the numbing effects of a proper diet. Earlier in the century, Presbyterian minister, Sylvester Graham created an unsweetened cracker. Reverend Graham, who often railed against the evils of ‘self-abuse’ from his pulpit each Sunday, thought that the blandness of what eventually became known as the Graham Cracker would curb one’s sexual appetite.

So there you have it. Through proper diet, and the use of terrifying metal contraptions, one could overcome the fervent desire to touch oneself, thus leading to a longer…a much longer life.

 

BONUS IMAGE: Because I know you are insatiable, I leave you with this 19th-century anti-masturbation device. I’m glad that the Wellcome Collection had the forethought to photograph it with a pair of Levi’s.

1. Quoted in Jean Stengers and Ann Van Neck, Masturbation: The History of a Great Terror (2001), translated by Kathryn Hoffmann, p. 50.
2. J. H. Kellogg, ‘Treatment for Self-Abuse and Its Effects,’ in Plain Facts for Old and Young (1888), pp. 294–296.
3. Ibid.
4. Ibid.

38 comments on “Let’s Talk about Sex: Victorian Anti-Masturbation Devices

  1. […] don’t know about these Victorian anti-masturbation devices but I tell you what, I’d believe that I could die of jerking off so much. It’s really […]

  2. […] Let’s Talk about Sex: Victorian Anti-Masturbation Devices (32,059 hits) […]

  3. drx says:

    world haven’t changed much since then, we have greenies and health freaks who believe that everything gives you cancer and they try to infect everyone with their paranoia :/ we have screwed up paranoid media based on fear propaganda controlling market by making people believe that everything gives you cancer, we have lots of ignorant shitbrains who religiously believe in everything tabloids say and try to convince everyone that everything gives you cancer :| and this is just a fucking tip of humongous putrid shitpile we call reality

  4. […] found it… A while ago Linkin was afraid to use the word "rape" here. So you think masturbation […]

  5. […] researching further, I came across an article with yet more fascinating information. One point in particular struck me as the perfect way to […]

  6. Nicole says:

    I love graham crackers….but won’t look at them the same way again.

  7. […] I guess that’s why The Chirurgeon’s Apprentice is so varied. I’ve written on everything from Victorian anti-masturbation devices to books bound in human skin and medieval urine wheels. The site was intended to focus on […]

  8. Richard says:

    Noting with interest the comments on circumcision, although effectively abolished as a prophylactic measure in Britain at the inception of the National Health Service in 1948, its use to inhibit masturbation did in fact survive, albeit mostly in the private sector. Born in the mid-1950s, I was left intact but a serious runner showing early promise at national level, it was recommended in early adolescence in order to keep the practice at least under control and duly performed – and thoroughly. To be fair, the prevailing orthodoxy for all sportsmen at the time was abstinence before any competitive sport and we were all quite unabashedly and regularly advised accordingly. I later lined up with four members of a rowing team at the same medical sports research department of a university hospital to be given a routine testicular fixation, ostensibly to prevent testicular torsion and which, I was told, in the way in which it was to be performed, would prevent the testicles rising up so far at the approach of climax, thus delaying it and acting as a further inhibition. Why I was singled out, I have no idea.

    Discussing this many years later with a friend who is a psychologist working with cases of sexual dysfunction and compulsion, he was not in the least surprised and told me that the circumcision of both sexes went on until the 1960s in some mental institutions in Britain and that devices were still available to those doctors who knew how and where to procure them until the early 1970s, although he knew of no case where their use had been prescribed. I am vaguely aware of other boys of my age being circumcised but not for that purpose, unless, of course, they were not told. Consent in my case was signed in loco parentis by my boarding school and my father advised by letter. He never once passed comment.

  9. Some of these anti-masturbation devices, especially the metallic chastisty device, if well fitted may have given a boy a sort of masturbatory stimulation when he wore it.

  10. tguven says:

    Ironic that the poor man dying on the couch wouldn’t have been in that condition if he’d only enjoyed more masturbation and less of other things. Thank God for microscopes and germ theory.

  11. […] today, I came across (no pun intended) this article – Let’s talk about sex: Victorian anti-masturbation devices – on the Chirurgeon’s Apprentice blogsite, about the hideous lengths some Victorians went to to […]

  12. David Harley says:

    Sorry, Lind. Got carried away.

  13. David Harley says:

    Today, we see once more advocacy of male circumcision as sexual prophylaxis. I casually followed this argument until it began to be put forward as American-led policy for the southern African response to AIDS.

    Before that stage, it appeared to me that American discussions were motivated in part by a desire to defend religious circumcision against secular accusations of unnecessary cruelty and negative medical consequences. Without extensive research into the individuals concerned, a hard association could not be asserted.

    Before HIV protection was advanced as a compelling reason for universal circumcision, urinary infection was offered. In both cases, the methods and statistics presented in the research papers could not stand up to careful scrutiny, yet they were trumpeted in the press, often in distorted form. Some studies used religious difference, either by artificially homogenizing national cultures or by selecting evangelical churches that imposed circumcision.

    Over and over again, circumcision has appeared as a solution in search of a problem. Those advocating it are often based in America and Australia, the only countries where secular circumcision is still sufficiently widespread to offer research subjects and general acceptance of the feasibility of the arguments. In the UK, for example, male secular circumcision was a characteristic of the upper and upper middle classes, whose parents had perhaps been convinced by the early C20 medical advocacy and possessed sufficient disposable resources to implement it. well known as a joke among WW2 soldiers, and it had diminished when its medical utility was rejected by the new NHS, just as spa treatment did.

    Recent advocacy of male circumcision is a topic in search of a historian of science. So too is the Bush administration’s embrace of the ABC program.

  14. David Harley says:

    “The Victorians…… invented the electric vibrator. On the latter, see Rachel Maines, The Technology of Orgasm.”

    This should be treated with caution, in part because the idea is so compellingly attractive.

    When I saw these items at the Bakken Museum, in the early 1980s, their ambiguity was obvious. However, one surely needs solid evidence to read texts consistently against the grain. One might compare the way that early modern medical texts, even by John Wesley, concerning how to avoid abortion (i,e, miscarriage) are usually read as covert instructions on how to perform abortions.

    This argument rests too much on reading advertisements against the grain and outside the context of contemporary medical theory.

    • Thanks for your comments, David.

      The reason I started this blog was to reach beyond academia to a wider audience. The articles that appear on The Chirurgeon’s Apprentice are purposely written in such a way as to pique the interest of readers who visit my site. They are not intended to be overly scholarly.

  15. David Harley says:

    Female genital is not a phenomenon with any close relationship to Islam. It is a pre-Islamic practice, found in East and North-east Africa, as well as the more traditional parts of the Arab world. It is practised in Africa by Muslims, Christians, and animists.

    There is no Islamic textual or theological basis for it. Prominent imams and Islamic scholars have condemned the practice, and there have been unsuccessful attempts to use law to stamp it out. This top-down approach, endorsed from afar by the UN and Western feminists, has not proved productive.

    I am most familiar with the struggle against FGM in Kenya, but similar projects are being followed elsewhere. Empowering women, and especially midwives, has proved to be far more useful, especially if combined with new rituals of transition and initiation.

  16. [...] also popular this month. At the Chirurgeon’s Apprentice, Lindsey Fitzharris discussed the Victorian hostility to masturbation, which led to the production of graham crackers and cornflakes, among other things! Thony Christie [...]

  17. There’s two sides to every coin. The Victorians also wore genital piercings and invented the electric vibrator. On the latter, see Rachel Maines, The Technology of Orgasm.

  18. [...] I may say so!) Dr. Fitzharris has supplied her followers with so much food for thought–from Victorian anti-masturbation devices to nose-less sufferers of syphilis (a love story) to the vagaries of searching dead bodies. Along [...]

  19. [...] I may say so!) Dr. Fitzharris has supplied her followers with so much food for thought–from Victorian anti-masturbation devices to nose-less sufferers of syphilis (a love story) to the vagaries of searching dead bodies. Along [...]

  20. [...] Let’s Talk about Sex: Victorian Anti-Masturbation Devices [...]

  21. [...] I may say so!) Dr. Fitzharris has supplied her followers with so much food for thought–from Victorian anti-masturbation devices to nose-less sufferers of syphilis (a love story) to the vagaries of searching dead bodies. Along [...]

  22. [...] via Let’s Talk about Sex: Victorian Anti-Masturbation Devices | The Chirurgeon’s Apprentice. [...]

  23. [...] Ouch! – Victorian anti-masturbation devices. [...]

  24. and to think I love dry crackers with cheese… or does the cheese cancel ‘it’ (whatever ‘it’ is)out… I will never be able to look at my dry cracker (if you’ll excuse the pun) the same again!!

  25. Crankydem says:

    Who knew that the founder of Kellogg’s was such a sadist!

  26. Andy Beck says:

    Meh…wouldn’t have stopped me. In the eyes of the Catholic church, I’d most certainly be blind.

  27. Dave says:

    what timing. Just finished reading Mary Roach’s “Bonk” from several yrs back. Can’t recall her exact wording but apparently Victorian era physicians DID NOT LOOK when practicing gynecology or urology.

    that last pic resembles something you could strain your pasta with… on 2nd thought, nah.

    • Jennifer says:

      It took a long time, but eventually even Victorian gynaecologists realised that just feeling around under a woman’s skirts didn’t get the job done very well. So in the late Victorian Age, they began to practise a lot more like modern gynaecologists do. Don’t quote me on this, but by 1880 I think that overly prude behaviour had been abandoned.

  28. Amardeep Singh Sadhra says:

    Brilliant write up. Well one thugs for sure cornflakes have no effect on weather I wanted to Buff up the Banana or not….lmao

  29. nightsmusic says:

    And the dichotomy is, can we say Hysteria anyone? ;)

    Hmmph

  30. Jennifer says:

    The Victorians were the most paradox people I know. If you ever find yourself bored, take a look at Victorian porn. Kinky stuff in particular was insanely popular…all behind closed doors of course. And piercings and tattoos. But they very successfully maintained the image of the most prude time ever. They kind of were like this prissy aunt you have who frowns and blushes at every risky joke and then she dies and you discover that she was a fetish model or something. Except that the Victorians are still fooling everyone.

  31. Fiz says:

    They may not use carbolic acid in Islamic countries but clitoridectomy is still widely practice for the very same reason and should be banned. As for the Victorians, they loved to invent diseases and then find cures for them.

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