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.