"a practice so general"
While looking through back issues of the Times for etymological citations, I discovered a rather strange classified ad for 23rd May 1786:
"This day is published, price 1/6, a letter to John Hunter Esq., FRS, [...] respecting his treatise on the venereal disease; shewing him to be highly erroneous in his observation of impotence, and more particularly pointing out the absurdity and immorality of his doctrine in favour of onanism or masturbation. By Duncan Gordon, MD."
Of course, I went to find out what Dr Hunter had said. Earlier that year, he had published a book about venereal disease, which made some shocking claims: masturbation is generally harmless, and the worst thing you can do is worry about it.
"OF IMPOTENCE: This complaint is by many laid to the charge of Onanism at an early age; but how far this is just, it will in many cases be difficult to determine; for upon a strict review of this subject, it appears to me to be by far too rare to originate from a practice so general.
How far the attributing to this practice such a consequence, is of public utility, I am doubtful, particularly as it is followed most commonly at an age when consequences are not sufficiently attended to, even in things less gratifying to the senses; but this I can say with certainty, that many of those who are affected with the complaints in question are miserable from this idea and it is some consolation for them to know that it is possible it may arise from other causes.
I am clear in my own mind that the books on this subject have done more harm than good. I think I may affirm that this act in itself does less harm to the constitution in general than the natural. That the natural with common women, or such as we are indifferent about, does less harm to the constitution than where it is not so selfish, and where the affections for the woman are also concerned.
Where it is only a constitutional act it is simple, and only one action takes place; but where the mind becomes interested, it is worked up to a degree of enthusiasm, increasing the sensibility of the body and disposition for action; and when the complete action takes place it is with proportional violence; and in proportion to the violence is the degree of debility produced, or injury done to the constitution. In the cases of this kind that have come under my care, although the persons themselves have been very ready to suppose that the disease arose from the cause here alluded to; yet they did not appear to have given more into the practice than common; and in particular, the worst case I have ever seen was where but very little of this practice had ever been used, much less less than in common among boys or lads. The only true objection to this selfish enjoyment is the probability of its being repeated too frequently."
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Hardly surprising that it raised a furore!
Syndicated 2016-07-06 00:38:47 from Monument