erection blockers Bandage of the genitals. Circumcision under anesthesia. Burn the clitoris with phenol. The avoidance of masturbation has been one of the obsessions of a culture that over hundreds of years, crossed by religious and patriarchal injunctions, has come to invent and legitimize all sorts of theories and devices. All in the name of reproductive sex. Although touching now seems socially acceptable and even encouraged by the marketplace offering hundreds of different sex toys, masturbation is still under suspicion and carries several gender stereotypes. May 7th is World Masturbation Day.
The “persecution” of masturbation affected women and men. In his book A Curious History of Sex, just published in Spain by Capitan Swing, historian Keith Lister salvages the content of the work of Dr. Samuel-Auguste Tissot, who in 1758 claimed that masturbation contributed to the body’s withering. His book started a 200-year anti-masturbation crusade, Lister explains. The evil that the doctor associated with touch prompted medical research into the practice.
In the 19th century, medical theories “about how detrimental to health sperm loss can be,” says Keith Lister. Doctors argued that masturbation was not only dangerous to health – they associated it with cancer, epilepsy, insanity or impotence – but also endangered life. That’s when all sorts of gadgets and treatments are developed to prevent it. For example, a four-pronged urethral ring, which was worn around the penis before going to bed and which, in the event of an erection, “bites” its wearer.
Doctors applied acids, needles and electric shocks to the penis. Physician John Harvey Kellogg recommended “caging the organs”. He advocated circumcision without anesthesia and, in the case of women, cauterization of the clitoris with phenol as “an excellent remedy for calming abnormal arousal and preventing repetition of the practice.”
Sexologist Miguel Vagalume confirms that the obsession with “avoiding masturbation in every possible way” dates back to the 19th century. That’s when the concept of “degeneration” arises: “Everything that is not degeneration, that is, pregnancy, is a problem.” The emergence of psychiatry at the same time that we start talking about sex contributes to the “obsession” to categorize all kinds of sexual behavior and treat masturbation as a problem.
“Freud was the first to define, on the basis of psychiatry, what a normal sexual intercourse is. From there, the medical diagnosis is made around what good sex is, normal sex…” Vagalume explains. Freud, for example, argued that seeking pleasure through the clitoris was infantile intercourse, not mature. Although these ideas and practices now seem old-fashioned to us, some of them have survived. “For example, the loss of sperm means the loss of potency,” says the sexologist.
Ideas and prejudices about masturbation have changed; they have adapted (and strengthened) to the new gender stereotypes. Masturbation has come to be understood as part of that patriarchal hegemonic masculinity built on the idea of the inexhaustible and uncontrollable desire of men. In the case of women and the stereotype of reserved and reserved female sexuality, masturbation is only appropriate as an act for others.
“Women’s sexuality is designed to be complementary and appropriate, a sexuality that allows men to enjoy and deposit their sperm. There, masturbation is appropriate when it is meant for the male fantasy,” Vagalume says. In recent years, the feminist wave has contributed to further breaking the taboo on female masturbation, and the market has seized the opportunity: some sex toys have become a real boom.
However, despite what it may seem, the stigma remains. Sexologist Maria Torre confirms that masturbation still seems like something of an accessory. In the case of women, masturbation is often used as a provocation, “like a game towards other people.” “We remove the shade that this is something for you, that this is your space, something that serves to explore and know yourself,” he says. There is also some prejudice against women who masturbate or talk about masturbation, which she points out does not happen to men, who rather hold onto the idea that they can and should get rid of their sexuality often.
While the erotic toy store has contributed to the destigmatization of masturbation, the idea that it’s something you only do when you’re unhappy continues to permeate. “It’s the ‘if I’m fine with my partner why would I look for more and masturbate’ idea?” I give the example of a muffin: you may have eaten very well, it doesn’t mean you are hungry, but you see the muffin and you think it looks good and you eat it to enjoy it. Well, it’s the same with masturbation: even if you have a satisfying sex life together, it’s another positive practice to get to know you to enjoy. This is not what we do when we have nothing else,” says Maria Torre.
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