Books, Journals, New Media Section Editor: Harriet
S. Meyer, MD, Contributing Editor, JAMA; David H. Morse, MS, University
of Southern California, Norris Medical Library, Journal Review Editor.
In this sprawling book, by turns deeply learned and luxuriantly repetitious,
Thomas Laqueur, a noted historian of sexuality, tackles the solitary vice.
In the postmodern manner, he argues that, although masturbation as a
mode of self pleasuring is as old as mankind, it was invented as a disease
in the 18th century, more precisely in 1712 in a text entitled Onania; or, The Heinous Sin of Self Pollution. . . . The author, whom
Thomas Laqueur reveals to have been a profiteering surgeon named John Marten,
linked the practice to the biblical "sin" of Onan, who spilled his seed on
the ground rather than obey his father's request to "go in unto" his dead
brother's wife; whereupon he was slain by God. Onan's crime was to refuse
the injunction of ancient Hebrew levirate marriage, a remote concern for 18th-century
British Protestants. But Marten's real aim was to link onanism, as he named
it, to a host of ailments for which he was willing to provide cures, for a
price of course. But Marten's text took off. It was augmented, excerpted,
and emulated, and onanism, later known as masturbation, was incorporated into
mainstream enlightenment medicine as a cause and a symptom of a wide variety
of degenerative physical and mental disorders. Thus was the concept of masturbation
invented by a peddler of nostrums.
Nye RA. Sex. JAMA. 2003;290(11):1524–1525. doi:10.1001/jama.290.11.1524
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