• Tissot’s Terror ~ The History of Masturbation

    It may be hard to believe but before 1712 hardly anyone gave masturbation a second thought. It was simply regarded as a normal part of life. Even the Bible speaks of it as being so normal all the Old Testament man needed was clean up afterward and take a bath. Leviticus 15:16-18

    Onania. Well then, where did this anti-masturbation nonsense come from? It all started in 1712 when a medical hack named John Marten went from promoting quack cures to producing a pamphlet on Onania; or, The Heinous Sin of Self Pollution, and all its Frightful Consequences, in both SEXES Considered, with Spiritual and Physical Advice to those who have already injured themselves by this abominable practice. And seasonable Admonition to the Youth of the nation of Both SEXES. This publication declared masturbation both a symptom and a cause of serious illness. Illnesses such as infertility, impotence, gonorrhea, and deformed offspring! This was the first time such foolish medical claims were made. So now masturbation was regarded as not only a sin against God, but also devastation to one’s health. And of course he sold lotions and potions that would affect a cure.

    As bad as it was this had limited effect until 1770 when Samuel Auguste David Tissot (1728–97), a renowned French doctor, wrote L'Onanisme, ou Dissertation Physique sur les Maladies Produites par la Masturbation, in which he agreed that masturbation was a grave offence and caused serious illness. Tissot was a legitimate medical doctor and not a quack like Marten, and he took the anti-masturbation movement beyond the lunatic fringe and into legitimacy. His book was translated into English and went through 80 editions. Its nefarious influence spread far and wide. As you can see fromm the example at the bottom of this page, some of the pamphlets produced described the most ghastly scenarios.

    John Wesley and the Evangelicals

    John Wesley.

    The real tragedy happened when John Wesley took up the cause. He was a sincere and passionate man, an idealist and strong advocate for celibacy and singleness. Like St. Paul he felt they freed one for greater service in the Kingdom of God. Which would have been ok, but in Wesley’s mind, masturbation was definitely not a good way for single people to deal with their sexual frustrations. His ardent followers were sadly forbid the luxury of using it to make their singleness easier and more pleasant.

    Wesley strongly believed that good health was an important part of the gospel message, and he was an avid student of the medical books of his day. With his Thoughts on the sin of Onan: Chiefly extracted from a late writer (1774 and 1779), he took Tissot’s 232 page book and radically reduced it to a 20 page manuscript that he felt was suitable for his followers.

    Many Evangelical and Pentecostal churches trace their heritage and approach to Christianity to John Wesley. His opposition to masturbation became part of the culture. It affects Born Again Christians to this day.

    Sylvester Graham.

    19th Century Insanity

    The masturbation insanity continued on into the 19th century. Not the insanity they feared would be caused by excessive wanking, of course, but the insanity of thinking that sexual self-gratification would have dire effects. The health movement of such men as Sylvester Graham, of Graham Cracker fame, and Ellen White of the Seventh Day Adventists, the Kellogg brothers and C. W. Post took up the torch and (believe it or not) breakfast cereals were developed with the express purpose of curing the dangerous urge to masturbate.

    20th Century Common Sense

    Thank God things began to turn around in the 20th century as common sense and sound medical practices prevailed. The scientific method was developed and some brave voices like Dr. Havelock Ellis, Dr. Sigmund Freud, Magnus Hirschfeld and Wilhelm Stekel, William Masters and Virginia Johnson and many others began to speak up, normalizing masturbation.


    But most of us are just as influenced by culture as we are by science, and two things have probably changed cultural attitudes more than anything else. In 1953 Hugh Hefner published the first Playboy and the world of masturbation was revolutionized. With the internet we have come a long way since those early days of relative innocence.

    The other culture changer is the great improvement in what were once called “marital aids”. In recent decades technology has become the friend of the masturbator as more and more companies are making toys that make masturbation easier and more enjoyable. Not only do many women have vibrators in their nightstand, men can buy strokers like the Fleshlight and Tenga products that are simply a delight to use.

    The church still has a long way to go, but more and more people are asking legitimate questions, exploring the Scriptures, and listening more to the Holy Spirit rather than to reactionary hysteria on these matters. I am blessed to be one small voice among many.


    Fatal Consequences of Masturbation Pamphlet, 1844

    Fatal Consequences.
Anti-Masturbation Pamphlet, 1844.


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