Masturbation

Sex Toy History: Unusual Vibrators

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An interesting part of vibrator history is that they were often not manufactured nor marketed for masturbation. Many products used as sex toys were advertised as therapeutic massagers of the non-sexual kind. Household items sold with the word “vibrator” on the box were meant for relaxing muscles but often purchased as a “pervertable” (an everyday object used for sexual pleasure) rather than their original advertised use. Even the original Hitachi Magic Wand’s public relations department argued for decades that it was just to massage the kinks out of your shoulders and back, and not for use on more intimate parts of the body.

When you’re researching vintage vibrators, you usually find a parade of the usual suspects. In between the late Victorian hand crank massagers and the mid-century power tools, I found a couple that teetered on the sex toy edge. While I can’t find proof that they were used for solo sexy time (then again we can’t prove vibrators marketed for health care were all sex toys anyway) there’s something about them that just screams pervertable to me.

Vibra Bed may not be a conventional vibrator but the image on the box of a woman enjoying her “relaxing” time in bed made me wonder about the Vibra Bed’s intended use. I found two versions; the first has a late 60’s illustration then another with an early 70’s photo. In the box, you find a mid-sized square device you can attach to the bed to replicate those vibrating “magic finger” motel beds. Because everyone goes home from that no-tell motel going “Gosh I wish I had that vibrating bed action at home!” (Well, maybe a few did. Who am I to yuck somebody’s yum)

Vibra Bed made its first appearance in 1970. The good and services part of the trademark document lists it as a “vibrator for attachment to a bed or sofa for causing vibration of parts of the human body.” An ad in the Pittsburgh Press says it can be used with a sofa or chair. How well this small box works to make your entire bed, sofa, or chair into a vibrator is a question for the ages. Might be a nice full body massage after a long day or it could be about as effective as my cell phone going off repeatedly. Dynamic Classics Ltd., which went bankrupt in 1996 after losing a government lawsuit, had several items under trademark that were either fitness or travel oriented but nothing quite like Vibra Bed.

Sex Toy History: Unusual VibratorsAnother interesting find is the Filter Queen Vibrator by Health-Mor Inc. Filter Queen is known for its canister style vacuum cleaners. They carry a wide assortment of accessories including an attachment that turns your vacuum into a vibrator. The box shows how the hose vibrates and recommended use on various parts of the body. The attachment was invented by Eugene F. Martinec, vice president of manufacturing and inventor of many accessories for Health-Mor, and patented in 1962. At $14.50, this accessory is quite expensive, about $115 today. This price makes it more than twice the price of a Magic Wand and not as exciting. It looks like it came as part of an entire filter queen kit sold door to door, so may not have been purchased separately very often. Filter Queen is still in existence today, but no longer sells the attachment. Although an authorized dealer in Canada still offers the vibrator on their website.

An item that just screams sex toy to me is the Vibra-Finger gum massager. The vibrating end of thisSex Toy History: Unusual Vibrators massager comes shaped like a rather realistic looking finger. Apparently, dentists highly recommended gum massage to combat Pyorrhea or soft irritated gums. It cost $6.95, had a 30-day money back guarantee, and a one year warranty. The instruction booklet recommends a 60-second massage after brushing your teeth and lets you know you can purchase replacement fingers for a $1 each. I’m not sure why these fingers had to look so disturbingly life-like, it doesn’t seem necessary to perform the cleansing and refreshing massage

Vibra-Finger advertised in several newspapers from what looks to be the 1950s. I couldn’t find any information about either the Dentagene Company or Atlas Industries, both listed as the parent company on the ads. Nor could I find a patent for it. When it was invented and first distributed, is a mystery.

I was surprised to find all of these items for sale on eBay, Etsy and online stores specializing in collectibles. Their distributors may be long gone, but the product is still lingering about.

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Sex Toy History: The Hitachi Magic Wand

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My first introduction to the Hitachi Magic Wand was in the movie Bachelor Party (1984). I was enjoying this delightfully awful Tom Hanks vehicle on HBO when the scene came up where two sex workers who get rerouted from a raucous bachelor party to a demure bridal shower. When the women arrive, they pull out a giant vibrator and a whip then casually ask, “Is there an empty outlet in here?” before sinking out of frame in a heated embrace. I had never seen the large wand like sex toy before, only the plastic oblong shaped vibrators sold at Spencer Gifts. It didn’t make me run out and get one, nor did I even think about it much after that scene. Little did I know but it was one of the most popular vibrators of all time.

I would later find out the name of this toy, the Hitachi Magic Wand. I would also discover that nearly everyone I know finds it an indispensable part of their sex toy arsenal. The Magic Wand is so popular it should have a fan club. So popular it’s even referred to as the Cadillac of sex toys. What’s also interesting is this popular sex toy is not really a sex toy but a muscle massager. At least, that was it’s original intent when it was first distributed back in 1968.

In May of 1968, Hitachi Sales Corporation filed to trademark the phrase, Magic Wand. In that document, the Magic Wand’s first use and first use in commerce as an electric massager are listed as April 25, 1968. The original packaging did not have the words Magic Wand on it, simply Hitachi massager. The packaging added the phrase Magic Wand in about 1969. Early packaging was plain with only the product name and logo. Packaging from the mid to late 1970’s shows it’s recommended use as a massager with photos of a model showcasing various parts of the body you would use it on like shoulders, legs, and feet. The instructions also suggested points of the body like neck, shoulders, and back.

The massager hasn’t changed much since 1968, a wand handle with the cylindrical shaped head and flexible neck. Early versions of the head are more cylindrical in shape and have a padded vinyl black or red quilted covering. The quilted head appears ribbed for her pleasure, even though it would not gain that status for a couple of years. The original massager only came in one speed, and the handle was fluted (like long grooves on a Greek column) and wasn’t tapered. They also came in three different colors like white, pink, and red. Hitachi initially included a vinyl bag but discontinued it in the mid 70’s.

Later versions, around the mid 70’s, do away with the more blunt cylinder shaped head with the quilted padding and feature the more rounded smooth head with the single groove you see today. The ones that were officially labeled Magic Wand seemed to debut a short time after the trademark was officially registered in 1969. The Magic Wand had two speed settings and the more familiar tapered body. One of my favorite versions is “The Workout” with its 70’s color scheme and uber macho dude replacing the woman in the usual packaging. I’m sure this made it appealing as a post workout massage as opposed to supplying relief to tired women’s shoulders and feet. There were subtle variations over time like changing the color of the power switch and the handle becoming more tapered. By the late 70’s, Hitachi stopped offering the wand in different colors and white became the standard. By the late 90’s, they added the now classic blue trim.

It’s popularity as a sex toy did not happen right away. Hitachi always maintained that this was a body massage device meant for health care and not a sex toy. Body massagers were often co-opted to be vibrators, but the Magic Wand got lots of great press by the mid 70’s, mostly initiated by Betty Dodson. Dodson initially preferred the Panasonic Panabrator but switched over to the Magic Wand. She was known to use the device in her Bodysex workshops then recommended the Magic Wand in her book “Liberating Masturbation” published in 1974. The news spread, and soon it became a sex shop staple. It’s been a best seller at Good Vibrations in San Francisco since they opened in 1977.

Since it was technically a body massager, it could be sold in regular stores. Dodson said she could get it in Macy’s small appliance section. Hitachi at times seemed none too thrilled their therapeutic massage device was usurped as a sex toy then oddly supportive of it. In 1992, they commissioned chocolate versions in honor of the 15th anniversary of Good Vibrations. Then in 1999, they issued a statement asserting that the wand’s only use was for health care. I guess you could consider using it for masturbation as health care, but I get the feeling that is not what they intended.

In 2000, they had a falling out with their US distributor, American Appliance Corporation. Coupled with their unease that their product was now famous as the ultimate masturbation accessory, Hitachi decided to cease production. It was as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror. After a couple of months without a distributor, and prices of Magic Wands starting to skyrocket on eBay, they inked a deal with Vibratex as their new distributor.

Wait. Vibratex is a sex toy distributor, yet Hitachi denies it’s a sex toy. Hmmm…

In 2002, Magic Wands were flying off the shelves after a similar looking massager showed up in an episode of Sex and the City. Despite all this, in 2013 Hitachi decided again that it didn’t want to sell a sex toy and wanted to pull the plug on the product. Vibratex convinced them to remove the Hitachi name and sell them as the Original Magic Wand, or Magic Wand Original as was advertised in the rebranding debut in 2014. Manufacturing had changed slightly, which caused many to complain it is not as well build or long lasting, but it remains highly recommended.

While the wand has always recommended stopping use after 25 minutes to avoid overheating, many say the device can go much longer. Its eco-friendly cord means you don’t go through tons of batteries to use it. Getting its power from an outlet rather than batteries is a key to its power. Despite all the newfangled sex toys, including the recently debuted rechargeable Magic Wand Original, this time-tested workhorse will never go out of style or popularity.

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The Myths of Chastity Belts

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When I think of chastity belts, I think of the movie Robin Hood: Men in Tights. (Go ahead and judge. I liked this much-maligned Mel Brooks movie) In it, the hero not only will have the key to the fair princess’ heart but to her Everlast chastity belt. We’ve seen and read much about the chastity belt being around since the Crusades. It shows up in books and film, most recently in Mad Max Fury Road. These barriers against infidelity and rape were mostly a tale of fiction until the 19th century. There is no evidence they existed or were used during the crusades. The earliest images were in the 16th century. When you look at the evidence, you find stories about chastity belts are more of a smear campaign against an earlier “dark age” blown out of proportion in the moral mire that was the 19th century. There were, in fact, no medieval chastity belts being worn to protect a ladies virtue.

You might be saying to yourself, “But I’ve seen them! They’re in museums!”

Well, yes, they were in museums. Until they found out they were not from an earlier era but the Victorian era. Most of them have been removed from display. A medieval chastity belt on display at the British Museum turned out to be from the 18th or 19th century. Another that was shown in the Musee de Cluny in Paris, and credited as being worn by Catherine De Medici, was tested and proved to be made in the early 1800s. In typical fashion, we became so enamored with the idea of the chastity belt we never actually looked at how improbable their use really was. We fell for the story about knights locking their wives in metal girdles hook, line, and sinker. As several historians who busted the myth of chastity belts have said, we wanted to believe that the dark ages were a barbaric time compared to our enlightened age.

Oddly enough, the enlightened age that comes up with the preposterous idea was the Renaissance era. The Crusades took place between the 11th and 13th centuries, and there is no evidence of chastity belt use during that time. There isn’t mention of its use until the 15th century. According to Albrecht Claussen, the author of The Medieval Chastity Belt: A Myth-Making Process, the first textual evidence is in Konrad Kyser’s Bellifortis in 1405. The book is about war machinery. Florentine women used them, as Kyser tell us in his book, and includes a hand drawn illustration. It’s in a chapter with instruments of torture, so its authenticity is in serious doubt. That and Kyser’s book also includes fart jokes.

When historians look at illustrations and writings from the 15th and 16th century, it’s apparent the girdle of Venus was more of a joke, a piece of prurient propaganda, or a way to decry the dark ages as brutal and cruel thus lesser than the current era. Most of the illustrations show the lover hiding somewhere in the shadows with a copy of the key. Meanwhile, the poor sap of a husband leaves town thinking he has protected his wife from straying while he’s gone. One can imagine these images of cuckolded husbands were quite the knee slapper.

It only get’s worse as we approach the Victorian era, they loved the idea of girdles of cruelty. How else do we keep our hands, and other’s hands and… stuff… from our sinful nether regions.

This is when the fakes enter the scene.

The Victorians were so against sex for pleasure they took an era they thought of as being pretty with it in the “no sex unless for procreation” department and went with it. They didn’t care if it was true, this was an age where patents were being issued every day for inventions to stop people from engaging in sexual activity. What they didn’t take into account was how dangerous these things would be to wear if they actually existed.

A “metal bikini” with a small opening for bodily functions worn for an extended time would be lead to debilitating injuries and even death. Even lined or padded iron would still chafe and cause painful abrasions on the skin. It would be extremely uncomfortable to move or sit, and they did not leave enough space for bodily functions. There would risk of infections and sepsis. Even if a Knight wanted his wife to be locked up in a girdle of Venus while was off on the crusades, he would return to a wife that has been severely injured or even dead. Not really what they had planned.

This means that metal padlocked belts adorned with spike-edged openings may have inspired the ones worn by Immortan Joe’s wives but are just as much a product of fiction as the film. The irony is these barriers to pleasure are now used in BDSM. Chastity belts exist today although worn for a limited time in Dominant/submissive play. They are built to deny access to the genitals or to prevent an erection so that the Dominant has complete control of those options. So take that, Victorian prudes! Today chastity belts are not used to prevent sex but to enhance it.

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The Beggars Benison: 18th Century Gentlemen’s Club

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©Trustees of the British Museum

©Trustees of the British Museum

While I was looking for more information about a photo of a somewhat obscene silver platter dated 1732 that popped up while I was doing research (as we do), I came across an article titled “Masturbation Clubs of the 1700s.” In it, I read about the fascinating proceedings of the Scottish Club, The Beggar’s Benison. I also couldn’t stop thinking about something else. Let me get this out of the way right now.

The first rule of Masturbation Club is there is no Masturbation Club.

I couldn’t resist.

You might be thinking to yourself, “Isn’t masturbation like a solo thing?” “Why would you join a club?” Or you might be thinking, Masturbation club? Where have you been all my life?” Either way, group masturbation happens today with Jack/Jill off clubs and group masturbation parties. Check your local listings. What I was surprised to find out is that gentlemen’s clubs focusing on sexuality were all the rage in early 18th century UK. They’ve gone in and out of fashion over the past couple of centuries.

I know, I really shouldn’t be surprised but I was.

I’m not even sure how I came across the photo of the large plate engraved with words, most noticeably “the way of a man with a maid” and “test platter.” Oh and the vulva framing an erect penis and testicles with a little charm hanging from the shaft. The little charm is most likely a sporran or purse but it looks rather odd where it’s placed on the erect phallus. Along the outside rim are etched the words “The Beggar’s Benison Anstruther 1732.” All of this just screamed, “Must google this!” and sent me down a rabbit hole into the libertine adventures of 18th century London and Scotland. I found out that Beggar’s Benison was not really a masturbation club it was more. I also found there were other clubs and lots of lascivious behavior in these “gentlemen’s” clubs. Many clubs with various themes sprung up in 18th century London.

The 1700s saw a change in attitude about sex that had been evolving over time. It was not the change you would think. While sex for pleasure has always been around, attitudes towards it often changed with the times and with social standing. It seems before the age of enlightenment, the middle ages were all about sex for procreation but mostly for the lower classes. The nobility still had to marry and reproduce but often looked for sexual pleasure away from the marriage bed. Sexual promiscuity really depended on wealth, class, and whether you can get away with it. The nobility had been sleeping around for centuries already and prostitution never went away even when Henry the VIII tried to close the brothels to keep fast spreading STDs at bay. Syphilis and gonorrhea were rampant at the time, having spread through Europe like wildfire. This didn’t deter the sexually adventurous, unfortunately, and problems with these diseases continued into the next century.

By the 1700s, it seems that men that possessed wealth and power managed to find new and more exciting ways to party. Reconstruction of the monarchy after 1660 found a society ready to throw away the shackles of puritanism. There is a growth in men’s clubs providing a place for men to act and speak more freely. Open talk about sex and sexuality became popular at some of these clubs. At the same time, prostitutes and brothel madams could hold a celebrity like status. Their published diaries were as sought after then as leaked sex tapes and kiss and tell biographies are today. The libertine lifestyle was all the rage of the day even though people like Tissot were working hard to prove that masturbation was a ruinous hobby that would lead to debilitating illness. Heading towards the 19th century one part of society was trying to develop anti-masturbation technology while the other was putting their penis on a plate and ejaculating into it.

The full name of the club was Most Ancient and Puissant order of the Beggar’s Benison and Merryland. It was founded in 1732 in Anstruther, Scotland. Benison means blessing and Merryland is a euphemism for a woman’s body. Kind of like a sexy amusement park. The name comes from the club’s origin myth that King James, dressed as a commoner, received a blessing from the maid who carried him over a stream. What I find intriguing about The Beggar’s Benison is that the stories may have been exaggerated and even the written documentation may not show the whole truth. Artifacts and records were saved and are currently held in a collection at the University of St Andrews in Fife, Scotland. David Stephenson, the author of the book The Beggar’s Benison, looked over the records and finds that some dates don’t match up and they are not written in the proper minutes form, something that rarely if ever happens at the time. It’s speculated that some of these records were either written by someone who wanted to make the club out to be more obscene than it actually was, either to make it seem more interesting or more grotesque. It’s possible the sexual activity was only during the 1730s.

The Testing Platter was used to welcome in new initiates. Surviving documents state that the initiate would enter nude after being prepared in a closet. The initiate approached a table or altar in the center of the room where the Testing Platter awaited. It was apparently necessary to have an erection. Said erection would be placed on the platter with a white cloth placed over it. Then the officers and knights would join the initiate, also placing their erections under the white cloth so that they all touched. Wine was drunk; a passage from Song of Solomon was read, and often a piece of erotica. The documents state usually that “all frigged” which I’m taking to mean they all ejaculated onto the plate. Huzzah for gentlemanly brotherhood. None of this seems to have been thought of as homoerotic, merely celebrating the virility of manhood and sexuality. There are phallic drinking glasses, medals with erotic figures on the back, and some seals with similar imagery.

When not welcoming initiates, they read erotica and had rather serious lectures about sex. They hired “posture girls” to disrobe and pose so as to get a closer look at the most intimate parts of her body. No touching, no talking, just looking. Documents don’t tell us if this continued during the entire time the club was meeting. They only met about once or twice a year and seem to fall out of favor towards the end of the 18th century. It folded in 1836, just in time for the Victorian era to begin and a century of sexual repression. In it’s time, this band of sexual merry makers, or as Samuel Johnson defined them in his dictionary “An assembly of good fellows meeting under certain circumstances,” spread to Edinburgh, Manchester England, and possibly even St Petersburg. They would also spawn a spin-off group called the Wig Club. Someone would try to resurrect it in the early 1920s but to no avail. At least they left some very interesting collectibles and some scandalous stories behind.

I’ll leave you with the blessing placed upon King James and used among the Benison members (heh, I said members). “May prick, nor purse, never fail you.”

 

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Graham and Kellogg – The Anti-Masturbation Diet

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Graham crackers and corn flakes have such a ubiquitous presence in our lives. As a girl scout, I have fond memories of graham crackers oozing gooey marshmallows and melted chocolate. I also loved the cinnamon sugar covered ones. When I had my kids, it seems like all moms carried those wax rectangles of graham crackers from the moment our kids could handle solid food. I have a not so fond memory of cold cracker mush all over my kid’s mouth and hands, and inevitably on my shirt. I’ve also been a fan of corn flakes, although I preferred them with sugar heavily sprinkled on top. Few are unfamiliar with the large white box with the big rooster on it.

I knew that Kellogg was into an unconventional dietary routine (I saw The Road to Wellville) but knew little about Graham. I was surprised to find out fairly recently that they both shared the same idea that spurred the creation of these staples. Simply put, anti-masturbation. Both Graham and Kellogg felt that people’s diet contributed to their sexual urges. Deviant sexual urges like masturbation. First Graham then Kellogg, inspired by Grahams beliefs, wrote prodigiously about the evils of self-abuse and that diet could curb sexual arousal. They were both practitioners of vegetarianism. They both advocated a simple bland diet and abstinence from tobacco and alcohol. Kellogg condemned the consumption of meat, Graham the consumption of white bread. Some of this actually sounds tremendously modern, except for their fervent belief that masturbation was terrible for your health.

Sylvester Graham, a former Presbyterian minister, spent most of his life writing, lecturing, and developing lifestyle and diet plans. Having gotten on the temperance bandwagon during his minister days in the 1830’s, he continued to preach as a lecturer. Temperance groups at this time focus mostly on alcohol and tobacco. Graham felt that sexual excess, including masturbation, was contributing to ill health, both mentally and physically. He also believed that the refined carb and fatty meat-laden American diet of the early 19th century was terrible for your health. He wanted to get people back to their living off the land roots. He felt that the manufactured food of the time had gotten people away from the wholesome tables of yesteryear. It was true that at the time people were consuming processed white bread like never before. This bread often had added ingredients like alum and chlorine to make them more white and last longer. Refined white bread had become a symbol of upward mobility to middle-class society, a status symbol since it was purchased and not made at home. Graham was convinced that these chemical additives made bread unwholesome. He also believed a vegetarian diet could cure people of alcoholism as well as rid them of sexual desires.

Graham lectured often about how this unhealthy diet increased our sexual desires, which lead to our overall ill heath including mental feebleness and insanity. He believed that “venereal excess” should be avoided, not only masturbation and premarital sex but also only engaging in marital coitus once a month. He created a super bland diet that did away with any stimulants like coffee, tea, and seasonings. It was focused on whole grains with fresh fruit and vegetables plus a recommended regimen of exercise, frequent bathing, and fresh air. You weren’t even allowed to use pepper, a point of contention when Oberlin College made the Graham diet part of its dining plan. A professor there was let go for spicing up his food with some pepper. The diet plan was gone soon afterward.

Graham didn’t create the graham cracker as we know it today. He invented his “Graham flour,” which consisted of specially ground whole-wheat flour where the bran and the germ are ground and combined. This he used to make Graham bread and by 1829 a Graham flour based cracker. He had quite a following, at first, attracting a fan base that was referred to as “Grahamites” who practiced temperance, abstinence from alcohol, and who adopted his rigorous diet and lifestyle plan. He was also ridiculed and threatened with bodily harm, mostly from bakers and butchers who were not happy with his ideas about purchased bread and a meatless diet. At one point there were even boarding houses of “Grahamites” but as Graham’s own ideas became more radical and vocal, and geared more towards abstinence than temperance, his follower lost interest and dispersed. But some carried on his ideals, one such person was John Harvey Kellogg

JH Kellogg took many of these ideas (vegetarianism, whole grains, exercise, fresh air, temperance, and abstinence) and applied it to the regiment at the Battle Creek Sanitarium as a way to gain a longer and healthier life. He was the chief medical officer of the sanitarium while his brother Will was the bookkeeper. He one-upped this with some interesting ideas about enemas, basically water followed by yogurt enemas. He also ascribed to the idea of using bland foods to curb sexual desires. Together with his brother they created a bland yet crunchy corn flake cereal in 1878 that would live on for years under the ubiquitous name of Corn Flakes. JH’s brother wanted to add sugar to better market the cereal but his brother was too busy trying to fight against the depleting effects of masturbation and sexual excess to see the business opportunity here. It’s also rumored that C.W. Post was a guest at the sanitarium and stole the recipe idea for the corn flake then went on to create the Post cereal empire. Will Kellogg would eventually go off on his own and create a company that would later be known at the Kellogg Company we know today. He and his brothers fought about it for years.

Kellogg was an even stronger advocate against masturbation and sexual excess than Graham. He not only believed that a diet and lifestyle stripped of stimulants would lower the desire to self-pollute, he also advocated things like special circumcisions and surgeries to prevent masturbation. He’s been quoted to recommend sewing a silver suture into the foreskin to prevent it from pulling back from the glans thus preventing erections. He also suggested using phenol, an acid, to curb the use to self-pleasure. He recommended everything from cages, administering blisters on genitalia and electric shock. This man would stop at nothing to stop you from rubbing one out. He was adamant in his cause because like Graham he believed that self-abuse, or venereal excess, as Graham called it, would lead to disease and insanity.

Kellogg’s cereal is slightly different today than in the early days. JH’s plain flakes of corn now have some sugar, malt, high fructose corn syrup and other ingredients. The company also makes sugar-laden cereals like Froot Loops and Cocoa Krispies. Graham’s crackers changed a lot after the company changed hands. The crackers are now made with white flour and contain sugar. I was quite fond of the cinnamon sugar covered ones when I was a kid. Reverend Graham would be horrified to see what is now considered a graham cracker, especially when marshmallows and chocolate bars are sandwiched between them. You can find healthier options made of whole grain with low or no sugar at health food stores but what you find in a grocery story is not the tool against onanism from back in the day. We’ve also thankfully learned that masturbation is healthy and can help with many of the ailments it was once blamed for.

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Onanism: From Coitus Interruptus to Self-Pleasure

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Merriam-Webster defines Onanism as 1. Masturbation 2. Coitus Interruptus 3. Self-gratification. Onanism at its most basic is the withdrawal of the penis in sexual intercourse thus ejaculating outside of the vagina. While the original use of the term was for coitus interruptus, it was more widely used in reference to masturbation. Use of this term became more complicated over the ages. The concept of Onanism was used to support the religious idea that masturbation is against God’s will. It was the impetus behind a great many anti-masturbation movements, some of which were fairly extreme. Onanism was derived from bible verse in the Old Testament, Genesis chapter 38 to be more precise. A little story about Onan and his dead brother’s wife.

That is the wife of his dead brother, not the dead wife of his brother… now that I’ve cleared that up the bible story is no less of an uncomfortable read.

Onan was the second son of Judah. Upon his elder brother Er’s death, he is ordered by his father to sleep with his late brother’s wife so that she may produce children. It was his duty as her brother-in-law to raise up offspring for his brother. Since Er was first born, the children he would have with his wife, Tamar, would be considered his late brother’s, not his. Onan apparently was not too happy about these kids he would be fathering not technically being his. He decided to get around this by sleeping with her but pulling out and “spilling his seed upon the ground.” The Lord was not too thrilled with this and supposedly killed him for it.

Oh, and Er died because he was “wicked in the sight of the lord” just like Onan. Seems like an issue in this family.

Before we move on to the wackiness that is getting killed by God for not fathering children with your brother’s wife, let’s talk about why this was a thing. It’s called a levirate marriage, Yibbum in Hebrew. The idea behind a levirate marriage is that a brother is obligated to marry his brother’s wife if said brother dies before producing children. The children produced by the union of the brother-in-law with his brother’s wife were then considered the children of the deceased brother. Since Er was the older brother, this meant that all rights and properties he had as eldest would pass on to his children, and the children his wife had with his brother, not passed on to Onan and his progeny. The origin of levirate marriage was most likely so that the widow would not be left without a husband to care for her and also to keep the widow within the confines of the tribe. It also assured that the son of the eldest child received the inheritance due him when the eldest child dies and not pass on to the next surviving sibling. Levirate marriage occurred in other cultures around the world in places like Turkey, Africa, Indonesia, and even England.

Onan seemed none-too happy to bear children with his brother’s wife that he would have to care for yet receive zero of the inheritance. Instead, he sort of half assed his obligation. He didn’t refuse to sleep with her but went through the motions and prevented pregnancy from occurring. The story continues with Tamar, Er’s widow, being promised Judah’s youngest son when he was old enough. Either she was tired of waiting or Judah reneged on his deal because Tamar felt she had to take things into her own hands to produce this heir. She disguised herself as a prostitute so she could trick Judah to lay with her thus producing an heir. He offers her a goat but will gladly pay her Tuesday for a roll in the hay today. She takes some of his possessions as collateral, which she uses later to prove that she didn’t technically prostitute herself since she never took the goat and the father is actually her husband’s father.

So what does this have to do with masturbation, you might ask? It’s sort of a loose interpretation by those reading the bible. Spill seed on ground became less about birth control and more about self-gratification. Spilling seed in any way that did not result in creating progeny was wicked in the eyes of God. It was first seen in writing about the perils of self-pollution in the early 18th century. 19th century proponents of anti-masturbation would use it often. People like Tissot, Kellogg, Kant, and even Twain wrote papers about the perils of masturbation. It wasn’t until the mid 20th century where studies by people like Kinsey, followed by the sexual revolution, changed people’s minds about Onansim.

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Victorian Anti-Masturbation/Anti-Nocturnal Emissions Devices

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Anti-masturbation_devices

Not everyone is on board with the health benefits of masturbation. The fact that we get to talk about it at all nowadays is an important advancement. Society wasn’t always this open minded about self pleasure but like most events in history it’s tolerance has ebbed and flowed depending on the culture and the time. In some ancient cultures, and even a few more modern ones, masturbation is thought as a natural and normal part of life. There was a fervor against masturbation in the 18th, 19th century and early 20th century when not only was it a religious issue but a medical one. During this time medicine was still nothing much more than a guessing game laden with folk wisdom and very little actual science. Many treatises were written about the perils of masturbation. It was said to lead to a variety of maladies of the mind and body and often thought of as a disease that could have fatal consequences. Even naturally occurring nocturnal emissions were diagnosed as the disease Spermatorrhea. The Victorian era saw a plethora of anti-masturbation and nocturnal emission prevention device patents. Hard to believe these cruel and often painful devices were ever created much less used.

Jaws That Bite, Claws That Catch

Pointed teeth and sharp clamps seemed to be a popular Victorian idea for preventing erections which might lead to ejaculation, or worse yet lure you to touch yourself then lead to ejaculation or orgasm. There were a variety of sheaths that used tiny teeth to wake the wearer in the hopes of stopping any potential night emissions. One of the most popular among anti-masturbation research articles is the Spermatorrhea ring or Jugum Penis. It has a teeth filled trap that went around the penis and was clipped so it was secured at the base. This device was sure to wake you if getting aroused during sleep thus deterring nocturnal emissions and masturbation. Not all painful measures used pointed teeth but other ways to use pain to wake the wearer. The Bowden device was a metal cover that was slipped over the penis and clipped to the pubic hairs. Basically if you became aroused, it ripped out pubic hairs as a sure fire way to wake you. The pain of tearing out pubes would put a damper on that impending erection too.

Sheaths and Trusses

There were a variety of sheaths and trusses given patents in the Victorian Era. Sheaths seemed more of a rarity with trusses, basically male chastity belts, being more common. The goal was to either prevent your member from growing thus preventing the possibility of ejaculation and/or prevent yourself from touching and manipulating said erect penis. One example is a mechanical sheath created by Raphael Sonn in 1906. This tight metal sheath had a close enough fit that removal would cause intense pain or mutilation. It could only be opened with a tiny key. Harvey Stephenson’s Spermatic Truss patented in 1876 was a device that strapped the penis into a pouch that was then strapped to the leg to prevent erection. A later version of this device didn’t strap the penis to the leg but instead provided a spike-lined pouch to deter erections. Cage devices that were even recommended by medical journals may not necessarily have prevented erections but prevented being about to do anything with them. Fitting over the penis the cage would prevent masturbation by preventing the hand from coming into contact with the penis. You could also get a metal covering for the penis and testicles, sort of a steel codpiece worn under clothes, was a way to prevent the wearer from getting aroused or touching themselves. Examples of these metal casings show holes for urination and a bit of air circulation. It looks like they attached to your waistband or may have had a waistband of their own.

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