Telling Lies in 1712
Publication of the First Influential Anti-Masturbation Tract
When an anonymous doctor released Onania; or, The Heinous Sin of Self Pollution, and all its Frightful Consequences, circa 1712, the war on masturbation officially began… The text warned against the dangers of defining your own body and offered a series of cures (that could be purchased).
According to historian Thomas Laqueur’s Solitary Sex, one can trace much of hysteria and misinformation surrounding masturbation to this first work of fiction masquerading as medicine.
Sinful Inventions in the Early 1900s
Corn Flakes, Graham Crackers, and Other Anti-Masturbatory Devices
The late 1800s to the early 1900s were dark days for masturbation. During this time both Corn Flakes and Graham Crackers were developed in an effort to curb masturbatory impulses in young boys (which were seen as leading to poor health, mental illness, and all manner of evil).
Between 1856 and 1932 the U.S. Patent Office approved 33 patents for “anti-masturbation” devices. These torture devices developed by physicians and moralistic inventors alike ranged from spiked rings to male chastity belts to electrifying devices that would be sufficient for “burning the flesh” causing “great physical pain, and possible mutilation”.
Reporting the Facts in the 1940s & 1950s
The Kinsey Reports
Alfred Kinsey’s revolutionary studies of human sexual behavior (Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, 1948; Sexual Behavior in the Human Female, 1953) forever transformed the way sexuality and masturbation were discussed in popular culture.
Masturbation was found to be a widespread, and likely the most prevalent, sexual behavior on the planet, leading to the famous joke that 98 percent of individuals masturbate and the remaining 2% are liars.
Breaking Free in 1974
Betty Dodson Publishes Liberating Masturbation
This book, later extended and published as Sex for One, was probably the first, and probably the clearest, call to action for women to masturbate. Masturbation, or giving oneself pleasure totally on your own terms, is a radical act for women, but it is also an act of deep love, according to Dodson, and it has the potential to revolutionize women’s lives.
Her writings, which are equally compelling and relevant for both men and women, have accomplished this. Dodson continues to be one of our biggest advocates and activists for the values of self-love through her BodySex seminars, videos, books, and speaking engagements.
Selling Sex Sweetly in 1977
Joani Blank opens Good Vibrations
Joani Blank was irritated in 1977 because as she couldn’t find a place in the San Francisco Bay region where she could sell sex toys or books about sex and feel safe about it. She had already written two sex education books and was seeking a location to distribute them. She decided to create Good Vibrations as an alternative to the standard adult bookshop. For sex education and activism shopping, Good Vibrations set the bar high.
Selling sex toys was not just a pleasant way to make money, but also a political act that might encourage healthy sexuality (and in particular, normalize masturbation). Good Vibrations have inspired dozens of sex shops across North America to adopt the credo of the “clean, well-lit sex shop,” where customers won’t be embarrassed to discuss masturbation or sexual pleasure, and may even be encouraged to explore the benefits of solo and couple sex.
Speaking the Truth in 1994
Surgeon General Dr. Jocelyn Elder Fired for Comments on Masturbation
In December of 1994, then Surgeon General Jocelyn Elder answered a question at a World AIDS Day event in New York City. The question was about the possibility of masturbation being included in comprehensive sex education in schools.
As quoted in White House transcripts, Dr. Elder replied, “I think that is something that is a part of human sexuality and it’s a part of something that perhaps should be taught.” While she was not advocating for the explicit teaching of masturbation techniques, she was correctly recognizing that masturbation is a part of sexuality and, as such, should be included in a comprehensive sexual health curriculum. She went on to explain that day, “But we haven’t even taught our kids the fundamentals. And I believe we have experimented with ignorance for a long time, and now it is time to experiment with education.”
She was swiftly sacked by then-president Bill Clinton for her boldness and strength of character in saying what was correct and needed to be stated.
Making a Month of it in 1995
National Masturbation Month is Proclaimed in May
In 1995, in response to Surgeon General Jocelyn Elder’s termination for her comments about masturbation, Good Vibrations teamed up with like-minded sex-positive sex retailers to create Masturbation Month, a month dedicated to celebrating the most prevalent and still often ridiculed sexual practice on the world. The month usually culminates in the Masturbate-a-Thon, a fundraising event in which participants solicit contributions (in dollars per minute) and attempt to masturbate for as long as they possibly can on a given day.
Participating stores (primarily Good Vibrations, Babeland, and Come As You Are) have raised tens of thousands of dollars for sexual health organizations across North America.
For several years, the Center for Sex and Culture has hosted an annual online Masturbation-A-Thon. While some may see Masturbation Month as just another commercial exploitation, the upshot of all the commercialism is greater mainstream media coverage of masturbation, which should help to increase acceptability.
One-Handed History in 2003
Publication of Solitary Sex: A Cultural History of Masturbation Historian, and author of the seminal Making Sex: Body and Gender from the Greeks to Freud, Thomas Laqueur published his long-awaited research on the cultural history of masturbation in 2003.
While it was received with the predictable giggles from the mainstream media and some raised eyebrows from academia, the work is exhaustive and compelling. While the book is about much more than just masturbation, it is an important moment in masturbation history as it elevates the subject matter to “legitimate” through its seriousness and academic rigor.
Today, having a sex toy is the norm. Most women own at least one or two ‘personal massagers’. Among the most preferred options are magic wand vibrators, mini bullets and dual-stimulation rabbit vibes.
- American Sex Machines: The Hidden History of Sex at the U.S. Patent Office, Hoag Levins, 1996.
- Solitary Sex: A Cultural History of Masturbation, Thomas Laqueur, 2003.