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Masturbation and Insanity: Henry Maudsley and the Ideology of Sexual Repression

  • Arthur N. Gilbert
Extract

Throughout the nineteenth century, auto-eroticism was viewed as a great evil, a threat to the individual and to society. At one time or another, nearly every disease which nineteenth-century doctors could not cure was blamed on self-abuse. Summing up the relationship between masturbation and illness, French doctor Eugene Beckland wrote in 1842, “Many physicians of high authority have maintained that two-thirds of the diseases to which the human race is liable have had their origins in certain solitary practices ….” As to the impact of masturbation on society, Dr. Révéillé Parisé observed in 1828,

In my opinion, neither plague, nor war, nor small pox, nor similar diseases, have produced results so disastrous to humanity as the pernicous habit of onanism. It is the destroying element of civilized societies, which is constantly in action and gradually undermines the health of a nation.

Since 1953, when René Spitz published his important article on the subject, a number of scholars have tried to explain the intense concern with masturbation in the nineteenth century. Spitz argued that the heightened interest in self-abuse reflected the shift to Protestant culture with its emphasis on individual responsibility for sin. More recently, John and Robin Haller used similar arguments to explain it. Other writers such as E. H. Hare and Edward Shorter have argued that one reason why fear of masturbation increased was that people began indulging in the solitary vice to a greater extent than ever before. Men and women were masturbating more—and if they read medical journals on the subject—enjoying it less. Hare speculated that this was because of fear of venereal disease caused by intercourse, a great concern in the nineteenth century. Masturbation was safer. Shorter, who saw masturbation as part of a general increase in sexual appetite, asserted that it was “unlikely that masturbation … was practiced on a wide scale before the premarital sexual revolution.” It is not likely that historians will uncover reliable data on incidence of self-abuse to prove or disprove this hypothesis.

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1 Beckland, Eugene M.D.Physiological Mysteries and Revelations in Love, Courtship and Marriage (New York, 1842), p. 97.

2 Quoted in Deslandes, Leopold M.D.A Treatise on the Diseases Produced by Onanism, Masturbation, and Self Pollution and Other Excesses (Boston, 1839), p. 8. The same quotation is in Kellogg, John Harvey M.D., Plain Facts for the Old and Young: Embracing the Natural History and Hygiene of Organic Life (Burlington, Iowa, 1888), and attributed to Dr. Adam Clarke.

3 Spitz, René A., “Authority and Masturbation,” Yearbook of Psychoanalysis (1953); p. 118.

4 John, and Haller, Robin, The Physician and Sexuality in Victorian America (Urbana Illlinois, 1974), p. 234.

5 Hare, E.H., “Masturbational Insanity: The History of an Idea,” The Journal of Mental Science, 108 (1962): 125, and Shorter, Edward, The Making of the Modern Family (New York, 1975).

6 Shorter, , The Modern Family, p. 299.

7 Hare, , “Masturbational Insanity,” p. 16.

8 Gilbert, Arthur N., “Doctor, Patient, and Onanist Diseases in the Nineteenth Century,” Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences, 20 (July, 1975): 217254.

9 Cominos, Peter, “Late Victorian Sexual Responsibility and the Social System,” International Review of Social History, 8 (1963): p. 223.

10 Kern, Stephen, “Explosive Intimacy: Psychodymanics o f the Victorian Family,” History of Childhood Quarterly, 1 (Winter, 1974): p. 452.

11 Neuman, R.P., “Masturbation, Madness, and Modern Concepts of Childhood and Adolescence,” Journal of Social History, 8 (Spring, 1975): 7.

12 Seee Savage's, G. H. obituary on Maudsley, Journal of Mental Science, 64 (April, 1918): 117–23. Other information on Maudsley's, life can be found in The Times obituary (January 25, 1918); Who Was Who, (1916-1928); Munk, William, Lives of the Fellows of the Royal College of Physicians, 1826-1925, Vol. 4, compiled by G. H. Brown, 4 vols. (London, 1955), p. 172; Mott, F. W., “FRS Maudsley's Obituary,” British Medical Journal (February 2, 1918): p. 161162; Annual Register (1918) p. 162; and Lancet, 1 (1918): 193194.

13 Savage, , Journal of Mental Science, p. 118.

14 Ibid, p. 124.

15 Maudsley, , “The Correlations of Mental and Physical Force; or Man a Part of Nature.” Journal of Mental Science, 6 (October, 1859): 59.

16 Ibid, p. 60.

17 Maudsley, , “Edgar Allan Poe,” Journal of Men tal Science, 6 (October, 1859): p. 366.

18 Savage, , Journal of Mental Science, p. 119.

19 Ibid, and Mott, , British Medical Journal, p. 161.

20 Maudsley, , The Pathology of Mind (New York, 1880), p. 459.

21 Acton, William, The Functions and Disorders of the Reproductive Organs in Childhood, Youth, Adult Age and Advanced Age (Philadelphia, 1865), p. 57.

22 On Bemiss tee Napheys, George H. M.D., The Transmission of Life Counsels On the Nature and Hygiene of the Masculine Function (Philadelphia, 1872), p. 92; Holick, Frederick, The Male Generative Organs In Health and Disease from Infancy to Old Age (New York, 1849), p. 347.

23 For example, see Howe, S. G., On the Causes of Idiocy (reprinted, New York, 1972),

24 The Journal of Mental Science, 35 (1888): p. 162.

25 Ibid.

26 Ibid.

27 Ibid.

28 Maudsley, , The Pathology of Mind, p. 100.

29 Maudsley, , Responsibility in Mental Disease (New York, 1900) p. 21.

30 Maudsley, , Th Pathology of Mind, pp. 130131.

31 Ibid, p. 46.

32 Maudsley, , “Delusions,” Journalof Mental Science, 9 (1863): 21.

33 Maudsley, , The Pathology of Mind, pp. 23, 298, 345.

34 Maudsley, , “Edgar Alkn Poe,” Journal of Mental Science, 6 (18591860): 356.

35 Ibid, p. 344.

36 Maudsley, , “Emanuel Swedenborg,” Journal of Mental Science, 15 (1869): p. 185.

37 Maudsley, , “On Love of Life,” Journal of Mental Science, 7 (1860): 208.

38 Maudsley, , The Pathology of Mind, p. 243.

39 Maudsley, , “Insanity and Its Treatment,” Address at the Annual General Meeting of the Medico-Psychological Association, 3 August, 1871, Royal College of Physicians, in Journal of Mental Science, 17 (1871): p. 319.

40 Maudsley, , “On Some of the Causes of Insanity,” Journal of Mental Science, 12 (1867): p. 495.

41 Maudsley, , The Pathology of Mind, pp. 452–53.

42 See Maudsley's unflattering discussion of Simon Stylites in Delusions,” Journal of Mental Science, p. 18.

43 Quoted in Marcus, Steven, The Other Victorians (New York, 1964), p. 20. Acton, however did stress evils other than the solitary nature of the act. He showed far greater concern with the impact of masturbation on children than did Maudsley. He also stressed that masturbation ruined men for sexual activity in marriage and most importantly, referred to the physical dangers of spending sperm in a profligate manner. Acton's work gives credence to many of the current theories about masturbation phobia in the nineteenth century. At the very least, this study of Maudsley shows that an in-depth analysis of many writers on onanism is necessary before any final conclusion on fear of self abuse can be reached.

44 Jackson, James, The Sexual Organism and its Healthful Management (Boston, 1862), p. 60.

45 Rosenberg, Charles, “Sexuality, Class and Role in 19th Century America,” American Quarterly, 25 (May, 1973): 152.

46 Hare, , “Masturbational Insanity,” p. 12.

47 Douglas, Mary, Natural Symbols: Explanations in Cosmology (New York, 1970), p. 70.

48 Altick, Richard, Victorian People and Ideas (New York, 1973), p. 77.

49 Houghton, Walter E., The Victorian Frame of Mind, 18301870 (New Haven, 1957), pp. 1, 77.

50 Carlyle, Thomas, Past and Present (New York, 1927), p. 296; and Maudsley, , “Emanuel Swedenborg,” Journal of Mental Science, p. 186.

51 Gruber, Howard E., Darwin on Man: A Psychological Study of Scientific Creativity (New York, 1964), p. 54.

52 On Huxley's pessimism see Irvine, WilliamApes, Angels, and Victorians (New York, 1955), p. 425.

53 Huxley, T. H., Evolution and Ethics and Other Essays, (New York, 1903), p. 83.

54 Maudsley, , “Delusions,” Journal of Mental Science, p. 22.

55 See Andreski, Stanislaw, ed., Herbert Spencer: Structure, Function, and Evolution (London, 1971), and Carniero, Robert L., Herbert Spencer: The Evolution of Society (Chicago, 1967).

56 Spencer, Herbert, “A Theory of Population Deduced from the General Law of Animal fertility,” The Westminister Review, n.s. 1 (1852): pp. 485–86.

57 Himmelfarb, Gertrude, Victorian Minds (New York, 1968), p. 309.

58 Maudsley, , “Delusions,” Journal of Mental Science, p. 23.

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