The Daily Agenda for Tuesday, October 16
October 16th, 2012
TODAY IN HISTORY:
Excessive Masturbation May Cause A Change of Sex: 1725. The West’s preoccupation with the dangers of masturbation, historically, is tied intrinsically with the broader preoccupation with non-procreative sex generally. But masturbation was seen as particularly dangerous because it was believed to be responsible for an individual’s moral, mental and physical collapse. (See Sep 4 for the reasons masturbation was believed to be so dangerous.)
In the early 1700s, an unknown London doctor and clergyman wrote an important book which brought all of those beliefs together in one place, and it became, for several future generations, the primary source for information about all of the moral, physical and mental dangers that masturbation posed. Titled, Onania; or, the Heinous SIN of Self-Pollution, and All its Frightful Confequences, in both SEXES, Confider’d. With Spiritual and Phyfical Advice to Thofe, who have already injur’d themfelves by this abominable Practice. And feafonable Admonition to the Youth of the Nation, (of both SEXES) and thofe whofe Tuition they are under, whether Parents, Guardians, Mafters, or Miftreffes, the book went through several editions. Each successive printing expanded from the previous with the inclusion of letters from readers and responses from the quack doctor. The added supplemental material had the effect of firehosing any objections which may have arisen in the meantime. The ninth edition, published in 1722, closed with the author’s statement that there would be no further additions made to future printings, but in 1725, he added a letter from a young lady, dated October 16, 1726, in which she describes herself practicing masturbation with herself and another lady friend:
Just as this supplement, was as ’twere printed off, the following letter from a young Lady, was left for me at the booksellers, which, for the particularity of the case, and ingenuity of the writer, I thought I could do no less than make room for.
To the commendable Author of the ONANIA, Oct. 16, 1725,
This Letter comes from a young female creature, but an old transgressor of the practice of that filthy pleasure which you have so justly exploded and condemned, in your ingenious book Onania, which I happily met with about 10 days ago: but in all the cases therein enumerated, there is not one that is parallel to mine, which as my welfare requires it, I must be obliged to relate, and is what I question, Sir, whether you have ever once met with: nor could I tell it, though at the same time I bless the opportunity, but that I am sure you no more know the writer of it, nor ever will, than I know the author of Onania, or desire it.
I began, sir, the folly at 11 years of age, was taught it by my mother’s chambermaid, who lay with me from that time all along until now, which is full seven years, and so intimate were we in the sin, that we took the opportunities of committing it, and invented all the ways we were capable of to heighten the titillation, and gratify our sinful lusts the more. We, in short, pleasured one another, as well as ourselves, but whether by the hard usage of my parts by her, or myself, or both, or whether from any thing in nature more in my make, than is customary to the sex, I don’t know, but for above half a year past I have had a swelling that thrusts out from my body [here, she describes her clitoris — JB], as big, and almost as hard, and as long or longer than my thumb, which inclines me to excessive lustful desires, and from it there issues a moisture or slipperiness to that degree that I am almost continually wet, and sometimes have such a forcing, as if something of a large substance was coming from me, which greatly frightens both me and my maid. She went to a midwife about it, but did not, she says, tell her of our practice; the midwife said it was a bearing down of the womb, by weakness, and told her what I should do, which I did, but to no purpose. Ever since I have been so, I have not had the course of nature [menstruation], have great pain in my back, and my belly is swelled, am not near so strong as I was, my countenance much paler, and appetite less. It has almost distracted me, and unfits me for my learning, and am afraid I am so hurt, as that it cannot be remedied.
O! that I should be so wicked, I, who have had a much nobler education (and should know better) than is common to most of my sex; that am versed in the classics, and designed by my friends, who are very rich, for something above the common station of my sex; I say, that I should so filthily debase myself, wrong my body, and, which is worse, my soul, is surprising even to myself. Had I read more the Bible, and less in Martial, Juvenal, Ovid, &c it had been better form, but those books Rochester [a famous sexual libertine], and Plays, at first debauched my silly fancy. But I hope, as now, both myself and maid have, on consulting your curious discourse of Self-Pollution, abandon’d the practice, and resolved, through God’s Grace, to commit it no more, we shall find pardon, and my infirm body, from your hands, good sir, relief. She ails nothing, is a strong wench of twenty-seven, myself of a tender make, and naturally inclined to be weakly, and but just turned of eighteen. I have with this, sent you a guinea fee, and desire your cordial advice, what I had best to do, and your opinion of my case, sealed up safe, directed to Mrs E.N. and I will send for it tomorrow morning, at the bookseller’s where this is left; and, sir, I must needs desire you to send me this letter back, that I may have the satisfaction of committing it to the flames myself. According to your answer, you shall hear further from,
Your ever obliged, and
Most obedient humble Servant,
NOT, sir, but you may copy my letter first, and if you think worthwhile, to print it also in your next edition, as a caution to others; but would not that my hand be seen by any besides your self, the circumstances of the relation, so as not to be know ’tis me, I have taken care of and guarded against.
The un-named author and “doctor” responded with the warning that the if she persisted in these “unnatural practices,” she may experience an unwanted change of sex.
THIS young lady’s case, though the height of her lust, and force and frequency of abusing herself, and probably the unnatural proponderance of the part, is no more, according to the account she gives, than a relaxation of the Clitoris, a thing common to many of the sex, both in the single and married, who are vigorous and lustful, and have given up themselves to the practice of Self-Pollution for any time. In some women it extends itself, and is enlarged when inflated to the exact likeness and size of a human Penis erect, except that it has no perforation (though it really looks, by the natural impression at the end, as if there was a passage) nor is altogether so long, but yet it erects and falls as that does, in proportion to the venereal desire or inclination of the woman. I have had in my time one or two under this circumstance, by the same practice, for cure, who upon their living afterwards chaste, and using some astringent foments, and a few internals, to regulate the inordinate and enraged venereal desires, have been brought to rights, and the parts restored to their pristine, natural state and condition. It was the like case of this lady’s, that gave rise to the report of two Nuns at Rome, having changed their sex, and which had made such a noise in that city, that the Pope, upon hearing of it, gave orders for their being inspected by some cardinals. Dr Carr, in his medicinal epistles, translated by Dr Quincy, has in his answer to a letter sent him by a divine, upon the subject of it, wrote his opinion at large, which as it may confirm mine, in relation to the aforesaid lady’s case, and be of some use both to practitioners and patients, I shall not think much to transcribe it, and give it to the reader, verbatim. It is his 6th Epistle, entitled, Concerning two nuns reported to have changed their sex.
Oscar Wilde: 1854. His wit and flamboyance, tinged as it was with an undercurrent of rebellion, made him one of the most popular celebrities of his day. His three comedies of society, written between 1892 and 1895, lampooned Victorian values and enjoyed tremendous success in the London theater. But that just prepared the ground for his masterpiece, 1894’s The Importance of Being Earnest, and that made Wilde a superstar. That acclaim, combined with his embrace of aestheticism, belief that the pursuit of beauty was a virtue in itself, placed him at the forefront of London’s high fashion, a rare position for a man to take. He was a flashy dresser and he entertained lavishly. “I find it harder and harder every day to live up to my blue china,” he once quipped. The life he lived, however, was not seen as manly, and his high profile meant that he quickly became an easy target for those who saw him as a dangerous threat to Britain’s moral bearing. Just a few days after Earnest’s premiere, a series of events began which would ultimately see Wilde tried for sodomy and gross indecency. His first criminal trial, which quickly became regarded as the trial of the century, is famous for the question that was put to him, a question that was on everyone’s mind:
Prosecutor: What is “the love that dare not speak its name?”
Wilde: “The love that dare not speak its name” in this century is such a great affection of an elder for a younger man as there was between David and Jonathan, such as Plato made the very basis of his philosophy, and such as you find in the sonnets of Michelangelo and Shakespeare. It is that deep spiritual affection that is as pure as it is perfect. It dictates and pervades great works of art, like those of Shakespeare and Michelangelo, and those two letters of mine, such as they are. It is in this century misunderstood, so much misunderstood that it may be described as “the love that dare not speak its name,” and on that account of it I am placed where I am now. It is beautiful, it is fine, it is the noblest form of affection. There is nothing unnatural about it. It is intellectual, and it repeatedly exists between an older and a younger man, when the older man has intellect, and the younger man has all the joy, hope and glamour of life before him. That it should be so, the world does not understand. The world mocks at it, and sometimes puts one in the pillory for it.
That case ended in a mistrial, but a second trial a month later saw him convicted of gross indecency and sentenced to two years’ hard labor. Wilde’s health declined sharply during the term. He collapsed from illness and hunger at one point, and suffered a rupture in his right ear drum during another mishap that would later contribute to his early death. When he was released in 1897, he was broken, both financially and physically. He moved to the continent, where he wandered during the last three years of his life. He spent the last months of his life in a run-down hotel in Paris. “My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death,” he told an acquaintance. “One of us has got to go.” Not long after, he developed cerebral meningitis and died in November 30, 1900. He was only 46 years old.
Bob Mould: 1960. He was the guitarist, vocalist and songwriter for the 1980s band Hüsker Dü, and for Sugar in the 1990s. Beginning in the late 1990s, Mould detoured from heavy sounds of his earlier work to dance music and electronica. Lately he has been performing as a live DJ in Washington, D.C., and other events around the country under the name, “Blowoff.” His homosexuality was always something of an open secret, but the secrecy was dropped in 1994 when he outed himself in Spin after the magazine’s reporter threatened to out him. His memoir, See a Little Light: The Trail of Rage and Melody, was released in 2011.
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