‘He was young and handsome…his mother’s hope.’
He was young and handsome, his mother’s pride and joy—but he died in torment, blind, sick and paralyzed—at the age of seventeen. If only he’d known the perils of masturbation, then he might have lived a better life.
This, in a nutshell, was the warning to young French men as published in Le livre sans titre (“The Book With No Title”) in 1830. At that time, masturbation was considered by moralists and physicians as a malady which lead to early death.
In 1716, Dr. Balthazar Bekker published a pamphlet on this “heinous sin” of “self-pollution” entitled Onania, which cautioned the reader self-abuse would lead to:
Disturbances of the stomach and digestion, loss of appetite or ravenous hunger, vomiting, nausea, weakening of the organs of breathing, coughing, hoarseness, paralysis, weakening of the organ of generation to the point of impotence, lack of libido, back pain, disorders of the eye and ear, total diminution of bodily powers, paleness, thinness, pimples on the face, decline of intellectual powers, loss of memory, attacks of rage, madness, idiocy, epilepsy, fever and finally suicide.
Yeah, but still…
Then in A Medicinal Dictionary of 1745, Dr. Robert James stated that onanism was responsible for “the most deplorable and generally incurable disorders.”
Another medical book L’Onanisme by physician Samuel-Auguste Tissot claimed semen was an essential body oil—which when wasted through masturbation caused:
....a perceptible reduction of strength, of memory and even of reason; blurred vision, all the nervous disorders, all types of gout and rheumatism, weakening of the organs of generation, blood in the urine, disturbance of the appetite, headaches and a great number of other disorders.
These men weren’t quacks, either—they were highly eminent and respectable scientists working in the Age of Enlightenment. It is hardly surprising that these seemingly informed and scientific views should become so ubiquitous in the 19th century that they could end up as the cautionary tale of Le livre sans titre.
This edition of the book was the find of Jim Edmondson who scanned the pages and posted them on his blog.
‘He became corrupted! Soon his crime makes him old before his time. His back becomes hunched.’
‘A devouring fire burns up his entrails; he suffers from horrible stomach pains.’
‘See his eyes once so pure, so brilliant: their gleam is gone! A band of fire surrounds them.’
‘He can no longer walk; his legs give way.’
‘Dreadful dreams disturb his rest; he cannot sleep.’
‘His teeth become rotten and fall out.’
‘His chest is burning up. He coughs up blood…’
‘His hair once so beautiful is falling out like an old man’s; early in life he is becoming bald.’
‘He is hungry and wants to eat; no food will stay in his stomach.’
‘His chest is buckling. He vomits blood.’
‘His entire body is covered with pustules, he is a horrible sight!’
‘A slow fever consumes him. He languishes; his entire body is burning up.’
‘His body is becoming completely stiff! His limbs stop moving.’
‘He raves; he stiffens in anticipation of coming death.’
‘At the age of 17, he expires in horrible torments.’
H/T Dittrick Museum, Krupskaya and Morbid Anatomy.