Masturbation is a natural human behavior that has been practiced for centuries, and it is defined as the act of stimulating one's own genitals for sexual pleasure. The history of masturbation is complex and multifaceted, and it has been subject to various interpretations and cultural attitudes throughout history. In this article, we will explore the history of masturbation, from its earliest recorded instances to the present day, tracing the various attitudes and beliefs that have shaped this practice.
PrehistoryThe earliest recorded evidence of masturbation comes from the cave art of prehistoric humans. These paintings, dating back over 15,000 years, depict humans engaging in sexual activities, including masturbation. While the exact significance of these images is unclear, they suggest that masturbation has been a part of human behavior for a very long time.
Ancient CivilizationsThe ancient civilizations of Greece and Rome were known for their liberal attitudes towards sexuality, including masturbation. The ancient Greeks believed that masturbation was a natural and healthy activity, and they depicted it in their artwork and literature. The Greek philosopher Diogenes is said to have masturbated in public, claiming that it was the only way to satisfy his sexual desires without violating the law.
The Romans also had a positive attitude towards masturbation, although it was more commonly practiced by men than by women. The Roman physician Galen believed that masturbation was necessary for good health and recommended it as a treatment for various ailments.
Religious AttitudesThe rise of Christianity in the Western world brought about a more negative attitude towards masturbation. The Bible does not explicitly mention masturbation, but some Christians interpreted certain passages as condemning the practice. For example, the story of Onan in the book of Genesis was often used to condemn masturbation, although the passage is actually referring to coitus interruptus.
In the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church took a strong stance against masturbation, viewing it as a sinful and immoral act. Masturbation was considered a form of lust, which was one of the seven deadly sins. The Church believed that masturbation was a form of self-abuse that could lead to physical and mental illness, and they advised against it in their writings.
The EnlightenmentThe Enlightenment of the 18th century brought about a more scientific and rational approach to human sexuality, and attitudes towards masturbation began to change. The philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau argued that masturbation was a natural and healthy activity, and he criticized the Church for demonizing it. Other Enlightenment thinkers, such as Voltaire and Montaigne, also wrote positively about masturbation.
MedicalizationIn the 19th century, masturbation became medicalized, and doctors began to view it as a pathological condition. The American physician Samuel-Auguste Tissot published a book in 1760 called "Onanism," in which he claimed that masturbation could lead to physical and mental illness, including blindness, epilepsy, and insanity. Other doctors began to adopt this view, and masturbation was classified as a medical condition that required treatment.
The Victorian EraThe Victorian era of the 19th century was characterized by a strong emphasis on morality and sexual restraint, and masturbation was viewed as a particularly sinful and shameful act. Many Victorian doctors and moralists believed that masturbation could lead to physical and mental degeneration, and they recommended various methods for preventing it, such as circumcision, cauterization, and the use of chastity devices.
Modern AttitudesIn the 20th century, attitudes towards masturbation began to shift once again. The field of psychology began to recognize masturbation as a normal and healthy part of human sexuality, and the medicalization of masturbation began to decline. Today, masturbation is widely accepted as a natural and healthy activity, and it is often recommended as a way to explore one's own sexuality and relieve stress.
The history of masturbation is a complex and fascinating subject that has been shaped by a wide range of cultural, religious, and scientific attitudes. From its earliest recorded instances in prehistory to its medicalization in the 19th century and subsequent acceptance in the 20th and 21st centuries, masturbation has been subject to a variety of interpretations and beliefs. While some societies have viewed masturbation as a natural and healthy activity, others have seen it as a sinful and immoral act that could lead to physical and mental illness. Today, however, most people view masturbation as a normal and healthy part of human sexuality, and it is widely accepted as a way to explore one's own desires and relieve stress. Overall, the history of masturbation reflects the complex and evolving nature of human sexuality, and it serves as a reminder of the many ways in which cultural attitudes shape our understanding of our own bodies and desires.