“Family Values:” Part 2–MasturbationDecember 27, 2010
“We must all hang together or most assuredly we will all hang separately.” Benjamin Franklin
We are all in this together. Friends and foes, we are all sexual beings; we all are far more alike in our needs than we are different. Despite the common humanity of our sexuality, our fight for human sexual rights faces a long entrenched opposition. Reactionary forces aligned against individual human rights are most assuredly aligned against us all–even when we cannot imagine how life could be different. Surely, something like what happened in Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” could happen in your country and in fact has happened in Iran and other countries where theocracies have taken hold. But a more likely scenario is simple foot-dragging and obstructionism in the name of some greater good–perhaps true religion, tradition, fiscal responsibility or the current modern favorite in the West–family values. Who could be against the family?
In the first part of this series we took a look at how selective is the memory of those who use the “family values” slogan. They have forgotten, for example, how recently the “family values” people were aligned against no-fault divorce. The irony is that Nelson Rockefeller, a liberal candidate for U.S. President in 1964 was unable to win office due to his having had a divorce in his past while in 1981 our most conservative modern president, Ronald Reagan took office despite not only having had a divorce but having signed, as the governor of California, the first no-fault divorce law in the U.S. (New York, in August of 2010, was the last state in the U.S. to get no-fault divorce). Although some “family values” advocates do want to get rid of no-fault divorce no one advocates a return to the laws of former years.
Censorship, homosexuality, sex outside of marriage (adultery and fornication) and masturbation–all of these have earned the attention of the family values crowd. But would any of them want to go back to what life was really like before when all the “decency laws” were in effect? Probably not. Consider masturbation. When you finish, please continue reading.
Beginning in the 18th century masturbation became associated with sin and vice, particularly the “heinous sin” of “self-pollution.” Those who so indulged “would suffer impotence, gonorrhea, epilepsy and a wasting of the faculties.” Medicines (for a price of course) were available. Devices like the one at left were also available and prevented masturbation by “inflicting electric shocks upon the perpetrator, by ringing an alarm bell, and through spikes at the inner edge of the tube into which the penis is inserted.” Intelligent men like Kant and Voltaire bought into the idea that masturbation was “a debilitating illness.”
The Victorian Era and its social conservatism continued to oppose masturbation. From Wikipedia,
“There were recommendations…for schoolchildren to be seated at special desks to prevent their crossing their legs in class and for girls to be forbidden from riding horses and bicycles because the sensations these activities produce were considered too similar to masturbation. Boys and young men who nevertheless continued to indulge in the practice were branded as “weak-minded.” Many “remedies” were devised, including eating a bland, meatless diet. This approach was promoted by Dr. John Harvey Kellogg (inventor of corn flakes) and Rev. Sylvester Graham (inventor of Graham crackers). The medical literature of the times describes procedures for electric shock treatment, restraining devices like chastity belts and straitjackets, cauterization or – as a last resort – wholesale surgical excision of the genitals. In later decades, the more drastic of these measures were increasingly replaced with psychological techniques, such as warnings that masturbation led to blindness, hairy hands or stunted growth. Some of these persist as myths even today.”
Yes they do. The best scientific and philosophic minds of the age bought into this nonsense. The best religious practices and atheists did not speak out in protest. Sometimes we just need to listen to the truth our bodies are telling us. Go eat some Graham crackers and then, come reason with us.
Tags: "The Handmaid's Tale", adultery, balkanization of human sexual rights, Benjamin Franklin, Censorship, family values, fornication, futurist, Graham crackers, homosexuality, Kellog, Margaret Atwood, masturbation, Nelson Rockefeller, Ronald Reagan, sex education, sexual repression, sexual rights, talking about sex