Solitary Sex

The world gears up for war, and I am reading about masturbation…

(Via Arts and Letters) I enjoyed two reviews of Solitary Sex, the new book by the Berkeley historian Thomas Laqueur, here and here. I look forward to getting a copy of the book when it appears in UK bookshops.

Both reviews place a great deal of emphasis on the emerging ideologies of anti-masturbation which developed in eighteenth-century England, with the 1712 publication of Onania; or, The Heinous Sin of Self-Pollution and all its Frightful Consequences in both SEXES given pride of place. And these discussions reminded me, not for the first time this week, of one of the most intriguing eighteenth-century anti-masturbation essays: Jeremy Bentham on “Offences Against One’s Self” from around 1785.

It’s an intriguing piece, since the bulk of Bentham’s essay is given over to a slashing attack on Britain’s sex laws (which proscribed death for gay sex, etc.), up to and including the laws against bestiality (“Accidents of this sort will sometimes happen; for distress will force a man upon strange expedients”), much of which is splendidly humane.

But Bentham then turns to masturbation, concerning which he writes that “Of all irregularities of the venereal appetite, that which is the most incontestably pernicious is one which no legislator seems ever to have made an attempt to punish…” He doesn’t recommend legislation — since it “can always be committed without any danger or at least without any apparent danger of a discovery” — but he does disapprove…

Read the whole thing. It’s good stuff.

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