Wears the Soap?

No, I haven’t failed to spellcheck – it’s an old joke

I’m an RSS subscriber to Retronaut, which if you haven’t come across it already, is a wonderful depository for old photos of all kinds. I recommend it heartily, even if sometimes there are a lack of references for those of us interested enough to find out more. A recent update included some bizarre images of supposed devices designed to curb masturbation, like this one;

No, it’s not part of a steampunk Gonzo costume…

Like the sole commenter at time of writing, I was rather sceptical that these were genuine, and if they were, that strapping them to people was really a ‘thing’ that was done with any regularity. They remind me of the spurious torture implements that were either made up entirely or fancifully replicated in order to titillate and shock Victorian sensibilities (a post on that subject coming up when I can find time to write it).

However, these pics also came from the V&A and Wellcome Trust, both august and scholarly heritage institutions, which gave me pause for thought. I also found more contextual images on the Wellcome’s website, showing people actually wearing the devices, and with original captions describing them as ‘counter-onanism’ contraptions. So I thought I’d dig deeper, and found the amusingly-titled ‘Masturbation: The History of a Great Terror’ by Jean Stengers and Anne Van Neck. This makes clear that such devices were widely known about at the time, and that there was even something of a medical controversy about them – some doctors advocating their use, others decrying it. So whilst you might not have been clapped straight into one of these the first time you were caught choking the proverbial chicken (or for that matter, polishing the bean), this does indeed seem to have been a real practice. The above-linked source also details the other methods used to prevent masturbation, and explains the general attitude that it was somehow a harmful practice. Of course, we still don’t quite know the scale of usage of these devices, and it seems likely that only the most well-off parents would consider purchasing them.

We’ve come a long way since then. But then again, we still eat Cornflakes

(More about this chap at my link above and at Cracked.com)