Masturbation’s bad rap can be dated with surprising accuracy. Around 1712, a short, anonymous pamphlet called Onania began to circulate around the 2,000-odd coffee houses of London, published by the private press of one P. Varenne. Little did anyone know it would become history’s most successful advertorial. The pamphlet made the sensational claim that masturbation was responsible for a whole range of illnesses — from headaches to rheumatism, short-sightedness, bowel disorders, and gonorrhea — and that, left unrestrained, the habit would inevitably lead to a lonely and agonizing death. Up until this time, the world had been blissfully indifferent to the health risks of self-pleasuring; the habit elicited a few tut-tuts from the Church, but it was considered an insignificant and harmless vice. In fact, doctors since the Roman Galen had argued that the retention of sperm by males was physically dangerous and that females could also avoid hysteria and… More…