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The ancients were nearly silent on the subject. Galen said that masturbation was a method of simply getting rid of excess sperm. In Jewish law, spilling seminal fluid was much debated by the rabbis. The only reference in the Bible that could relate specifically to masturbation does not. Christianity has sometimes used Onan's crime as an injunction against masturbation, although the wiser commentators note that masturbation was not Onan's violation (coitus interruptus, and thereby refraining from being fruitful and multiplying, was). Early Christian teaching was that masturbation was nonreproductive, and was thus to be avoided, but it was not a big source of worry. But then John Marten produced his masterwork; his authorship is revealed here for the first time. Marten was a quack who had written on venereal disease and had been clapped in irons for such an obscenity. In 1712, he published _Onania; or, The Heinous Sin of Self Pollution and all its Frightful Consequences_, and masturbation was never to be the same. Marten's book was a big advertisement for Marten's potions, which would cure the horrid vice. Marten's new anxiety filled a need, which Laqueur shows was due to the philosophy of the enlightenment. It was not until well into the twentieth century that physicians stopped blaming masturbation for all sorts of illness, and now it is advocated as part of self-discovery. The famous sex shop Good Vibrations declares every May to be National Masturbation Month, and the poster last year had the slogan, "Think Globally, Masturbate Locally."
Those who want warnings on the evils of the practice can still find many religious leaders who will oblige them. Laqueur closes this comprehensive study, which is academic but entertaining, with the incident of Joycelyn Elders, who was surgeon general until 1995, when she answered a reporter's question saying that sex education should include teaching about masturbation. In the minds of some moral persons, this seemed equivalent to teaching techniques of masturbation. She had not previously pleased them with her outspoken views on AIDS or pre-marital sex, but she used the M word, causing a rift with that moral beacon, President Clinton, who said that her view of the benefits of masturbation reflected "differences with administration policy." While it amused many that there was an administration policy on masturbation, Elders was out, and the two century legacy of quack John Marten continued.
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