I confess here,
openly, and as an act of atonement: Yes, Ive masturbated
several times too!
This confession of a contemptible crime, this repeat offence, would
have cost me my life under the Spanish Inquisition, would have merited
prison in the 18th century, a flogging and corporal punishment in the
19th, and contempt and severe disapproval not so long ago. Today it
leaves some people indifferent, while it offends those who still dont
know what to think about it.
Ben Johnson confessed to doping himself, de Quincey admitted to taking
opium and Gautier to smoking hashish. I confess to masturbation, a solitary
crime if ever there was one, whose roots emerge from the divine precepts
of the Bible; a crime that was reborn from its ashes in the Dark
Ages of the 18th century, not Rousseaus century but Tissots,
a fellow citizen from Geneva, who clumsily preached war on sex.
In 1758, with the publication of his treatise On Onanism or The Ills
Produced by Masturbation, Tissot inaugurated two hundred years of obscurantism
by proclaiming sexual repression, repression of dawning impulses and
sexual guilt in what is the most imaginative, the most natural,
the most necessary sexual act: masturbation. Over time, his discourse
has become part of our morality. It still permeates language and popular
thought today. It is still alive at the very centre of our uncertainties,
it feeds the guilt of men, women and couples who believe secretly, in
their innermost hearts, that what is good is bad.
Although it is the most frequent act of our sexuality, masturbation
remains the most intimate taboo of western sexual morality. Morals have
changed. Sex is shown on television. One can talk about rape, incest
or transexuality, for it doesnt relate to most of us directly.
Ive never raped, Ill never be incestuous, Im not about
to change my sex, while
This formidable crusade, led by an army of naïve persecutors, was
in reality motivated, justified and even legitimatized by a very deep
fear of the end of the world, and the total destruction of humanity,
when faced by that distressing revelation: sperm is alive, it contains
human beings, beware of genocide!
But if a vengeful sadism threw this criminal anathema at the whole world,
nobody has yet dared to say that the prohibition has been lifted; that
is, not until today with In Praise of Masturbation.
Just for Sex
As one can say something is done ‘just for fun’, I think one can use the phrase ‘just for sex’ in the same manner. Almost by chance, a crime was committed in the 18th century, in the Vaud district of Switzerland. This ‘sex crime’ happened in the melting pot of Europe on the banks of Lake Geneva where both Rousseau, a citizen of Geneva and Voltaire, from the hills of Ferney, excelled.
This idea of doing something just for sex first came about
in 1758 with the publication in Lausanne of a very serious book, written
in Latin by Samuel Tissot, Testamen de Morbis ex Manustupratione (A
physical dissertation on the ills produced by masturbation), which
was published almost privately following on from one of his most famous
texts, his Dissertation on Bilious Fevers.
As with many others at the time, that publication could have been nothing
more than anecdotal. But it did however wake up the old demons of the
Inquisition and witch hunts, and it influenced attitudes and sexual
morality, lasting right up until the beginning of the 20th century.
That symbolic book, which would continue to be re-published, provoked
the biggest outbreak of sexual repression known to Europe, and one which
still endures today.
Samuel Auguste David André Tissot, who always wrote his name
preceded by the two initials S.A. (Samuel André), was born in
Grancy in the Vaud district on March 20th 1728, to a very religious
family. His uncle, who cared for him during his childhood, was a pastor.
He succeeded brilliantly at school in Geneva, then studied medicine
at Montpellier, the oldest and most reputable faculty of the day. A
doctor by the year 1749, Tissot returned to settle in Lausanne, where
he rapidly gained a reputation throughout Europe for his therapeutic
skills, notably in his treatment of smallpox which he cured with
remedies termed laxatives at a time when sweating alone
was recommended a counter-therapy which made him very famous.
At the same time, Tissot published numerous books which caused a considerable
stir because, for the first time, a doctor was writing for the people
and was expressing his knowledge through popular language. His Advice
to the People with Regard to their Health, published in 1761 and translated
into ten languages, brought him the praise of his fellow doctors. Lausanne
made him a burgher and a member of the Council. Berne and Geneva awarded
him numerous honours. The Royal Society in London made him one of its
members. In 1786, the King of Poland offered him the title of First
Doctor, a title he also received the following year from the King