Elof Axel Carlson | “Self Pollution and Declining Health” | The Unfit: A History of a Bad Idea | 2001

1. Who are the unfit? Positive vs. negative eugenics. Positive eugenics – Francis Galton – termed, 1883, in England. Change through moral suasion. Positive eugenics in Great Britain, not in the U.S. U.S. had negative eugenics. Negative eugenics popular in United States, Germany, Scandinavia. Idea of unfit people as old as the bible. BIOLOGICALLY unfit begins in 1710, onanism/compulsive masturbation. Affected descendants. World’s first compulsory sterilization law, 1907, Indiana, promoted by physician Henry Clay Sharp.

2. Unfit in Biblical Times.

3. Self Pollution and Declining Health. Long before Galton introduced term eugenics, 18th and 19th century concern of DEGENERACY. Physiological (alcoholism, masturbation, occupational exposure). Moral (innate criminality). Mental (feeblemindedness/insanity). Economic (pauper cannot rise). Cause and effect confused.

This chapter: masturbation, 1st type of degeneracy associated with physiological mechanism. Onania, or the Heinous Sin of Self-Pollution and All Its Frightful Consequences in Both Sexes Considered, 1710. Cure = repentance, and lean diet, moderate exercise, tinctures prepared by author and sold at a price. Not til 1830s that religious aspect down, from medical lit. Clitorectomy for women, for men – cold treatments – enemas, cold douches. Boarding schools specifically designed to prevent masturbation: open sleeping areas, coarse linens, doorless privys, cold showers. Exercise -> sleep from exhaustion. English public schools still like this, but now it is said to toughen body and soul, develop manly character.

Masturbation as disease in U.S., see Joseph Howe, Excessive Venery, Masturbation, and Continence 1883. Included recommendations: for men over 18, compulsive: “castration without delay.” For women: “female masturbators can only be cured by marriage.” Acknowledged dogs, cats, and monkeys masturbated, attributed to mimicry of “depraved beings of the human species.”

Treatment of masturbation as disease: castration (1843 1st in U.S.), marriage, camphor as local repellent 1815, potassium bromide 1869, blister foreskin, electrical stimulation of spine, infibulation (sew metal ring into foreskin to prevent erection), ligature of vas deferens 1883, hypnotism 1887, mechanical appliances described 1888, clitorectomy 1858, revival late 19th c w belief that sewing machine treadle stimulated clitoris, nonreligious circumcision 1890 – source of today’s widespread non-religious circumcision. By 1920s, physicians wrote about it as habit, rather than disease.


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