The invention of the microscope in the sixteenth century heralded a new era of scientific discovery in Europe. For the first time, people we would today call scientists began understanding the strange intricacies of the minute details of life. Perhaps one of the most famous of these was a Dutchman by the name of Antonie van Leeuwenhoek. Now Tony ran a draper shop, which is just a fancy way of saying he used to sell cloth for whatever one’s cloth needs might be. Back then, pretty much everybody made their own clothes and other such shit, so being a draper could be a pretty lucrative gig. Wanting to get a leg up on his competition, Tony began using microscopes to assess the quality of the fabrics he was buying. Finding the whole idea of microscopes pretty cool, he soon after began looking at pretty much everything he could, designing better microscopes to see smaller and smaller details. Eventually his microscopes got so good that he made a shocking discovery; his glass of water was chock full of tiny fucking animals. Somewhat surprised by this turn of events, Tony began looking at other liquids to see if there was more to see. Yeah, you can probably guess where this is going.
It’s probably best not to go into any of the grisly details of Tony’s scientific process, so lets just leave it to the imagination. Ahhhh fuck it. The guy masturbated and then took a microscopic peak at what came out. He was more than a little amazed to see millions of tiny tadpoles swimming around, a discovery that sparked decades of scientific debate. Now at the time, many of the so called great thinkers of the day believed in ovism, an weird idea that babies, and all the babies that would ever be, existed fully formed in each of a woman’s eggs. This belief stemmed from the discovery that women had eggs, a discovery made several decades earlier by a microscope owning man apparently much more charming than Tony. The whole idea that men weren’t the center of the universe made many of the leading scientists of the day, who all just happened to be men, rather uncomfortable. However, the discovery of sperm allowed them to develop a new theory, called spermism, which claimed that sperm were to babies what tadpoles were to frogs. In the end, the theory of spermism won the day, mostly because women’s eggs just kind of laid there, while men’s sperm wiggled around and went out of its way to prove it was alive.
This turn of events brought up all sorts of uncomfortable questions. For starters, if each sperm was a living baby, didn’t that mean it had a soul? And if it did have a soul, was it ethical to go around literally rubbing away some 200 million souls at a time? Second, and even more importantly, where the fuck did all of these sperm come from? Had they existed since the beginning of time? Was their a finite supply? And if so, wasn’t going around wasting it just tiptoeing the ever growing human population towards extinction? Now today all of these questions sound pretty stupid, but one has to remember, this was two centuries before people discovered cells and figured out how the whole thing actually worked. They were doing the best they could with the information they had.
These questions soon caught the attention of various religious types, who rather than condemn such scientific progress, as was their normal habit, instead fully embraced the new theories, probably because it fit in quite well with their existing belief system concerning having sex for any reason other than making babies. The fact that they could also throw in masturbation to boot, a practice that had previously been seen as a pretty harmless past time, only sweetened the deal for those who loved nothing more than to condemn people willy nilly for silly reasons. The prohibition on male masturbation soon after spread to female masturbation as well, because of course if those religious men couldn’t have any fun, why the hell should the ladies?
Eventually, in the early eighteenth century, a quack physician named Dr. Bekker capitalized on the hysteria over masturbation by writing a book claiming that what he called “self-pollution” caused all sorts of terrible ailments, which if taken too far, would eventually lead to death. That’s right, there’s been asshats writing such books for centuries, and just like today, such books caused all sorts of stupid panics and ideas to run rampant through society. Bekkers made a shit ton of money from his book, and even more from the anti-masturbation powder he also just so happened to sell, sparking a series of copycats who also wrote such books to make money over the next several centuries. Eventually, masturbation became a weird combination of physical disease and mental mania, with even imagining sex becoming taboo since it would only tempt one to give in to masturbatory urges. As time went on, crazier and harsher methods of preventing masturbation were introduced, such as applying leaches to one’s genitals. As technology got better in the nineteenth century, leeches gave way to specially made corsets, which in turn gave way to special diets, electroshock treatment, and even castration and female circumcision in severe cases.
Of course, through all of this there were always people who called bullshit on the whole endeavor, but these ideas didn’t begin to dominate until the 1950’s, when scientific studies began to prove that not only was everybody masturbating, but that it also wasn’t killing anyone or even making them sick. Masturbation was declared to be not a mental disorder in 1968, and doctors finally declared it a perfectly normal and healthy thing to do in 1972. However, the topic remains controversial to this day, and even as late as 1994 the U.S. Surgeon General had to resign after suggesting children should be taught about it.