Masturbation in Early Civilizations: Part 1

Masturbation for all the bad things said about it seems to have been ever-present. Visual representations of the practice exist from preliterate cultures. Connections to it in the earliest writings. For example, in the Pyramid Texts dating from the fifth and sixth Egyptian dynasties. In Egyptian mythology, the God Atum created the Ennead (a group of gods) by masturbating. Often, the male gods of Egypt are masturbating to arouse themselves. Although there is little reported about the female gods. Because the male element was the most important in biological terms. The malefactor in a generation was powerful. So strong that the gods even sometimes produced without a female partner. Instead by only the act of masturbating.

In the Tigris-Euprhatcs valley, masturbation is less discussed. Yet, the issue of male potency was of much concern. Males having trouble with an erection are urged to rub their penis. Or have it rubbed with special oil to gain arousal. Masturbation seems to have been accepted and practiced. The erect penis was an important symbol. Stone models of them have survived in great quantity. There is no information about female masturbation that has so far come to light in sources.

Babylonian Sex and Masturbation

The ancient Hebrews influenced by both Egyptian and the Babylonian tradition. It was in Judaism that the concept of uncleanliness became associated with masturbation. Any emission of semen outside the vagina. Willingly or otherwise, was a major source of contamination and required a purification ceremony.

And if the flow of seed go out from a man, then he shall bathe all his flesh in water, and be unclean until the evening. And every garment, and every skin, whereon is the flow of the seed, shall be washed with water, and be unclean until the evening.

(Leviticus 15: 16-17)

Masturbation and Uncleanness

Uncleanness, is not restricted to only masturbation. The writer adds that the woman also with whom a man shall lie carnally. Shall both bathe themselves in water and be unclean until evening (Leviticus, 15: 18). This implies that masturbation is not any more unclean than copulation itself.

Moreover, uncleanness is not a violation of any moral code. But, rather a ceremonial one, and, thus, is a lesser sin. This distinction was often ignored by later commentators, particularly Christian ones. Hostility to masturbation was so great that any scriptural reference is in the most negative terms. This was particularly true of the interpretation of the story of the son of Judah. According to the scriptures. Onan was struck dead for refusing the custom of impregnating his dead brother’s wife. Instead he resorted to “spilling his seed on the ground” (Genesis 38: 7-10).

This regarded by those Christian commentators hostile to masturbation as indicating that Jehovah regarded masturbation with such horror that its practitioners should be struck dead. Most scriptural scholars today argue the punishment was not for practicing coitus to interrupt us. But for refusing to obey God’s commandment about taking his brother’s wife as his own. Since it is not always clear what the scriptural references mean.

The sin of Onan became equated with masturbation. Onanism became another term for autoeroticism. This is not to say that there was no Jewish opposition to masturbation and some commentators in the Talmud rigidly interdicted the practice. One even went so far to regard masturbation as a crime deserving the death penalty. Others were far more tolerant. The loss of semen was troubling to most. It is a possibility that the Talmudic injunction against a man holding his penis even while urinating. Except in the case of a married man whose wife was available for intercourse. Resulting from the fear of the loss of semen.

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