Masturbation in Early Civilizations: Part 2

Why the loss of semen from masturbation was so feared is unclear. It is possible a loss was seen as a failure of the male’s duty to reproduce. But this simple answer is contradicted by the fact that it was permissible for women to use contraceptive measures and a common practice was the insertion of mokh (a spongy substance) into their vaginas to hinder conception. The Hebrew writers regarded the male semen as the key to conception, but since not every act of intercourse, even under the most desirable conditions, resulted in pregnancy, procreation was not regarded as the sole purpose of sexual relations. A husband was supposed to have regular intercourse with his wife, even after menopause. It is the uncleanness of masturbation that seems to be mostly emphasized but this then is no different from any other sexual activity. Still, one can see considerable ambivalence in the Jewish writings on the topic.

The permissive or at times ambivalent attitudes of the ancient near eastern civilizations were challenged in the sixth and fifth centuries (B. C. E.) by the conquering Persians who brought with them their new dualistic religion of Zoroastrianism. The prophet Zoroaster emphasized that a sound body was essential to the maintenance of life in this generation and future ones, and to gain such a body it was essential to control the desires of the flesh. Sex was necessary for procreation, but all aspects of sexual activity detracting from this purpose were to be condemned and prohibited, and this included masturbation. Masturbation was regarded as one of the more heinous activities since it did not lead to procreation, a view picked up by later religions in the west.

Precious Seamen From Masturbation

The belief that the male semen was precious and should be conserved was a common thread in other religions, although it did not necessarily result in condemnation of masturbation. In Hinduism, The Laws of Manu stated:

“Let him always sleep alone, let him never waste his manhood; for he who voluntarily wastes his manhood, breaks his vow. A twice-born student, who has involuntarily wasted his manly strength during sleep, must bathe, worship the sun, and afterward thrice mutter the Rik-verse . . .”

(Müller, 1964, XI, 172)

Such discipline, however, generally was restricted to those who had sworn to observe a life of chastity. Other Hindus who engaged in masturbatory practices were only encouraged to make a light penance. In many antinomian (pleasure-seeking) sects or cults of Hinduism, however, masturbation became a religious ceremony associated with the god Krishna, who practiced manual orgasm. Indian women were often taught to give a deep massage to their daughters, as a purifying gesture, and the same was true for male infants. The importance of self-stimulation is evident in the number of artificial aids or dildos preserved from ancient times. Men were encouraged by writers of Hindu erotic manuals to stimulate their wives with dildos of various kinds before intercourse. Fixed stone linga or penises were located in a secluded part of many temples for girls and virgins to use in ritual defloration and for other purposes (Bullough, 1976, 163-64).

Chastity from Masturbation

In ancient China, masturbation, particularly for males, was believed to result in a loss of vital essence. It was, however, condoned in special circumstances, such as when males, particularly young ones at the height of their yang were deprived of female companionship. The build-up of undelivered sperm, it was believed, would block the whole system unless it was removed. Manipulation of the genitals was always encouraged but emission of semen was to be avoided. Even involuntary emissions were viewed with concern for they would diminish a man’s vital force unless he compensated by acquiring an equivalent amount of yin essence from a woman. If male masturbation was either disapproved or tolerated under special circumstances, female masturbation, if not actively encouraged, was tolerated or ignored. It was feared that women who did not regularly have intercourse with ordinary mortals, might be forced to have intercourse with a devil. To avoid this, it was permissible for them to masturbate. There were many devices on the market to help from Ben Wei balls to be inserted into the vagina to all kinds of dildos (Bullough, 1976).

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