There is strange divergence of thought when it comes to self-ownership. For most of public opinion, your body belongs to yourself when it comes to things like tattoos, piercings, gaining weight, losing weight, plastic surgery or abortion. It denies self-ownership regarding the fruit of your labour (keeping the money you earned yourself) or the consumption of drugs (through the War on Drugs). Masturbation belongs to the issues on which we transitioned from one side to the other.
The Liberation from Puritans
Throughout history, Puritan movements have attempted to legislate behaviour of individuals. Movements like ‘Clean Living’ advocated in favour of restricting access to alcohol, tobacco, coffee and tea. Especially women were supposed to refrain from these products, which were claimed to be too strong for their troubled minds. Equal positions were held on the issue of masturbation: many scientist claimed there to be a direct link between masturbation and insanity.
These Puritans were responsible for a great deal of poor decisions before they faded away, at least partially. Their advocacy lead to alcohol prohibition in the United States and to very oppressive social norms. The American Medical Association association only declared masturbation normal in 1972. The psychiatrist Thomas Szasz explained this shift as follows:
“Masturbation: the primary sexual activity of mankind. In the nineteenth century it was a disease; in the twentieth, it’s a cure.”
The Curious Invention of the Vibrator
In the taboo-society of the 19th century, sex toys weren’t a thing, but became one for a very peculiar reason.
Many doctors were treating women who had “hysteria” (which is no longer recognised by medical professionals) by performing a “pelvic massage”: literally giving them an orgasm. Experts called them “paroxysms” because everyone knew that women were incapable of sexual feelings, so they could not possibly experience an orgasm. Medical journals described this procedure as tedious, boring and physically demanding work. Many physicians complained that their chronic hand fatigue made them unable to achieve the “desired result”.
Fed up by the hard work, enterprising English physician, Dr. Joseph Mortimer Granville, patented the electromechanical vibrator in 1880. Slowly, the device became marketable and available for home use. However, to make vibrators’ socially acceptable, their real purpose was disguised. They were referred to as personal massagers.
As soon as the first porn movies came out in the 1920s, the Puritan movements banned them or made them socially unacceptable. It was only the 1970s that had brought the vibrator back.
Where Modern Technology will take us
Pornhub announced last month that it is launching a new category on its website which allows for synchronised sex toys provided by its partners Fleshlight and Kiiroo. As The Verge reports:
“Depending on what’s happening in the video, the toys will simulate the action with pulses — removing the need to perform your own manual labor.”
With people already using headsets for porn, modern technology does not only ameliorate our sexual experience, it also emboldens us in the concept of self-ownership. Long gone are the days of puritans who tell us what we cannot do.
It’s just too much fun.