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Life is biochemistry. What ever we do, whatever we think, is just an expression of chemical processes within our bodies. Optimal sex, too, is an event in biochemistry. And this is why it can be engineered with pharmaceuticals, which includes androgenic herbals. Pharmacology just hasn’t had the opportunity yet to isolate the most orgasmic components of tongkat ali and butea superba.


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvannia: Ukraine considers legalising sex industry

Joel S. Corral 606 Losh Lane Pittsburgh, PA 15219

Bill aims to protect prostitutes and eliminate human traficking

The Verkhovna Rada (Ukraine’s Parliament) has registered a bill on regulating prostitution and sex establishments.

The document was submitted by Andriy Nemyrovsky, MP from the Party Volya Narody (People’s Will).

Currently, the bill text is not available on the Verkhovna Rada website. Nemyrovsky says he submitted the bill because the sex-business benefits criminals, not the state’s budget.

Today legal uncertainty in the prostitution and sex establishment sphere is part of criminal business. It is not taxed, thus the state budget does not receive any income from that buisness. Prostitution requires being state-regulated in a civilized way, securing social guarantees for prostitutes, as well as providing additional source for the state budget revenue,” explained the MP.

Nemyrovsky is convinced that the missing legal regulation in the sex industry helps enhance human trafficking and involve minors in the sex industry.


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Hollywood, California: Would YOU step inside the 'sex box'? Exhibition showcases erotic devices collected from around the world (let's hope it's more fun that it looks)

Wade K. Roberts 4680 Red Maple Drive Hollywood, CA 90028

The cure for all society’s problems is for people to have frequent orgasms.

At least that was the claim of Austrian psychoanalyst, Wilhelm Reich, in 1940 when he created a sex box dubbed the ‘Orgone’.

Now a replica of the contraption, along with various other sexual devices, is being put on display in London at the Wellcome Collection's ‘Institute of Sexology.

The Orgone was essentially a metal-lined box that claimed to harness a mysterious atmospheric force that would bring people to new heights of sexual pleasure.

Alternating layers of organic and non-organic materials inside the walls supposedly increased the energy inside the box causing intense orgasms.

Reich’s patients would sit inside the device to treat illnesses, leading to newspapers stories about sex boxes that cured cancer.

The curators of the exhibition now hope that visitors will try the box out for themselves, in an attempt to generate debate about sexual behaviour and identity.

Opening this month, the exhibition explores the study of sex and the work of ‘sexperts’ such as Sigmund Freud, Marie Stopes, Alfred Kinsey and Masters and Johnson.

Displayed alongside the Orgone are strange sex aids and leaflets giving advice – including on that explains how bicycle repair kit can be used to repair a contraceptive cap.

It also explores the history of research into sexuality with, overall, more than 200 artworks, objects, photographs and archived material. The material takes visitors on a journey, revealing the amusing and conservative views of sexologists from different decades.

One of these doctors, Jean-Martin Charcot, who turned the study of sexuality into a sordid-type of entertainment.

An engraving by André Brouillet reveals Charcot giving a lecture on hysteria in the hospital of La Salpetrière, Paris, in 1887 with his subject being an undressed woman.

The exhibition also follows key sexologists including Sigmund Freud, Marie Stopes, Alfred Kinsey, Wilhelm Reich, Magnus Hirschfeld and Margaret Mead.

The sexologists in the show are all, at heart, collectors, whether of books, testimonies, erotica, photographs or statistics.

The first section, ‘The Library’, highlights the systematic archiving and accumulation central to the craft, including objects from Henry Wellcome’s vast collection of erotica.

Opening with the Nazi burning of archives amassed by Magnus Hirschfeld’s Institut für Sexualwissenschaft in Berlin, it explores how Hirschfeld’s material on homosexuality was assembled against prevailing social codes.

This is the first exhibition in a £17.5 million ($27.7 million) expansion of Wellcome Collection in London and occupies a new gallery dedicated to year-long shows. ‘The Institute of Sexology’ will evolve during its run bringing in new commissions, live events, discussions and performances as part of a ‘Sexology Season; of activity across the UK.

The sexologists in the show are all, at heart, collectors, whether of books, testimonies, erotica, photographs or statistics.

Another room, called ‘The Lab’ points to the bespoke laboratory William Masters and Virginia Johnson secretly established at Washington University to observe and record hundreds of individuals having sex.

Their measurements of real-time physiology – heart rate, lubrication, blood pressure, brain activity, organ size – during stimulation and orgasm established the complexity orgasms, especially by women.

The room explores how their findings and campaigns for gendered equality in climactic response fed into the zeitgeist of the 1960s sexual revolution.

The Institute of Sexology offers a complex, often contradictory story of the study of sex, and highlights the profound effect that the gathering and analysis of information can have in changing attitudes about the human condition,’ said curator Kate Forde.

‘It presents typed diagnoses alongside handmade campaign material, scientific charts next to handwritten testimonies.

‘But all are caught up in attempts to free us from the tyranny of preconceived ideas about sex, and suggest that our understanding about our sexual identities is a story of constant evolution.”

The Institute of Sexology’ runs from 20 November to 13 September 2015 at Wellcome Collection, 183 Euston Road in London.


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Baton Rouge, Louisiana: Fantastically Wrong: Why Is the Sky Blue? It’s Packed With Sexy Energy, of Course

Mario A. Peterson 3310 Coventry Court Baton Rouge, LA 70814

First things first: Your Orgone Energy Accumulator, as it’s known, must be big enough to comfortably seat a human being, and if you’re able to bury it in the soil, all the better, for the dirt only enhances the effects of the orgone. Its walls must consist of alternating layers of a metallic and a non-metallic substance, say steel wool and cotton. And the inner surface of the device must be bare metal of some sort.

When you’re done, simply enter the box, shut the door behind you, and take a seat. After a few minutes your skin will begin to tingle, and you’ll feel a sort of warming. Your heart rate will stabilize at a Goldilocks pace—neither too high nor too low. You will feel, in a word, enlivened. But take care not to stay too long. The minute you begin to feel nauseated, make your exit, for your body has been charged to capacity with orgone.

In the strange and colorful history of pseudoscience, Wilhelm Reich’s “discovery” of orgone—a substance that’s not only a life force, but indeed makes up the very fabric of space—must surely be a watershed. This is a story of a man who went from psychoanalysis wunderkind to enemy of Hitler to enemy of the US government, only to die a lonely death in prison. Yet somehow, almost a century later, his bonkers ideas live on.

Reich was born in Austria in 1897, and rode the rising wave of the psychoanalysis discipline in the early 20th century under the wing of his mentor, none other than Sigmund Freud, according to Martin Gardner in his book Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science. He was a devout Marxist, and argued that the proletariat was so politically impotent because the workers were sexually repressed. Revolution, Reich claimed, could only happen with an uninhibited release of sexual urges. (It’s helpful, therefore, to think of him as Freud meets Lenin meets Larry Flynt.)

Moscow rejected his views as “rubbish,” but more importantly the Nazis took exception to Reich’s claims that like the proletariat, German fascists also suffered from sexual repression. He wisely fled to Scandinavia, and it was there that he discovered orgone energy, which he compared to Freud’s notion of the human libido, only on a much grander scale.

Orgone is everywhere, usually manifesting as the color blue. So the sky is blue not because molecules in the atmosphere scatter blue light better than red light, but because it’s positively saturated the orgone energy. Same with the oceans, and “the color of luminating, decaying wood is blue,” Reich wrote, “so are the luminating tail ends of glowworms, St. Elmo’s fire, and the aurora borealis.” And those rippling waves of heat you see coming off a hot road? That’s orgone energy as well, moving west to east faster than the Earth rotates.

When it comes to organic matter, according to Reich the building blocks of life are not cells, but “bions” that he claimed to have observed. Gardner explains: “It consists of a membrane surrounding a liquid, and pulsates continually with orgone energy. This pulsation is the dance of life—the basic convulsive rhythm of the love which finds its highest expression in the pulsation of the ‘orgasm formula.’” So you and me are essentially made up of lots and lots of tiny sexiness. And these bions reproduce asexually by division, just like bacteria.

As such, a cynic may rightly argue that Reich was indeed just staring at bacteria.

Reich relocated to the US in 1939 and set up shop on Long Island. A year later, he invented the aforementioned Orgone Energy Accumulator, which concentrates the energy that’s going to waste all around us. It was, as one of Reich’s colleagues put it, “the most important single discovery in the history of medicine, bar none,” a lofty statement that’s perhaps immediately invalidated by the addition of “bar none.” For bedridden patients, there was even a blanket version, a sort of dome with additional layers of material placed under the mattress.

The therapeutic effects of the Orgone Energy Accumulator were nothing short of miraculous. “In severe cases of burns,” a pamphlet on the device claimed, “experience has revealed the amazing fact that no blisters appear, and that the initial redness slowly disappears. The wounds heal in a matter of a few hours; severe ones need a day or two.” The box’s concentration of orgone can even sterilize wounds, plus treat colds, arthritis, ulcers, and, yes, even cure cancer if caught in its early stages.

“Do what now?” someone at the FDA asked in the 1950s. In his instructions for building an accumulator, James DeMeo, who founded the Orgone Biophysical Research Library in 1978, notes: “Reich’s orgone energy experiments attracted the hostile criticisms of many in the medical community, and a smear campaign in the press triggered an investigation by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).” Instead of trying to reproduce Reich’s experiments, the “bureaucrats relied upon gossip and rumor.” And in a “judicial ruling that is, to the best of my knowledge, unique in American history, the FDA sought and obtained a Federal Court Decree of Injunction, which ruled that the orgone energy ‘does not exist.’” In so doing the court banned books containing the word “orgone,” which the ACLU was predictably none too happy about.

Reich was also warned against selling the accumulators. The FDA ordered all orgone literature and devices destroyed, and according to DeMeo, attacked Reich’s lab with axes (whether or not they released great blue clouds of energy in the process is lost to history). Reich continued profiting from the accumulators, though, and the court found him in contempt of the injunction. He was sentenced to federal prison, where he died in 1957.

Yet the theory of orgone did not die with him. DeMeo published his instructions for building a Orgone Energy Accumulator a full three decades later in 1989, and there’s currently a “university”—if you’re going to be liberal with the term—called the American College of Orgonomy that’s somehow small enough to fit in a PO box in New Jersey.

Far from a fringe movement, orgonomy has tallied its fair share of famous adherents. William Burroughs apparently swore by the therapy, though you should keep in mind that as far as his judgment was concerned, he also once had his wife balance a glass of gin on her head, then proceeded to shoot her in the forehead instead of hitting the glass. And Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo once said in an interview, apparently in all seriousness according to the interviewer: “You probably know this very well, but your orgone energy goes out the top of your head and it dissipates out the top, but if you wear an energy dome it recycles that energy.” Take that one with a grain of salt as well, considering this is the man who’s responsible for Devo. (Perhaps by some sort of cosmic coincidence, the “Whip It” video features a woman shooting a can of beer out of a man’s hand.)

The FDA’s assault on orgonomy may seem radical, but it was fulfilling its charge: protecting the American people from quackery. You can believe that the sky is blue because of orgone energy all you like, but as soon as you start promising miraculous cancer cures, you’re setting off down a wildly irresponsible and dangerous road. Like with homeopathy or any other number of medical pseudosciences, promising a ridiculous cure is putting lives at risk, when those patients should be utilizing the very real and very effective treatments of modern medicine.

So if you want, you can go ahead and build that Orgone Energy Accumulator and use it as a wardrobe or something. Just be sure you only hang blue stuff in there. Wouldn’t want all that energy to ruin your whites.


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Springfield, Massachusetts: Optimal sex and Torture

Ronnie S. Woods 2632 Kinney Street Springfield, MA 01109

Optimal sex up to an advanced age, and if necessary, aided by vascular and neurotropic agents like Pfizer’s Blue, yohimbine, dopaminergics, or testosterone enhancers like tongkat ali and butea superba, very much is a concern of modern civilisation. In medieval and ancient times, people were quite content if they were not tortured to death (never mind the optimal sex, thank you). An amazingly high number of people in medieval and ancient times (let's avoid designating them as ancient civilizations) were brutally tortured to death, often for the entertainment of onlookers. This included all mentally ill, and all enemies of rulers or ruling elites. Public torture is an extremely effective political tool. Not for the extraction of confessions, though. But torture one poor victim cruelly to death, and every onlooker will get the message: do not challenge authority!

Sadistic Medieval Torture Methods - Warning: Cringe-Inducing (YouTube 9:30)


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Marengo, Ohio: Doing it by the book: the eccentric pioneers of sex studies

Raymond E. Levine 271 Davis Place Marengo, OH 43334

The Wellcome Collection’s latest show begins sensationally – but not in the way one might expect. “The Institute of Sexology” is the first exhibition in a £17.5m expansion of the collection and occupies a new gallery dedicated to year-long shows. To the 21st-century ear, the title has something of a snigger about it and you might head to Euston thinking you’ll find a gallery draped in velvet, in boudoir purples and pinks. But it is decked out in sober, neutral greys; what drapery there is gives the place the studious feel of an airy library. And the sensation that opens the show is evoked by destruction: the burning of Magnus Hirschfeld’s library by the Nazis in May 1933.

Hitler had been in power for just three months when rioters, with the blessing of the new government, broke into the Insti­tut für Sexualwissenschaft, which had been founded by Hirschfeld, a physician and sexologist in Berlin during the liberal years of the Weimar Republic. It was a unique collection of books, documents, photographs and objects. Hirschfeld was a pioneer in the campaign to end discrimination against homosexuals; it was a place that promoted scientific knowledge as a way to further the quest for justice, particularly with regard to the treatment of sexual minorities. On one wall of the opening section of this exhibition is a screen showing footage of the pyre on which years of his work were destroyed. Hirschfeld, who was both gay and Jewish, had escaped to France. He saw the film in a newsreel and said that watching it was like witnessing his own funeral.

It is immediately evident that there is no sniggering to be done here. Consciously echoing Hirschfeld’s institute, this is the first UK exhibition to bring together the advance guard in the study of sex, from Havelock Ellis to Margaret Mead, from Sigmund Freud to William Masters and Virginia Johnson, from Marie Stopes to Wilhelm Reich. What strikes the visitor most powerfully is the risks these men and women took, personally and professionally, to investigate an impulse that – frankly – drives us all and to which we owe our existence.

The exhibition is divided into sections. In “the Library”, Hirschfeld’s work is joined by that of Richard von Krafft-Ebing and Havelock Ellis, who in their different ways further investigated ideas of sexual “deviance”. But items here from the Wellcome’s own collection reveal that 19th- and early-20th-century western attitudes to sex were not necessarily representative of attitudes in other times and places.

Also displayed are erotic carvings from Japan and rank upon rank of little Roman phalli – happy symbols of prosperity and luck – and a Peruvian “pottery jug of a masturbating skeleton”, as the label states, from around 100-800AD. Each section of the show is mirrored by work from a present-day artist; in this case, the eloquent black-and-white images of the South African photographer Zanele Muholi, who documents the lives of lesbians, the transgender community and others who challenge received notions of sexuality in her native country. In “the Consulting Room”, we meet Freud, Marie Stopes and Jean-Martin Charcot, the 19th-century Frenchman who is often called the father of neurology. A sequence of his photographs of a shrieking woman, taken in 1890, labelled Bâillements hystériques (or “hysterical yawns”), reflects the perception of “hysteria” as “a female disease”. Freud’s work, his invention of psychoanalysis, created a space where intimate subjects could be brought out into the open, as they were even more so, most vigorously by Marie Stopes, a pioneer of family planning.

A jolly poster takes off from the rhyme “Oranges and Lemons”: “I can tell you today,/Hear our Saint Marie say:/When the People will breed/No more mouths than they feed.” Not everyone approved. There are a few of the thousands of letters Stopes received on show; while many are grateful for her openness, not all of them are. One reads: “Go back to your own country and preach your dirty methods there.”

What the writer of that letter would have made of Wilhelm Reich is anyone’s guess. Reich, an Austrian psychoanalyst, became a countercultural hero for his championing of sexual permissiveness and the exhibition displays his “orgone accumulator” – the reflectively lined box that Reich believed generated vital libidinous energy in those who sat in it. Up close, it is hard to believe that the box (which looks like a home-made cross between an outhouse and a camping oven) could produce any sort of energy, other than the DIY kind necessary to construct it. Just opposite, there’s a pleasing clip from the Woody Allen film Sleeper (1973), with its “Orgasmatron”, an amusing rip-off of Reich’s device. (This is a show with some flashes of humour, for all its serious intent.)

The Classroom” introduces Alfred Kinsey; “the Lab” Virginia Masters and William Johnson, who have lately found renewed fame thanks to the Showtime series Masters of Sex, starring Lizzy Caplan and Michael Sheen. Kinsey (who got his own movie a decade ago starring Liam Neeson) started with the study of gall wasps before moving to human sexuality; his plans for a lab to explore that subject never materialised but during his lifetime he collected over 18,000 sexual histories. In the 1950s, William Dellenback took photographs of some of Kinsey’s subjects – or rather of their sexual organs, sometimes held open by the men and women being photographed for better display. There is something peculiarly striking in the way a woman’s manicure or her wedding ring reveals the era – not the 1950s we think we know. It was Masters and Johnson who first established a lab: if you’ve ever wondered what a penile strain gauge or a vaginal photoplethysmograph looks like, you will discover the answer here.

But “the Home” is where most people experience sex (even though, after seeing this exhibition, one hesitates to generalise). Among the most striking displays in this show are the original drawings done by Chris Foss for Alex Comfort’s Joy of Sex, first published in 1972. The images – of those resplendently unwaxed and unshaven 1970s lovers, Foss’s fellow artist Charles Raymond and his wife, Edeltraud – are iconic now but I was not prepared for the loveliness of the draft drawings, their delicate lines on heavy, ochre paper. They have never been exhibited before. As Comfort noted bluntly, commercial pornography was “not much help with sex practice for real lovers”, something that is as true now as it was then, or perhaps even truer. Alongside Foss’s drawings are Timothy Archibald’s bold, large-format colour photographs from a series entitled Sex Machines: Photographs and Interviews. Here is American ingenuity as you may never have thought of it before; what looks like a workbench actually has a dildo at one end. Three cheers for the pioneer spirit.

That’s the spirit required to do such work, as the show constantly demonstrates. The curators, Honor Beddard and Kate Forde, stress that the exhibition is intended to start a debate about the sex research that still takes place. The controversy that such research can cause is still apparent, as when Margaret Thatcher’s government, in 1989, pulled the funding from the National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles, instigated by Anne Johnson, a specialist in the epidemiology and prevention of sexually transmitted infections. “Thatcher halts survey on sex”, announced the headline in the Sunday Times, displayed here along with a story from the Sunday Telegraph about the “lady authors” of this scandalous survey. The piece puts great emphasis not on the women’s work but on their appearance, noting, for instance, Julia Field’s “iron-grey hair and spectacles”.

On 18 November, Public Health England published the statistics for HIV figures in the UK. Rates of infection are continuing to rise: there are now nearly 110,000 people living with HIV in the UK. Roughly a quarter (26,100) are unaware of their infection – and therefore are at risk of passing on the virus to others through unprotected sex. It is proof, if proof were needed, of just how important it is to pursue open and honest conversations about sex and sexuality.

The exhibition closes with a shelf filled with books, all titles written by the subjects of the exhibition in the course of a century and a half. Every volume has been covered with a plain white wrapper, as if to hide the contents – but this is only an echo of shame, as each has its title printed on that wrapper in clear black ink. Clarity and openness have always distinguished the work of the Wellcome Trust; this show is an eye-catching and yet suitably serious way to relaunch the expansion of the Wellcome Collection, which will come to full fruition early next year when all of its public spaces reopen. Alan Gregg, an officer of the Rockefeller Foundation, which helped fund Alfred Kinsey’s work, wished Kinsey to have “the freedom to observe, to reflect, to experiment and to bear witness”. We are lucky to have this fine exhibition, which celebrates that freedom.


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Huntsville, Alabama: Androgenic activity of the Thai traditional male potency herb, Butea superba Roxb., in female rats.

Harris K. Toler 4421 Marcus Street Huntsville, AL 35816

Aim of the study

Butea superba Roxb. (Leguminosae) is a well-known Thai male potency herb with androgenic and anti-estrogenic activities. We evaluated whether oral administration of Butea superba has an androgenic or anti-estrogenic activity in female rats.

Materials and methods

Normal and ovariectomized adult female rats were each subdivided into five groups, DW, BS-10, BS-50, BS-250 and TP, and gavaged with 0, 10, 50 and 250 mg/kg BW/day of the crude of Butea superba and subcutaneously injected with 6 mg/kg BW/day of testosterone propionate (TP), respectively, during the treatment period.


In intact rats, only BS-250 increased the uterine thickness and the number of uterine glands, and could induce a prolonged diestrous phase. In ovariectomized rats, treatment with BS-50 as well as BS-250 increased the uterine thickness and the number of uterine glands. However, serum luteinizing hormone (LH) levels were also increased. TP reduced serum follicle stimulating hormone and LH levels with the appearance of anestrous cycle, and could significantly increase the relative uterine weight and thickness and the number of uterine glands in both intact and ovariectomized rats.


Orally administered Butea superba tubers have an androgenic effect on the reproductive organs of intact and ovariectomized rats, and exhibit anti-estrogenic activity on LH secretion in ovariectomized rats.


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Arlington Heights, Illinois: How Sex Addiction Became A Diagnosis

Daniel D. Hutchison 4118 Cecil Street Arlington Heights, IL 60005

There’s a long history of using medical language to explain socially unacceptable sexual appetites.

Last month, former congressman Anthony Weiner pleaded guilty to charges related to sexing with a 15-year-old, declaring, “ I have a sickness, but I do not have an excuse.

Weiner’s seeming inability to stop sending sexts to a minor, despite all the personal and political consequences he knew he could face, has touched off a debate around the dubious science of sex addiction. Weiner’s actions put him in a long line of famous men — from Tiger Woods to David Duchovney to Josh Duggar — who argue that their sexual behavior reflects an addiction.

For the most part, modern medical professionals are skeptical about the science of sex addiction. But there’s a long tradition of using medical language to explain socially unacceptable sexual appetites.

Sex addiction as we currently understand it became part of the public discussion around 1980, as Barry Reay, Nina Attwood and Claire Gooder of the University of Aukland explained in a 2012 paper.

After the country had experimented with two decades of free love, disco clubs and shifting gender and sex roles, there was a serious pushback to sexual promiscuity, particularly coming from conservative Christians and certain strains of feminism. Rising concern about addictions to drugs, alcohol and gambling provided an easy way to talk about destructive sexual behavior. The term “sexual addiction” was broad enough to encompass any sort of sexual thought or action that made people feel guilty or ashamed.

“Its success as a concept lay with its medicalization, both as a self-help movement in terms of self-diagnosis, and as a rapidly growing industry of therapists on hand to deal with the new disease,” Reay and his colleagues wrote.

Today, when we talk about sexual addiction, we’re often talking about the danger of people retreating from “real life.” Framing it as addiction helps us understand why men like Weiner and Woods would wreck their marriages and careers for fleeting encounters. Checklists of sexual addiction symptoms include items like “thinking of sex to the detriment of other activities” and “neglecting obligations such as work, school or family in pursuit of sex.”

A long history of pathologizing sex

For thousands of years, doctors have worried that excessive or inappropriate sexual behavior would harm men’s ability to function in productive, socially appropriate ways. In the days of early Christianity, cultural studies scholar Elizabeth Stephens explains, medical texts warned that “excessive” ejaculation depleted masculinity.

She quotes historian Peter Brown’s description of the belief among Roman doctors that “no normal man might actually become a woman, but each man trembled forever on the brink of becoming ‘womanish.’ His flickering heat was an uncertain force.

If the link between ejaculation and weakness was a longstanding concern, it took on a sudden new urgency in the 19th century, Stephens wrote. In the 1830s, French physician Claude-François Lallemand “discovered” spermatorrhea, a malady roughly comparable to sex addiction. Noting the asymmetrical testes of a man who had died of a cerebral hemorrhage, he concluded that the unfortunate man’s troubles began with the excessive discharge of semen.

Suddenly doctors were seeing spermatorrhea everywhere. Doctors compiled long lists of the purported disease’s symptoms, including decreased sexual desire, “erections and emissions upon slightest excitement,” nervous asthma, cowardice, poor memory and insanity. Doctors believed the most significant cause of spermatorrhea was masturbation, Stephens wrote. The treatments ranged from exercise and cold bathing to injections of acetate of lead, blistering of the penis, and occasionally, castration.

Stephens argued that “many of the concerns about non-reproductive male sexual practices in the nineteenth century derive from an unease about modern indulgences making men soft, weak, incontinent, and undisciplined.”

Race, class and sexual panic

In the 19th-century U.S., this medical panic had a lot to do with a rapidly changing society. Middle-class young men were leaving rural areas and seeking upward mobility in the growing cities. Historian Kevin J. Mumford explained that this new freedom demanded individual self-control. Reformers warned that men who succumbed to urban vice “were likely to be found wanting in virtually all manly endeavors, especially in the pursuit of profit,” he wrote.

If spermatorrhea was a great threat, being susceptible to it was also seen as a mark of civilization and racial superiority. Nineteenth-century racial “science” held that black men were utterly lacking in self-control and prone to becoming rapists, yet they were in no danger of the physical and mental damage that sexual licentiousness caused white men. That meant, Mumford wrote, that by exercising sexual self-restraint, men “not only avoided sexual disorders but also distinguished themselves as white.”

Medical attitudes toward women’s sexuality also took a sharp turn in the 19th century. Before then, according to historian Carol Groneman, Western doctors generally believed women were as lewd and lascivious as men, and that female orgasm was necessary for pregnancy. But as men left their farms and home workshops for jobs in the industrializing economy, cultural belief in the differences between men and women’s sexual desires grew. Now, middle-class white women were seen as naturally nurturing and civilizing, and excessive female sexual desire was a threat to social order.

Groneman described an 1856 account by a gynecologist of a married 24-year-old woman who came to him complaining about her lascivious dreams about men other than her husband. The doctor instructed her to reduce her intake of meat, take cold enemas and swab her vagina with a borax solution. “If she continued in her present habits of indulgence, it would probably become necessary to send her to an asylum,” he wrote.

In other cases, gynecologists treated what they now termed nymphomania —defined rather ambiguously as “excessive” female sexual desire — with surgery, removing women’s ovaries and clitorises.

By the turn of the 20th century, Groneman writes, nymphomania was closely tied to all kinds of “dangerous” female behavior, including excessive lesbianism, prostitution and agitating for economic and political rights.

Changing norms

For both women and men, the concept of sexual disorders in the past was broad enough to encompass all manner of social and economic upheaval. That’s still true today. As the cases of Weiner and other prominent men suggest, we can use “sex addiction” to mean being bad at monogamy, committing actual sexual crimes, or simply lacking the self-control to put long-term goals ahead of momentary pleasure.

The truth is, psychiatrists now generally don’t consider sexual addiction to be a real disorder. The American Psychiatric Association left it out of the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders after studies found little evidence to support the “addiction” label. For example, people who exhibit the behaviors we call sexual addiction don’t show the same patterns in brain activity as those who are addicted to drugs. “Sexual addiction” may actually be a loose collection of traits like high sex drive and lack of impulse control.

But history suggests that the way we think about sexual disorders isn’t just about medical evidence. It’s about our understanding of self-control, and the expectations we have for how men and women are “normally” supposed to behave.

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