Journal of Religion and Health

, Volume 24, Issue 2, pp 133-146

First online:

Masturbation from Judaism to Victorianism

  • Michael S. PattonAffiliated with

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This article demonstrates how masturbation, based on a misconception of Genesis 38:7–10, was judged harshly in both Judaism and Christianity, laying the foundation historically for social and religious hostility toward sex. Masturbation, known as the “secret sin,” a threat to the human race, and an ontic evil, was condemned officially in 1054 by Pope Leo IX.

From the medieval era to Victorianism there evolved new distortions of religion and science, so that masturbation was regarded as unnatural sex, murder, a diabolical practice, and the cause of two-thirds of all diseases and disorders including insanity, neurosis, and neurasthenia. Masturbation has historically served as the catalyst for social change in sexual attitudes.