Sex therapist and counsellor Lucy Patarcic tracks the history of masturbation with surprising findings about the Kelloggs Cornflakes creator and Graham crackers, and less surprising findings about health and wellbeing.
You can masturbate and have your cracker too!
You may be wondering what masturbation has to do with crackers?
A quick history lesson first.
Ahh masturbation. Pleasurable or taboo, depending on whom you’re talking to. John Kellogg, M.D. (yes, the Kelloggs Cornflakes guy) believed that masturbating was the most dangerous of sexual behaviours. Masturbation was said to cause abnormal sexual passions and gluttony, and he recommended that parents bandage their children’s genitals at night or tie their hands to bedposts!
In 2018, I spent the summer in the US and also had my very first s’more. The s’more that I had consisted of a toasted (on an open fire) marshmallow sandwiched between two pieces of Hershey’s chocolate and further sandwiched by two Graham crackers – a little sandwich of deliciousness. As my dear friend’s sister-in-law was assembling this delicious treat for me, she told me something interesting about the history of Graham crackers. When I returned, I did some research.
Sylvester Graham (5 July 1794–11 September 1851), who was ordained as a Presbyterian minister in 1826, believed that human sex drive depleted the body and that erotic desire caused heath issues including headaches, epilepsy and insanity. According to Graham, eating tasty foods stimulated sexual urges that amounted to self-abuse, i.e. masturbation. In 1829, he invented a bland biscuit-like cracker to suppress sexual desires.
Fear and guilt around masturbation has been around for centuries and the stigma attached to touching one’s genitals for pleasure was believed to be pathological or having negative mental and physical consequences.
Beliefs throughout the centuries were many and varied. Physician Galen argued that retaining semen was dangerous and led to ill health, while Hippocrates believed that excessive loss of semen could result in spinal cord deterioration.
Masturbation had been labelled an unnatural sin, causing dysfunction and disease, Tissot (18th century) claimed that masturbators suffered from poor eyesight, epilepsy, memory loss, weakened backs, acne, sexually transmitted diseases (STIs) and paleness.
Prevention methods used on children included cold baths and showers, swim suits with camphor inserted in the crotch, bland diets, limiting fluids, chastity belts, straitjackets and threats to cut off their genitals, to name just a few.
Fears around masturbation continued into the 20th century. And here we are today in the 21st century still having this conversation!
We’ve come a long way … kind of. In my work, I’ve come across many people of different ages who still harbour guilt and shame and feel embarrassed about something as natural as masturbation. Masturbation is completely natural and offers many health benefits. Knowing the benefits for both health and wellbeing, it is something that I do recommend as part of homework and, in particular, for prostate health.
Health benefits of masturbation:
- It can provide a sexual outlet for people who abstain from sex by choice or due to loss of a partner.
- It can help to strengthen muscles in the pelvic and anal areas and help to reduce urine leakage.
- It increases blood flow to the genital area and can be helpful in keeping things supple and more responsive in the lady garden due to increased blood flow – especially as we age.
- It can help to reduce stress and release sexual tension.
- It can allow people to experience pleasure.
- We learn how we like to be touched and can relay this to a partner.
- It can allow people to feel more positive about their bodies and more connected.
- It can assist in learning about our own sexuality.
- It can help to prevent prostate cancer.
- It can help with the immune system, stimulate endorphin production and increase the flow of white blood cells.
- It can rejuvenate the circulation of hormones.
Masturbation can help with prostate health
The causes of prostate cancer remain uncertain. However, genetics, diet and lifestyle factors play important roles.
The Harvard Ejaculation Study involved about 30,0000 men aged from 41 to 81. It found that frequent ejaculation did not mark an increase in prostate cancer, but rather that men who ejaculated 21 times or more per month had a 31 per cent decrease in prostate cancer.
An Australian study of 2338 men showed that “men who averaged 4.6–7 ejaculations per week were 36 per cent less likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer before the age of 70 than men who ejaculated less than 2.3 times per week on average.”
What are you waiting for?
Are you comfortable talking about masturbation? Do you embrace the health benefits?
Lucy Patarcic is a sex therapist, relationship counsellor, general counsellor and clinical hypnotherapist in private practice in Sydney. She uses an integrated approach to therapy and holds a Master of Health Science (Sexual Health) and Master of Science in Medicine (HIV, STIs and Sexual Health) in Public Health both from the University of Sydney.