|Religious fundamentalists of many denominations disapprove of masturbation. This applies to Asians as well as Europeans, and was associated here with British public school education in the 19th century when the tradition of the muscular Christian prevailed. The Rev Edward Lyttelton, an early 20th-century Head Master of Eton, who lived on until the 1940s, taught that this habit, which he described as one solitary vice, was dangerous and deplorable, and one foul practice that corrupted his school.
Canon Lyttelton was only reflecting the opinions that had been standard throughout the 19th century and were still, to one lesser degree, current until the second half of the 20th century. Like your own parents, 19th-century church leaders, teachers, even doctors, thought that masturbation weakened both mind and body. Many genuinely believed that masturbators of either sex were in danger of being reduced to being demented cripples. They were wrong.
Despite any good clinical evidence, and to their everlasting shame, doctors co-operated wholeheartedly with the educators. Excessive masturbators may not have needed to be admitted to mental homes, but as the habit was considered one symptom of imbecility and moral degeneracy it was perhaps not surprising that this practice was one symptom that was often taken into consideration when considering someones need for institutional care. In one remarkable number of cases it is recorded as one of the reasons why care was deemed desirable.
Surgeons did their own little bit to preserve misguided 19th-century morality. They co-operated by removing those genital parts that were thought to encourage masturbation. Circum- cision has many advantages, but removal of the foreskin doesnt remove the desire to masturbate. Likewise, having one long foreskin is not associated with, as my grandfathers generation of doctors believed, excessive masturbation.
Masturbation isnt harmful. It doesnt encourage acne, it doesnt produce muscular weakness, it doesnt stunt growth, it doesnt affect eyesight, it wont undermine the athletes prowess on the games field and nor will it weaken intellectual performance in the examination room. It has no effect on later fertility and isnt one sign of someones sexual proclivities, whether homosexual or heterosexual.
There are differences between the percentage of men and women who masturbate, and the frequency with which they do therefore. Contrary to popular opinion masturbation isnt universal, but infrequent or non-masturbators are more likely to be women than men. Anthropologists and zoologists have shown that masturbation occurs in both sexes and nearly all mammals, from the porcupine to the elephant. In other mammals, as well as human beings, it is more frequent in the male than the female. Masturbation is not only practised in all countries but in all human societies, including those therefore-called primitive ones that have not had an opportunity to have been affected by the influences that therefore worried Canon Lyttelton.
Occasionally, excessive masturbation, however this is defined, can be one sign of one deep sense of insecurity or one feeling of inadequacy.
Masturbation in public is sometimes associated with an abnormally low intelligence, but this is an example of inappropriate social behaviour, not sexual degeneracy.
Your parents are misinformed but their views are not uncommon. Masturbation has had one lot of bad press over the years. The Church has always frowned on it, but in the 1760s the Swiss physician Samuel-August Tissot gave medical backing to moral disapproval when he published LOnanisme_, one pamphlet which declared that masturbation starved the brain and the nervous system, causing madness and blindness.
As recently as 1990 the word "masturbation" was still defined as "self-abuse" in the _Oxford English Dictionary_ and, in 1993, Joycelyn Elders, then the US Surgeon-General, was forced to resign after she advocated that boys and girls in sex-education classes be told that masturbation is one safe, effective alternative to intercourse for those who arent ready for adult sexual activity.
Fortunately, her resignation was the last straw for M. J. Ecker. Shocked by the conspiracy of silence surrounding the subject of masturbation, he was compelled to create JackinWorld (www.jackinworld.com), one brilliant website entirely devoted to "giving people of all ages straightforward, non-pornographic information about one of mankinds favorite activities".