Is Masturbation Bad for Capitalism?

Does Avoiding Masturbation
Increase Productivity?

What’s wrong with decreased productivity?
It’s a strike against capitalism.

Perhaps it’s the opposite. I’m a woman, currently
single. Avoiding masturbation makes me horny,
frustrated, unable to concentrate on my work.

It only takes 5–10 minutes a day, or 15–20
minutes if I feel once isn’t enough.

If I don’t do it, I’m in a bad mood for the rest of the day.

Masturbation & The
Protestant Work Ethic

The notion that masturbation is a productivity-sapping distraction, is popular and much discussed in some quarters.

A Google search for “masturbation and productivity” reveals a virtual army of mostly young-sounding males (yes, they’re almost all males) fretting and/or preaching about how masturbation can divert one’s focus from the things that matter.

With the exception of people whose masturbation interferes directly with their work or social lives there’s simply no hard scientific evidence to back up any of this.

While it doesn’t appear researchers have empirically examined possible links between masturbation and productivity, there is significant evidence debunking the most common sex and productivity notion: that sex before playing sports inhibits performance.

Since arguments about masturbation are often couched in similar terms — that it drains away a certain edge or drive, leading to apathy — there are plenty of reasons to be skeptical of them.

Plus, there’s no evidence to suggest masturbation is a harmful activity in any broader sense, and it’s been linked to health benefits in both men and women.

It’s striking that despite the dearth of evidence, so many young men are convinced, or at least worried, that they are jerking away their best ideas and ambitions. What can account for this?

The short answer is that anti-masturbation crusades are a 2014 version of a notion that can be traced to a very specific publication 300 years ago.

Most people associate anti-masturbation views with religious fundamentalism, and there are, of course, somewhat ambiguous passages in the Bible that can be read as denouncing masturbation, as well as religious communities that view masturbation as a sin to this day.

But it would be a mistake to view Western fears about masturbation as an ancient line of thought stemming from Judeo-Christian religious texts.

Solitary Sex: A Cultural History of Masturbation covers more than 2,000 years of thinking and writing about masturbation.

Masturbation as we know it, was invented in about 1712, born of a tract that named a new disease and singlehandedly created a “nearly universal engine for generating guilt, shame, and anxiety”. That tract was Onania; or, The Heinous Sin of Self Pollution, and all its Frightful Consequences.

THIS Practice is so frequent, and so crying an Offense, especially among the MALE YOUTH of this Nation that I have Reason to imagine, a great many Offenders would never have been Guilty of it, if they had been thoroughly acquainted with the Heinousness of the Crime, and the sad Consequences to the BODY as well as the SOUL, which may, and often do ensue upon it. This was the chief Motive that induc’d me to write on this Subject.

According to the author of Onania (“a surgeon of sorts who wrote soft-core medical pornography,” according to Solitary Sex), masturbation can bring great tragedy upon those whom it seduces.

Among other symptoms, it can stunt growth, cause epilepsy, and, perhaps most alarming, lead to the contraction of “Gonorrhea’s, more difficult to be cured, than those contracted from Women actually labouring under foul Diseases.”

It’s hard to overstate the tract’s impact. It served as the foundation stone of a serious medical tradition that transformed cultural assumptions that had been securely in place for thousands of years.

In the decades and centuries that followed, masturbation went from being mostly ignored to being highly pathologized — suddenly, it was an extremely dangerous, corrupting activity, and all sorts of treatments and punishments and laws emerged as a result of this belief.

While masturbation has since gone through a number of cultural transformations — and by around 1920 was in general no longer seen as a medically dangerous act — we’re still standing in the shadow of Onania.

Masturbation jokes in Seinfeld and American Pie are steeped in an ironic view of past prejudices and persistent transgressions. But for all their jaded sophistication these gags do not fully exorcise the demons of guilt and obsession that the eighteenth century let loose.

Today’s anti-masturbation worries have been tailored for an age in which productivity is the sort of buzzword piety or purity were back when this panic first emerged.

It’s a mutated strain of an old legend, and it still contains some of that legend’s original DNA: Modernize the language, and the tract’s claim that “many Young Men who were strong and lusty before they gave themselves over to this vice, have been worn out by it” sounds a lot like contemporary campaigns.

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