Nineteenth-century medical journals were much preoccupied with the sin of self-harm. One authority on mental illnesses even suggested that masturbation was the leading cause of insanity in asylum patients. An edition of the Canada Medical Journal published in 1870 contains a typical report:
Case 1st: J.C., aged 18. Was called to see him in the fall of 1868 and found him in a very precarious condition from the effects of masturbation, practised for two years. His weakness was extreme ; great pallor of the face, frequent and copious bleedings from the nose; at times intense headache, especially referable to the nape of the neck and back part of the head. Altogether in a most pitiable condition. With great difficulty he acknowledged his vile practice, and, upon enquiry, I found that he frequently had four or five seminal emissions during the night.
How does one treat such an affliction? With a course of ‘strong moral suasion’, of course.
I pursued a tonic course of treatment and strong moral suasion, tied his hands to the bedside, used hair gloves, croton oil liniment, and many other methods, to prevent the erections and consequent discharge. They all proved of no use. After so many failures I thought that I must resort to circumcision to prevent dementia.
Luckily, Dr Wood comes up with a novel – and less brutal – solution:
By a happy thought, however, I was enabled to radically and entirely cure the young man without resorting to the operation. My plan was as follows:—I took a strip of isinglass adhesive plaster, two inches long by half an inch wide, moistened it and applied it along the dorsum of the penis. It worked like a charm, and the young man has not been troubled by an erection since, when the plaster is on. He is now entirely recovered and at work at his trade.
A one-off? Not a bit of it; Dr Wood had an opportunity to test the new treatment on a second patient.
During the past summer I was called to see Case 2, C. S., age 21, suffering under the same complaint. I at once put him upon ferruginous tonics, and the bromide of potassium, applying the adhesive strips. This treatment was immediately attended with favorable results. The young man was never troubled if the strip was applied upon going to bed. A medical gentleman in my vicinity was induced to use the same treatment upon a patient of his, with like satisfactory results.