As depicted in Salvador Dali's "The Great Masturbator", masturbation is a fascinating and complex topic that affects each of us differently. Despite almost universal agreement by medical doctors that masturbation is a normal, safe, and common practice, masturbation continues to be associated with embarrassment, shame, and guilt, primarily due to societal perceptions of the act. Yet masturbation is a common and natural function that is practiced by individuals of all sexual orientations, genders, and ages. Masturbation is defined as sexual self-pleasuring that involves self-stimulation. According to recent studies, 97% of men and 83% of women have masturbated at some point in their lives. That is an increase from the 1950s Kinsey Report, which reported that 92% of men and 58% of women have masturbated. Although masturbation is statistically quite prevalent, it is still viewed by society as a taboo subject.
While there are no direct references to masturbation in cave paintings or other prehistoric artifacts, the practice of masturbation by Bonobo chimpanzees, which share 98.4% percent of our DNA, provides some confirmation that masturbation has likely been practiced since the dawn of mankind. The Ancient World
In the ancient world, depictions of male masturbation are relatively common. The Egyptians, for example, celebrated masturbation as the process by which the sun god, Atum, created the first Adam and Eve equivalents, Shu and Tefnut. "With the hand of God, Atum masturbated and brought forth the first pair of souls." The Sumerians, who invented the first written Western language, make reference to the Mesopotamian god Enki masturbating, his ejaculation filling the Tigris River with flowing water. Condemnation of masturbation is as old as fertility-worship and is probably based on early man’s realization that there is safety in numbers. A bigger tribe is more likely to gain new territory and expand its power base. In theory, this is this reason that any form of sexual pleasure unlikely to result in a population increase (e.g. masturbation, homosexuality, oral/anal sex) has routinely been denounced as wrong. While in today’s overpopulated world this rationale no longer makes logical sense, this belief structure continues to drive the moral attitudes of many people. In the Judeo-Christian tradition prevalent throughout Western society, the main Scripture quoted by Christians to denounce masturbation is Genesis 38. In biblical times, under Jewish law, a brother was required to procreate with his brother's widow. Onan of Judah refused, and "spilled his seed" (i.e. ejaculate), on the ground instead. This is the origin of the term Onanism (The Sin of Onan) which is incorrectly used in place of masturbation — in fact, what really happened was premature withdrawal (i.e. coitus interruptus).
18th & 19th Centuries
It was primarily during the 1700s and 1800s when masturbation was first associated with mental and physical deficiencies. Some prominent physicians, scientists, philosophers, and religious leaders believed that illnesses such as insanity, vision and hearing problems, epilepsy, mental retardation, and general health problems were caused by self-stimulation. In fact, over 60% of medical and mental illnesses were blamed on masturbation. The fear of masturbation was so great that throughout the world, extreme preventative measures were instituted including the use of mechanical restraints, genital surgery, and physical discipline. By the 19th century the cereal magnate John Harvey Kellogg declared "sex for anything but reproduction" to be "sexual excess." Kellogg and others began advocating routine circumcision of males as a deterrent to masturbation.
In the 20th Century, individuals within the medical community began questioning whether or not masturbation was independent from the various psychiatric and medical illnesses to which it was historically...