Changes in Body Perception

The explanations offered for postmasturbatory diseases since the early 19th century under the lights of scientific medicine were based on a new concept of the human body as being analogous to a machine (33,34). The older understanding of the body as composed of fluid humors was replaced by a structural and functional view, which implied that the body was reducible to a machine composed of nerves, fibers, muscles, and glands. This conception of the body was not only promulgated by the physicians but adopted by their patients, who would routinely speak of themselves using terminology such as "depleted energy," "nervous excitations," and "muscular fatigue" (32). A substantial current within the new scientific medicine was the belief that sexual excess threatened the loss of vital energy. This theme, which drew from the theories of energy conservation in physics of the mid-19th century, entailed that each person was invested with a finite quantity of energy and its misuse would lead to physical degeneration and mental depravity (35). This energy model of the body would be instrumental in the creation of a new "spermatic economy," in which sperm—like money and labor force—had to be used optimally (36).

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