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To Great Lengths: 7 Historic Cures for Impotence

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Google Patents

We may think of the inability to get or maintain an erection as a problem reserved for the ruggedly handsome 50-year-old millionaires joyously piloting their yachts in the background of Viagra commercials. But there has never been a time or place where men weren’t extremely attached to their penises, and the sexual vitality and youth they represent. For centuries the desire to “Rouse the Venus loitering in the Veins” has driven men to take whatever insane cures were currently popular. Sometimes it was drinking tea made from flowers with big stamens … sometimes it was burning witches. Here are seven historic methods men used to regain a firm grasp on their masculinity.

1. Eating Animal Privates

Here is the first rule for ancient impotency cures, and it applies to nearly the entire planet: If an animal bears a feature that even remotely resembles a reproductive organ, or makes you think of ferocity, or is known for rapid reproduction, or maybe you dreamed about that animal, or maybe you caught a bug and you don’t know what else to do with it … grind that sucker up and eat it. It’ll restore your manhood. Over the millennia pretty much every animal has had its penis, horns, fins, muscle, bones, bladder, or exoskeleton ground into an aphrodisiac. Albertus Magnus was a philosopher and writer in the 1200s, and he would have laughed in the sissy face of Viagra. His method was for real men. “If a wolf’s penis is roasted in an oven, cut into small pieces, and a small portion of this is chewed, the consumer will experience an immediate yen for sexual intercourse.” If catching a wolf and roasting his genitals in your oven doesn’t make you feel like a man, nothing will.  

2. “Congesters” (Penis Pumps)

Frederick Hollick, in his 1850 book The Marriage Guide, described a case brought to him involving a man who had married at 32 in the hopes of curing his life-long impotence. This did not happen, and “the misery of two humans could scarcely be more complete.” So the good doctor stuck the unfortunate penis into his Congester. The Congester was very similar to a modern penis pump: It worked by sucking all the air out of the tube the penis was put into, creating a vacuum that forced blood into the spongy tissue of the phallus. After two weeks of regular applications with The Congester, the newlywed’s manhood was up and running. The really weird thing is urologists still sometimes recommend this for patients who don’t respond to Viagra. Perhaps penis pumps, like sunsets, are something science can’t improve upon.   

3. Flagellation

Oh, the poor French. English speakers put their name in front of anything they want to make sound sordid. French kisses, French letters (condoms), and the French Disease (syphilis). And then the 19th century French cure for impotence. Flagellation. Yes. That means to take a small cat o' nine tails whip, and lightly tickle and spank the privates of the uninspired patient. Dr. Hollick describes it thusly: The Flagellator should be applied “the whole length of the Penis, and on the Pubes, the Perinuem, and inside of the thighs, until the flesh is quite red and smarts.” This causes an influx of blood to the parts that are lacking vitality. And possibly the development of a fetish that will bring endless nights of both satisfaction and mild abrasion burns.  

4. Burning Witches

In 1486, German Inquisitor Heinrich Kramer wrote Malleus Maleficarum (The Hammer of Witches), a treatise on how to recognize witchcraft—as well as a refutation to those gullible enough not to believe that a witch could steal your penis. Don’t kid yourself. Your penis is very important to a witch and the dark forces she wields. You might ask, why isn’t she using her magic to overthrow governments or poison well water? Because those things are nothing compared to the performance of your wedding tackle! She’ll risk her own life, just to take the breeze out of your windsock! People used Kramer’s Hammer to smelt out witches for centuries. As he described, a witch would curse newlywed men with impotence, making them unable to consummate their marriages and causing disharmony in God’s Holy union. Luckily, the early church allowed for marriage annulment on the grounds of magical impotence. The witch who caused it, however, was in trouble. As late as 1718, the Parliament of Bourdeaux executed a witch for this crime. 

5. Splints

Splints! Like for a broken arm! But instead for a droopy penis! Inventors have been applying for new and improved penis splint patents through all of the 20th century; one of the most recent in 2009. Splints have a rigid base on which the penis lays, and two rings attached, one to grasp the member at either end. It is usually strapped to the body around the back or scrotum. Though most men would be sold right at “scrotum strapping,” there were other points to consider. First of all, a splinted penis does not always an erection make, any more than straightening out cooked spaghetti makes it raw again. Also, splints by their very nature have to be made of a hard, unyielding material (spring steel, bronze, or aluminum was recommended in a 1922 patent). This means the couple using the splint would have inhospitable materials thrashing around their privates. Materials that don’t belong down there, unless one is trying to extract a Dark Ages sorcery confession. Even then it’s just awful. 

6. Don’t Think of Sex!

In the early 19th century, some physicians believed impotence could be caused by overuse of the sexual faculties, especially from “self-abuse.” That the musculature, such as it was, was tired. So they’d put the penis on strict bed rest. Anything that might cause the slightest swell in a man’s nethers was to be avoided. The imagination must be cleansed and blood drawn away from the “apperature” whenever possible. “The local application of cold water has a great affect in allaying the excitable state of the generative organs, and should be had recourse to at least twice a day,” said an entry in The Cyclopaedia of Practical Medicine, published in 1833. The strange thing is this might have worked, though not as intended. It’s the same principle as “don’t think of a white elephant.” You can’t help but think of it. Now, don’t think of Madame’s bountiful décolletage! You’re not allowed. Stop! Oh, you thought of it. Now look what you’ve done.

7. Monkey Testicle Grafts

As medical advancements continued into the 20th century, men of science came to view grounding up animal privates and eating them for virility as horrifically primitive. To truly cure impotence, those privates needed to be surgically grafted onto the patient! Enter Serge Voronoff. In 1920, he performed his first monkey-to-man testicular operation. (Before he had used the testicles of dead criminals for this operation, but as you can imagine, he eventually ran out of dead criminals and resorted to monkeys.) He grafted a thin slice of chimpanzee testicle onto that of a man that suffered waning virility. In reality, the human body rejected the foreign object immediately, leaving a scar that led both the doctor and his patients to believe the graft was successfully in place. Even though this process didn’t work, no one seemed to care. By the 1930s, thousands of wealthy men everywhere where lining up to have monkeyball inserted into their scrotums. Unfortunately with success comes skeptics, and Voronoff’s work was soon unveiled as being utterly deranged. Sad news for the men who had believed themselves cured (good news, though, for the monkeys). 

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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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