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To Great Lengths: 7 Historic Cures for Impotence

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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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Medicine
Charles Dickens Museum Highlights the Author's Contributions to Science and Medicine

Charles Dickens is celebrated for his verbose prose and memorable opening lines, but lesser known are his contributions to science—particularly the field of medicine.

A new exhibition at London’s Charles Dickens Museum—titled "Charles Dickens: Man of Science"—is showcasing the English author’s scientific side. In several instances, the writer's detailed descriptions of medical conditions predated and sometimes even inspired the discovery of several diseases, The Guardian reports.

In his novel Dombey and Son, the character of Mrs. Skewton was paralyzed on her right side and unable to speak. Dickens was the first person to document this inexplicable condition, and a scientist later discovered that one side of the brain was largely responsible for speech production. "Fat boy" Joe, a character in The Pickwick Papers who snored loudly while sleeping, later lent his namesake to Pickwickian Syndrome, otherwise known as obesity hypoventilation syndrome.

A figurine of Fat Boy Joe
Courtesy of the Charles Dickens Museum

Dickens also wrote eloquently about the symptoms of tuberculosis and dyslexia, and some of his passages were used to teach diagnosis to students of medicine.

“Dickens is an unbelievably acute observer of human behaviors,” museum curator Frankie Kubicki told The Guardian. “He captures these behaviors so perfectly that his descriptions can be used to build relationships between symptoms and disease.”

Dickens was also chummy with some of the leading scientists of his day, including Michael Faraday, Charles Darwin, and chemist Jane Marcet, and the exhibition showcases some of the writer's correspondence with these notable figures. Beyond medicine, Dickens also contributed to the fields of chemistry, geology, and environmental science.

Less scientifically sound was the author’s affinity for mesmerism, a form of hypnotism introduced in the 1770s as a method of controlling “animal magnetism,” a magnetic fluid which proponents of the practice believed flowed through all people. Dickens studied the methods of mesmerism and was so convinced by his powers that he later wrote, “I have the perfect conviction that I could magnetize a frying-pan.” A playbill of Animal Magnetism, an 1857 production that Dickens starred in, is also part of the exhibit.

A play script from Animal Magnetism
Courtesy of the Charles Dickens Museum

Located at 48-49 Doughty Street in London, the exhibition will be on display until November 11, 2018.

[h/t The Guardian]

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NASA // Public Domain
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History
On This Day in 1983, Sally Ride Made History
NASA // Public Domain
NASA // Public Domain

Thirty-five years ago today, on June 18, 1983, Sally Ride became the first American woman in space. She flew on the space shuttle Challenger on a six-day mission. She had previously helped build the shuttle's robot arm, and now she operated it in space. Not only was she the first American woman to go to space, she was the youngest astronaut in space, at age 32.

(As with many space-related firsts, that "American" qualifier is important. The Soviet space program had sent two women cosmonauts into space well in advance of Ride. Cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova flew all the way back in 1963, and Svetlana Savitskaya in 1982. They also sent various younger people to space, including Tereshkova.)

Ride represented a change in the previously completely male astronaut program. Although NASA had unofficially tested women in the late 1950s as part of the Mercury program, the idea of sending women into space was quickly discarded. NASA policy for decades was that only men would be considered as astronauts. It took until 1978 for NASA to change the policy—that year, six women became astronauts: Sally Ride, Judith Resnik, Kathryn Sullivan, Anna Fisher, Margaret Rhea Seddon, and Shannon Lucid.

Ride and her colleagues were subject to an endless barrage of sexist media questions, curious how women might fare in space. They also encountered institutional sexism at NASA itself. Ride recalled:

"The engineers at NASA, in their infinite wisdom, decided that women astronauts would want makeup—so they designed a makeup kit. A makeup kit brought to you by NASA engineers. ... You can just imagine the discussions amongst the predominantly male engineers about what should go in a makeup kit."

Ride held a Ph.D. in astrophysics, two bachelor's degrees (English and physics), and had served as CapCom (Capsule Communicator) for the second and third shuttle flights, STS-2 and -3. She was an accomplished pilot and athlete, as well as a Presbyterian elder. She was closely connected to Challenger, performing two missions on it and losing four fellow members of her 1978 class when it exploded.

After her astronaut career concluded, Ride served on both the Challenger and Columbia disaster review panels. During the former, she leaked vital information about the Challenger disaster (o-ring engineering reports), though this wasn't broadly known until after her death. She wrote educational books and founded Sally Ride Science. She was asked to head up NASA by the Clinton administration, but declined.

Ride died in 2012 from pancreatic cancer. Her obituary made news for quietly mentioning that she was survived by her partner of 27 years, Tam O'Shaughnessy. Although Ride had come out to her family and close friends, the obituary was the first public statement that she was gay. It was also the first time most people found out she'd suffered from pancreatic cancer at all; she asked that donations in her memory be made to a fund devoted to studying that form of cancer.

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