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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May 2, 2013 - 2:00pm
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