On the Diseases Caused by Masturbation: Or, Onanaism, which Samuel-Auguste Tissot originally published in 1760 under the French title, L’Onanism. Dissertation sur les maladies produites par la masturbation, is a medical treatise on the ill effects of masturbation on both the mind and the body. The book recounts stories from his own patients and from the patients of other renowned European doctors to support his claim that masturbation is deleterious to a person’s body and mind. Tissot also uses quotes from the ancient physicians, such as Galen and Celsus, as well as the most noted doctors of his day, such as Herman Boerhaave, to further strengthen his claim.
One of the physicians whom Tissot quotes claims, for example, that masturbation causes “young persons [to] assume the air and the diseases of the aged; they become pale, stupid, effeminate, idle, weak, and even void of understanding; their bodies bend forward, their legs are weak, they have a disgust for every thing, become fit for nothing, and many are affected with paralysis”; and another, that “the too great loss of semen produces weakness, debility, immobility, convulsions, emaciation, dryness, pains in the membranes of the brain, impairs the senses, particularly that of sight, gives rise to dorsal consumption, indolence, and to the several diseases connected with them.” And Tissot himself writes of one of his own patients, “A young man, not sixteen years old, became addicted to masturbation to so great a degree, that finally, instead of semen there was an emission of blood, which was followed by excessive pain and inflammation of all the genital organs.” However, the reader should not mistake this piece as an out-moded medicinal work; Tissot also summarizes the beliefs of some ancient philosophers on masturbation and its effects on the mind. “Epicurus,” he writes, “regarded the semen as a part of the soul and body and prescribed rules for carefully preserving it.”
Tissot himself was born in Grancy, Switzerland in 1728, but practiced for most of his life in the Swiss city of Lausanne. He was one of the most notable physicians of his day. He was appointed Vatican medical advisor and once even received a letter of praise from Napoleon Bonaparte, who commended him in a letter dated 1 April 1787, for his, “days in treating humanity,” and even conceded that Tissot’s fame and reputation “has reached even into the mountains of Corsica.” Bonaparte then concluded, that he has a great deal of “respect for [Tissot’s] works.” And Bonaparte was not mistaken in his admiration of Tissot; even modern doctors still regard him as a basis for “future generations of doctors.” (Journal of Neurology, Volume 233, Number 2.)
Tissot is most noted in the medical community for a chapter that he wrote on the migraine in his more comprehensive Traité des nerfs et de leurs maladies (Treatise on the Nerves and Nervous Disorders) and modern doctors now regard him as “the classical authority on the migraine.” But Tissot’s best-seller, and one of the best-selling medical books in the entire 18th century, was a small book that he published in 1761 entitled, Avis au peuple sur sa santé (Advice to People on their Health). As the title suggests, Tissot’s best-seller was a handbook for people who wanted to maintain good health and establish habits that were essential to living long and healthy lives.
One year before Tissot had published his famous Avis au peuple sa santé, he published the following work: L’Onanism: Dissertation sur les maladies produites par la masturbation (Onanism: A Dissertation on the Diseases Caused by Masturbation).
He continued to practice in Lausanne until his death in 1797 at the age of 69.