Sex Roles, Vol. 52, Nos. 3/4, February 2005 ( 2005) DOI: 10.1007/s11199-005-1304-6 Book Review The Big Book of Masturbation: From Angst to Zeal. with which its pathogenic powers have been pro- Martha Cornog, San Francisco, CA, Down pounded in the past” (p. 234). Two original contribu- There Press, 2003. 360 pp. $22.00. tions examine contemporary Western conﬂicts over the morality of adult masturbation. These papers, by Martha Cornog’s panoramic view of masturba- Alan Soble and Harold Ivan Smith, respectfully bal- tion won’t satisfy an interest in prurience, empiri- ance liberal and conservative arguments. cism, or sexual enhancement. Cornog’s purpose is Although the broad focus means academic to provide “a kaleidoscopic picture of masturbation readers will ﬁnd the chapter summarizing their own through different disciplines” (p. xvii). ﬁeld familiar (though accurate), the multidisciplinary The author crosses historical, cultural, and aca- structure provides plenty of fresh, useful perspec- demic lines to illustrate how “masturbation has been tives. The psychological perspective seemed ﬂat regarded so negatively and also so positively” (p. compared to philosophy’s debate about whether xv). The author is a librarian, and the breadth sexuality is ideally unitary (where desire is about the of her research impresses, but she does not at- physical sensations) or binary (where desire is about tempt to answer any particular question. Thus, the a relationship). A survey of more than 70 societies’ book reads more like an encyclopedia. Cornog an- views of masturbation convinced this reader that be- thologizes writers on masturbation from predictable liefs are thoroughly local. For example, one Oceanic ﬁelds (medicine, psychology, sexology, and religion) people endorse masturbation for children but not as well as more surprising ones (zoology, anthro- for adults, whereas a neighboring people believe pology, evolution, law, and philosophy). She adds the opposite. The differences between men’s and chapters about slang, ﬁction, and humor, which are women’s masturbatory practices are visible across playful contrasts to the serious scholarship on solo cultures, even those relatively accepting of tine sex. practice. Men masturbate at signiﬁcantly higher rates For the reader who wants to sample civilization’s than women do, though men’s practice has always views on this common yet secret pleasure, the book is been more strongly criticized by society (originating absorbing. Cornog summarizes what the Dalai Lama with the belief that masturbation would abort the says about masturbation, how porcupines manage it, man’s unborn children). and whether physicians believe one can overdo it. Although Cornog answers no particular ques- The roots of medical horror at masturbation are ex- tion about this provocative subject, this book suits plained (e.g., physicians confused the symptoms of any readers who wish to expand their knowledge STDS with the effects of autoeroticism). Cornog in- base or to possess a readable secondary source. cludes, too, Thomas Szasz’s argument that in the “therapeutic power of masturbation” is not differ- Nina Williams, PhD ent than “the same smug professional conviction Robert Wood Johnson Medical School 267 0360-0025/05/0200-0267/0 2005 Springer Science+Business Media, Inc.
Sex Roles – Springer Journals
Published: Jan 1, 2005
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