First, let’s get one thing straight: There is literally zero scientific evidence to support the theory that masturbating too much could lead to blindness. Multiple researchers, including sexologist Alfred Kinsey, have reported on people who masturbated four times a day or so for years, and suffered no physical consequences.
So where did this treasonous rumor originate? In the depths of Hell? Inside a Mormon compound in Utah? A whisper from God?
The myth’s origins go back at least as far as Ancient Greece, with Aristotle himself remarking on how the region around the eyes was the region of the head “most fruitful of semen.” In R.B. Onians’ The Origins of European Thought: About the Body, the Mind, the Soul, the World, Time and Fate, the classicist explains that Aristotle’s bizarre (to us, at least) understanding of biology may have come from the Pythagoreans’ theory that “semen is a drop of the brain.” These beliefs were supported, in part, by “generally recognised effects upon the eyes of sexual indulgence and to practices which imply that seed comes from liquid in the region of the eyes,” Onians writes.
But while Aristotle may have been the first to hint at a connection between poor vision and shaking hands with the one-eyed milkman, he wasn’t the foremost purveyor of the wank-yourself-blind myth. In 1712, Dutch theologian Balthasar Bekker published a monograph with the succinct and catchy title, “Onania, or the Heinous Sin of Self-Pollution, And All Its Frightful Consequences, In Both Sexes, Considered: With Spiritual and Physical Advice To Those Who Have Already Injured Themselves By This Abominable Practice.”
In it, he claimed that masturbation leads to “disturbances of the stomach and digestion, loss of appetite or ravenous hunger, vomiting, nausea, weakening of the organs of breathing, coughing, hoarseness, paralysis, weakening of the organ of generation to the point of impotence, lack of libido, back pain, disorders of the eye and ear, total diminution of bodily powers, paleness, thinness, pimples on the face, decline of intellectual powers, loss of memory, attacks of rage, madness, idiocy, epilepsy, fever and finally suicide.”
It’s a list of ills that might well make a person consider themselves lucky to only lose their eyesight.
This wasn’t the last time that fears of jerk-off-related mental health issues were raised, either. French philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau described several incidents in his book Confessions, which was published after his death in the 1780s. He viewed the “vice” of masturbation, when coupled with sexual fantasies, as a form of rape. He believed that it “has a particular attraction for lively imaginations. It allows them to dispose, so to speak, of the whole female sex at their will, and to make any beauty who tempts them serve their pleasure without the need of first obtaining her consent.” He then warned his readers, “Once a young person gets the habit, there is no breaking it short of death.”
Still, the blindness myth continued to be spread, along with the usual laundry list of other ailments. In the late 18th century, a Swiss physician named Samuel-Auguste Tissot, based on conversations with his patients, announced that alterations of blood flow during any sexual activity can lead to nerve damage, insanity and blindness. He believed that the addictive nature of masturbation was especially hazardous in this respect.
The rumor, of course, persists to this day — a prominent topic discussed on myriad online forums — for which you can probably thank the Catholic Church. More specifically, the nuns of the 1950s, who told young boys that masturbation violated the Sixth Commandment — “thou shall not commit adultery” — and thus could cause you to go blind.
Luckily, for most young men… and middle-aged men… and old men, these rumors wouldn’t be enough to dissuade them from latching their hands around their dicks and experiencing one of the few unencumbered pleasures life has to offer.
Anyone can see that very clearly.