Riotous Flesh: Women, Physiology, and the Solitary Vice in Nineteenth-Century America
April R. Haynes
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Nineteenth-century America saw numerous campaigns against masturbation,
which was said to cause illness, insanity, and even death. Riotous Flesh
explores women’s leadership of those movements, with a specific focus
on their rhetorical, social, and political effects, showing how a desire
to transform the politics of sex created unexpected alliances between
groups that otherwise had very different goals.
As April R. Haynes shows, the crusade against female masturbation was rooted in a generally shared agreement on some major points: that girls and women were as susceptible to masturbation as boys and men; that “self-abuse” was rooted in a lack of sexual information; and that sex education could empower women and girls to master their own bodies. Yet the groups who made this education their goal ranged widely, from “ultra” utopians and nascent feminists to black abolitionists. Riotous Flesh explains how and why diverse women came together to popularize, then institutionalize, the condemnation of masturbation, well before the advent of sexology or the professionalization of medicine.