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Spring 2023


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An Interview with Thomas Laqueur on NPR’s Fresh Air
Bodies Through Time: A Historian Traces Our Evolving Relationship With The Dead

For an episode of the NPR podcast Fresh Air, Terry Gross interviews Thomas Laqueur, author of Solitary Sex: A Cultural History of Masturbation. Click here to learn more about the book. Click here to listen to the interview. An excerpt appears below:

“On why he wrote Solitary Sex, a book about the taboo of masturbation

I can give you two reasons. The more general reason, and the reason that ties these two books together, is that a bunch of my work in the last 20 or 30 years and my interest is how humans give meaning to their bodies. And so a taboo against solitary sex and, at a very different level, giving meaning to a dead body are part of the same project. But the specific historical reason I was interested in this is that it was puzzling. That is to say, all of a sudden, in the 18th century, and then dramatically more in the 19th, doctors and religious people, but also secular people and educators, all began to think that solitary sex came to be called ‘masturbation.’ … It was morally awful, but it was also dangerous, it was medically dangerous, so I thought, ‘Really?’ … I actually nailed when [that notion] started. It started in 1712 with a little pamphlet — that was a remarkable fact. So I became interested in exploring how is this possible, how [does] a taboo that everyone now knows about come into being, when 300 years ago no one would’ve given it any thought?”