Sexual Etymology: Masturbation

by Jason Stotts

In a series I’m going to be calling “sexual etymology,” I’m going to explore the origins of some of the words that are in our sexual vocabulary.  I’m going to do this once a week or so.  If you have any requests, make them in the comments and I’ll add the word to the list of forthcoming articles.

The word of the week is: Masturbation.

Masturbation: (n.) manual stimulation of the genitals.  1766, in A. Hume’s Onanism; borrowed from French masturbation (1570 in Montaigne) and probably derived from New Latin masturbationem (nominative mastubatio), from Latin masturbari, alteration, probably by influence of turbare (to stir up), of earlier *man-stuprare (manus hand + stupare defile), which would reinforce the connection of a form with the earlier form in English masturpration, 1621, in Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy.

(Reference: Chambers Dictionary of Etymology, 1988)

So, there you have it.  The etymological origin of masturbation is “self defilement by the hand.”  As you shall see, many words that are in English now have very sex-negative roots.  Although some people would argue these words should be abandoned, I think it is more realistic to try and make them into positives, instead of abandoning the word altogether.  In this way, we won’t have to make up new words and try to get them adopted and we will reclaim old negative words for good.

1 Response to “Sexual Etymology: Masturbation”


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