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Book Title Review: On Masturbation by Mark Twain

November 29, 2019

Don’t ask what he’s doing. (image via wikimedia)

On Masturbation might not be the best title for a book. A book title is supposed to make a potential reader want to start turning pages, but few topics turn off readers more than masturbation.  I’m not going to read a book called On Masturbation, no matter who wrote it.  I’ll read anything else by Mark Twain.  I’ll even read Tom Sawyer Detective if I have to.  But I refuse to read a book called On Masturbation.

On Masturbation was originally a speech called “Some Thoughts on the Science of Onanism.” That might be a better title, except the word Onanism is a reference to a Biblical figure named Onan, and a lot of people don’t read the Bible anymore, so too many potential readers didn’t know what Twain was talking about.

In case you didn’t know (I didn’t know either), Onan was a masturbator whom God struck down.  This demonstrates how times have changed.  When I was a kid, the story was a guy would go blind if he gratified himself too much or we’d grow hair on the palm of our hand (or both).  Nobody told us we’d be struck down by God.

The good news for On Masturbation is that schools supposedly are teaching self-gratification in their curriculum now, even in elementary schools.  That means if The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn gets banned from schools, it could easily be replaced by On Masturbation.  Teachers could get their sex education and classic American literature done at the same time.

Some people see masturbation as a dirty word.  I don’t know; it’s kind of long for a dirty word.  You don’t see many vulgar words whose roots are three-syllables long.  Masturbation might be considered the technical word, kind of like how fornicate is the technical word for fuck or defecate is the technical word for shit.  There’s no monosyllabic word for masturbate (why is the word monosyllabic five syllables long?).  Masturbate has a bunch of compound word euphemisms that end with off, like jack off, beat off, or whack off.  It’s weird that so many euphemisms for masturbate are compound words when masturbation requires only one person.

I’m sure On Masturbation is a funny book.  Supposedly it was one heck of a speech as well.  It’s too bad that YouTube didn’t exist back in the 1800s because Mark Twain talking about onanism was probably awesome.  Even so, I don’t want to carry that speech around with me, and I don’t want to be seen reading it, especially if the word MASTURBATION is in giant letters.

Masturbation might seem like a tasteless topic, but at least Twain gave his Onanism speech in Paris.  The French are supposed to be a bunch of perverts, but I don’t know if that was true in the 1800s.  If you’re going to give a speech about masturbation, tell it to a bunch of perverts in France.  Don’t talk about masturbation to a bunch of school kids.

When I was a kid, if a teacher had talked about masturbation, the teacher would have disappeared and nobody would have asked questions.  You just didn’t talk to kids about that.  Even creepy guys in white vans didn’t talk about masturbation to kids, and now schools are supposed to teach it.  If teachers start promoting masturbation, don’t be surprised if more teachers start driving white vans.

Even if schools teach masturbation, I don’t want to be seen reading a book called On Masturbation.  Guys don’t want to talk about masturbation, even if it’s called onanism.  Maybe schools should just refer to masturbation as onanism.  Then teachers could teach it and kids wouldn’t even know what they’re talking about.  That would make everybody happy, the perverts who want to teach onanism to kids and the parents who are horrified that perverts are teaching onanism to kids.  The only people who wouldn’t be happy would be the kids at school, and their opinions won’t matter until they’re 18.

And by then they’ve usually figured out onanism on their own.

And then Mark Twain’s book might make more sense to them.

But I still don’t like the title.

  1. Struck down by God for masturbating too much. Oh no, it appears my destiny is eternal damnation.

    • Maybe Onan got struck down for teaching it to little kids, and that detail got lost in one of the translations. But I’m no Biblical scholar.

  2. I’ve never seen the word masturbation appear so many times in a single text lol.

  3. Technically, Onan’s sin wasn’t masturbation, but premature withdrawal. God had commanded him to father a child with his dead brother’s widow, but he didn’t want to.

    In fact, my understanding is that there is no direct reference to masturbation anywhere in the Bible.

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