From the 13th to the end of the 17th century, particularly among the upper classes, impotence was one of the only grounds for divorce. In fact, in canonical (ecclesiastical) law, it was considered a deadly sin for an impotent man to marry, although there was nothing actually preventing him from doing so. The only means of proof of impotence, was to sequester the couple behind curtains and ask them to have intercourse in front of expert witnesses, although the lack of exact definitions led to much ambiguity. Juries occasionally required that the man ejaculated in public, whereas others inspected the woman’s hymen. For obvious reasons, these trials attracted a great deal of publicity. Impotence trials became more frequent from the end of the 16th century, with reports on trials widely distributed. Such public trials continued until 1670, after which they were thought to be too scandalous, and were abolished.
Speculation about the causes of impotence continued throughout the centuries, with the ultimate focus on divine providence rather than physiology. This continued until the 19th century, when authorities promoted a new theory, claiming that impotence was a male disorder caused by insufficient self-control and sexual misconduct.
At this time, the high incidence of impotence among Victorian men was attributed mainly to the voluntary loss of semen through masturbation. Because of public outcry, many pamphlets were distributed, and parents warned their young sons not to practice such evils.
Treatments to prevent such semen mistreatment included quinine, opium and digitalis, and sponging with cold salt water at 5 o’clock in the morning.
For more difficult cases, physicians blood letting to remove the “pressure” which would reduce the congestion in the vessels of the urethra thereby curing impotency. Various tools were also developed for more serious cases, such as the Jugum Penis a pointed urethral ring.
They even had devices for ‘spermatorrhoea‘ to prevent the dreaded involuntary ‘nocturnal emissions’ (aka wet dreams).
- Wouldn’t mind if my exes tested this out.
Also, in the 19th century, many doctors in England recommended eating Hemlock as a cure for impotency. I’m sure they died from the sheer embarrassment of it all.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, everyone knew that electricity could cure everything. Electric belts became the most popular impotence cure between 1890 and 1920 by offering a unique combination of discretion, diagnoses, and deliverance. In addition to promising to treat impotence so quietly that even one’s wife would not know. Doctors and scholars practiced and taught electrotherapy since the mid-18th century in hospitals around Paris and London.
By the 19th century, devices became smaller, more portable, and easier to operate, giving way to a wave of battery companies that produced electric-based health products. General medical commodities, including products like the electropathic belt, easily made up 25 percent of all advertisements by 1880. Needless to say, it wasn’t very effective. However, the visual of men hunched over in a closet hiding from their wives while getting shocked in the stomach does make me smile inside.
During the early 20th century, science on erectile dysfunction veered off the tracks. In 1918, a Russian doctor came up with the idea of transplanting monkey testicle tissue into humans.
This started a series of ill-conceived experimental surgeries to treat ED by implanting strips of testicles taken from human cadavers, goats, boars, and deer into men with impotence.
In the 1960’s, there was the ‘Rise’ of the penile implant. The earliest penile implants were based on the observation that many animals had actual penile bones. But attempts to implant bone or cartilage into the human penis failed because the grafts were quickly absorbed. Instead, doctors began using synthetic implants.
The first implants were hard and caused pain. In the early 1970’s these were replaced with implants that could be pumped full of air. This option is still popular as an ED treatment but does involve the risks of surgery.
In the 1970’s a Pentecostal minister with a tire repair business really pumped up the excitement for ED sufferers, when he figured out how to attach a tire pump to a cylinder, insert a penis into said cylinder and pump up an erection using negative pressure. From such beginnings came the FDA-approved vacuum penis pump system for erectile dysfunction, which many men (and porn stars) still use today. If you’re not a slave to spontaneity, you may be able to pump up an erection that lasts about 30 minutes and forgo the visit to the pharmacy.
This discovery just goes to show that good things can come from bad beginnings. A French surgeon unintentionally injected the drug papaverine, used to open up blood vessels, into someone’s penis, and it caused an instant erection. Thus, the beginning of intracavernosal injection ED therapy.
This is MUSE, an alternate penile injection where the medicine is distributed directly into the penis through the urethra
Fun Fact: In 1983, a British researcher actually injected his own penis at a medical meeting to prove how effective this treatment could be for erectile dysfunction.
And finally, the modern age. In 1994, another accident occurred. Researchers found that sildenafil, a drug being studied to treat angina (chronic chest pains) also caused erections. In 1998, the FDA approved Viagra to treat impotence, and it was soon followed by Cialis and Levitra. And just five years after oral ED drugs appeared, erectile dysfunction diagnoses increased by 250 percent.
Needless to say, if you are among the 30+ million men with ED today, it’s a good thing you were born in this century.