The Middle Ages had the Black Death, 1918 had the influenza epidemic. But the scourge sweeping the land at the end of the 19th century? Masturbation.
We’re not exaggerating. According to the medical minds of the time, "No single vice causes so much mental and physical debility… It impairs the intellect, weakens the memory, debases the mind, ruins the nervous system, exhausts the vital power and destroys body, mind and soul." They thought masturbation could result in insanity, impotence, epilepsy and "puny offspring."
You could blame pretty much everything on masturbation as long as you ignored the truth. Sure, the general view on masturbation became a lot more sane, sometimes even to a degree that went a bit too far for some (in the 1970s there were sex education films shown in some schools in countries like Belgium and Sweden that featured teens demonstrating how to masturbate) but even as late as 1994 the U.S. Surgeon General was fired for just saying masturbation was part of human sexuality. By Bill Clinton of all people.
Fortunately (well…) for sufferers, doctors back then had almost as many cures as there were symptoms. John Harvey Kellogg for example (yes, the cornflakes guy) was an advocate of circumcising young boys to curb masturbation and applying phenol (an acid that can cause second and third-degree burns) to a girl’s clitoris. Read more on Cracked: 5 Insane Ways Fear of Masturbation Shaped the Modern World
Gladly most of us are over this….