‘Sons of Belial’
‘Sons of Belial’
Contaminated/Contaminating Victorian Male Bodies
Lesley A. Hall examines the fear of the sexualised male body as a vector for diseases capable of disrupting both familial and social dynamics. While academic research has tended to focus on the potential for damage caused by the sexually diseased female body, Hall redresses the balance by considering the pariah status attributed to those, such as soldiers and sailors, considered to be over-sexed or lacking in self-control. But the prejudice was extended to those men in general society either afflicted by syphilis or gonorrhoea or regarded as threatening through their moral laxity the reproductive healthiness of family life. Hall shows how this threat became increasingly public in wider culture during the last decades of the nineteenth century, bringing about both general condemnation and legislative amendment. Reinforcing such anxieties about wayward male concupiscence was an equally virulent condemnation of masturbation as consciously self-harming. Hall asserts that masturbation was considered more than a personal vice, being viewed as potentially contaminative – seminal loss producing not just a range of frightful pathologies for the individual but a transmission of harmful agents to others.
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