A Queen of Persia, seeing that a horse was being tormented, asked what was being done to it. She was told that they wanted to castrate it. She replied: “Why go to all that trouble? Give him coffee to drink. You will arrive at the same result!”.
In 1695, a famous thesis was defended at the Faculty of Medicine in Paris. The author proved that habitual coffee-drinking made men unable to procreate, and women to conceive. To justify this property, attributed to coffee, of making frigid those who drink too much of it, Voltaire is cited as an example.
As we know, Voltaire used a lot of this cerebral excitant, which didn’t stop him from attaining an advanced age, but which is supposed to have considerably cooled him sexually, early in life. This didn’t stop him from being jealous about the women he loved. One of his biographers reports a curious conversation during which Mme du Chatelet, reminding Voltaire of his sexual insufficiency, gets him to agree to letting his friend Saint-Lambert replace him, instead of a stranger. Voltaire accepts, and a new menage a trois is established on this day.
The same Mme du Chatelet, finding herself pregnant by Saint-Lambert, approached her husband, for a few days, to obtain at least his blessing. “Why does she need to see her husband?” asks a mischievous wit. “Doubtless, a pregnant lady’s craving,” answers another.
This anaphrodisiac reputation of coffee is very old. Some authors have even called coffee potus caponum (capon liqueur).
Alcohol, which for a long time had the reputation of augmenting desire, only had this effect very fleetingly, as Fere notes: “It diminishes resistance to perverse tendencies, which are more connected to impotence; absence of desire soon comes. In alcoholism, as in neurasthenia generally, sexual desire is sometimes increased for a time, but its strength is generally diminished.”
Tobacco has also been incriminated. Doctor Le Juge of Segrais made the case against Nicot’s plant. The tabacophobic clearly accused cigarettes of producing anaphrodisia, and he reported several facts from his medical practice in support of his claim. In several of them, it was enough to advise the patients to stop smoking, to see their sexual desire return. This curious property of tobacco is mentioned in a XVIth Century book whose author reports that, in America, the women abstain from using tobacco because they believe that it prevents conception and sexual desire.
Lesions of the spinal cord which directly or indirectly affect the genital centre produce this special anaesthesia, which is also observed in certain cases of lesions of the brain, notably in general progressive paralysis. Nutrition problems can also produce it. It can also be seen in hysteria, hypochondria, melancholy (Fere). But it is above all in neurasthenia, or rather in neurasthenic states, that a marked diminution of sexual activity is observed.
These patients are more sensitive than others to sexual suggestion and remain inhibited. They feel a sort of “genital fainting fit” when they are afraid of not being able to perform, either because the same thing has happened not long before, or because they are thinking too much about the act they are about to accomplish.
Tardieu has told the story of an individual who had a lot of problems arriving at the desired result, but that once, he had succeeded completely. At the time he was in a top-floor room and had noticed a woman’s bonnet hanging to dry at a window opposite. During the sexual act, his attention had been drawn to this bonnet, and this is what had allowed him to succeed. Therefore, since that time, whenever he wanted to do the same thing, he took a bonnet with him and hung it up in the corner of the room.
We have seen that neurasthenia often shows its existence through sexual problems, more frequently with men than with women. These problems consist mainly in excessive excitability, coinciding with impotence, often partial, sometimes complete, and accompanied by diverse perversions.
After this long introduction, we shall start our voyage through History next time, in the second part.