Sleep-Related Erections Throughout the Ages

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Abstract

Introduction.

The occurrence of sleep-related erections (SREs) has been known since antiquity.

Aim.

To highlight historical, theological, and sexual medicine-related aspects of SREs throughout the ages.

Methods.

Review of old medical books on male sexual functioning and review of scientific medical and theological articles on SREs from about 1900 on.

Results.

The cyclic character of SREs was first noted by German researchers in the forties of the 20th century. However, already before the beginning of the Christian era, one knew that men had erections and ejaculations during sleep. In the Middle Ages, SREs were generally considered to be rebellious manifestations of the male body, while it seemed to disobey its owner and showed up its perverted and sinful side. From the fifteenth to the end of the 17th century, severe erectile dysfunction (ED) was ground for divorce. The ecclesiastical court records show that if necessary, the members of the jury sat at the defendant's bedside at night to be able to judge any SREs occurring. Since the 17th century, SREs were considered to be part of masturbation, which could cause many ailments and diseases. Psychoanalyst Stekel acknowledged in 1920 that a morning erection, the last SRE, is a naturally occurring phenomenon in healthy men from infancy to old age. Today, some scientists assume that SREs protect the integrity of the penile cavernous bodies.

Conclusions.

Throughout the ages, philosophers, theologians, physicians, members of ecclesial law courts, psychoanalysts, psychiatrists, sexologists, physiologists, and urologists have shown interest in SREs. Obviously, the observations and testing of SREs have a long history, from antiquity to modern sleep labs, in men and in women, in newborns and old adults, by penis rings with sharp spikes to fancy strain gauge devices. Despite all these efforts, the mechanisms leading to SREs and its function are however not yet completely understood. van Driel MF. Sleep-related erections throughout the ages. J Sex Med 2014;11:1867–1875.

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