In eighteenth-century Britain, reading lewd books was understood to exacerbate gonorrhea. That pathology corresponded to a specific physiological model, which historians describe as the leaky male body. This article demonstrates how the connection between reading and gonorrhea correlated to three phenomena: 1) the neuro-sexual economy of bodily fluids; 2) the effects of reading on the sensible mind and body; and 3) the crossover of erotic and medical literatures. Aware of the physiological power of imagination, authors intentionally wrote to elicit strong physiological and sexual responses in readers. Concerns about the pathological and moral consequences of reading provocative material similarly informed criticisms of both the outright pornographic and the ostensibly medical. Partly in response to such criticisms, medical authors developed a more careful, decorous, and objective tone for writing about sexual topics. Ultimately, the culture of sensibility receded, as did anxieties about involuntary leaks of bodily fluids caused by reading.


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pp. 320-340
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