A practice named after Onan in the Old Testament, who was commanded by God to impregnate his brother's widow so that there would be an heir for his brother's line. Onan had sex with the woman, but pulled out and "spilled his seed upon the ground," thereby incurring God's wrath.

The word came to mean masturbation because in many branches of Christian theology, any act that involved sperm being wasted was pretty much the same sin.

O"nan*ism (?), n. [Onan (Gen. xxxviii. 9): cf. F. onanisme.]

Self-pollution; masturbation.


© Webster 1913.

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