William R Farrall’s Farrall Instruments manufactured devices designed to ‘shock maladaptive behaviour out of people’: penile tumescence monitors, visually keyed conditioners, and other spurious aversion therapy gadgets.
Despite the focus on medical gadgetry, William R Farrall was not a doctor. At least not until 1988 when, if we can believe him, he earned a PhD. It’s difficult to verify much about William R Farrall. Almost all information available on him can be traced to just one source… William R Farrall himself.
Farrall said he graduated in 1953 with degrees in engineering and business. He launched Farrall Instruments in 1958.
“My main thrust is in the psychological area,” he said, “It’s more challenging than medical.”
And perhaps easier to sell a few cheap electrical components boxed up with gauges and lights for thousands of dollars. Just call it a ‘Visually Keyed Conditioner’ and claim it will magically transform the behaviour of smokers, alcoholics, drug addicts, child molesters, rapists… AND HOMOSEXUALS. Not to mention compulsive handwringers.
The penile plethysmograph
Farrall sold penile plethysmographs (penile tumescence monitors) for measuring sexual arousal in men. Czech sexologist Kurt Freund invented the penile plethysmograph in the 1950s. Army commanders wanted a method for testing recruits who attempted to evade conscription by claiming to be gay. Freund’s device consisted of an airtight cylinder much like a penis pump. By monitoring air pressure within the cylinder, operators could discern when a subject experienced sexual arousal. I think the technical term is ‘barred up’. There are numerous less complicated methods for determining that!
Czech conscripts could no longer simply claim they preferred men. They now needed to prove it. Army doctors whacked a penile plethysmograph on the conscript’s čurák and showed him photos of naked men. If the gadget detected stirring in the loins, the lad waltzed out and went about his life. If not, it was straight to the barracks for the non-penis-loving pretender.
Freund tested his device to see if it could prove the effectiveness of aversion therapy. The answer was no. In fact, Freund’s research showed that aversion therapy did nothing to diminish same-sex attraction.
Zip, zilch, nada!
As a man of science, Freund subsequently presented the Czech Communist Party with his findings – that no cure existed for homosexuality. As a result, Czechoslovakia decriminalised same-sex sexual activity.
(Decades later, the country would become the world’s leading exporter of gay4pay porn, an eco-friendly industry that exploited an abundant and renewable natural resource.)
So, the device’s inventor stated categorically that aversion therapy did not work. Nevertheless, there was a buck to be made. So, people like William R Farrall ignored Kurt Freund in pursuit of easy riches.
By his own account, Farrall travelled “worldwide to train psychologists, therapists and physicians in the use of aversion therapy systems.”
Farrall and other tinkerers had cottoned onto the idea of hooking the penile plethysmograph to an electric shock machine — like his automatic Visually Keyed Conditioner. When the plethysmograph detected penile tumescence, the connected device delivered an electric shock directly to the penis.
Men don’t actually think with their dicks!
It was all based on Pavlov’s dogs. Decades before, the Nobel prize-winning physiologist conditioned his dogs to associate the sound of a buzzer with food. Eventually, the dogs salivated whenever they heard the buzzer, food or no food.
Indeed, Farrall claimed his Visually Keyed Conditioner achieved the same response in humans. A penis given a nasty shock every time a male nude causes arousal will eventually think, “Cock bad, pussy good.”
Farrall and his ilk seemingly ignored that, despite centuries of evidence to the contrary, men don’t actually think with their dicks. An erection is merely a physical manifestation of how a person’s brain responds to stimulation.
But there was money to be made.
Some men and women, either because of societal pressure or out of doctrinal guilt, desperately wanted to change their sexual orientation. Others had no choice, ordered by courts to undergo aversion therapy or go to jail. In some cases, subjects had no say in the matter at all. Prison inmates and youth in juvenile institutions underwent involuntary aversion therapy at the direction of judges or prison wardens.
Live better electrically
Farrall Instruments advertised ‘live better electrically’. The deluxe Farrall system included a penile plethysmograph, a device for inflicting electric shocks and a slide projector. PLUS, one set of aversive slides and another of ‘relief’ slides.
“Guess which ones you’d get a shock for.
“Guess which ones bring relief.”
A 1973 ad for the system listed some of the available slide sets.
Transvestite: An attractive 22-year-old actor with a moustache strips naked and dresses in women’s clothes.
Brad: 28, blond, blue eyes, 5″ 10″, good physique. Clothed to semi-nude and nude poses.
Homosexual Acts: Young men in actual acts of anal intercourse and fellatio. Close-ups of organs.
Lesbian: Petting, whipping, undressing and tying to a chair.
Heterosexual Acts: Young actors in actual heterosexual acts and a variety of positions.
Gay Liberator magazine described another set that included photos of a little girl taking a bath alternating with images of an adult woman in provocative poses.
“The latter was the ‘desirable’ slides. The aversion therapy did not attempt to deal with the dynamics of male aggression except to shift them to adult targets. Simply ‘don’t rape little girls, rape women’.”
Farrall’s system cost between $5000 and $10,000 in 1993, depending on whether the purchase included a computer. Bit rich! In 1993, a decent (for the time) home computer set you back $700.
It all comes crashing down
By the 1990s, Farrall Instruments attracted criticism from scientists, gay activists, and human rights groups. Then, in 1994, a juvenile offender from Vermont complained about being forced to undergo aversion therapy. Apparently, no one considered that hooking a boy up to a penile tumescence monitor, showing him porn, and subjecting him to electric shock was ill-advised. But it wasn’t just one kid. Vermont previously purchased four Farrall Instruments devices to use in juvenile offender programs.
Farrall later complained to the authors of a book on repressed memory that the consequent investigation ruined his business and destroyed his career. He said photos of naked children sold with his devices showed single children from nudist families in non-sexually explicit poses. He claimed to always obtain parental consent and that at least one parent was present during photo sessions.
The authorities told a different story. The Nebraskan Deputy Attorney-General insisted that Farrall never revealed the source of the images. So much for parental consent. And there were over 9,000 slides of children ‘in sexually explicit poses’.
The state did not charge Farrall with any offence because he had once asked a local County Attorney about the legality of distributing sexually explicit photos for treatment purposes.
But they destroyed all the images, and the resultant publicity put him out of business.
William R Farrall fled to Florida and made enough money
pimping acting as an agent for female Swedish massage therapists to open a beauty spa. He died a month after it opened. His 600-word obituary boasted of numerous qualifications, achievements and awards, none of which appear on any public record. And not a single mention of penile plethysmographs, penile tumescence monitors, Visually Keyed Conditioners or aversion therapy.
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