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Masturbation

Here's a simple experiment, turn to the person next to you and say, "How often do you masturbate?" The reaction should be highly amusing. If not, try having them guess how often their parents masturbate.

Masturbation is one of those things that almost everybody does, but nobody (outside of confidential polls) admits to. Meanwhile roughly 90% of all males and at least 70% of all females do masturbate. So why the big coverup? Hey, big deal, you say, I take a crap every day, but I don't go around bragging about that either.

Fair enough. But while a lot of people might decline to discuss their toileting habits, very few of these would go so far as to lie to you and claim they don't poop. And yet, pretty much every young woman that I've ever talked to, for example, will hurry to declare that she doesn't masturbate and that even if she "did that stuff when she was a kid," it was just an embarrassing phase of curiosity that she has definitely outgrown.

I have two responses here: What a crock of shit! and How pathetic is that?

I mean, realize that this is like saying you tried ice cream as a child but have totally outgrown that kind of sick, kinky thing -- now that you're an adult you know better. Granted, Americans might not be so overweight if they took this approach to ice cream. They also might not be so fat if they didn't try to take this approach to masturbation. Nonetheless, this is the tendency -- to feel ashamed about an act so natural that pretty much all primates and perhaps even all mammals participate in it. Even porcupines masturbate!

So where did all this come from? Most sociologists chalk it up to America's Puritan forefathers who taught that sexuality was sinful as well as dissipating to the individual. Sexual activity, they thought, would drain one of energy better put into work. The Puritan belief was an exaggeration of similar beliefs held in England, but taken to a new high in the New World as the Godly immigrants justified their invasive, disruptive presence. These new arrivals loved to obsess to each other about how much more "worthy" they were to live in the New World than those "damned half-naked savages" who lived in the woods like beasts. Since they were "half-naked," the Puritans reasoned, of course the brutes were promiscuous. And no doubt they danced with Satan as well. (Puritans spent more time confessing thoughts about sex and gossiping about the sex that others might be having than most other human beings spent engaging in the act.)

Puritans at prayer. Building on this inheritance, Americans reached a new fevered pitch in their hatred of masturbation in the 19th century, as voiced in the works of such popular medical and spiritual do-gooders as Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, the originator of Kelloggs Cornflakes. Again they harped on the physically and morally depleting qualities of sex. Masturbation led one down the darkening path of self-indulgence and weak moral fiber. (Again, something uptight white protestants believed they had and that swarthy Native Americans and "Niggers" didn't.)

But now it was decided that something could be done! This was the industrial revolution when mankind became drunk with its power to subdue nature through technology. Suddenly it was realized that little boys should be circumcised at birth. This dandy little intervention spared them the regular task of cleansing under their foreskins -- during which act they might notice how pleasurable it could be to fondle their genitals. New contraptions and substances were invented to make it painful or impossible for children to masturbate.

One of many anti-masturbation devices. Uncircumcised boys and even girls who were caught pleasuring themselves could be packed off to the surgeon to have foreskin (boys) and clitoris (girls) painfully removed as a warning. (Just in case scoldings, beatings, and having their hands tied to the bed or crotches bound with bandages did not sufficiently dissuade them.) Oh the wonders of medical and scientific advancement!

But with advances in these fields came discoveries of a more humanistic nature. Enter the works of psychoanalysts like Sigmund Freud and Wilhelm Reich. Based on clinical research they concluded that people who couldn't orgasm became neurotic. They went on to explain that heterosexual coitus within the blessed union of marriage was all part of God's beautiful plan, but some people couldn't enjoy this plan. Why not? They were frigid. Tsk tsk. What shall we do? Teach them to masturbate! What! But only the men, and only until they can have healthy hetero relations within marriage. Oh. Well that's okay. If that's the way God wants it.

Thus, even while little boys and girls were having pieces of their privates surgically removed, some adult women were being masturbated to orgasm by their own physicians to cure assorted mental and physical ills such as nervousness and heaviness of the womb.

But of course this was not really masturbation -- it was not even sex. (Wink, wink.) No, it was merely medical intervention. And women so treated were rarely encouraged to take matters into their own hands. Instead it was hoped that the husband would take the frustrated wife under his wise tutelage and introduce her to the art of satisfying heterosexual love (after his therapist had explained it all to him, apparently.) Women would not be encouraged to masturbate for several more decades. For this was the Victorian era. And for all its scientific advancements and dedication to better living through technology, it was a time of great sentimental attachment to the ideal of woman as mother.

Sigmund Freud Ergo, women should find their fulfillment in life by being knocked up. And since getting banged was all part of the quest to get knocked up, therefore of course what "women wanted" most was for their husbands to mount them and lovingly spew forth. And so, getting back to Freud, women who played with their clits were "immature." They were like little children who touched themselves in exploration. They just hadn't figured out what female sexuality was "really for" (i.e. to provide willing receptacles for horny cocks and get knocked up).

Meanwhile, that bastion of tradition the Church was still teaching people that masturbation was a sin. Several biblical passages were cited, the favorite being the story of Onan who earns God's wrath by "spilling his seed upon the ground." Human beings, often less than eager to think for themselves to begin with, are especially hesitant to question any statement that begins with "You will go to Hell if..." So with the religious establishment, psychoanalysts, and medical quacks all coming out against masturbation, it's unsurprising that most people accepted that the practice was wrong.

However, human beings are naturally horny. And God or Evolution has seen fit to equip the human form such that our fingertips dangle enticingly at roughly the same height as our crotches. Thus people have found it very hard to resist the temptation to let their fingers stray toward their naughty bits. Consequently, most people probably continued to masturbate. They just felt very guilty about it. And they lied whenever cornered about their practices (as they still do today).

It was only in the 1970s that people began to hear that it was perfectly natural to have sex for its own sake and even to play with themselves. The latter of which evoked a lot of childish snickering as people replied, "Yeah, but only a loser masturbates, because he/she can't get a real lover," and then they continued to hypocritically get it on with their own hand.

Finally the women's movement got very loud about the fact that even with a lover, at least half of all women were not having orgasms. The American obsession with progress and better living through technology was about to take a very different turn. Books began being published on the subject, and a woman named Betty Dodson started teaching workshops explaining to women how to get themselves off. Vibrators and dildos became more readily available. At last it was acknowledged that sex, for women, was about more than "closeness" and procreating, and that women too wanted to achieve orgasm -- enough for them to (gasp) masturbate.

Betty Dodson's video on Self Loving Of course since most girls didn't take Betty Dodson's workshops and most people still didn't discuss masturbation (and a girl's genitals didn't wag about in front of her begging for attention when she was turned on), at least half of American women still didn't know how to get off. Besides which, there was still the strong cultural sense that women, more than men, were supposed to be caretakers, concerned with nurturing others and feeling a warm fuzzy when they did so. Nice girls had sex to make love, not to have an orgasm. But now that everyone knew women could orgasm too, that nice girl should pretend to cum -- just so her guy wouldn't feel bad about himself. And of course, the nice girl never masturbated. That was for sluts who cared only about themselves. Meanwhile, guys were horny sex monsters who simply couldn't help themselves. It was their "nature" to chase tail and jack off when it got away.

This was the mythology of sex and masturbation in mainstream America up until the AIDS epidemic burst into the American awareness.

On December 1, 1994, at a United Nations-sponsored conference on AIDS, U.S. Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders stated that masturbation "is a part of human sexuality, and it's a part of something that perhaps should be taught -- perhaps even as part of our sex ed. Curriculum." America was not ready for such a message. Teach children to masturbate -- or even that it was okay to figure out on their own how to masturbate! Scandal!

Jocelyn Elders The Clinton White House (ever quick to know which way the wind was blowing) made it clear to Elders that if she did not resign, she would be fired. She resigned. (Ironically, Clinton himself was later accused of having his pants down, not for masturbation, but for a blowjob courtesy of Monica Lewinsky. He, however, never resigned.)

Jocelyn Elders may have paid a huge price for daring to speak the obvious -- that it was better to have young people jacking off safely at home rather than risking HIV from sexual promiscuity. But the truth of her message was not permanently lost on many parents, educators, and clergy. Although virginity was originally touted as the Holy Grail that would save America's youth, it quickly became clear that most kids couldn't take seriously the directive to save themselves for marriage, to pretend premarital sex was bad just because "the Bible said so." Their hormone charged bodies had a different message to preach.

Instead, the wisdom of Jocelyn Elders began to take flight as teens, sex educators, and even Christian ministers finally begin to publish pro-masturbation information to the world wide web. Young people are being told that masturbation helps them learn about their own sexuality and prepares them for better quality "couples sex" down the road. Pro-masturbation educators claim that masturbating helps young people (and even adults) find realistic control over their sexual appetites, empowering them to make better choices about who they have sex with, when, and why. Additionally, as teens and young adults point out, masturbating won't get you pregnant or give you AIDS, it just relaxes you, helps you sleep better, and even helps you clear your mind. (Provided you don't guiltily obsess afterwards.)

Finally, while there are still many Christians who fear hellfire for touching themselves intimately (as far as we know the Mormon Church still opposes it), many ministers now give masturbation the thumbs up. Theologians have decided that the Bible doesn't really frown on masturbation at all. All that talk about being "unclean" was really about being unclean -- not damned. The Old Testament just wanted you to wash the cum off before you rejoined society. And as for Onan being cursed for spilling his seed, it seems it wasn't masturbation or coitus interruptus he was in trouble for -- it was failing to knock up his dead brother's wife. (Onan was supposed to provide her with an heir to avoid the shame of being childless, but instead he "spilled his seed upon the ground" so he wouldn't have to split his inheritance with her offspring.)

Which pretty much just leaves us with that age-old Puritan fear of excessive sex draining our energy and keeping us from more productive work. However, considering how much time the Puritans wasted by sitting around gabbing about who was having more sex than whom and what horrible dreams they were plagued with about fornicating with the devil and so on, it seems obvious that too little sex lowers your productivity as well.

Although Buddha too thought sex distracted people from more important matters (like enlightenment), he did acknowledge that for most folks, in most matters it was best to follow the middle way. Meaning, don't over-indulge and don't deprive yourself. Either one leads to imbalance and harm to self and society.

Related Trivia

  • The word masturbation derives from the Latin words manus, meaning hand, and stupare, meaning to defile.
  • The famous Catholic theologian Thomas Aquinas believed that masturbation was a worse sin than rape, incest, and adultery (because in these other sins procreation is a possibility). Pope Leo IX forbade masturbators from being admitted to sacred orders.
  • It was not until 1940 that a respected textbook, "Diseases of Infancy and Childhood," removed its discussion of masturbation from the chapter titled "Functional and Nervous Disorders."
  • Victorian anti-masturbation gadgetry including an irritating powder sprinkled on the genitals, metal chastity belts, and gloves made of steel wool.
  • Among some cultures, such as the Hopi in Arizona, the Wogeno in Oceania, and the Dahomeans and Namu of Africa, masturbation was often allowed or encouraged, including mutual masturbation between males. In certain Melanesian communities this was expected between boys, and between boys and married men, though no other kind of gay male sex was allowed.
  • In the Cubeo tribe of the Amazon, mutual masturbation was "semi-public." Among the Tikopia of the South Pacific, men masturbated themselves as other men watched.
  • Just for the record, porcupines masturbate by holding a stick between their legs and rubbing their genitals against it.

Timeline

26 Oct 1440 Gilles de Rais, one of the wealthiest noblemen in France, is executed for heresy after he is found to have engaged in the kidnap, sodomization, and murder of 200 young boys from the lower classes. Rais enjoyed masturbating on the stomachs of the boys as they suffered excruciating deaths, sometimes also enjoying necrophilia with their corpses.
1 Nov 1896 Tits appear for the first time in National Geographic, starting a trend of providing masturbation material to youth for decades. The tits are attached to a Zulu woman.
13 Dec 1973 The Reverend Jim Jones is arrested in a cruisy movie theater bathroom in Los Angeles. Unfortunately, Jones had the bad luck to hit on an undercover LAPD vice officer while masturbating in the Westlake Theatre men's room.
12 Dec 1980 "Whip It" earns Devo a gold record. It is the first distinction of its kind for any song about masturbation. Whip it good.
19 Jan 1991 Wendy O Williams, of the Plasmatics, arrested for masturbating herself onstage with a sledgehammer.
15 May 1991 Alan Cooper stands trial in England for "committing a lewd, obscene, and disgusting act on the 12-foot dolphin called Freddie as they frolicked for 20 minutes off the harbor mouth at Amble, Northumberland." Cooper responds by claiming that his accuser was a sworn enemy and had trained dolphins for a movie to jump out of the water and tear off a woman's bikini bra. He is eventually acquitted of masturbating the cetacean.
26 Jul 1991 Actor Paul Reubens (aka "Pee-Wee Herman") is arrested in Sarasota, Florida for jacking off twice with his left hand inside the South Trail XXX Cinema. It was screening the triple feature Catalina Five-O: Tiger Shark, Nancy Nurse, and Turn Up The Heat. Following his masturbatorial debut, Reubens loses his children's television show and product endorsements.
9 Dec 1994 Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders dismissed after suggesting discussion of masturbation in school classes on sexuality. This gives rise to the euphemistic term "firing the surgeon general."
23 Jul 1996 The Reverend Robert Moorehead is arrested with another man in a public restroom in Daytona Beach, Florida. Allegedly, they had been masturbating in the presence of undercover police officers. The case is later dropped and all records sealed.
19 Oct 1997 During the warm-up act at the Pittsburgh Civic Arena, 4,642 Motley Crue fans - including a few minor children - are treated to a vignette from a pornographic video projected above the stage. The scene depicts a naked woman masturbating with a dildo and performing fellatio. Tommy Lee does not appear in the video.
7 Apr 1998 Pop singer George Michael is arrested by an undercover police officer after wanking in front him in a public toilet. One of our rotten.com staffers has checked out the restroom (at Will Rogers Memorial Park in Beverly Hills) and reports that it continues to be "cruisy."
11 Jan 1999 Heavyweight boxer Mike Tyson declares: "I could sell out Madison Square Garden masturbating."
2 Aug 1999 On Rivera Live, conservative freak Ann Coulter tells Geraldo Rivera: "(Clinton) masturbates in the sinks."
17 May 2000 Matthew Glavin, President of the Southeastern Legal Foundation, is arrested by an undercover officer on Medlock Bridge road in the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, near Atlanta. Glavin was masturbating and attempting to fondle the officer. The SLF had spearheaded the attempt to get President Bill Clinton disbarred in Arkansas.
17 Nov 2003 During an interview with Diane Sawyer, pop star Britney Spears discusses her new ode to onanism:
SPEARS: I have one song, it's called "Touch of My Hand," that's talking about you with yourself, which is a little much. But, it's a reality that we have. [...] Yes, I can relate to that song. And like, we all can, you'd be lying if you said you couldn't. But there is a -- I mean, it's not something you openly talk about with a lot of people. It's something sacred; and it's something I wanted to write about, so...
SAWYER: "Sacred"?
SPEARS: No, the song, "Touch of My Hand" -- talking about indulging in yourself.
SAWYER: And that's sacred?
SPEARS: It is sacred to me, but in a way -- explaining -- um, okay. I'm confusing myself right now.



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