Brothers and Sisters, Lovers and Sinners, let us come together to explore the holy and unholy mysteries of masturbation... Come, let us play...

May is National Masturbation Month, having been so declared by those fine, fun-loving jill-off gals at Good Vibrations (founded by Joani Blank), along with the Godmother of Masturbation herself, Dr. Betty Dodsen.


Female bonobo masturbating with ball
at the San Diego Zoo.
Photo: Dr. Susan Block



Female bonobo masturbating in the
Congo. Photo: Franz Lanting.
From Bonobo: The Forgotten Ape

 

Why bother to have a National Masturbation Month? Since just about everybody plays sexual solitaire at least sometimes, it's virtually the nation's - and the world's - preferred leisure past-time anyway. Why, it didn't even make Senator Rick Santorum's (R-Pa) List of Naughty Sex Acts that the Government Should be Allowed to Break into Your Bedroom and Bust You For.

No, masturbation doesn't rank up there with Rick the Stick's beloved "man-on-dog" action. Still, all too few of us private wankers are willing to admit publicly that we indulge. Here in our Land of the So-Called Free, we have plenty of Gay Pride and Leather Pride, even Libertine Pride, but not much in the way of Wanker Pride. After all, "sex for one," as harmless and healing as we now know it to be, is still condemned by many as an illicit, shameful act. Thus, most of us keep our single-handed pleasures under the covers and in the closet.

O, Brothers and Sisters, Liars and Fibbers, who will testify to the truth of masturbation?

Actually, that word "testify" tells us a little something about masturbation and truth, coming, as it does, from the same Latin root as the words "testament," "testimony," and "testicles." See, way back in Old Testament times, when our forefathers swore an oath, they didn't put their hands on the Bible, because these were Bible times, and the Bible hadn't been written yet. So, when they testified, they put their hands on their testicles. That's right, they swore by their family jewels! Telling the truth (for a man) was assured by the public act of squeezing, stroking or gently cupping one's sac.

So do like your ancestors, do like your Old Father Abraham, grab your balls and testify! Grab 'em right now, Brother! Don't grab 'em too hard. But don't be too soft on yourself either. And Sister, you just grab your holy vulva right where it feels good. Feel the power, the glory and the truth of solo sexual revelation! Finger yourself with joy! Stroke yourself into rapture! Surrender to self-pleasure. Testify to the truth of auto-erotic ecstasy. Testify and be healed of stress and frustration...

Way back in Old Testament times,
when our forefathers swore an oath,
they didn't put their hands on the Bible,
because these were Bible times,
and the Bible hadn't been written yet.
So, when they testified, they put their
hands on their testicles. That's right,
they swore by their family jewels!
Telling the truth (for a man)
was assured by the public act of
squeezing, stroking or gently cupping
one's sac.

What's the matter, Brother Jack? Are you embarrassed, Sister Jill? Feel silly? Guilty? Naughty? Baad? Don't you know that if God had intended you not to masturbate, he would have made your arms shorter? No, Jesus didn't say that, and neither did Mohammed. George Carlin did. But it rings with more truth than most psalms.

Then why is such a natural, pleasurable, healthful, free, convenient and virtually harmless act as masturbation so embarrassing? Ball-fondling oaths aside, society's prohibitions against "self-abuse" seem to have begun thousands of years ago as a moral code to sustain agrarian culture and tribal wars. Back again to those Bible times, when Onan was struck dead by God for "spilling his seed upon the ground" (which was actually more of a case of willful coitus interruptus than masturbation).

Then, it was thought that if folks were masturbating - that is, having "sex for fun" instead of channeling their entire sex drive into reproducing the tribe - they wouldn't "be fruitful and multiply." That is, they wouldn't spawn enough children to work their harvests and go to war against opposing tribes. You could call this ancient tribal taboo against masturbation and other forms of nonreproductive sex the Mother of All Membership Drives.

Medieval Christians went on to further denigrate the joys of self-diddling by equating sexual pleasure with pure evil. Though Jesus himself, according to the Gospels, said remarkably little about sex, early Christian Fathers like Saint Paul and Saint Augustine were inflamed by what they saw as sexual degeneracy in themselves and others. They declared masturbation to be a gargantuan sin, one of the worst a human being could commit.

Unlike a so-called "natural sin" such as fornication, bigamy or adultery, masturbation was a "sin against nature." What made masturbation "unnatural" is anybody's guess, since nature shows us many creatures having sex for one just for fun.


Modern church fathers:
Repositories of expiation for
masturbation

 
Of course, Medieval Christian Fathers were not big on fun - at least not for the common folk. Around 1300, the Archbishop of Sens wrote regarding sins against nature that "the first branch is when man or woman by him or herself, alone and aware of the fact and awake, falls into the filth of sin." No wonder so many feign sleep while masturbating!

Though a natural sin like fornication was considered fairly minor, and could be absolved by a parish priest, masturbation, being "unnatural," could be absolved only by bishops or their lieutenants. Thus, the Church Fathers shrewdly used the masturbation taboo to gain deep psychic power over an uneducated, frightened populace. In other words, they had 'em by the balls! Since everybody masturbated, everybody could be made to feel guilt, shame and the profound need for expiation, from whom else but the Church Fathers?

Over the centuries, frightening superstitions built up, e.g., that indulging in a little self-love caused warts, blindness, insanity and hair on the palms, not to mention, of course, eternal damnation in hell (though if one could rub off in hell, that might make it bearable - beat your meat in the heat).

Then there's the idea that masturbation is wasteful. This humdinger has its roots in the widespread misconception that men have a limited amount of sperm, and that every ejaculation depletes a man's finite allotment of precious semen, resulting in weakness and eventual impotence. Actually, the opposite is more true: use it or lose it. If a man doesn't have sex or masturbate consistently throughout his life, as he gets older, he is more likely to lose his ability to get erections and ejaculate.

Of course, Brother Jack, if you ejaculate five times a day, you will not shoot more than a gasp and a dribble by the fifth time. So if you want to maximize your spunk output, keep your hands off your treasure for 48 hours. That's enough time to build up your maximum load. Wait much longer than that, and you won't be building up anything but an unholy case of blueballs.

Though women don't produce semen, most folks also used to believe that female masturbation was debilitating. Two of the biggest anti-masturbation activists of the19th century were Sylvestor Graham, designer of the Graham Cracker, and John Kellogg, creator of Kellogg's Corn Flakes, the consumption of which was supposed to suppress the sex drive (though, of course, it never did). Kellogg called beating off "the vilest, the basest and the most degrading act that a human being can commit."

Don't you know that if God had
intended you not to masturbate,
he would have made your arms shorter?

Of course, modern science has disproved all these superstitions. Experts consider masturbation to be a normal, safe sexual activity, not to mention a superb cardiovascular workout. Still, in many circles, self-pleasuring is unmentionable. American Surgeon General Dr. Joycelyn Elders was forced to resign when she mentioned masturbation in the context of safe sex education. That's one thing I will never forgive Bill Clinton for doing. Maybe if he'd taken Dr. Elders' advice instead of firing her, he'd have sidestepped being sideswiped by the Religious Right.

Despite millennia of anti-masturbation mania, there does exist a bit of positive folklore on the wonders of whacking off. According to the Greeks, masturbation was a divine gift. Hermes revealed it to Pan, whose love for a nymph was unrequited, demonstrating how stroking the salami could be a superb rape prevention technique. Pan then taught the shepherds, probably so they wouldn't bother their sheep so much. The Greek philosopher Diogenes praised the extraordinary physical efficiency of masturbation, "Would to heaven that it were enough to rub one's stomach in order to allay one's hunger."

Mark Twain, in between literary masterpieces, spoke of masturbation with satiric, truthtelling eloquence: "to the lonely it is company; to the forsaken it is a friend; to the aged and impotent it is a benefactor; they that are penniless are yet rich, in that they still have this majestic diversion."

Then there's Truman Capote: "the nice thing about masturbation is you don't have to dress up for it." Flogging the hog is so, well, convenient.

But self-pleasuring taboos never die; they just mutate with the times. Now, instead of fearing masturbation will make us blind, we worry that it will brand us as lonely or desperate, or as a pathetic, oversexed sex addict.

Of course, you can become addicted to masturbation. Anything really good in life is addictive. Jerkin' your own gherkin can be so damn convenient that you don't want to bother with the rigors of dating, or communicating with your spouse, or whatever hurdle you'd have to jump in order to have partner sex. Physically speaking, you can get so accustomed to the rhythm of your own hand, or the megabuzz of your vibrator that you prefer masturbation to making love.

Masturbation, being "unnatural,"
could be absolved only by bishops
or their lieutenants. Thus, the
Church Fathers shrewdly used the
masturbation taboo to gain deep
psychic power over an uneducated,
frightened populace. In other words,
they had 'em by the balls!

Then again, self-love is a kind of love. Sometimes, especially after a bad break-up, or when you're sick, or stressed, or separated from your lover, it's the best kind of love.

If you can't shake your shame, you can always eroticize it. You probably do this naturally. Sex is intrinsically perverse in our anti-sex society, and many of us need to feel bad to feel good. The naughtier we feel about masturbating, the better masturbation feels. People that grow up tortured by religious dictums against "self-abuse" often become some of the world's most passionate masturbators.

So, how about you, Brother Jack and Sister Jill? Will you testify? How does it feel when you masturbate? Is it wild? Is it wonderful? Is it weird? Is it simply a great relief? Do you get a mystical, spiritual sense of fulfillment? A primitive, animal sense of contentment? Does it give you energy - or put you to sleep? Does it make you feel alone? Or an ecstatic link in the Great Chain of Sexual Being? Does it make you feel powerful? Peaceful? Beautiful? Bountiful? Biological? Do you masturbate to be safe, or do you do it for the danger? Do you enjoy an audience, or would you rather be the audience? Do you like to use props? Vibrators? Dildos? Erotica? Porn? Phone sex? Bondage gear? Aromatic oils? Special music? Fetish objects? How do you touch yourself? Quick strokes or long? One hand or two? Lube or natural juices? What do you think about when you masturbate? Do you fantasize, or do you just feel the sensations? Do you feel great right up until orgasm, then feel guilty, silly, lonely? Or do you feel even better after you've come, as you float down a stream of bliss?

Whatever our feelings about it, masturbation is almost always our first sexual activity. Even in utero, we touch ourselves for relaxation and pleasure. As babies, we play with all parts of ourselves, but our genitals are especially exciting, because of the intensity of sensation.

Thanks to my own Dr. Spock-influenced Mom, I didn't grow up too inhibited about masturbation. Like most kids, I started playing with myself at around the time I started playing. Not that my mother approved of my masturbating. But she did, at least, put up with it. That is, she didn't punish me for it, just warned me to cool it every so often, especially when she caught me holding the sprinkler under my crotch on the front lawn, or sliding my hand under my skirt during the duller portions of the Passover Seder.

At least, Mom's pragmatic attitude didn't denigrate my sexuality. "Suzy," she'd scold when she'd catch me petal pushing, "Take your hands out of your pants. Your hands are dirty and it's clean down there!" And she was right, at least about my hands being dirty, probably sticky with peanut butter and jelly or something I'd pulled out of my nose. She wasn't Diogenes, but at least Mom said it was "clean down there," which I now realize was a rather sex-positive way of attempting to regulate my masturbatory activities, especially in the 1960's.

Then there's the idea that
masturbation is wasteful...
the widespread misconception
that men have a limited amount
of sperm, and that every ejaculation
depletes a man's finite allotment of
precious semen, resulting in weakness
and eventual impotence.
Actually, the opposite is more true:
use it or lose it. If a man doesn't
have sex or masturbate consistently
throughout his life, as he gets older,
he is more likely to lose his ability
to get erections and ejaculate.

It may feel like playing hooky, but masturbation is educational. It teaches you about your own body, what kinds of touch arouse you, what positions relax you, what fantasies stimulate you, what props really get you hot. It helps you to find your mental and physical rhythm and style for maximum orgasmic pleasure.

Partner sex may be more romantic, but it's also more nerve-wracking. Unless you're totally self-absorbed, you're probably going to concentrate more on your lover's pleasure than your own. During masturbation, you don't have to worry about pleasing or impressing anybody but yourself. That way, you can relax and explore, learning all kinds of stuff about your erotic responses that you can use to become a better lover and a more orgasmic, sexually satisfied person.

If you've never done kegels or PC (pubococcygeus) muscle exercises, masturbation is the perfect time to try them. Like any kind of physical exercise, kegels take practice and concentration, tough to muster when you're making love. Before or during masturbation, you can easily practice squeezing and releasing your PC muscles, making your orgasms longer and stronger, or multiple, and more under your control. Lots of quick-on-the-trigger guys learn to manage their tendency toward premature ejaculation this way. Many young women who can't climax with their also-young, inexperienced lovers experience their first orgasms while petting their own kitties.

The Greek philosopher Diogenes
praised the extraordinary physical
efficiency of masturbation,
"Would to heaven that it were enough
to rub one's stomach in order
to allay one's hunger."

That's how I had my first orgasm. Through the power of masturbation! That's right, Brothers and Sisters, Lovers and Sinners. It's my turn to testify...

I was 19, a sophomore at Yale, and I'd never had an orgasm. Oh, I'd had sex several times, mainly with my high school boyfriend, and he'd had plenty of orgasms. But not me. And I'd done plenty of masturbating with those "dirty hands" of mine, but not yet to orgasm. I did have a few involuntary climaxes when I went horseback riding or did kip-ups in gymnastics class. But no full-fledged voluntary orgasms.

So, I was dating a guy named Steven Van Der Tak, a gorgeous young math genius, tall and sensuously lean, with long curly blonde hair and David Hockney blue eyes, a Nordic God in a Yale Crew sweatshirt. The only problem was that Steven was very shy, and since I was fairly shy too, our evenings tended to be pretty dull. Nevertheless, I was infatuated with his dazzling athletic beauty and dizzying numerical brilliance. And one night, when I let him stay over in my tiny little dormroom in my tiny little single bed, we had sex.

I don't remember much about the sex. I think it wasn't bad, but I know it wasn't orgasmic. When Steven left in the morning for class, I stayed in bed feeling unsatisfied as usual. Lazily, I stroked myself, picking up where Steven had left off. I decided I wanted to go *all the way* this time, but didn't know what to do exactly. Also, I felt fairly stupid, embarrased, dirty. I thought about what Mom had said, and I washed my hands.

Then I slipped back into my tiny little dormroom bed and let my thoughts skip over to what I had read, when I was in somebody else's dormroom, in one of those little how-to masturbation books (Liberating Masturbation, now Sex for One by Dr. Betty Dodson) that were passed around through feminist circles in those days. As my thoughts wandered, so did my hands. I relaxed and breathed deeply like the book had instructed, squeezing and releasing my PC muscles. I breathed deeper, stroking and playing with myself like I'd played since I was a little girl, but this time I pushed myself farther, squeezing and releasing, rubbing and stroking. My thoughts wandered further, to Steven's beautiful hair, those gorgeous eyes looking right through me, his sexy body doing just what I wanted him to do. And I breathed deeper and deeper, squeezing and releasing, wiggling and tickling, poking and pulling, licking my fingers and feeling the power, breathing deeper and deeper, rubbing faster and faster, squeezing and releasing, until, lo and behold, the squeezing released, and I had an orgasm.

My first full-fledged, voluntary orgasm! I remember feeling awed and amazed, as if I'd passed through a rite of passage right there on my tiny little dormroom bed. And of course, I had. I remember feeling as if I'd been given a gift from God, or the Goddess, or Nature, a pure pleasure that I didn't have to work for, didn't cost any money, didn't have any calories, that was so simple and relaxing, so explosive, yet so gentle. And I remember knowing I was hooked, that at that point, after 19 years of life on earth, I had become orgasmic. I knew that no matter what else happened, the rest of my life would include explosions of pleasure, that pretty much whenever I wanted, I could experience a little bit of heaven on earth.

I remember drifting for hours in that tiny little dormitory bed as if I were Cleopatra floating down the Nile, fanned by my sensuous, adoring slaves on my perfumed barge, sailing toward Antony, my romantic destiny (we were studying "Antony and Cleopatra" in my Shakespeare class). And I remember looking at the clock and realizing that if I didn't get out of bed that minute, I'd miss that Shakespeare class, so I threw on my clothes, picked up my books and left, a New Orgasmic Woman, thanks to the powerful pleasure of masturbation.

So, Brothers and Sisters, Lovers and Sinners... Make love to someone you love tonight, even if that someone is you. Happy Masturbation Month! Give yourself a hand… You deserve it!


Note: Dr. Susan Block is a sex educator, cultural commentator, host of The Dr. Susan Block Show and author of The 10 Commandments of Pleasure. Visit her website at http://www.drsusanblock.com

Send all hate mail, love letters, commentary, questions and confessions to her at liberties@blockbooks.com

Read other articles by Dr Susan Block (click on the balls)
It Always Rains In California: All About Female Ejaculation
Springtime For Sex And God
The bigO Can Be Yours
Bush's P.O.W. Porn




For more... email singbigo@singnet.com.sg with the message, "Put me on your mailing list."