recent, Sex

Party for One

Today, May 28, is National Masturbation Day. The holiday (if we may call it that) was so-named in 1995 by a San Francisco-based sex shop after U.S. Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders was forced to resign for suggesting that (among other things) masturbation should be included on sex-education curricula. It is expected that billions of men and women will honour the spirit of the day all over the world, though perhaps no more so than on the other 364 days of the year.

Masturbation is a unique form of sex. It was frowned upon in some eras, tolerated in others, and celebrated in none. Even today, the stigma endures. In Nova Scotia, a labour arbitrator just upheld a company’s decision to fire a man for masturbating in a bathroom stall at work. “The employee [was] warned about his behaviour two years earlier,” a news report informs us. However, the union argued that “he had not been properly warned because managers were too embarrassed to directly tell him what the complaints were about and instead spoke in euphemisms about ‘unusual noises.’”

In ancient Greece, masturbation was seen by some as a sort of divine gift. But ancient Judaism frowned on it, as did early Christianity. “The [man’s] seed is not to be vainly ejaculated…because of its divine institution for the propagation of Man,” wrote third-century theologian Titus Flavius Clemens (better known as Clement of Alexandria). And Aquinas, by one interpretation, thought masturbation to be worse than adultery or rape.

Then again, Christianity traditionally has held a gloomy view of all forms of sexuality. A man’s seed contains the whole future person, or so the thinking goes, and the woman’s womb traditionally was viewed only as a sort of garden in which the seed grew to become a baby. On this theory, wasting semen was a miniature form of homicide. It didn’t help that contraception (also a religious no-no) was furthered by masturbation—mutual or otherwise.

Surprisingly, though, the Bible gives no clear condemnation of masturbation. Puritans have seized on “the sin of Onan,” who spilled his seed rather than inseminate Tamar, his elder brother’s widow (Genesis 38: 8-10). But according to modern religious scholars, Onan’s real sin, such as it was, was violating a Jewish law that required a man to provide his brother’s widow with a son who would inherit his dead father’s property and care for his mother in old age. That is, Onan’s crime was that he enjoyed Tamar without embracing his duty.

In the Middle Ages, parents reportedly were wont to turn a blind eye to their sons expelling semen, because it made them less rambunctious. But when societies began to become transformed by the Industrial Revolution, masturbation was swept up in the larger trend toward panic mode. Masturbation was said to block a man’s urinary tract, incite laziness, and spread tuberculosis and gangrene. “Curative” therapies extended to iron chastity belts and even surgical removal of the clitoris or testicles for truly chronic masturbators.

In the late 19th century, an American doctor named John Harvey Kellogg (also the breakfast-cereal visionary) advocated an approach based on shaming. “The most loathsome reptile, rolling in the slush and slime of its stagnant pool, would not demean itself” by masturbating, he declared. (In fact, many animals do it.) The Rev. Sylvester Graham, a Presbyterian Minister, was even more strident, and claimed that losing semen was medically tantamount to blood loss.

Doctors often seemed more confused than their patients. Quacks diagnosed anxious women with “hysteria,” and purported to “cure” them by massaging their vulvas, which apparently caused “paroxysms of relief.” To modern observers, this would be sexual assault. But many doctors apparently found this practice to be tedious and unpleasant—and not even sexual in nature. A woman couldn’t have an actual orgasm, they reasoned, because she didn’t expel semen. Treatment could take more than an hour and cause hand cramps among physicians (which suggests they weren’t particularly good at it.) To spare them this shore, they encouraged the development of gadgets that would allow women to “treat” their “condition” at home.

The first models, on display at the Antique Vibrator Museum in San Francisco, were as big as a suitcase. But they were marketed discreetly. The Vibratile (1899) was reputedly “a cure for…everything!” Other mechanisms promised to “restore the joys of youth.” But there were daunting risks of malfunction.

Insofar as masturbation by men was discussed, it often was stigmatized as a mark of weak character. The 1960s sexual revolution changed that, however. Even some Catholic theologians began to express acceptance. Adolescent masturbation is only “child-talk” in “the [adult] language of sex” and therefore “normal… and good,” said Father Andre Guindon, a Catholic University of Ottawa professor, in his 1976 book, The Sexual Language. For adults, the practice can be of greater concern, he said—but not as bad as an addiction to TV. More recently, Margaret Farley, a Roman Catholic nun, wrote in Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics, that “Masturbation…usually does not raise any moral questions at all.” (Both theologians have borne the brunt of Vatican disapproval.)

Doctors now tell us that masturbation reduces stress, boosts the immune system and lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease. Terrifying myths have been debunked. In a 1970s-era book, The Yoga of Perfect Sight, Indian doctor R.S. Agarwal attacked the then somewhat common belief that masturbation “causes blindness.” Nor is it true that a person’s shoulder will be lower on the side of the hand used to masturbate—a myth that raised dark suspicions about aunts and uncles with spinal curvatures.

To some extent, masturbation even has taken on implicit feminist overtones. In her 1976 Hite Report: A Nationwide Study of Female Sexuality, American sex educator Shere Hite wrote of a hard-working single mother who reported that if she couldn’t masturbate at the end of the day, she’d “go mad.” Hite concluded that only 30 percent of women orgasm during intercourse, so 70 percent would be doomed to frustration if they could not achieve satisfaction alone—a form of despair which could undermine their marriages.

As far as government policy goes, the days of Bill Clinton deplatforming Joycelyn Elders seem like ancient history. In 2009, the British National Health Service office in Sheffield issued a leaflet urging teenagers to eat five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, and reported that “an orgasm a day keeps the doctor away.” Extremadura province in Spain launched a program to encourage “the discovery of self-pleasure” in teenagers aged 14 to 17. In Norway, a government-funded video taught kids how to masturbate, using plastic models of genitals.

In Sonnet 129, Shakespeare wrote of empty lust as “the expense of spirit in a waste of shame”—words that might be taken as a description of autoeroticism. Mark Twain applied a lighter touch. In a speech in 1879, he (dubiously) purported to quote Queen Elizabeth I as describing masturbation as “the bulwark of [my] virginity.” Canadian comedian David Steinberg said he feels guilty about masturbation—but only “because I do it so badly.” In a famous Seinfeld episode, George Costanza becomes an object of ridicule when his mother walks in on him becoming intimate with Glamour magazine. From her hospital bed (she had collapsed in a state of shock), she tells her abashed son: “I don’t understand you. I really don’t. You have nothing better to do at three o’ clock in the afternoon? I go out for a quart of milk, I come home, and find my son treating his body like it was an amusement park.”

Masturbation even has become the subject of philosophy, as with Alan Soble, formerly of the University of New Orleans, who has adapted Rousseau to the effect that masturbation is, in the mind’s eye, “the promiscuous rape of every man, woman, or beast to whom I take a fancy.” Indeed, we are perhaps not too far off from the day when masturbation once more enters the realm of thoughtcrime, because the underlying fantasies (formulated without anyone’s consent) might infringe upon the doctrines of #MeToo.

Not that such prohibitions would be any more effective than the writings of Aquinas at ending the practice. Masturbation is an ancient ritual, going back to the apes. Indeed, this solitary, half-shameful, half-rhapsodic act has rubbed itself into the very fabric of the human condition. It might not be a “cure for everything.” But what day cannot be improved without a visit to the amusement park?

 

Philip Mathias is a Toronto-based writer.

Featured image: “Even in love/Narcissism” by Félicien Rops (1833-1898)

64 Comments

  1. Brendan Triffett says

    Aquinas did not say that masturbation is worse than rape simpliciter (= all things considered) but only in a certain respect (regarding the natural ordering of one sex to the other).

    • dirk says

      I wonder, what did the Quran say on masturbation? In my Christian youth, masturbation was about a mortal sin, I remember books in which these sinners were punished by a slow death. Even the illustrations of skinny boys in their death bed I can remember, his name even, Chris!!!. We just read these books, but were not very impressed, that’s also christian, not be impressed too much. But how is it for the muslims? Yesterday in a TV program, again, I saw how important the texts of this Quran are for the muslims. Forbidden to shake hands with a man for women, if not?? You go to hell! I love such scenes and discussions, it’s like in a Fellini movie!!

      • dirk says

        Just checked it (mostly write my first impression straight away, and only then check further): masturbation is haram, and (following a Sheik Multhainiem) even dangerous for your health, your spine, as seen by medicals. I,m stupefied, almost forgotten, but this is exactly what we were warned about some 40 yrs ago in our christian education. Amazing!

  2. Owntown Darts Scene says

    Yet another Hallmark Day, designed to sell greeting cards!

    • Thylacine says

      “Don’t knock masturbation. At least it’s sex with someone you love.”

  3. Klaus C. says

    Quentin Crisp’s verdict – “sexual intercourse is a poor substitute for masturbation” – was perhaps stating the obvious, but I’d add that masturbation is also very much more convenient, more hygienic, less expensive, less stressful and less likely to end in tears.

    • John Doe says

      Hm. I must be doing something wrong.

      • JD says

        @John Doe Oh God – that almost made me squirt beer out my nose!

  4. dirk says

    There you are right, Klaus, less likely to end in tears, but also, less likely to end in satisfaction, physically and mentally.

  5. Village Idjit says

    “The discovery of self-pleasure” is about as succinct a summary of the issue as you’ll get, and the degree to which you see that as a virtue or vice will produce your stance.

    It’s practically a sacrament for liberal types bent on progressive personal liberation as a social value in itself. I have serious doubts though about how “liberating” it is to indulge in yourself, it makes me feel like little more than a slave to my limbic system.

    I mean at the end of the day we’re weak willed, distracted, corrupted creatures. We have to have some ways to let loose and unwind. But does anyone honestly see in their vision of the ideal form of human being, a man naval gazing and jerking his cock? I think we should expect more from ourselves.

    • Klaus C. says

      You miss the point that masturbation can free one from wasting too much time on something as ultimately trivial as sex. A quick wank is far less bother than all the fuss and energy that goes into sexual intercourse (starting with finding a compatible partner, before all the other time-wasting complexities).

      For many people sexual desire is little more than an itch that needs to be scratched now and then, and an experienced masturbator can can get that out of the way swiftly and efficiently, allowing the attention to quickly return to more interesting matters.

      • Village Idjit says

        Klaus, assuming that was directed to me, no I didn’t miss the point I just didn’t want to get into the much longer discussion about the pathology involved in such an unintegrated view of sexuality. I don’t believe you can be a whole, well integrated human being without understanding the deep spiritual nature of sex as union, and when you call it “a poor substitute for masturbation” I see evidence of how degraded our views of human experience are and an indictment of our culture’s entire idea of what humans are meant to be. There was nothing missed, I just don’t have a brief way to communicate what I’m talking about to you.

        • Klaus C. says

          “the deep spiritual nature of sex as union”

          Hmm, earlier you were talking about “weak willed, distracted, corrupted creatures”, only to then suggest that for you, fucking is “deeply spiritual”.

          There’s an obvious contradiction at work there. Putting something as primitive as copulation on such a high pedestal while lecturing others for enjoying an occasional wank is not a sustainable posture.

          Unless you regard ethical consistency as another corrupted liberal indulgence.

          • John Z says

            Jerking off is undignified. What we really should be talking about is pornography and how obscenity was sold as free speech.

          • Village Idjit says

            My man, respectfully, there’s no contradiction there whatsoever. Just an obviously completely different worldview at work. Where you see “primitive copulation” I see an ancient complex of behaviors so basic to our motivations, welded so firmly into our psyche from the bottom up, that it’s impossible for it NOT to have deep, connected spiritual content, if you are willing to see. And I see, though only occasionally reach, profound beauty in sex. That isn’t to say it’s all roses and love poems, that’s absurd. It’s simply that I agree with Nietzsche when he said “the degree and kind of a man’s sexuality reach up into the ultimate pinnacle of his spirit.” Whatever that pinnacle may be. But you’re more than welcome to stick with your vision of “sex as rutting” if you’d like.

            And yes, we are all small, self absorbed, and corrupt. And so I don’t “lecture” people on their sins as I perceive them. That was my entire reason for saying that, I’m certainly included! None of us are righteous, no not one. But this doesn’t contradict any ideals we have about what we could or should be, it’s just an admission that we’re really, really bad at reaching them.

            I mean honestly, do you expect me to sit here and pretend I never play with myself? Be a simple hypocrite for you to knock down? I won’t. But I also won’t sit here and pretend that we shouldn’t expect more from ourselves than a daily round of 5v1, or that there is any beauty to be found in it for its own sake.

      • Jonah Mann says

        Agreed. It should be noted that the Bible does not say that masturbation is a sin; rather, that ‘looking at a woman so as to covet her’ is the sin. Thus, relieving one’s urges (even sexual fantasies) are not necessarily wrong, so long as they do not lead to unbridled desire or sinful intent. For protestants at least, masturbation can be helpful in the struggle to maintain one’s chastity. As with all pleasures, it just needs to be done in moderation.

        • Village Idjit says

          Jonah, I’m sorry and I hate to pull out Bible verses, but please don’t try to contort that way. Sexual desires, removed from or placed over martial love and union in any way, are lustful and thus sinful. It doesn’t matter if you actually follow through on the impulse, or if it’s even directed to a real woman. The impulse itself is the sin.

          And I know anyone thinking honestly about what I just said will and should think it’s crazy. That it’s an impossible standard, which it is. But we should be honest about that and not try to dilute or sugarcoat the real message, if we’re going to have any integrity at all about it at all.

          Colossians 3:5
          Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.

          Psalm 101:3
          I will not look with approval on anything that is vile. I hate what faithless people do; I will have no part in it.

          Romans 13:14
          Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.

          Philippians 4:8
          Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

          This message is all over scripture.

          • Klaus C. says

            “Sexual desires, removed from or placed over martial love and union in any way, are lustful and thus sinful.”

            And yet, despite the fact that sex causes you such obvious (and unwarranted) anxieties, you still place it on an absurdly high pedestal.

            Perhaps if you took a more realistic view of “impulses” that are a product of natural selection, and that we share with countless species less cognitively advanced than ourselves, you’d find a better sense of proportion and be more relaxed about masturbation.

            There’s no sensible reason for it to cause feelings of guilt. In the context of humanity’s finest achievements and aspirations, masturbation might well be seen as “undignified”, but no more so than sexual intercourse.

            It all just reminds us that we are animals born of a very long series of previous animals. And being an animal is a good deal more interesting than being a rock.

          • Village Idjit says

            Hahaha Klaus I have to applaud these attempts to paint me as some neurotic, pearl-clutching fool but I really don’t see how it’s productive. I mean come on, what’s next? Maybe you’d like to try some Freudian analysis? You know my mother wasn’t around a lot as a kid, maybe I’m just projecting some unmet childhood desires onto the women in my life 😛

            Anyway I still feel like you’re completely missing my point here. And this is also partly why I hate quoting verses since we bring so many biases to how we read things in this context, especially ideas like sin. You seem to think I have this plain, antiquated, legalistic view of right v wrong and I’ve just latched onto a tradiltionalist moral code that I’m trying to impose on others. If so I want to stress that isn’t the case.

            I don’t have any “anxiety” over sexuality or masturbation itself, outside of the normal insecurities people are prone to, I don’t fear the fires of hell and damnation over touching my weewee. I’m not flogging myself over my lustful impulses, metaphorically or otherwise. And most importantly I don’t want anyone else to view it that way either. I hate this cultural scar puritan protestants have left on the west that makes us so skeptical of our genitalia, same as you, I think.

      • Herman says

        That is the point indeed, if you think that your human purpose is not centered around raising the next generation. Not an easy thing, and can’t blame one to opt out of the difficulties for indulging in soft meaningless pleasure. But wait, can pleasure be meaningless? The little shot of endorphin you grant yourself and strive for daily is not far fetch from the drug addict who can’t bare his boring empty life as it is and opt out as often as possible… leading to worse and worse choices… in this case possibly worse and worse moral decision as to what thoughts or image/videos will turns you on. A careful choice indeed.

    • Frank Knarf says

      Those who see asceticism as the path to virtue should go off and deny themselves pleasure and quit bothering the rest of us.

      • Village Idjit says

        Ask any sub in a BDSM relationship and they’ll tell you all about the virtues of self denial and the real control they have. I’m not at all preaching the kind of deluded self-flagellation you seem to think, that kind of hollow piety that draws on pleasure from the renunciation of pleasure itself. That’s the exact opposite of a human life, you’re absolutely right, and I pity the self-righteous ascetic over the most ardent hedonist. I promise you that the kind of rightly ordered love I’m after doesn’t resemble it at all beyond some surface noise.

    • Constantin says

      @Village Idhit
      Funny how our at least some of our ancestors perceived the narrow separation between the “amusement park” and the abyss. Much of that concern was the intuition that the Devil would keenly encourage self-directed amusement over taking on the actual responsibility of forming and taking care of a family. Exhibit “A” would be the Japanese men marrying anime characters on hand-held devices. Masturbating is essential to distancing oneself from both meaning and redponsibility. That is the point where the organizing principle of life is diminished and Dark Prince of Destruction laughs. The old adage that “the road to Hell is paved with good intentions” cautions against encouraging and throwing under the spotlight what belongs in the shadows. Our age is resplendent with self-agrandissment for generosity, but lacks wisdom.

      • Geary Johansen says

        @ Constantin

        Whilst I agree with you somewhat, I do feel that it is important to retain a balance between the judicious release of natural physical tensions and the voluntary adoption of responsibility. To paraphrase the story of the sitar player, ‘If the string is wound too loose it will not play, if it is wound too tight it will break’. Any societal approach which instinctively represses is doomed to darkness, just as too much permissiveness risks sending young people on a path to obsession and, ultimately, resentment. In the political sphere, Western civilisation seems to be afflicted with a cultural Omega Inflection, with the polar extremes at the ends of the horseshoe, drowning out the voices of the vast majority of us in the middle, who just want effective, fiscally responsible, good policies, providing where the market fails.

        But, of course, we don’t live in a world of balance. To borrow an analogy from Jonathan Haidt, rights have become a raging bull elephant on the rampage and responsibilities are now relegated to the role of an impotent and infirm rider, incapable of restraining the elephant. So too with biases, in that almost nobody seeks that uncomfortable and uncertain centre, where rationality and reason prevail- instead using the superficial knowledge generally peddled online to support whatever they are personally inclined to believe.

        A prime example of this is climate change. Any rational observer should gravitate somewhere on the spectrum between Bjorn Lomborg and Simon Dietz- both quintessentially approach the problem from the point of view of climate economics- they simply differ in their conclusions- one highlights research as the optimal means of the fixing the problem, the other cites the possibility that if we fail to divert resources too long, the drastic solutions we may have to implement could collapse the global economy. Which, ironically, is exactly what the dark green environmental lobby hopes to achieve, with their romantic notions of a return to small-scale farming- with no conception of realities of what that would mean in terms of human suffering.

        On a historical note, it is worth considering just how much of the religious architecture which lays at the foundation of the enlightenment, was itself a extension or alteration to cherished wisdom from antiquity. Originally, it was the poor who would inherit the earth, not the meek- in seeking to convert the roman aristocracy, the message was altered to avoid controversy. Similarly, the political dimensions of the sermon of the lilies of the fields, with Christ almost acting as a unioniser, was watered down. The idiom ‘The devil makes work for idle hands’, no pun intended, was perhaps an insert from the landowning classes, added to exhort the peasantry to more productive labour.

        I greatly admire Jordan Peterson for his work and think he does done an amazing job in articulating a generation of young men onto a healthier path. And I agree with him that there is no such thing as a white male patriarchy in the modern context, but historically, there most certainly was- and almost all of its roots lay in religion. Much of the persecution of women through the mechanism of the inquisition, throughout the Middle Ages, was not so much an attempt to protect the church from heretics, but more a desire to establish a monopoly on medicine- the priests and monks of the day, simply couldn’t stand that the local wise woman, with her oral tradition of folk remedies passed down from mother to daughter, was usually far more effective than saint’s relics or Galen (if the monks had ever even seen a copy). More importantly, it had a huge impact on their revenue. It is certainly worth pausing to appreciate the genius system of checks and balances built into our current institutions, to mitigate and minimise such abuses of power, and lament the deliberate erosion of these institutions by the left.

        Similarly, the innovation of confession, with its roots in remote Irish isle, monastic communities should, by the standards of the time and it’s original format, be considered a marvel of the age, and no doubt inspired modern clinical psychology with its example. But as soon as the Pope decided to accept Augustine’s doctrine of original sin as a means of preventing the formation of an inherited aristocracy within the church (by introducing a vow of chastity), the abuse of power that followed was guaranteed from the outset. Suddenly, any priest could insert himself between husband and wife, relying upon the inherent discomfort most feel in discussing intimate matters, to interject shame. Worse still, within the priests own mind, this combination of religious memes doubtless exerted a gravitational pull towards Leviticus, and its like, and away from the New Testament and the poem of Solomon.

        Don’t get me wrong- I seriously doubt we could have survived the advent of the nuclear age, in all its terror, without the embedded moral philosophy of religion- but my sympathy towards religion lies more towards the spiritual than the religious, along with the acknowledgement that much of the true wisdom within most religious texts was deliberately encoded, and only meant for the cognoscenti, not us mere mortals. A prime example of this is number 666 in revelations. Many believe that this was coded message meant to describe the legions. In fact, its a numerological inversion of the number 1080, which referred to the spiritual realm of water, meant to embody healing, emotion and empathy. So the beast in human form is actually a psychopath, someone devoid of all sympathy or empathy for their fellow man…

        Getting back to the original point of masturbation- I don’t think its harmful if you are a teenage boy experimenting or an old and lonely person, whose drives have not yet atrophied. But we should be careful that in hoping to reduce shame, we don’t end up encouraging obsession or the visually induced castration many too frequent visitors to porn sites experience, incapable of achieving intimacy with a woman, through their conditioning. As usual, the overweening desire to be kind and compassionate, without thinking it through, seeking advice or exposing yourself to counter arguments could end up causing more harm than good.

    • Peter from Oz says

      VI
      Your comments on this topic have been excellent.
      As usual, anyone who mentions that a little self restraint is a good thing will be attacked by those who favour liberation in all things sexual.
      There is a reason why “wanker” and “tosser” are terms of abuse. They sum up the fact that a person who can only achieve self pleasure is not complete.
      Glorifying masturbation is like glorifying emptying ones bowels

      • Klaus C. says

        Far from glorifying masturbation, I’ve simply suggested it’s a lot less fuss than sexual intercourse. And if you regard sexual desire as pretty trivial (as many men of my age tend to do) then less fuss is a definite plus.

  6. Aylwin says

    It’s actually funny to understand how evolution first installs us with wellbeing deranging desire, to then have it short-circuited by useful limbs, opposable thumbs (for blokes masturbating), and a fecund imagination, and then build on our capacity for shame and guilt to redirect the desire towards the original purpose (from a pure Darwinian perspective; we’ve now got the ability to rise above that). That final step probably has a co-evolution of genetics and memetics, with our capacity for ideological commitment evolving with the evolving religious cults that exploit that shame and guilt. It’s a probable explanation as to why we’re so susceptible to religions. As always, the wise path relies on greater understanding and education – this article being an excellent addition to that cause. I dedicate tonight’s onanism to honour it, and spill my seed as votive thanks that my life has been blessed with such wisdom, such that I have enjoyed both love and lust, and the union of the two, whilst also avoided the risk of making someone else (and myself, and possible children) unhappy in the long term after first lust then love would have died (probably – don’t argue, look at the stats).

    • Klaus C. says

      Good post, but from a Darwinian perspective there is actually no “purpose” to any of this. It’s just a matter of blind cause and effect. Which is not to say that it causes blindness 🙂

      It’s humans who retrospectively introduce the concept of purpose into blind deterministic processes. But you’re correct that in seeking to restrict sexual pleasure to the process of reproduction, the religious can be seen as unwitting servants of “the selfish gene”, which makes a mockery of their claim to value “human meaning” over a “materialistic worldview”.

      • Aylwin says

        Thanks. Yes, it’s all too easy to slip into the mistake of attributing intent. My bad. It’s hard to think of another way of stating it (perhaps using Dennett’s awkward language of “designoid” and “design stance”). Even your phrase of “unwitting servants” implies a desire or intent on the part of the genes. But you’ve acknowledged it with the word around selfish gene.

      • Jonah Mann says

        I agree with the latter point, as both a Protestant and an anti-natalist.

  7. Andreas K. says

    Hmm. I went through puberty like everyone else. In hindsight, I am forced to side with the famously gay composer Tchaikovsky. His private letters to his similarly inclined younger brother include the stern reprimand that he ought to reject the practice of masturbation as it too easily becomes a compulsion, if not even an addiction, no different than Tchaikovsky’s own gambling and anger issues. He even threatened to task his friend Count Tolstoy with following his little brother around because a little humiliation when being caught in the act is a small price to pay for breaking a undisciplined habit.

  8. Jairo Melchor says

    That example of a man masturbating at a bathroom in work doesn’t seem like stigma to me. More like, bad habits being done in a common area at a private place such as a company. Pretty weird.

  9. Hmmm says

    A negative too many in the final sentence. Should be: “What day cannot be improved WITH [or by] a visit to an amusement park?” Not “without.” (Lots of days in fact won’t be improved that way, but that’s another question.)

  10. James Lee Phillips says

    At least with solitaire you don’t lose all your savings on a game whose odds are always in the house’s favor.

  11. Jezza says

    At least, you’re doing it with someone you love.

  12. Jezza says

    At least you’re doing it with someone you love

  13. Morgan Foster says

    When I first saw this article there was only one comment.

    I wasn’t going to spoil it by making it two.

    I guess it doesn’t matter now.

  14. “Then again, Christianity traditionally has held a gloomy view of all forms of sexuality. A man’s seed contains the whole future person, or so the thinking goes, and the woman’s womb traditionally was viewed only as a sort of garden in which the seed grew to become a baby. On this theory, wasting semen was a miniature form of homicide. It didn’t help that contraception (also a religious no-no) was furthered by masturbation—mutual or otherwise.”

    There are other Christian traditions on the matter. Though, when MONTY PYTHON’S MEANING OF LIFE was released in 1983, there was still one Irish priest preaching the absurd notion in sentence two above and which is lampooned in the movie’s EVERY SPERM IS SACRED song.

    Obviously, people have been able to note since time immemorial that people often resemble their mothers.

  15. Just Me says

    A very western-centric overview, only discussing Judaism and Christianity and omitting any mention of other religions and culture that also look down on the practice.

    Islam generally disapproves of it as of all sex outside marriage.

    Hinduism and Buddhism also disapprove of it, for similar reasons having to do with valuing self-discipline, sexual continence, subduing the passions, and sublimating sexual energy into more spiritual pursuit.

  16. jimhaz says

    I do think abstinence could be helpful for those males enlightenment, as that is about being non-attached. Habitual masturbation is clearly a strong attachment to sexual pleasure and for most to the feminine. I also would not be surprised it some form of masculine vitality was lost via masturbation, dampening the masculine drive for ultimate understanding.

  17. Bryan says

    I have come to view political correctness as a form of intellectual and moral masturbation. Poor substitutes for the real thing.

    • Nakatomi Plaza says

      New game for the editors at Quillette: post articles with no clear political affiliation and see what ridiculous lengths posters will go to to make a stupid, strained political connection.

      Nice work, Bryan.

      • Bryan says

        I am sorry that you failed to see my point, but you did manage to illustrate it.

        Nice work Nakatomi.

  18. john Ashton says

    Several minutes of precious reading time I’ll never get back.

    • Kyle says

      But at least now you are relaxed and can get back to your work.

  19. codadmin says

    How many wanks a day is unhealthy for mind and body?

    If the answer in your mind is unlimited, you probably have porn addiction denial.

    There is a limit, but what is it?

    Ejaculation releases a chemical soup into the body. The body must replace what is lost.

    Is 50 wanks a day ok? How about 10?…or, what about 1 a day…shock horror, what about 1 a week?

    So, how many wanks, do wankers think, a day is ok?

    • Lise says

      It never fails. When a man mentions masturbation, porn is brought up.

      Are you all so unimaginative that you need porn? My thoughts are perfectly filthy without!

      (Also, once a day, at least. Clears the head.)

  20. 80wise says

    My duty as a professional wanker (years as a reviewer of adult videos) calls me to answer this question on limits for wanking. It isn’t the number of wanks per day that matters, it’s the quality of them, which is a function of the level of arousal. High arousal justifies high quantity of attention to the arousal.

    • codadmin says

      So stop wanking and see how you feel.

      Here’s a thought: Cocaine feels good. Incredibly fatty and salty food feels good. Alcohol feels good…why then, is orgasm, which also feels good, a free ride, unlike everything else which feels good to the body?

      If it feels good, its almost certainly bad in excess.

      There’s a whole movement around excess wanking called ‘nofap’. Something to consider for the wankers out there.

  21. Herman says

    Want to recommend a book for this discussion : Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman
    A discussion on how we’ve learned to separate the means from the end – hacking our mind and body in mid-air just for the fun of it 😉 That’s what masturbation is: hi-jacked into mid-air, immersing your body in the glorified moment of creating life – followed by : oh shit i jerked all over my keyboard.

  22. dirk says

    To Jonah and other bible fans: it’s maybe good to remember here where the term onanism is coming from, and what its meaning was and is. Strange, it is not mentioned in article and comments uptil now, because it’s well known for bible knowers. Onan did not masturbate, but he spilled his seed instead of fertilizing the wife of his brother that died, it was his duty in Jewish law. However, he only had the pleasure of the act, and did not want that child. So, onanism is not at all what it means now. Nevertheless, the Lord did not approve and punished Onan with death. BTW, some 200 yrs ago, a Swiss Doctor wrote a book about that Onanism, full of warnings for your physical and mental health (this book was about real masturbation, not the bibllcal one). The book was translated in many langages, and reprinted even not long ago, in children books I read when young, his influence was still felt.

    It’s a strange world we live in, because, I m sure, in about another 100 years, we will still look quite differently at these issues, what will they think about our sex morals right now?? And how will the children literature be then? Maybe, even Klaus will appear to have been quite modern by then!

    • dirk says

      Sorry again, but the biblical anecdote of Onan was mentioned in the article, I just see now, though, not enough explained as mistakenly here, as I feel it.

  23. Pierre Pendre says

    “Masturbation is a unique form of sex. It was frowned upon in some eras, tolerated in others, and celebrated in none.”

    In 18th century Scotland it was celebrated by a gentleman’s club called The Beggar”s Benison whose members indulged in group masturbation and to which masturbation was a ritual of admission. It was founded in Anstruther in 1732 and its full title was “The Most Ancient and Most Puissant Order of the Beggar’s Benison and Merryland, Anstruther”. Anstruther was handy (sorry abut that) for the heid bummers from Edinburgh. It survived until 1836. Merryland was a euphemism for the female body. Wikipedia has the full story.

    It’s beyond a hoot that such a gloriously uninhibited and joyful institution should have had a home in calvinist Scotland.

    Masturbation is one of the great pleasures of life whether indulged alone or mutually, a gift of God to women as much as to men. I never met a woman who didn’t admit to masturbating despite the public pretence that it is exclusively a sad male weakness. In fact, there is an elegance to the act when performed by women which is less evident in the male equivalent.

    All of our lives would be impoverished if we couldn’t masturbate. Unmarried people, the vast majority of the world’s population, would have no sexual outlet whatsoever, which is unimaginable.

    Why is it that such a natural habit has always had such a bad rap? My own theory based on no scholarly apparatus whatsoever is that masturbation falls outside easy control by society which has always sought to regulate sexual behaviour as far as possible. It’s always been the job of women to keep some sort of order in sexual activity à deux. It’s much harder for governments and religions to prevent what individuals get up to on their own. Hence the threats of dire consequences, which never actually happen, from solo indulgence.

    Wood Allen was absolutely right when he said masturbation was sex with someone you love (and who never says no).

    • dirk says

      I just wonder, masturbating alone or in a group, or even mutually, in fact, I scarcely can imagine what such mutual situations mean, and how they are experienced. Also, I wonder, how masturbation was seen in the old Greec and Roman world, where sex morals were so quite different as how they are right now in our good and known West. Any studies about that? Maybe, rather Dionysian direct pleasure, as against Apollonian intelligence and consciousness. No idea, in fact, thus. Aristotle?? Again, can’t imagine him speaking about this! Not a spark of Dionysian flames!

    • jimhaz says

      Certainly more genteel than ‘soggy biscuits’ which thankfully in my youthful days was only ever a joke, not an actuality.

  24. Saw file says

    Porn…ah…
    No porn is anti-self.fkd.ishish..
    But hey, then there’s shtty porn.
    The only thing worse than shtty porn, is no porn….
    Ah..ah..ah…porn…

  25. J Cline says

    I’ve always encouraged my husband to masturbate, both for his own relief and as a way of removing the ‘back-pressure’ so he can last long enough to bring me to orgasm during intercourse. He has astounding stamina regardless, and appreciates the merits of a nice little vibrator in the right place during sex.

    But my man won’t masturbate, not when I’m available — he prefers to save himself for me, which I find quite flattering. As a result, we end up having far more sex, in part because he hasn’t wrung himself out. In our forties, we enjoy one another 3-4 times a week, even with three cockblocking children around the house.

    I suppose I could be a bit jealous of porn, if my husband needed that for self-love. But he only ever asks for racy lingerie photos of me, or simple images of my pudenda shaven bare. I’m grateful to have always been enough for his (admitted) needs.

    Myself, I’d never, ever dare share my own masturbatory fantasies… they involve violating pretty much every Western sexual taboo, and worse, my husband’s never in them. I use masturbation to exercise my libido and keep my pelvic floor in good tone, which means more powerful orgasms, whatever the cause.

    • dirk says

      @ Mrs Cline: read -50 shades of grey-, might help you to masturbate better! And more lustfully!

  26. Raja says

    It’s a cute essay. It’s penultimate paragraph might be misleading in making Soble sound anti-masturbation. He was not. Indeed, in his main essay in the issue (which he revised a few times) takes other philosophers to task for proposing theories of sex that presuppose or imply the exclusion of masturbation as sexual activity.

  27. sophocles says

    UNTRUE: “Onan’s crime was that he enjoyed Tamar without embracing his duty.” Onan’s crime was that he did not embrace his duty. Period.
    If he wanted to “enjoy” Tamar, arguably he would have continued to orgasm, during her non-fertile half-cycle.

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