On a recent episode of ‘This American Life’ Dave Dickerson told his story of being raised as an evangelical Christian and understanding ‘impure thoughts’ to be a sin. Not only was his lustful imagination a sign of his spiritual weakness, relief through masturbation was considered an even bigger offense against God.
The poor chap was tortured by this conundrum. He lived in a world awash with sexual imagery, then told there was no outlet for his irrepressible boners other than prayer. Things only got worse at college in the 1970’s where he found himself in a sea of half dressed, real world women. He was driven mad by the sight of their bent-over cleavage and bare thighs. On occasion he rubbed one out, but referred to these incidents in his diary a “M happened last night’, as though masturbation was a shameful covert operation. Eventually, a Christian counselor gave him permission to wank and, as though being baptized all over again, he experienced a flood of relief and redemption. His grades got better and he stopped obsessing.
Even though I grew up with a minister father, I was never taught self-deprivation. I decided early on that God was not so perverted to bless us with orgasms then expect us not to have them. We were, after all, built to reach our genitals. But when it comes to masturbation, we all grow up with different beliefs; from flagellating guilt, like poor David, to subversive indiscretion. For instance, thirty years ago, while sunning myself in a park above Florence a man, not even a stone’s throw away, began stroking his exposed Italian dick while leaning against the wall of a 14th century ruin. Gross.
Personally, I’m more discreet. I once floated my clit in front of a hotel pool jet until I shuddered. I always lock the toilet door when I masturbate on trains. I even orgasmed once on an vibratory city bus during rush hour, covering my hand with a jacket and rubbing myself through the thin cotton of a summer skirt. Self pleasure is one of life’s greatest gifts. It’s like having a never ending supply of peanut M&M’s in your pocket. How sad that people grow up thinking jacking off to be anything other than a magical moment of calorie-free joy.
Statistics on masturbation in America vary. I’ve seen surveys pegging the percentage of regular masturbators from 60-90% for men and 30-80% for women. TENGA, a designer of pleasure products for men, surveyed 1200 adults in 2016 for an in-depth look at our solo pleasure habits. The vast majority of their respondents reported getting off on a regular basis (though wouldn’t a sex toy company have a confirmation bias?). Millennials do it most, followed by Gen Xers then Baby Boomers. There are a few ways to interpret this, the cynical one being Millennials are having a hard time having sex with a partner, as I shared here a few months back. But the upside is at least they’re getting off.
Several of my past lovers have told me the Gen X women they’ve dated don’t masturbate. This may have to do with what Emily Nagoski talks about in her book Come As You Are: The Surprising New Science that Will Transform Your Sex Life. She lays out the critical distinction between Arousal and Desire. For men typically, arousal is spontaneous, set off by an image or a thought, after which comes the desire to orgasm. In peri and postmenopausal women however, arousal can become much less spontaneous so the desire to have sex, or masturbate, simply isn’t triggered. Desire requires concerted efforts at arousal. Thus, the importance of foreplay. And consider regular practice every bit as important to your orgasm as exercise is to your muscles.
Masturbation has been the topic of a slew of scientific studies. In one using rats, researchers found sexually stimulated rodents not only experienced more extensive neuronal growth, but they also had lower levels of stress hormones in their system than rats that weren’t getting off. In humans, the blood of men who had recently masturbated to orgasm was compared to guys who had not. The men who climaxed demonstrated better immune system functioning, with higher levels of disease-fighting leukocytes and natural killer cells.
But here’s the data that should compel you to dive down your knickers on a regular basis. In a study from the U.K., men aged 40-59 reported on their frequency of orgasm. Researchers then tracked the death rate of these men for the next 10 years. What they found was those who reported the greatest number of orgasms had a 50% lower risk of death than the men who climaxed least often. This finding was strongest in men with heart disease.
So, if regular masturbation can help us live longer, what should we do with all that extra free time? Masturbate with a partner! Sliding your hand under the blankets by yourself is a no-brainer. Exposing your genitals and being watched is an exercise in naked vulnerability and a great learning opportunity. The TENGA survey I cited above reports about half of all sexually active couples never masturbate together. Masturbating for and with a partner is an act of courage and curiosity. It’s a lovely substitute for penetrative sex when you’re too knackered for something more involved or want to avoid the possibility of STI’s. (Though note, it’s still possible to pass things with hands and mouths.)
If mutual masturbation sounds daunting, start by jacking off alone in front of a mirror. See how fucking sexy that looks? Experiment with clothing and dildos, with positions. Close your eyes, open them, moan. Watch yourself having an orgasm and recognize how much better that is than any pay-per-view porn. Even though my cum face looks (and sounds) as though a red hot poker is being shoved up my ass, my partner loves to see that. Yours will too.
You learn great things about each other when you masturbate together. How does he like it stroked? Does she rub it up and down or side to side? It’s an opportunity to show your lover how to use sex toys or vibrators, where exactly is THE place to hold the pressure. Guys, get your own toys. Only about 13% of you own them, as opposed to over 30% of women. Consider involving your partner in the mind-blowing gratification of prostate assisted orgasm. There are lots of devices and vibrators designed specifically for this.
My favorite part of masturbating with a man is having him dive in when I’m just about to enter the O-zone. Whether that’s with fingers, a dildo or his cock, having him right there, close and touching my skin, makes the volume of my oxytocin symphony hit a fortissimo.
Even though May is considered masturbation month, National Masturbation Day is celebrated on May 28. It was declared so by the sex-positive retailer Good Vibrations in 1994 after Bill Clinton fired his Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders under pressure for suggesting masturbation be part of a sex education curriculum. Poor woman. She was way ahead of her time in this country. Let’s carry on Joycelyn’s legacy and make masturbation a part of our personal sexual curriculum.
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