Why do so many people feel so threatened by masturbation? Just look at last week's The Pleasure Activist article on some historical attitudes towards masturbation to see how this fear manifested during the Victorian era. Basically, masturbation was blamed for everything from blindness to poverty to even death. And while these days (in this part of the world) we may not really believe that masturbation actually causes hairy palms and such, the fearfulness and stigma remain. (Again, look to last week's article to see how Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders was fired for suggesting that masturbation was natural and maybe should be taught as another approach to safer sex).
There isn't simply one answer to why this fear and stigma against masturbation persists, but instead a quiltwork of reasons spanning from religious guilt and superstition (in current, inherited, or residual forms that effect us all—including atheists) to misinformation/myths to the politics of power. I'll break down some reasons some folks feel threatened by masturbation, and this may take awhile!
Myth: Masturbation is something that only loners or those in sexually unfulfilled relationships engage in.
Reality: People masturbate regardless of whether they are lonely or have very fulfilling and active sex lives.
According to a 2007 survey-based study published in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy— "Masturbation in the United States"—the author, Aniruddha Das, came to the conclusion that masturbation serves cross-purposes. It both compensates for unsatisfactory sex/intimate life and it also supplements happy and active sex lives. In either case, it doesn't hurt.
My own analysis of this study went something like this: Let's ask this same group of people if they ever like to eat food alone or watch movies alone! I bet similar results will be found. Breaking news! Both unfulfilled and also very fulfilled lovers often take showers alone! Can you believe it? In other words, sounds like a lot of people masturbate regardless of whether they are lonely or not.
Sadly, the myth that only singles or those who are in unfilled relationships masturbate, oftentimes perpetuates secrecy in relationships where one or both partners masturbate but is afraid to tell the other. The fear is a real and founded one in a relationship where the other partner will indeed suffer hurt feelings of inadequacy and betrayal knowing that their partner masturbates. That is not to say that they are not in an unfilled relationship, but masturbation is not necessarily the indicator of that. This secrecy may rob relationships of an amazing opportunity to share intimate details about each other, promote further mechanics of desire type conversations, and even a chance to explore some fun mutual masturbation activities. (However, some of the fun of solo sex is some much needed alone time, as well.)
Fear: Masturbation will prevent one from enjoying sex with others either because of "death grip"/powerful vibrator use.
Reality: Physically, your genital organs still have just as many nerve endings as they did before you began to masturbate. AKA "desensitization" is a purely psychological condition that has more to do with technique rather than masturbation itself. (Unless you have a medical condition- again, it's unrelated to masturbation.)
Let's discuss "death grip" for a second. It's a technique many individuals endowed with penises have learned to use (fast stroking with very tight grip around the shaft) because it was the most effective way of achieving orgasm as quickly as possible when you were hiding in your room/bathroom not wanting to get caught. Not everybody who uses this technique during solo sex grows dependent on this specific type of aggressive stimulation, but some do. This applies to users of powerful vibrators, as well.
For many, comparing a hard grip and industrial strength vibrations to the feeling of warm, wet flesh of soft vaginal tissues, skilled tongues and a firm cock massaging the right inner spots—is like comparing apples to oranges. I've completely (temporarily) numbed myself out with long Hitachi Magic Wand sessions, but am still able to get off with slow deep penetrative sex with the right person or the gentle caress of fingers with the right fantasy.
However, death grip and heavy vibrator use can be a psychological barrier to enjoying alternative forms of sex for some individuals. The cure is not to stop masturbating but to either change your technique entirely or at least add to your sensation pallet. (Really, this should be the subject of a separate how-to article. Look for it in the future!) This applies not just to masturbation techniques, but also to partnered sex techniques. Are you dependent on a particular sexual position like doggy style or a thrusting pattern like hard, fast and furious in order to get off? If both you and your partner are cool with this, then no problem! If your partner and/or you are unhappy with this homogeneity or especially if the technique is uncomfortable for your partner or leaves them unfilled, then it's time to do some mindful alternative sensation explorations. I bring up partnered sex in order to demonstrate that sexual dependence on a particular sensation has less to do with masturbation and more to do with technique (and perhaps some other psychological stuff).
More masturbation myth debunking in next week's article where I cover Freudian condescension of clitoral stimulation and other fun stuff!
Ally Booker is a pleasure activist. She is passionate about educating herself and others on cool sexuality related things like communication skills, creating and respecting boundaries, sexual self-determination, destigmatization, gender and sexual expressions, sex toy use and safety, and all the other mechanics of pleasure. You can often find her milling around her Tucson shop, Jellywink Boutique, 418 E. 7th St., (888) 874-6588.pleasure