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Meet The Photographer Using Rope Bondage To Create Incredible Art


Art has a long history of drawing inspiration from the otherwise underground world of BDSM. The custom goes as far back as 1928, when the surrealist artist Man Ray captured an image of a woman sensually reclining while bound in ropes and a harness.

Robert Mapplethorpe famously stunned the ’70s art establishment with his documentation of the S&M play flourishing in certain corners of the gay community. Acclaimed Japanese artist Nobuyoshi Araki made his name with graphic, intensely sexual, and often controversial images of Kinbaku-bi, the ancient Japanese art of “tight binding” or rope play. The list goes on and on…

Contemporary photographer Garth Knight both aligns with and breaks from this complicated tradition. A former engineering student, Knight pursues his lingering interest in forces and mechanisms by creating intricate sculptural rope forms in which human models hang.


While Knight also draws from the kinbaku tradition, his photographs are less corporal and titillating than Araki’s work or your typical bondage art. The focus of Knight’s stunning and meticulous rope suspensions is more on transcendence than the human form.

Konbini spoke with Knight about his vivid rope worlds, his process, and whether he considers his work erotic. Read the full interview below!

Konbini: When did you begin drawing from bondage and shibari in your work? What attracted you to those worlds/forms?

Garth Knight: I have always had a strong affinity with line and had enjoyed playing with rope for practical purposes. In 1999, when I first saw a person being beautifully bound, it was like a revelation.

At that stage I wasn’t particularly interested in or even really aware of erotic bondage, but just seeing the rope and the body combined aesthetically spoke very deeply to me and I knew I had to do it myself.

The mechanics of tying came quite naturally and very easily to me, but the emotional and psychological aspects of rope bondage took a long time to develop. I still feel like there are whole worlds to discover and cultivate in this respect.

There was no internet back then and Japanese rope art (shibari, or kinbaku) was also completely unknown to me. I just started playing around and for many years I was just teaching myself, developing my own style and stumbling around in the dark. When I became aware of kinbaku I was very attracted to it and started incorporating elements of it into my style, though I have always been very careful to make this symbiosis influential rather than a replication.

Garth Knight

How has rope bondage influenced your art?

The more I’ve used rope and tying, the more I’ve learned that my own place in this world is tenuous and unreal and a construct of my mind. This world is connection overlayed with connection which we try and make sense of by building patterns.

When you work with rope, you lay rope onto rope and connection onto connection making an extended and cumulative embrace, forming a vibrating web of touch on the body and in the surrounding space, the connectivity and flow of energy pulsing through the space and the body and our psyches.

It’s a very powerful and sometimes transcendent place to be. It’s compelling and overwhelming and sensual and hypnotic. To release yourself to these emotions, to be able to submit to this, is all facilitated by the constraint of the rope.

Garth Knight

What does your process look like when you are making something like your Blood Consciousness or Vortex series? Who are your models? How long does it take you to finish one of your rope sculptures?

Ideas come mostly in daydreaming states, or while drawing, sketching. The end result is usually very process-driven: I make a start and the work develops organically. Working with the model is usually a very experimental process, working together to find their “place” in the work.

The rope used to tie someone takes up their energy, their sweat and skin and touch and experience. The models are a mixture of my friends and associates, as well as people contacting me who are interested in being part of this process. I choose people who intuitively feel right for that particular image, sometimes this just comes down to serendipity.

Each shoot takes place over several hours. The entire series takes many days to produce, normally stretched out over weeks or months.


Where do you draw or find inspiration? What other artists influence you? What do you draw specifically from the BDSM or bondage world?

The natural world with its constant infinite dance of order and chaos is always my greatest inspiration and ongoing fascination. I am attracted to bonsai and the constraint of form combined with simultaneously attempting to see and bring out the individual plants “true” being.

Surrealist artists like Dali and Man Ray set me on my path early. Escher, Odd Nerdrum, Andy Goldsworthy and Da Vinci are the kind of artists that also rate highly. From the kinbaku world, Kinoko and Kanna are two artists I really admire.

From BDSM specifically, I draw an interest in transcending the body and mind through the use of extreme sensation, and the use of physicality and eroticism as a pathway to awe.



Do you regard your work as erotic or sensual? What do you hope your work conveys about the human body, submission, and constraint?

I’ve brought up a couple of times the erotic and sensual aspects, both in the process and final images, and I definitely find both of these things to be essential elements and integral parts of my work.

In the past, I have avoided talking too much about this aspect, partly because it’s definitely not the only thing the work is about and since it is such a powerful element in people’s perception it can cloud the other aspects. Mostly though I’ve come to realize it’s because I find it very confusing and difficult to extricate some meaningful description of that part of the work using words.



Hopefully, ultimately, I would like to convey that the human body is just a construct for the perception and interaction of the flow of energy which we call consciousness, which moves from the infinite collective unconscious through our momentary singular consciousness to learn and grow and then onto its ultimate dispersal into the collective super-consciousness.

This flow adds to some spiritual momentum which, once it reaches some critical level, will lead to the complete enlightenment of the One which contains us all.

My mind tells me that this thought is ridiculous and just does not add up with what it sees and the physical reality that it has built and fastidiously maintains, and which we are so constrained by and invested in. And yet, when I submit myself entirely to the experience of the creation of art, I do believe this thought to be so.

More of Garth Knight’s work can be found on his website. The “Blood Consciousness” and “Vortex” series are also available in full in Knight’s new book

Complete Article HERE!

The 22 Diseases You Can Heal With Passionate Sex

by Adina Rivers


The infamous Woody Allen once said: “I don’t know the question, but sex is definitely the answer.” And oh boy was he right.

It might not be new to you that sex can heal physical and mental diseases, but did you really know that sex can play an important role in the healing of all the following diseases? Some were definitely new to me and I am in this game for quite a long time now.

It might not be new to you that sex can heal physical and mental diseases, but did you really know that sex can play an important role in the healing of all the following diseases? Some were definitely new to me and I am in this game for quite a long time now.

According to Wilkes University, making love twice a week releases an antibody called immunoglobulin A or IgA, which helps to protect the body against infections and diseases.

Check out the following list of 22 diseases you can fight with passionate love making:

#1 Sex protects against prostate cancer

Research suggests that frequent ejaculations (at least five times per week) in males reduces the risk of prostate cancer.

#2 Sex helps with keeping fit

There is nothing like having fun (and having pleasure) while playing sports! Making love is good for your heart activity. It also helps to naturally tone the muscles of the body. That seems hard to believe, but while making love you burn about 200 calories in half an hour. If you make love three times a week, you can burn up to 600 calories in total. And it’s much more engaging and fun than a diet!

#3 Sex relieves headaches

During sex, a hormone called oxytocin; it increases the level of endorphins, acting as a natural painkiller. The body then goes into a more relaxed state.

Many people notice that their aches and pains (headaches, cramps, etc.) disappear after sex.

#4 Sex helps fight depression

Women who have regular orgasms are generally more relaxed, less depressed, also physically and emotionally more satisfied.

Sex assists with creating better sleep patterns and relaxes nervous tension by producing, serotonin in the brain – which controls mood elevation.

#5 Sex keeps you young

Sex is one of the key components to looking at least 10 years younger than your age! In his book, “Secrets of the super young,” Dr. David Weeks, a psychologist at the Royal Edinburgh Hospital in Scotland, compiled the lifestyle of about 3,500 people, aged 18 to 102 years. Respondents were having sex at least three times a week and they all seemed to appear years younger than their actual ages. These beneficial effects have also been confirmed by numerous other studies.

#6 Sex protects against incontinence

In women, regular sex promotes exceptional health of the pelvic floor, thereby reducing the risk of age-related incontinence.

#7 Sex heals the mind

Making love is a welcomed pleasure of life, an offering where we share physical closeness and depth. Making love is a healthy desire of the body, heart and spirit that fills us with energy, tenderness and life. It’s a way of communicating with all your senses and feelings. A meeting place where creativity intersects, healing and peace.

#8 Sex makes you happy

People who are sexually active are generally happier (which is great for the immune system) and less prone to depression.

#9 Sex protects against insomnia

Lack of sleep has a negative impact on our daily lives. For insomnia, experts recommend, among other things, to quit alcohol and caffeine, watch TV less often and take a relaxing bath before going to bed. Making love can be added to this list of tips for sleeping well. Men fall asleep almost instantly after sex, and toxins released during the act have a tranquilizing effect on women.

#10 Sex protects against diseases of the skin

Making love regularly releases a flood of hormones in the body, called “hormones of happiness.” They contain testosterone. With age, testosterone levels decrease. So having sex provides a good level of testosterone in the body.

This hormone plays another important role: it keeps the bones and muscles healthy, not to mention the youthful appearance of the skin.

#11 Sex protects against breast cancer

Orgasm can help to prevent the onset of breast cancer. An Australian study suggests that breast stimulation in women releases a hormone called oxytocin. The precise study states due to oxytocin being released in large quantities during orgasm, frequent sexual activity could have a protective role against this type of cancer.

#12 Sex protects against cardiovascular disease

Sex is very beneficial for your heart. A study at Queen’s University Belfast shows that making love three times a week reduces by half the risk of heart attack or stroke. In women, sex increases the production of estrogen, known to fight against heart disease. And there’s good news for men too: another study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health says that sex twice or more a week reduced the risk of fatal heart attack; 50% more compared to men who have sex only once a month.

#13 Sex improves esteem

It is known that as appetite increases eating; the more you have sex, the more you’ll crave it. To enhance sexual arousal, the body gives off a very large amount of pheromones, which, like an aphrodisiac, make you even more attractive for your partner.

Feeling wanted makes women and guys feel attractive and proves that it’s an excellent tonic for our self-esteem!

#14 Sex increases self-control

Having sex regularly soothes and reduces stress. It provides mutual fulfillment and self-confidence among both partners. A recent study in Scotland showed that sexually active people are more likely to keep their cool and manage stressful situations.

#14 Sex protects against Influenza and asthma

According to researchers, making love at least once or twice a week increases the production of antibodies (immunoglobulin A) that protects us from viral infections such as Influenza. Sex is a natural antihistamine: it fights asthma as well as hay fever.

#16 Having sex increases your lifetime

Sex not only makes you feel younger but research shows it can actually slow the aging process. When you reach orgasm, the body secretes DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone or prasterone), a hormone known to improve the health of the immune system, while also repairing tissue that helps keep skin supple. DHEA also promotes the production of other hormones such as estrogen, which can prolong life by improving cardiovascular health. This indeed proves that sex truly rejuvenates!

A 1981 study showed that the mortality rate among those over seventy years was lower among men who were still sexually active …

#17 Sex invigorates your pelvis

Kegel exercises involve contracting and relaxing the pelvic muscles. Experts recommend that women practice kegels every day to prepare for the demands of pregnancy. However, in order for results to be effective, your pelvic muscles must be exercised daily. Fortunately, there is another way to strengthen these muscles. In fact, without realizing it, making love tones your pelvis. And the more the muscles are toned, the greater the pleasure during sex is.

#18 Sex helps to protects women against mental illness

According to a study, sperm, when absorbed by a woman, assists with regulating her hormones and thereby reducing the risk of mental illness.

#19 Sex heals back pain

It has been shown in studies that vaginal stimulation has the effect of increasing tolerance to pain. Self-stimulation of the clitoris also exerts an analgesic effect. According to researchers, this type of stimulation can relieve pain caused by menstrual cramps, arthritis, back pain and various other ailments.

#20 Sex and kissing protects against cavities

Kissing each day keeps the dentist away. Saliva cleanses and decreases the level of acid which causes cavities and prevents against dental plaque.

According to a French study, analgesic, in saliva, called Opiorphin relieves physical pain and inflammation-related pain.

#21 Sex assists with easing the symptoms of Sickle cell disease

During intercourse, the heart beats faster and thus increases the oxygen level in the blood and the rate of blood flow. These two natural responses help to prevent sickling of red blood cells and thrombosis.

#22 Sex contributes to overall happiness

The moments of pleasure and affection that we share with our partner remains invaluable. These moments of close intimacy strengthen your relationship with your partner and with yourself.

Economists from the University of Warwick had fun comparing how sex and money contributed to happiness. After interviewing 16,000 people, the main finding is that those who are happiest are also those who have sex the most. And the impact appears to be stronger among individuals with higher levels of education. In addition, a higher income…

Complete Article HERE!

Sexual Health and Safety 101: Frosh Edition

By Di Daniels

Sexual Health and Safety

Don’t get me wrong, the first week of university is an exciting time and you should be taking advantage of every opportunity to let loose and indulge in your adventurous side—in between the sheets, and otherwise.
With that being said, now that you’re outside of the giant safety net that is your parents’ supervision, you should be taking a few extra precautions to make sure that your transition into the world of sex wherever, whenever, is a safe one.
Now, none of the points I’m about to bring up are anything new or groundbreaking, but the following tips are worth keeping in mind. -Di Daniels

The golden rule of consent

Sex can be an exciting, amazing experience—but never without consent from both parties. The definition of consent is something you must know if you are sexually active or plan to take your first steps into the experience. Consent involves a variety of factors, and it’s important to be well-versed in all of them.

Consent means that both parties have made an enthusiastic, direct, voluntary, unimpaired, and conscious agreement to engage in sexual activities of any kind. Consent cannot be given if either party is impaired by any kind of drug. You cannot use your own intoxication as an excuse for carrying out actions of sexual violence—your “I was so drunk I can’t remember a thing” excuse might get you out of other unpleasant scenarios during 101 Week, but consent for sexual activities is NOT one of them.

You cannot assume the person has said yes because they haven’t said no. You cannot receive consent from a person who is asleep or impaired in any way. Consent can never, ever be given under threat from the requesting party, or if the person is in a position of authority over the person being asked.

Even if you’ve stripped down and teased each other for an hour, if your partner decides they don’t want to participate at ANY point, you must respect that their consent can be revoked at any given time during the activity.

You can find a more extensive definition of “consent” in the University of Ottawa’s new sexual assault policy.

“No” does not mean “I want to be convinced”. “No” does not mean “I’m playing hard to get”. “No” means nothing else but “no”, and the golden rule of all sexual relations is that you must always respect this.

Make safer sex a routine

It’s probably not new information that you should use some form of birth control during any erotic encounters, but even though methods like the pill or an IUD can prevent an unwanted pregnancy, these commonly used contraceptives do not protect you against Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI).

In this light, it’s important to always, always use a condom. Some people don’t disclose or just don’t know that they have an STI, so it’s essential that you put yourself first and use protection. But even these best-laid plans can fail if you don’t use a water-based lube with the condom, as oil-based lube can cause breakage.

If walking into a store and buying condoms over the counter isn’t your thing, go online at Sex It Smart and order free condoms—they literally deliver right to your door, and for those with allergies they also offer latex-free order options. You can also pick some up for free at the U of O’s Health Services.

Not all tests happen in the classroom

After a raunchy week in your new residence, you find yourself itchy, bumpy, or just plain uncomfortable down below. What to do? First of all, try not to feel ashamed about it. The stigma around STIs and other genital infections is still strong on campus, but the reality is that the rates among university students have proven to be on the rise—you are NOT alone in your experience. Even if it feels shameful to do it, it’s important to go see a doctor if you have symptoms and get tested for STIs.

Even if you don’t feel unusual, it’s worth noting that some STIs can lay dormant and cause no symptoms for a period of time, so it’s always a good idea to get checked out on the regular once you become sexually active.

Not sure where to go to discuss your concerns? Lucky for you, the University of Ottawa offers a walk-in clinic, as well as appointments with family doctors, so that you won’t have to go far to get tested. You can also get free and confidential STI testing done at the City of Ottawa’s Sexual Health Centre.

On-campus support

If your 101 Week leaves you feeling uncertain, scared, or anxious about your sex life or sexuality, please seek support—our campus offers so much of it, right at your fingertips.

Student Academic Success Service’s free counselling and coaching service offers counsellors that will help guide you through any turbulence your transition to university may bring. The Women’s Resource Centre offers peer support and guidance from a feminist perspective, as well as free safer sex supplies. The Pride Centre offers drop-in services that provide members of the LGBTQ+ community with a safe space to share experiences with like-minded peers, as well as a service that provides training to those outside of the community on how to become a better ally

Complete Article HERE!

Men: How to fight prostate disease


By Shawn Clark

The prostate is a gland that is a part of the male reproductive system, and it wraps around the male urethra near the bladder.

As men get older, they start experiencing prostate problems. In fact, these health issues are quite common in men older than 50. Unlike women who are more open to conversations about their health, men aren’t eager to talk about this subject, particularly when it comes to prostate and other similar problems.

That’s why staying up to date with recent health news, reading professional articles and consulting your doctor is the best way to improve not only your prostate health but the overall quality of life. When we’re talking about articles and health news, the World Wide Web is flooded with them, but not all of them are worthy of your time.

Consumer Health Digest poses as your go-to website that helps you fight with prostate diseases. Let’s find out how!

Common prostate problems

Before you see different ways Consumer Health Digest helps you fight prostate diseases, let’s talk about the most common problems that men usually face. They are listed below.

Benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH)

BPH is, in fact, an enlarged prostate gland. As your prostate gets bigger, it may partly block or squeeze the urethra thus causing problems with urinating. This is one of the most common prostate problems and affects almost all men as their age. It’s not entirely clear what causes prostate enlargement, but experts assume it comes down to changes in hormone balance as men are getting older. Symptoms associated with BPH include:

  • Frequent or urgent need to urinate
  • Inability to empty the bladder
  • Frequently urinating during the night
  • Straining while urinating
  • Difficulty starting urination
  • Dribbling at the end of urination
  • Weak urine stream

Some of the less common signs and symptoms of this disease include blood in urine, urinary tract infections, and inability to urinate. Luckily, there are numerous treatments available for BPH including medications, surgery, etc.

Acute and chronic bacterial prostatitis

 This problem refers to swelling and inflammation of the prostate. Acute bacterial prostatitis affects men of all ages, but men older than 50 are more prone to it. Common strains of bacteria primarily cause this prostate problem and the most frequent symptoms are the following:

  • Pain or burning sensation while urinating
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Painful orgasms
  • Difficulty urinating
  • Pain or discomfort in penis or testicles
  • Urgent need to urinate
  • Pain in the abdomen, groin, or lower back
  • Pain in perineum (area between scrotum and rectum)

This prostate problem is successfully treated with the help of medications.

Chronic bacterial prostatitis is a very rare condition that causes recurring infections in the prostate. The symptoms are very similar to those of acute bacterial prostatitis.

Chronic (nonbacterial) prostatitis

Chronic nonbacterial prostatitis is the most common type of prostatitis accounting for 90% of all cases. The condition is indicated by genital and urinary pain and discomfort for at least three of past six months. Although patients don’t have bacteria in their urine, they have other markings of inflammation.

Prostate cancer

Prostate cancer is the most common type of cancer in men. According to the American Cancer Society, this prostate problem can be treated successfully. In fact, about 2 million men in the United States are proud prostate cancer survivors! Just like other prostate problems, this one also affects men older than 50 in most cases. Furthermore, African-American men have a higher risk of developing this cancer.

How Consumer Health Digest helps?

At this point, you’re probably wondering how Consumer Health Digest can help you fight common prostate problems. Here are some, of many reasons.

Latest news

Consumer Health Digest successfully keeps up with the latest news and trends in medicine, health, science, and wellness, thus providing you a constant flow of articles related to prostate problems. This way you are more educated about issues you’re dealing with and can find new ways to improve your prostate health.


All articles on our website, including prostate health news, are reliable and accurate. That’s because they are evidence-based. Our articles are written by health-care professionals; which is why they are trustworthy. Our experts make sure that every person who visits our website can find out everything related to their health problem and be sure the text they’re reading is 100% accurate. Unlike many other sites, we do not publish misleading or click-bait types of articles just to increase traffic. To us, quality of information is essential.


Prostate supplements are widely popular nowadays, and there are hundreds of them on the market. Consumer Health Digest reviewed all those supplements for you and published useful articles that aim to help you choose the best one for you. The only way to get an effective supplement is to know how to buy it. We have the most extensive database of supplement reviews, and the most important thing is that all reviews are done in an unbiased manner with a desire to inform you about the efficacy of the product only.

Healthy lifestyle

A healthy lifestyle is the key towards successful management of prostate problems. To help you fight your prostate problems, our website features useful content that will help you have a healthier lifestyle. For example, you can find out what foods to eat for a healthy prostate, what exercises to do, etc. The best thing is that all tips included into our articles are easy to implement.


Consumer Health Digest poses as the ideal place for all men who want to improve prostate health or fight the certain problem. The reasons are numerous including accuracy of information, latest prostate health news, useful tips and tricks, and thorough analysis of supplements. We aim to help you improve your overall quality of life one article at a time.

Complete Article HERE!

A handy history

Condemned, celebrated, shunned: masturbation has long been an uncomfortable fact of life. Why?

by Barry Reay

A handy history

The anonymous author of the pamphlet Onania (1716) was very worried about masturbation. The ‘shameful vice’, the ‘solitary act of pleasure’, was something too terrible to even be described. The writer agreed with those ‘who are of the opinion, that… it never ought to be spoken of, or hinted at, because the bare mentioning of it may be dangerous to some’. There was, however, little reticence in cataloguing ‘the frightful consequences of self-pollution’. Gonorrhoea, fits, epilepsy, consumption, impotence, headaches, weakness of intellect, backache, pimples, blisters, glandular swelling, trembling, dizziness, heart palpitations, urinary discharge, ‘wandering pains’, and incontinence – were all attributed to the scourge of onanism.

The fear was not confined to men. The full title of the pamphlet was Onania: Or the Heinous Sin of Self-Pollution, and all its Frightful Consequences (in Both Sexes). Its author was aware that the sin of Onan referred to the spilling of male seed (and divine retribution for the act) but reiterated that he treated ‘of this crime in relation to women as well as men’. ‘Whilst the offence is Self-Pollution in both, I could not think of any other word which would so well put the reader in mind both of the sin and its punishment’. Women who indulged could expect disease of the womb, hysteria, infertility and deflowering (the loss of ‘that valuable badge of their chastity and innocence’).

Another bestselling pamphlet was published later in the century: L’onanisme (1760) by Samuel Auguste Tissot. He was critical of Onania, ‘a real chaos … all the author’s reflections are nothing but theological and moral puerilities’, but nevertheless listed ‘the ills of which the English patients complain’. Tissot was likewise fixated on ‘the physical disorders produced by masturbation’, and provided his own case study, a watchmaker who had self-pleasured himself into ‘insensibility’ on a daily basis, sometimes three times a day; ‘I found a being that less resembled a living creature than a corpse, lying upon straw, meagre, pale, and filthy, casting forth an infectious stench; almost incapable of motion.’ The fear these pamphlets promoted soon spread.

The strange thing is that masturbation was never before the object of such horror. In ancient times, masturbation was either not much mentioned or treated as something a little vulgar, not in good taste, a bad joke. In the Middle Ages and for much of the early modern period too, masturbation, while sinful and unnatural, was not invested with such significance. What changed?

Religion and medicine combined powerfully to create a new and hostile discourse. The idea that the soul was present in semen led to thinking that it was very important to retain the vital fluid. Its spilling became, then, both immoral and dangerous (medicine believed in female semen at the time). ‘Sin, vice, and self-destruction’ were the ‘trinity of ideas’ that would dominate from the 18th into the 19th century, as the historians Jean Stengers and Anne Van Neck put it in Masturbation: The Great Terror (2001).

There were exceptions. Sometimes masturbation was opposed for more ‘enlightened’ reasons. In the 1830s and 1840s, for instance, female moral campaign societies in the United States condemned masturbation, not out of hostility to sex, but as a means to self-control. What would now be termed ‘greater sexual agency’ – the historian April Haynes refers to ‘sexual virtue’ and ‘virtuous restraint’ – was central to their message.

Yet it is difficult to escape the intensity of the fear. J H Kellogg’s Plain Facts for Old and Young (1877) contained both exaggerated horror stories and grand claims: ‘neither the plague, nor war, nor smallpox, nor similar diseases, have produced results so disastrous to humanity as the pernicious habit of Onanism; it is the destroying element of civilised societies’. Kellogg suggested remedies for the scourge, such as exercise, strict bathing and sleeping regimes, compresses, douching, enemas and electrical treatment. Diet was vital: this rabid anti-masturbator was co-inventor of the breakfast cereal that still bears his name. ‘Few of today’s eaters of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes know that he invented them, almost literally, as anti-masturbation food,’ as the psychologist John Money once pointed out.

The traces are still with us in other ways. Male circumcision, for instance, originated in part with the 19th-century obsession with the role of the foreskin in encouraging masturbatory practices. Consciously or not, many US males are faced with this bodily reminder every time they masturbate. And the general disquiet unleashed in the 18th century similarly lingers on today. We seem to have a confusing and conflicting relationship with masturbation. On one hand it is accepted, even celebrated – on the other, there remains an unmistakable element of taboo.

When the sociologist Anthony Giddens in The Transformation of Intimacy (1992) attempted to identify what made modern sex modern, one of the characteristics he identified was the acceptance of masturbation. It was, as he said, masturbation’s ‘coming out’. Now it was ‘widely recommended as a major source of sexual pleasure, and actively encouraged as a mode of improving sexual responsiveness on the part of both sexes’. It had indeed come to signify female sexual freedom with Betty Dodson’s Liberating Masturbation (1974) (renamed and republished as Sex for One in 1996), which has sold more than a million copies, and her Bodysex Workshops in Manhattan with their ‘all-women masturbation circles’. The Boston Women’s Health Collective’s classic feminist text Our Bodies, Ourselves (1973) included a section called ‘Learning to Masturbate’.

Alfred Kinsey and his team are mainly remembered for the sex surveys that publicised the pervasiveness of same-sex desires and experiences in the US, but they also recognised the prevalence of masturbation. It was, for both men and women, one of the nation’s principal sexual outlets. In the US National Survey (2009–10), 94 per cent of men aged 25-29 and 85 per cent of women in the same age group said that they had masturbated alone in the course of their lifetime. (All surveys indicate lower reported rates for women.) In the just-published results of the 2012 US National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior, 92 per cent of straight men and a full 100 per cent of gay men recorded lifetime masturbation.

There has certainly been little silence about the activity. Several generations of German university students were questioned by a Hamburg research team about their masturbatory habits to chart changing attitudes and practices from 1966 to 1996; their results were published in 2003. Did they reach orgasm? Were they sexually satisfied? Was it fun? In another study, US women were contacted on Craigslist and asked about their masturbatory experiences, including clitoral stimulation and vaginal penetration. An older, somewhat self-referential study from 1977 of sexual arousal to films of masturbation asked psychology students at the University of Connecticut to report their ‘genital sensations’ while watching those films. Erection? Ejaculation? Breast sensations? Vaginal lubrication? Orgasm? And doctors have written up studies of the failed experiments of unfortunate patients: ‘Masturbation Injury Resulting from Intraurethral Introduction of Spaghetti’ (1986); ‘Penile Incarceration Secondary to Masturbation with A Steel Pipe’ (2013), with illustrations.

‘We are a profoundly self-pleasuring society at both a metaphorical and material level’

Self-stimulation has been employed in sexual research, though not always to great import. Kinsey and his team wanted to measure how far, if at all, semen was projected during ejaculation: Jonathan Gathorne-Hardy, Kinsey’s biographer, refers to queues of men in Greenwich Village waiting to be filmed at $3 an ejaculation. William Masters and Virginia Johnson recorded and measured the physiological response during sexual arousal, using new technology, including a miniature camera inside a plastic phallus. Their book Human Sexual Response (1966) was based on data from more than 10,000 orgasms from nearly 700 volunteers: laboratory research involving sexual intercourse, stimulation, and masturbation by hand and with that transparent phallus. Learned journals have produced findings such as ‘Orgasm in Women in the Laboratory – Quantitative Studies on Duration, Intensity, Latency, and Vaginal Blood Flow’ (1985).

In therapy, too, masturbation has found its place ‘as a means of achieving sexual health’, as an article by Eli Coleman, the director of the programme in human sexuality at the University of Minnesota Medical School, once put it. A published study in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology in 1977 outlined therapist-supervised female masturbation (with dildo, vibrator and ‘organic vegetables’) as a way of encouraging vaginal orgasm. Then there is The Big Book of Masturbation (2003) and the hundreds of (pun intended) self-help books, Masturbation for Weight Loss, a Womans Guide only among the latest (and more opportunistic).

Self-pleasure has featured in literature, most famously in Philip Roth’s novel Portnoys Complaint (1969). But it is there in more recent writing too, including Chuck Palahniuk’s disturbing short story ‘Guts’ (2004). Autoeroticism (and its traces) have been showcased in artistic expression: in Jordan MacKenzie’s sperm and charcoal canvases (2007), for example, or in Marina Abramović’s reprise of Vito Acconci’s Seedbed at the Guggenheim in 2005, or her video art Balkan Erotic Epic of the same year.

On film and television, masturbation is similarly pervasive: Lauren Rosewarne’s Masturbation in Pop Culture (2014) was able to draw on more than 600 such scenes. My favourites are in the film Spanking the Monkey (1994), in which the main character is trying to masturbate in the bathroom, while the family dog, seemingly alert to such behaviour, pants and whines at the door; and in the Seinfeld episode ‘The Contest’ (1992), in which the ‘m’ word is never uttered, and where George’s mother tells her adult son that he is ‘treating his body like it was an amusement park’.

There is much evidence, then, for what the film scholar Greg Tuck in 2009 called the ‘mainstreaming of masturbation’: ‘We are a profoundly self-pleasuring society at both a metaphorical and material level.’ There are politically-conscious masturbation websites. There is the online ‘Masturbation Hall of Fame’ (sponsored by the sex-toys franchise Good Vibrations). There are masturbationathons, and jack-off-clubs, and masturbation parties.

It would be a mistake, however, to present a rigid contrast between past condemnation and present acceptance. There are continuities. Autoeroticism might be mainstreamed but that does not mean it is totally accepted. In Sexual Investigations (1996), the philosopher Alan Soble observed that people brag about casual sex and infidelities but remain silent about solitary sex. Anne-Francis Watson and Alan McKee’s 2013 study of 14- to 16-year-old Australians found that not only the participants but also their families and teachers were more comfortable talking about almost any other sexual matter than about self-pleasuring. It ‘remains an activity that is viewed as shameful and problematic’, warns the entry on masturbation in the Encyclopedia of Adolescence (2011). In a study of the sexuality of students in a western US university, where they were asked about sexual orientation, anal and vaginal sex, condom use, and masturbation, it was the last topic that occasioned reservation: 28 per cent of the participants ‘declined to answer the masturbation questions’. Masturbation remains, to some extent, taboo.

When the subject is mentioned, it is often as an object of laughter or ridicule. Rosewarne, the dogged viewer of the 600 masturbation scenes in film and TV, concluded that male masturbation was almost invariably portrayed negatively (female masturbation was mostly erotic). Watson and McKee’s study revealed that their young Australians knew that masturbation was normal yet still made ‘negative or ambivalent statements’ about it.

Belief in the evils of masturbation has resurfaced in the figure of the sex addict and in the obsession with the impact of internet pornography. Throughout their relatively short histories, sexual addiction and hypersexual disorder have included masturbation as one of the primary symptoms of their purported maladies. What, in a sex-positive environment, would be considered normal sexual behaviour has been pathologised in another. Of the 152 patients in treatment for hypersexual disorder in clinics in California, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Texas and Utah, a 2012 study showed that most characterised their sexual disorder in terms of pornography consumption (81 per cent) and masturbation (78 per cent). The New Catholic Encyclopedia’s supplement on masturbation (2012-13), too, slips into a lengthy disquisition on sex addiction and the evils of internet pornography: ‘The availability of internet pornography has markedly increased the practice of masturbation to the degree that it can be appropriately referred to as an epidemic.’

Critics think that therapeutic masturbation might reinforce sexual selfishness rather than sexual empathy and sharing

The masturbator is often seen as the pornography-consumer and sex addict enslaved by masturbation. The sociologist Steve Garlick has suggested that negative attitudes to masturbation have been reconstituted to ‘surreptitiously infect ideas about pornography’. Pornography has become masturbation’s metonym. Significantly, when the New Zealand politician Shane Jones was exposed for using his taxpayer-funded credit card to view pornographic movies, the unnamed shame was that his self-pleasuring activities were proclaimed on the front pages of the nation’s newspapers – thus the jokes about ‘the matter in hand’ and not shaking hands with him at early morning meetings. It would have been less humiliating, one assumes, if he had used the public purse to finance the services of sex workers.

Nor is there consensus on the benefits of masturbation. Despite its continued use in therapy, some therapists question its usefulness and propriety. ‘It is a mystery to me how conversational psychotherapy has made the sudden transition to massage parlour technology involving vibrators, mirrors, surrogates, and now even carrots and cucumbers!’ one psychologist protested in the late 1970s. He was concerned about issues of client-patient power and a blinkered pursuit of the sexual climax ‘ignoring … the more profound psychological implications of the procedure’. In terms of effectiveness, critics think that therapeutic masturbation might reinforce individual pleasure and sexual selfishness rather than creating sexual empathy and sharing. As one observed in the pages of the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy in 1995: ‘Ironically, the argument against masturbation in American society was originally religiously founded, but may re-emerge as a humanist argument.’ Oversimplified, but in essence right: people remain disturbed by the solitariness of solitary sex.

Why has what the Japanese charmingly call ‘self-play’ become such a forcing ground for sexual attitudes? Perhaps there is something about masturbation’s uncontrollability that continues to make people anxious. It is perversely non-procreative, incestuous, adulterous, homosexual, ‘often pederastic’ and, in imagination at least, sex with ‘every man, woman, or beast to whom I take a fancy’, to quote Soble. For the ever-astute historian Thomas Laqueur, author of Solitary Sex (2003), masturbation is ‘that part of human sexual life where potentially unlimited pleasure meets social restraint’.

Why did masturbation become such a problem? For Laqueur, it began with developments in 18th-century Europe, with the cultural rise of the imagination in the arts, the seemingly unbounded future of commerce, the role of print culture, the rise of private, silent reading, especially novels, and the democratic ingredients of this transformation. Masturbation’s condemned tendencies – solitariness, excessive desire, limitless imagination, and equal-opportunity pleasure – were an outer limit or testing of these valued attributes, ‘a kind of Satan to the glories of bourgeois civilisation’.

In more pleasure-conscious modern times, the balance has tipped towards personal gratification. The acceptance of personal autonomy, sexual liberation and sexual consumerism, together with a widespread focus on addiction, and the ubiquity of the internet, now seem to demand their own demon. Fears of unrestrained fantasy and endless indulging of the self remain. Onania’s 18th-century complaints about the lack of restraint of solitary sex are not, in the end, all that far away from today’s fear of boundless, ungovernable, unquenchable pleasure in the self.

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