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The Thrills of Left-Handed Wanking

By Tom Usher

left hand

I’ve always been confused about my strongest hand. When I was knee-high to a grasshopper, I used to switch hands when writing or coloring in, when one or the other hand got tired. As a grew older I realized I was left-handed when I was writing but had an ambidextrous hangover because my stronger side was always my right.

But, I hear you ask, what does this mean for your preferred wanking hand of choice? Yes, a pertinent question. A little personal, as I barely know you, but it means in reality that I’ve always used both hands, and never really thought too much about it either way, you weirdo. After doing a bit of research I found that left-handed wanking, or “non-dominant hand masturbation,” is a thing.

“I wank with my left hand so I can browse porn using my mouse easier with the right,” is one excuse trotted out a lot by wankers. Others say the “orgasm is more intense and lasts longer when I wank with the left hand.” Finally, a lot of wankers seem to say that “wanking with the opposite hand makes it feel like someone else is doing it.” All good and valid reasons from people of an ‘ambisextrous’ nature (ZING). But to find out the real reasons why we may choose to bash off with our non-dominant hands I spoke to counselor, psychosexual, and sex addiction therapist Michael Stock, a member of the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity (ATSAC).

VICE: Why might you think guys might want to masturbate in different ways? What reasons have you heard so far?
Michael Stock: The key thing with internet porn is that the person, or teenager, watching it and masturbating separates sex from emotion. They’re short-circuiting—going straight to strong sexual arousal using porn, rather than putting in the effort from being with a man or woman. When they switch on their computer, they have more porn than they can shake a stick at their command—with anonymity and accessibility.

So you think people end up wanking in different ways because it’s become so easy to be aroused?
Yes. A typical guy will orgasm within about two minutes of starting to masturbate. Some people will say, ‘no that’s not me’ but most men masturbate roughly to porn, completely focused on the idea that they have to get to the orgasm—nothing pleasurable about it. Some of my clients play around for several hours and might sit there watching porn, stimulating but not allowing themselves to come, but most come quite quickly.

What mental or physical difference can non-dominant masturbation make, then?
I imagine it’s about variety, because the human brain craves excitement. If I were looking at porn, I’d start on the reasonably soft stuff and then I’d want more and more, which all has to do with dopamine. That’s when people get addicted. I’ve worked with clients who the only way they could come is masturbation—they couldn’t even do couple sex anymore. So I can imagine that non-dominant hand masturbation is another way to get some excitement and make wanking feel different.

I see a lot of stuff on the internet about the shape of people’s penises and how it affects things differently when masturbating. Have you come across anything like that?
I would say that’s unlikely to be true. I think there are a lot of rumours but, first of all, most of us are boringly normal, and secondly the size and shape shouldn’t matter. The only issue is if a man has been circumcised or not: circumcised men may find the head of the penis, filled with nerves, feels very sensitive. Unless the shape of the penis was absolutely extreme, it’s not relevant.

Have you seen any experiments or research done on the right and left hemispheres of the brain and how that impacts on masturbation?
I think that’s a red herring. Neuroscience says the right and left hemispheres talk to each other all the time—this idea is very overdone. You’re right in the sense that as someone right-handed, the left hemisphere of my cerebral cortex controls my right hand and the right side of my brain controls my left hand. But I wouldn’t think using one side of the brain or the other would be particularly important in masturbation. It would be different probably more realistically, if you think about it—and I’m going to assume you masturbate…

Assume away.
… If you were masturbating with one hand, your thumb and finger would be in a particular position, rubbing up and down the shaft of the penis. If you used your other hand, you’d stimulate other areas of the penis.

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I’m ambidextrous, so this idea of right-handed people masturbating left-handed is a new thing for me.
You’ve made the case for me! You can be ambidextrous, able to do it either way around, and we can certainly learn to change. I’m strongly right-handed. I can write with my left but it’s extremely difficult; it feels like I’d get brain-ache after a while. I would say that for someone imasturbating with their non-dominant hand, the main effect would a different, and somehow novel physical stimulation of the penis.

Earlier you mentioned how porn may be desensitising us when it comes to our pleasure from masturbation.
I’ve had young men as clients, 18-year-olds, so hooked on porn that they’ve become uninterested in couple sex. We train our brain all the time, and I believe most of our behavior is learned. Young guys in particular—say 16-year-olds—who masturbate a lot are in the middle of a crucial time when their brains are growing in complexity, in neuropathological ways.

At 16, your brain did something called ‘pruning.’ It went in and got rid of lots of neural pathways it didn’t need, like a railway network over the UK that’s gone mad laying tracks everywhere until you say, ‘This is crazy I don’t need this track.’ And your brain rips up a track. Your brain goes from an overgrown weed at 16 to a nice tree structure two years later—you’ve pruned your brain. Today’s youngster are being exposed to more extreme porn when they’re young, in this pruning stage, and that’s where things have grown really interesting for someone in my line of work.

Complete Article HERE!

How Kink Helps Me Practice Radical Body Acceptance

Kinky activities have taught me that by body is amazing and worthy of love.

Body Acceptance

By

At my last doctor’s appointment, my doctor had to take my weight for my pre-operative examination. I stepped on the scale, and it read 190 pounds.

Now, that might not sound like a lot to some of you, but as a 5’1″ girl, skirting 200 pounds is a bit scary. To be entirely factual, I’ve gotten fat.

There’s no reason why being fat should be a bad thing. I’m active (I walk 1+ hour every day, sometimes I bike), I’m in good health, and I can walk up many flights of stairs without losing my breath. I just have a bit of a sugar addiction, and yeah, maybe I could eat better. Overall, though, I consider myself fairly healthy.

 

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’. ‘[W]hilst 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.

Complete Article HERE!

Why Do So Many Bisexuals End Up In “Straight” Relationships?

By Kristina Marusic

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When I started dating a woman for the first time after years of happily dating men, I had a go-to joke ready for when I was called upon to explain my sexual orientation to the confused: “I’m half gay. Only on my mom’s side of the family.”

I’m one of those people who’d always misguidedly “hated labels,” and I actively eschewed the term “bisexual” for years. I went on to date a number of trans guys, and in my mind, “bi” was also indicative of a gender binary I didn’t believe existed. I’ve since come to understand that actually, the “bi” implies attraction not to two genders, but to members of both one’s own and other genders, and that the bisexual umbrella includes a wide rainbow of labels connoting sexual fluidity. These days, I wear the “bisexual” label proudly.

Given all that struggle and growth, my current situation might come as a surprise: I’m in a committed, long-term relationship with a cisgender man who identifies as straight—just like a startling majority of other bisexual women.

Dan Savage once observed that “most adult bisexuals, for whatever reason, wind up in opposite-sex relationships.” Whether or not you’re a fan of Savage (or his sometimes dubious takes on bisexuality), the statistics support his assertion: The massive 2013 Pew Research LGBT Survey found 84 percent of self-identified bisexuals in committed relationships have a partner of the opposite sex, while only 9 percent are in same-sex relationships.

As someone who has spent way too much time convincing people—gay and straight alike—that my bisexuality actually exists, that “for whatever reason” modifier of Savage’s has long vexed me. What is the reason? Because on the surface, the fact that 84 percent of bisexuals eventually wind up in opposite-sex partnerships could appear to support the notion that bisexuality is, as people so often insist, actually either “just a phase” or a stepping-stone on the path to “full-blown gayness.” Knowing that wasn’t true, I decided to investigate.

Some of my initial suppositions included internalized homophobia, fear of community and family rejection, and concerns over physical safety. Although being bisexual doesn’t necessarily mean you’re equally attracted to multiple genders, it does seem feasible that these sorts of concerns could push a person with fluid attractions in the direction deemed more socially acceptable.

Although there’s a dearth of research into whether these factors are actually prompting bisexuals to choose relationships that appear “straight” to the outside world, there’s no shortage of research revealing that bisexuals live under uniquely intense pressures within the LGBTQ community: In addition to facing heightened risks for cancer, STIs, and heart disease, bisexuals also experience higher rates of anxiety, depression, and substance abuse, and are significantly more likely to engage in self-harming behaviors or attempt suicide than heterosexuals, gays, or lesbians. It isn’t difficult to imagine that for some, the promise of a bit more social currency and safety could be compelling reasons to seek out an opposite-sex partner, even unconsciously.

But there’s actually a much simpler, more obvious, and more likely explanation for the reason so many bisexuals wind up in opposite-sex partnerships: The odds fall enormously in their favor.

Americans have a well-documented tendency to drastically overestimate the percentage of queer folks among us. Polls have revealed that while most people believe LGBTQ people make up a full 23 percent of the population, but the number is actually closer to a scant 3.8 percent. So not only is it statistically more likely more likely that a bisexual person will wind up with a partner of the opposite sex; it’s equally likely that they’ll wind up with someone from the over 96 percent of the population who identifies as straight.

As anyone currently braving the world of dating knows, finding true love is no easy feat. There likely aren’t a ton of people on this planet—let alone within your geography or social circles—whose moral compass, sense of humor, Netflix addictions, dietary restrictions, and idiosyncrasies sync up with yours closely enough to make you want to hitch your wagon to them for the long-haul (and the internet is making us all even picker). Add to that the fact that due to persistent biphobia, a large number of gay men and lesbians still flat-out refuse to date bisexuals, and it becomes even more apparent that the deep ends of our relatively narrow dating pools are, for bisexuals, overwhelmingly populated by straight people—folks who, for bi women at least, are also more likely to boldly swim on over and ask us out.

It’s also worth keeping in mind that although plenty of bisexuals enjoy monogamy, not all people in committed relationships choose to be monogamous. Bisexuals in committed, opposite-gender relationships (including marriages) may very well have arrangements with their partners that allow them to enjoy secondary relationships with members of the same gender.

That said, we have to remember that even within monogamous opposite-sex relationships, if one or both parties identify as bisexual, that partnership doesn’t invalidate anyone’s bisexual identity—after all, we’d never tell a gay man practicing abstinence that he “wasn’t really gay” just because he wasn’t currently sleeping with men.

Ultimately, a relationship with a bisexual in it isn’t ever really “straight” anyway—by virtue of the fact that there’s at least one person in there queering the whole thing up. At our best, bisexuals are queer ambassadors: We’re out here injecting queer sensibilities into the straight world, one conversation and one relationship at a time.

Complete Article HERE!

There Really Isn’t Any Bad News for People Who Like to Masturbate

by Martha Kempner

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Masturbation is such an under-appreciated form of sexual activity. It has been blamed in urban legends for everything from hairy palms to lack of productivity, and has a reputation of being reserved for those who can’t find anyone else to have sex with them. But that’s just not true. Most people masturbate. It feels good. It carries no risk of pregnancy or disease. It can take as much or as little time as you have. And it’s relaxing. So why have media outlets warned readers that they might be doing it too much or the wrong way?

Recently, in a December 15 article titled “We’ve Got Bad News for People Who Love Masturbating,” Maxim’s Ali Drucker tells readers: “If you or someone you love frequently enjoys doing the five-finger shuffle, there’s a study that suggests they might face negative effects over time.” The article actually points to three pieces of “research” that seem to suggest masturbation isn’t as good as other forms of sexual behavior, that one can become addicted to it, and that the “grip of death” can make men incapable of experiencing pleasure any other way.

Well, RH Reality Check has good news—these conclusions are largely based on junk science and misunderstandings.

masturbationThe first study Drucker cites, originally published in Biological Psychology, is called, “The post-orgasmic prolactin increase following intercourse is greater than following masturbation and suggests greater satiety.” Prolactin is a hormone that is released by the pituitary gland. Its main function is to stimulate milk production when a woman is lactating, but it also plays a role in the sexual response cycle. According to the study, which was first published about ten years ago, prolactin is released after orgasm as a way to counteract the dopamine released during arousal. Some scientists believe that the more satisfying the experience is, the more prolactin levels will go up afterward.

For this study, Stuart Brody and his colleagues compared data showing prolactin levels after penile-vaginal sex to those after masturbation and found that levels after intercourse were 400 percent higher than after masturbation. They interpreted this to mean that intercourse is more physiologically satisfying than masturbation.

On the surface, this conclusion isn’t surprising. Many people don’t view masturbation as the same as a shared experience with a partner. It doesn’t tend to produce the same physical or psychological feelings. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a fun and satisfying way to spend a few minutes (or hours, if you’re ambitious or bored).Masturbate-a-Thon_Logo

When I read the study, I did not interpret it to say that intercourse was better than masturbation, just that our biological reactions to different sexual behaviors were different. I had never read anything by Professor Brody before and reached out to him, assuming that people were overstating his results and that he did not mean to discourage masturbation. I thought, what sex researcher would ever want to discourage masturbation?

However, he replied, “Instead of any fresh quotes, I attach my review paper on the evidence regarding health differences between different sexual behaviors.” He sent me a different article, a literature review in which he says in no uncertain terms that penile-vaginal intercourse (PVI) is the best kind of sex and that “sexual medicine, sex education, sex therapy, and sex research should disseminate details of the health benefits of specifically PVI.”

masturbating womanAs a sex educator, I can’t imagine telling anyone that penile-vaginal sex is inherently better. For one thing, not everyone is in a couple, and not all couples have a penis and a vagina between them. And even for cisgender heterosexual couples, PVI is only one of countless potentially pleasurable behaviors. Moreover, many women find it less satisfying and less likely to end in orgasm than behaviors that incorporate clitoral stimulation.

But Brody not only thinks it’s the best form of sex—he thinks we sometimes do it wrong. He writes that “PVI might have been modified from its pure form, such as condom use or clitoral masturbation during PVI.” He also explains that Czech women who were vaginally orgasmic were more likely than their peers who didn’t have orgasms through PVI to have been taught during childhood that the vagina is “an important zone for inducing female orgasm,” concluding that “sex education should begin to be honest” about sexual behaviors.

I thought we’d moved on from the idea that we should all be having heterosexual, penile-vaginal sex in its “pure form” (missionary position?) and that women who couldn’t orgasm this way were both bad at sex and shit out of luck.

Colleagues in the field told me that many of them ignore Brody’s studies because he makes wild inferences based on soft science and, as implied by his research, is wedded to the idea that for sex to have the most benefits it needs to include PVI.

Nicole Prause, a researcher who has written critiques of Brody’s work, told me via email that, “His work almost exclusively uses data from other researchers, not his own, meaning the design is never really appropriate for the claim he is actually trying to make.” She went on to say that Brody’s studies on orgasm are often based on self-report, which is notoriously unreliable. Although the study Maxim cites was based on blood tests, “He has never once verified the presence of orgasm using a simple physiological measure designed for that purpose: anal EMG. Many women are thought not to be able to reliably distinguish their orgasm, so his purely self-report research is strongly suspect. If this is his area of focus, he should be studying it better than everyone else,” she concluded.female_masturbate.jpg

But Brody’s research on prolactin isn’t the only questionable science that Maxim relies on for its cautionary tale on masturbation. The article goes on to discuss the role of oxytocin and dopamine and points out that there’s less oxytocin released during masturbation. This is probably true—oxytocin is known as a bonding hormone and is triggered by contact with other people, so it’s not surprising that it’s not released when you’re orgasming alone. The Maxim article, however, argues that if the brain is flooded with dopamine (a neurochemical) during masturbation without the “warm, complacent, satisfied feeling from oxytocin,” you can build up a dopamine tolerance, or even an addiction, and get into “a vicious cycle of more masturbation.”

David Ley, PhD, a clinical psychologist and sexuality expert, explained in an email that many people describe dopamine as the “brain’s cocaine,” but this is an overly simplistic way of looking at it. It doesn’t mean we’re at risk of desensitizing our brain or getting addicted to jerking off. Ley wrote:

It appears that there are many people whose brains demonstrate lower sensitivity to dopamine and other such neurochemicals. These people tend to be “high sensation-seekers” who are jumping out of airplanes, doing extreme sports, or even engaging in lots of sex or lots of kinky sex. These behaviors aren’t caused by a development of tolerance or desensitizing, but in fact, the other way around—these behavior patterns are a symptom of the way these peoples’ brains work, and were made.

OK, dopamine isn’t cocaine and neither is masturbation: We’re not going to get addicted if we do it “too” much.

But, wait, Maxim throws one more warning at us—beware the “death grip.”

Though the article describes this as “the idea that whacking off too much will damage your dick,” the term, which was coined by sex advice columnist Dan Savage, is more about getting too accustomed to one kind of stimulation and being unable to reach orgasm without it. There is some truth to this—if you always get off using the same method, you can train your body to react to that kind of stimulation and it can be harder (though rarely impossible) to react to others. There are two solutions, neither of which involve giving up on masturbation: Retrain your body by taking some time off from that one behavior and trying some others, either by yourself or with a partner, or incorporate that behavior into whatever else you’re doing to orgasm (like clitoral masturbation during intercourse).

male_masturbationIn fairness, the Maxim article ends by acknowledging that masturbation can have benefits, but I still think it did its readers a disservice by reviewing any of this pseudoscience in the first place. As Ley said in his email, “This article, targeted towards men (because we masturbate more), is still clearly pushing an assumption that there is a ‘right kind of sex/orgasm’ and that masturbation is just a cheap (and potentially dangerous) substitute … That’s a very sexist, heteronormative, and outdated belief based on a view of sex as procreative only.”

So for a different take on it all: Sure, there might be more prolactin and oxytocin produced during intercourse than masturbation, but that does not mean that masturbation isn’t enjoyable or worthwhile. You won’t become addicted to it, but you might want to mix up how you get to orgasm or just incorporate your preferred stroke into all other sexual activity.

What you shouldn’t do is view the Maxim article—or any of the research it cites—as reasons not to stick your hands down your own pants.

Complete Article HERE!