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Gay Sex Questions, Answered by Davey Wavey’s Doctor: WATCH

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There is a lot of misinformation out there about gay sex. In an attempt to separate the myths from the facts, blogger Davey Wavey made an appointment with his physician, Dr. Jay Gladstein, to get to the bottom of things.

Among the things that you’ll find out in this check-up with Dr. Gladstein:

Does having anal sex stretch out your anus? … Can a dick ever be too big? … Is frequent douching bad for your body, and what should you douche with? … Why are some guys physically able to bottom and some aren’t? …. Is it important to tell your doctor you’re gay? … Why can’t gay men give blood? … Does bottoming cause hemorrhoids? … Does bottoming increase risk of prostate cancer? … Is the stigma of having many sexual partners justified? … Can you get STDs from swallowing semen? … If you are undetectable what are the chances of transmitting HIV? … Why is gay sex so fun?

Watch:

Is there a doctor in the house?

Hey sex fans,

I know I promised you a Q&A podcast for today, but I’m afraid I must disappoint. I’ve been experiencing technical difficulties all weekend long, so this charming exchange between me and a nervous mother will have to satisfy you till I can pull together the next podcast…this coming Wednesday, 12/05/12, I hope.

Name: Nora
Gender: female
Age: 26
Location: Mane
My husband and I are having a little problem with our 5-year-old son. He’s very bright and inquisitive and we encourage that in him. However, we’ve caught him playing doctor with playmates, twice in two months. Once with a 4 year old neighbor girl and most recently, a 6-year-old boy from his school. How do we handle this? We don’t want to stifle his inquisitive nature, nor do we want to send him the message that sex is bad or dirty. We weren’t raised like that and we don’t want to raise our son like that either. At the same time, he can’t continue to do this. If other parents discover this, there could be trouble. What do you think? Thanks.

Ya gotta love the curiosity and innocence of children, but I certainly understand your concern.

Reading your message took me back to one of my earliest memories. I must have been about the same age as your son at the time. A neighborhood boy, who was slightly younger than me, and I were playing in a vacant lot near our homes. We made a little fort in the tall grass. And there, out of the blue, I suggested that he, the neighbor boy, pull down his pants so that I could take his temperature with this little stick I was holding. He was perfectly compliant and, like it was an everyday thing, he bent over and I stuck the twig in his bum. I remember taking careful note of his little peepee in the process. He had one, just like me, which was a totally different configuration than my baby sisters. I had taken note of that when I watched my mother change their diapers. I remember thinking to myself, my god that is so weird. But I digress. The gist of the story is that I was a very inquisitive lad, just like your son. And the opportunity check out the neighbor kid was, just that…an opportunity to satisfy my curiosity.

A couple days later, pretty much out of the blue, my dad took me aside for a little chat. He asked me about my play with the neighbor kid. I wasn’t quite sure what he was referring to. Ya see the “doctor” incident didn’t register with me as particularly significant, or all the memorable. It just was what it was. But it sure did register with a nosy neighbor lady who witnessed the whole thing. Apparently she told my mother, my mother told my father and now he was telling me. You have to remember, this was the mid-1950s, so sexual experimentation at any age was a lot more taboo than it is today, or even when you and your hubby were kids.

To my father’s credit he wasn’t hysterical, but he was very firm. I got the unambiguous message that this sort of behavior was not OK. It’s funny, had no one seen me and the neighborhood kid in our innocent play, the incident wouldn’t have registered with me at all. I probably had the same level of interest in the kid as I would have seeing an interesting bug, or catching a glimpse of a rabbit or raccoon. It filled the moment, and then it was gone.

Like I said, despite my father’s mild manner, I did get the clear message that what I did crossed some line, a line that I didn’t even know existed beforehand. My father’s talk managed to instill a sense of shame where there was none before. And I remember realizing that my behavior wasn’t just wrong, like if I had hit someone, but it bad, like sinful. And even at that age, I understood to some degree what sin was. I had visions of Jesus and his blessed mother up in heaven crying their little hearts out over my indiscretion. So now, along with the shame I began to feel guilt.

Of course, even if my “doctor” play hadn’t been discovered at age 5 there certainly were dozens of subsequent opportunities for me to get the hardball message that sex was dirty and sinful — not just touching but even dwelling on the subject was enough to send one to hell. There simply was no escaping that fifty some years ago. Are things fundamentally different today? Probably not fundamentally! There are, no doubt, more parents these days who, like yourselves, are more enlightened than when I was a kid. But let’s face it; the predominant culture is still very sex-negative.

One of the biggest mistakes parents make when they are faced with the kind of situation you refer to, Nora, is they impose adult motivations onto their kid’s behavior. For the most part, young children don’t have a sense of shame about their bodies, nor do they have a highly developed sense of the personal space of another person. When their curiosity about their body and the bodies of others, both children and adults, turns to touching and exploration, it has no sexual connotation like we grown-ups understand.

Some years ago, I said much the same thing at a church sponsored workshop for parents. A mother in the audience stood up to tell me that I was all wet about this. She said she knew for sure that her pre-adolescent son had a sense of guilt about fondling himself, because when she caught him doing it one day he looked very guilty. Well, duh! But when we discussed the occurrence further, we were able to discover the truth. I asked her, to describe the situation. She said, “I happened to see my son, through the partially open door to his room. It was just after his bath. He was sitting on his bed touching himself impurely.” I had to chuckle at her vocabulary, but I asked her to proceed with her story. She said, “naturally, I threw open the door and said; ‘what in the world are you doing?’” I said, in a somewhat mocking tone; “Yes, naturally!”

I wasn’t hard to imagine the scene she was describing, because she was pretty agitated by just retelling the story. I could visualize the bedroom door flying open, her stomping into the room, hands on her hips, eyes glaring, nostrils flared, her voice pitched high. What she saw in her young son’s face was not shame; it was fright. I told her that she was the cause of the panic in his face. I explained that if she had barged in to his room that way, with her threatening body language and her “what in the world” screech while he was on his knees saying his bedtime prayers, the kid would have had the same look of alarm, which she interpreted as guilt. I also confronted the woman about the issue of privacy. Listen parents, even young children need and deserve their privacy. You don’t want to see embarrassing things? Avoid the temptation to walk in on your kids without knocking first.

The reason I tell you all of this, Nora, is I want you to realize that the way you address your son’s behavior is probably more important than what you actually tell him. If you approach the discussion all worried, or distressed, or alarmed, or agitated; you can be assured that your body language will tell him all he needs to know, even before you speak your first word.

If your son’s behavior doesn’t course correct all by itself, which it probably will, my advice is schedule a little family meeting. The key here is that you’ll want to talk about several things besides the bothersome behavior. You might bring up school, putting away his toys, playing doctor with the neighbors, and helping with some of the household chores. You’ll notice that the more difficult subject is couched between more mundane concerns. This will help keep the sexual issue properly situated…as part of everyday life.

When you ask him about his “doctor” play, and if you do it in a casual sort of way, he will probably tell you all about it as if he were telling you about his other play. My guess is he is not yet made the distinction between types of play. You might ask him why he’s playing this particular game. Maybe even ask him what he discovered, if anything. Once this part is over and you have some information about his motivation, you could add your perspective…the adult perspective. Here’s where you get to explain that some parts of our bodies are private. And now that he’s getting bigger he needs to understand the difference between public and private. You could make the distinction between bad and inappropriate — his play is not bad, just out of place. I’d be willing to guess that he already has a grasp on this concept.

You may not even have to tell him not to do it again. You could tell him that if he thinks he wants to play “doctor” again, he should ask for your permission. In the same way he would have to ask your permission to cross a busy street or stay at a friends house for lunch.

If after the family meeting you think you and your husband didn’t get it precisely right, just let it go. If the behavior continues you’ll have another opportunity to get it right. Here’s a tip, if you guys casually talk about body things, like personal hygiene…particularly if your son is uncut…on a regular basis you’ll have a foundation on which to build more complicated sex related discussions in the future.

Finally, keep all sex related talks firmly grounded in every day life. One good way of doing that is use examples from nature and apply it to human behavior.

Good luck

Hey dr dick! What’s that toll-free podcast voicemail telephone number? Why, it’s: (866) 422-5680. DON’T BE SHY, LET IT FLY!

The Doctor is IN!

Name: Paul
Gender: male
Age: 32
Location: Seattle
I hope this isn’t the first time you’ve gotten this kind of question but I’ve recently discovered that I have a urine fetish. And I guess what I want to know is if among gay men I am in a minority or what? Do you know of other guys out there who share my fetish? Also I’m in a relationship and I don’t think my boyfriend shares my interests so I was wondering if you might have some ideas on how to break the news to him. Thanks a lot.

A urine fetish, huh? Ok! Are you talking about what those in the know call watersports or golden showers, right? I think you’re telling me you like to play with your pee, or the pee of other folks, right?

40.jpgOh my god, this is like a totally popular fetish, and not just common among the gays, don’t cha know. I’m surprised that you haven’t encountered loads of other pee queens before now. Folks of every sexual stripe and persuasion are known to enjoy piss play. There’s even a scientific name for it: urophilia. Doesn’t that sound fun? Honey, guess what? I’m a urophiliac and you can be one too!

Hell, this is such a popular fetish that it has a full subset of associated fetishes. There are clothes wetting, bed-wetting and diaper fetishes, and urinal fetishes. For the BDSM crowd there are humiliation scenes and bladder control scenes just to name a few.

Historically speaking, people have been drinking their own urine as an alternative medicine for as long as…well, as long as there’s been pee to drink. Bathing in urine is also very common in some cultures.

Curiously enough, watersports is not necessarily always a sexual fetish, although it can be sexual in nature. Activities where piss is taken internally (swallowed or received anally or vaginally) can be risky. The pee-ee will no doubt ingest any and all un-metabolized drugs — pharmaceutical as well as recreational — which were consumed by the pee-er. In some societies and in some situations, this is the actual intent — for example intensifying and prolonging the effects of a hallucinogenic drug.

Prospective pee drinkers should be aware that there are a few drugs that pass through the body either partly unchanged or entirely unchanged, like those nasty amphetamines and their derivatives. So it’s all together possible to get really high from drinking a druggie’s piss.

Finally, how do you come out as a pee-queen to your boyfriend? I’m of the mind that the direct approach works best. There’s less room for misunderstandings. You could come right out and ask him for what you want. Darling, meet me in the bathroom. I want to show you something really festive and entertaining. I mean, what homo’s isn’t gonna fall for that?

A less assertive way would be to visit several golden shower oriented websites, they abound on them internets, ya know. Leave the page open for the BF to find. That will stir things up. And unless he’s as dense as a post, he’ll begin to get the message. You could also “accidentally” rent a watersports video. That would, no doubt, open the desired discussion. “Holy cow honey, look what I picked up by mistake. You wanna watch it? Isn’t this hot? Oh my god, I think I just wet my pants. Wanna see?”

Name: Maria
Gender: Female
Age: 24
Location: California
Hi Dr, My question is a little strange. My boyfriend has this weird fetish about cumming on me…not just on me but all over me. On my boobs, on my face, he likes to get it in my hair, on my feet. I’m practically swimming in the stuff. Most of the time I don’t mind it and sometimes it gets me off. But I’m just wondering what’s this all about. Why does he have this desire to cum all over me? Most of the time he wants me on my knees waiting for his gift, tongue sticking out like a dog. Any thoughts why?

Maria, darling, this is absolutely precious! I love it!

Did you ever see the brilliantly funny Mel Brooks movie, High Anxiety?

In the movie Mel Brooks plays Dr. Richard H. Thorndyke, the new administrator of the Psychoneurotic Institute for the Very, VERY Nervous. He goes to San Francisco for a conference where he is framed for a murder. Mid-way through the movie there’s a scene where Thorndyke is on the lam. He phones his new friend, Victoria Brisbane, (played by the amazing Madeline Kahn) from a phone booth to ask for her help. Victoria is in her hotel room when she answers the phone. Just at that moment, the real killer attacks Dr Thorndyke and has him by the throat. Because of all the heavy breathing and choking sounds on the Thorndyke end, Victoria thinks she getting a prank sex call. She protests but then is drawn into the call. It’s comic genius. Dr Thorndyke’s struggle comes to an end when his attacker is impaled on a shard of glass. His death gasp makes Victoria think her caller just shot his wad. She responds with disgust, “You animal!

That’s where my mind went, Maria when I got your call. The description of your boyfriend’s spooge fetish made me think of Victoria Brisbane and her exclamation, “You Animal.”

p10.jpgYa see, Maria, us boys think all the world is as enamored with our spunk as we are. And so we think we’re doing everyone a big favor by spreading our junk around. We’re particularly fond of getting as much of our joy-juice as possible on our partners and the messier the better. We’ll tell you that we do this because we love you and we just whipped up this tasty little batch of seed just for you. That’s bullshit of course.

What we’re really doing is marking our territory. Did you ever notice how pleased with himself a male dog is when he’s blissfully lifting his leg to pee on everything in site? I’d be willing to bet you’d see a similar shit-eatin’ grin on the BF as you’d see on that dog. Your BF is marking his territory, but he’s marking you with his jizz.

The upside of this is that our little nut concoction is heavily protein laden, so you’ll not find a better skin emolument. Just make sure he doesn’t get any in your eyes. That shit burns! Enjoy!

Name: Jim
Gender: male
Age: 23
Location: Sydney
I’m addicted to porn. I look at porn for hours and hours at a time at work at home on my cell phone whatever. I am noticing that the more porn I look at the more I want and now I’m searching out some real weird shit the weirder the better. I’m afraid this is taking over my life, but I can’t stop. What should I do?

Listen Jim, there’s no such thing as an addiction to porn! PERIOD!

Nowadays people bandy about the term addiction as if it could be applied to any and all obsessive behaviors. I have an addiction to chocolate, I’m addicted to shopping, or I’m a sex addict. NONSENSE!

Let’s be clear about this. An addiction is a very specific condition. It denotes a dual dependency, physical as well as a psychological. A physical dependency occurs when a substance is habitually used to a point where the body becomes reliant on its effects. The substance must be used constantly, because if it is withheld it will trigger symptoms of withdrawal. Psychological dependency occurs when the substance habitually used creates an emotional reliance on its effects. There is no functioning without it. Its absence produces intense cravings, which if not fed will trigger symptoms of withdrawal.

What you report about yourself, Jim, is not an addiction. Your behaviors, however, are a classic example of a severe fixation or obsession. Just because out of control behavior isn’t an addiction, doesn’t mean it’s not serious.

You may say to yourself, “What the fuck, doc, fixation, addiction it all sounds the same to me.” Well, sounding alike and being the same are two very different things. Besides, if one doesn’t properly identify the problem; how will one find the proper intervention? And you, my friend, need an intervention ASAP.

n.jpgYour relentless pursuit of pornography, your obsession with more and more graphic and extreme depictions of sex is clearly interfering with you living a normal life. And at such a tender age, what’s up with that? This has got to stop, pup. You can’t continue to take refuge in fantasy material in lieu of having healthy interpersonal relationships.

I’d also challenge your suggestion that you are enjoying the porn you consume. When consumption of anything — porn, food, whatever — is this unrelenting, there is no enjoyment factor anymore.

If you have the psychological capacity to limit your porn consumption on your own, great — Do it! Be strict with yourself. Deny yourself access to the materials that fuel your fixation. Channel that energy into connecting with other LIVE humans.

If you are unable to monitor your behavior on your own — seek professional help right away. Look to a sex-positive therapist who will assist you in creating boundaries for yourself. Your therapist will help you learn how to reward your successes and not reward your failures. You will, in time, be able to put this obsession behind you. But you must act now. Your humanity hangs in the balance.

Good luck, ya’ll!

5 Tips for Better Married Sex

Becoming a sex educator didn’t prepare me for the challenges of married sex, but here’s what I learned along the way.

M:F couple2By Jeana Jorgensen

Around the same time I graduated with a Ph.D. and started to pursue a career as a part-time academic and part-time sex educator, I got married.

I’d heard about how marriage can change a relationship, and I was confident that with my budding sex ed knowledge set and tool kit, I could handle it. After all, I was going to major sex education conferences like Woodhull and AASECT, networking with the stars of our field, voraciously reading books, taking workshops (like the SAR, or Sexual Attitude Reassessment), writing for sites like MySexProfessor and Kinkly, and stuffing as much sexuality knowledge into my head as I could. What could go wrong with this plan?Plenty, as it turns out. I was so focused on acquiring sex facts and tips that I forgot to take into account my own needs, and the needs of my partner, in our marriage. I forgot about how much of a toll major life transitions – and concurrent ones at that – could take on a person’s sex life. Plus, I wasn’t really prepared for how much intertwining my life with another person’s would change how we interacted, which in turn impacted my ideas and expectations around sex. The good news is that we put in the work, and I was able to use my sex ed skills to level up my married sex. Here’s how I did it.

Start With Self-knowledge and Communication.

The ancient Greek oracle Pythia reputedly had the words “Know thyself” inscribed at the entrance to her shrine at Delphi. This is nowhere truer than with married sex.

You need to take responsibility for knowing your sexual preferences. Your spouse cannot know what goes on inside your head, heart or genitals. It’s on you to know what facilitates or impedes your arousal, and then to use your words to tell your partner these things.

Some things it might be useful to know about yourself include:

  • Is there a time of day or night when you feel most aroused or desirous of sex? How can you synchronize your schedules to spend time together then?
  • Do you know if you tend to have responsive or spontaneous arousal, in the words of Dr. Emily Nagoski? Knowing how you respond to sexual stimuli can help you coordinate your arousal patterns with your partner’s.
  • What do you fantasize about? Which fantasies can you share with your partner, either verbally or in the form of role play?
  • What do you need in terms of environment to feel comfortable having sex? Some people like to have sex in every room of a house once they start living together, while others prefer the comfort of a bed. Is having toys, lube and safer sex supplies within reach important to you? Or is part of the fun the sense of immediacy, which can work with a scramble to get your hands on the basics?

Schedule Sex Dates. Yes, Really.

Scheduling sex sounds like such a drag, and many people assume it’ll just kill the mood. But it’s really about being realistic. Married adults tend to get really busy really fast. Sometimes, if you don’t make time for sex, it’ll slide lower on the priority list until it’s rarely happening.

Give Yourself Permission to Play Sensually Without Committing to Sex.

At the same time, if every time you engage with your partner you’re thinking that it has to result in sex or else it’s a meaningless encounter, that’s also a potential mood-killer. Feeling pressured to have sex, even when no one’s intending to apply pressure, can be off-putting to many folks. One way to get around this is to engage in sessions that focus on sensual touch alone. Can you set a timer to make out for just five minutes, promising not to escalate at all? You might be surprised at how sexy that feels!

Learn Your Partner’s Love Language and Use It. Advocate the Same in Return.

If you’re not familiar with the concept of love languages, the brief version is that most people are geared to be more receptive toward affection expressed in one of five ways: giving gifts, physical touch, words of affirmation/praise, quality time, and acts of service. While you can read Gary Chapman’s books that introduce these concepts, be aware that they’re a bit heterosexist and mono-centric, as I note in my review of the first book.

The truth is that learning to speak someone else’s love language can feel weird, arbitrary and fake at first. Poly writer Ferrett describes this awkwardness, and counsels everyone – regardless of their relationship style – to suck it up and learn to speak your partner’s love language anyway. It’ll pay off later.

However, the flip side is that you have to gently, constantly remind your partner to keep taking those baby steps to speak to you in your love language. You have to remember when they’ve failed yet again to do the one thing you’ve asked them to try to do, that it’s probably not malicious. It simply didn’t occur to them because it’s not how their brain works.

Find Ways to Break the Touch Barrier.

The term “touch barrier” has been used by dating coaches and pick-up artists alike (in ways that are sometimes creepy and consent-obscuring), but I believe that in the context of a married or long-term co-habitating couple, it takes on a special connotation. Probably you two have already been physically intimate in some fashion, whatever that looks like in your relationship, so it’s not a matter of touching someone for the very first time.

Instead, my sense is that in a marriage, spouses can get so used to practical touching moments (handing off a baby, folding laundry together) that it becomes difficult to initiate sensual or sexual touching moments. It’s important to challenge the experiences that pile up that reinforce the sense that you’re domestic partners first and foremost, because as Esther Perel has brilliantly noted in her TED talk, security and arousal are often at opposite poles of human experience.

So, what are some ways that you can (consensually, of course) initiate touch with your spouse outside of daily tasks? My spouse, whose main love language is physical touch while mine is most definitely not, suggested playing a game where we competed to see who would remember to lovingly touch the other person first as soon as we both entered the same room. Who won? We both did – it helped put affectionate touch on my radar more often, and he got his touch needs met more frequently.

Even if you’re intelligent and good at relationship communication, and even if you’ve got a background in gender/sexuality studies like I do, married sex can pose unique challenges. Take advantage of resources like Adult Sex Ed Month here at Kinkly to stay engaged in learning about not only concrete sex topics but also what sex means to you!

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.

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