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7 Things I Learned After A Year Of Celibacy

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(Personally I wouldn’t use the term celibacy to describe sexual abstinence and HERE is why.)

 

The most important lessons I learned about sex were when I wasn’t having any.

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1. I used to have a lot of sex.

I’m not shy about it. I was a woman with many casual sexual partners, and for a while it was really very fun. I revelled in it. Played up to the role. I was a good-time gal and wanted you to know it. I was in control of my sexuality and unafraid to explore it – and exploit it.

Then it stopped being fun. Somewhere along the way – the way being several years of drunken promiscuity with more men than I’ll admit to – my intentions got muddied. Tarnished. I was using sex as a weapon, a way to keep distance between me and every bloke I kicked out of my bed at 4am. Hats off to you if you can enjoy no-strings-attached sex, but me? I was playing a role, a sort of Samantha-Jones-meets-Russell-Brand playgirl, and I wasn’t happy. It took me a while to realise it, but once I did – once it hit me that I was lonely, and a bit of a phoney – the reality was devastating. So I closed my legs. For a year I didn’t date. For 12 months I asked myself who I was, what I wanted, and how I could bridge the gap between those two things.

2. It’s lonelier to be in bed beside a stranger than it is to be in bed alone.

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The turning point for me was being in bed with a balding Australian who wouldn’t speak to me on nights out with mutual friends and yet, somehow, I’d always take home. One lazy morning I leaned over to him and said, “Make me come…” His answer was to check his watch, and get up to go shower. He might’ve known the sound of my orgasm and the taste of my kiss, but I couldn’t find the words to tell him how humiliating his treatment of me – our treatment of each other, to be fair – was, because there was absolutely no intimacy. Once I was celibate, I saw that the sex had been a pseudo-surrender: I could pretend to be revealing parts of myself, but really was using my body to ensure I’d never have to. It’s the most isolating thing I could’ve done. No wonder I felt lonely.

3. Nobody can love you until you love yourself.

It’s almost embarrassing to write that, hackneyed phrase as it is, and yet it’s the truest thing I know. I reckon on some level I was after somebody to prove my own worth to me. My high school sweetheart of almost a decade had dumped me to marry my best mate, and that affected, so deeply, how I thought of myself. I think I was looking for parts of myself in every man who I seduced. I revealed my most unkind, mean version as if to see who would challenge me and love me anyway. Some men tried, and I couldn’t respect them for it. I didn’t trust anyone who wanted to be with me, because what poor judgment did that demonstrate? I could never date a man actually interested in such a broken half-woman. It’s because I didn’t like myself that I couldn’t believe anybody else did. Nobody can love you until you do.

4. Good sex is sex with somebody you actually like.

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In my most promiscuous years, the sex I was having was terrible. I didn’t appreciate it at the time, but once I declared my year-long vow of celibacy I allowed myself to have the kind of fantasies I’d previously denied. I let my mind wander as to what it would be like to be kissed – every last inch of me. To have a man take his time, to be explored deeply, widely, to be looked in the eye. Sex with somebody you like as expression of intimacy, and not as a substitute for it, is just about as hot as it gets. Sex acting out what you think you should do based on some bad porn you’ve googled? Not so much. Sex with a man who claims not to “know you well enough” to go down on you? Even worse.

5. A sexless life isn’t a loveless life.

As soon as I stopped making sex my focus for a night out, or for parties or work events or any other time I left the goddamn house, the love in my life increased exponentially. It was inversely proportional. When I wasn’t trying to sleep with men, men were suddenly more interested in me. In what I had to say. I was very honest about my year of celibacy, and it fascinated them. I had so many conversations about the pressures they felt to “perform” a certain way in the bedroom, about how much they, too, wanted real connection, a partner. It was enlightening. We’re largely sold this idea of men as single-minded fuckboys, shagging around and not wanting to be bothered by commitment, that it’s us girls who pressure them into marriage and babies, and it shouldn’t have been so shocking to me that actually they wanted to be as seen and as valued as I did. They want families and community, too. Plus, boys make really good mates when you’re not trying to shag them. A revelation.

6. It’s not actually as hard you you’d think to go without.

The most commonly asked question I get about a year of celibacy is “But didn’t you go insane?” Look, I’ll be upfront: I wanked furiously. Of course I did. And I missed the weight of a man’s body on top of me. But the longer I went without sex the easier it became, and the more I was determined that when I did start engaging again it would have to mean something. It’s a bit like doing dry January – there’s an end point, and when you reach it it’s not worth your first drink being a warm chardonnay in a plastic cup. Oh no. On 1 February you spend all day dreaming about an ice-cold pint served in a frosted glass, beads of condensation dripping down the glass as you lift it to your mouth and let the bubbles dance on your tongue. And so with the first lay after a dry spell.

7. I will never be ashamed of my history.

My story is one about sex and the body – it’s one about feelings and the heart. Nobody else gets to decide what my history is. I got hurt, like a bajillion other people have been, and I had to figure out my shit, like a bajillion other people have. That’s not sickening and unworthy. That’s human.

Some men I’ve dated don’t get it – but I’d do it all again, unapologetically. I continue to date again, in hope. Unapologetically. I will meet a million different men at a million different events, and with some of them I will think, OK, let’s see if there is something here. I will go out with them and drink with them and laugh with them and wonder about them. Sometimes, I’ll go home with them too. If it feels right. I play fast and easy with my feelings because the alternative – shutting off my feelings entirely, as I had done – is just too damned depressing. It’s par for the course that some men won’t understand that. That some won’t understand that I’m proud of what I did to become who I am. Not that I shagged around, but that I got down in the trenches with every last damned hang-up I have, and shone a light on the fuckers until I wasn’t scared any more.

I did the work. I did the work, and I will never not reveal what that work looked like. I’m still learning, but I have learned enough to understand that you have to own what you’re ashamed of or else it owns you. My one won’t be deterred by the dirt under my fingernails. My one will thank me for it. My one will understand. The blokes who don’t understand, who don’t get what it took, they
aren’t my one. The ones who don’t understand are another lesson learned, all
in the name of what will be.

Complete Article HERE!

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5 everyday ways to teach your kids about consent

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Sexual consent can be tough to explain to young kids. But this psychotherapist has some advice.

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By Lisa McCrohan

My daughter and I are waiting in the exam room for the pediatrician. We are here for her annual wellness checkup.

And from the moment our pediatrician walks through the door, she is all about focusing on my daughter. She looks my daughter in the eyes and kindly greets her. She shakes her hand. She addresses my daughter with her questions. She explains what we’ll be doing today.

And the pediatrician asks for consent. She asks, “May I listen to your heartbeat now?”

As a psychotherapist, I’m tuned into the ways in which our pediatrician is communicating this message to our daughter: “I regard you as a human being,” “You matter,” and “Your body is to be regarded.”

This is very different from a routine doctor’s visit at a different office I had many years ago with my son, though.

During that visit, the pediatrician rushed through the exam. He didn’t look at my son or address him. The nurse came in with the immunizations and said, “Hold him down. It’s better if we do this fast without him knowing what’s coming. He won’t remember this.”

As a mom, I knew my son. As a body-centered psychotherapist, I knew that his nervous system would remember this experience. And I knew that conditions like that can cause an experience to be traumatic for a young person. “No,” I said. “I know what my son needs. I need to talk to him first and explain what we are doing.”

That day, we didn’t rush, we didn’t surprise him, we didn’t hold him down, and we didn’t give him a treat for “not crying.” I showed my son regard by honoring what I knew he needed.

Parents: Teaching sexual consent to our children begins with us.

Every parent I know wants their child to grow up to be confident, be resilient, feel good about who they are, and show compassion toward others. As parents, we want to communicate: “You matter. Your body matters. Your consent and boundaries matter.”

This is regard, and it begins the moment our children are born. We communicate messages that help our children form their self-concept and sense of self-worth. And they learn how to interact with themselves and others through our regard for their bodies, emotions, opinions, and personhood.

With regard as your foundation, here are five everyday ways you can teach your children about sexual consent:

1. Ask for their consent often.

Last night, my son and I were walking home from the park. I went to reach for his hand, but then I stopped myself and asked him, “Can I hold your hand?” He smiled at me and reached out.

Asking for your child’s permission to touch them or come into their personal space can be this simple. You can ask such questions as: “May I brush your hair?” “Can I have a hug?” and “Is it OK if I hold your hand?”

Does this mean you have to ask for their consent every time? As parents, we want to be intentional about what we are doing and why we are doing it.

Imagine your children as teenagers going out with friends with hundreds — if not thousands — of experiences at home where you modeled consent day after day. They will be more likely to respond to any situation with regard for their bodies, and they will be more likely to regard others’ bodies and ask for consent, too.

2. Teach them that their “no” matters.

A client came to me because she was feeling distant from her 12-year-old daughter. And in working together, we eventually realized that her daughter wanted more regard for her personal space, time, and boundaries.

So she started to look for ways she could ask, rather than demand, that her daughter engage with her. Instead of saying, “Give me a hug goodbye,” she would ask her daughter, “Can I have a hug goodbye?” And on the days her daughter said “no” or her body language indicated “no,” she would say, “That’s cool. If you ever want a hug, I’m here. I love you. Have a great day.”

If you ask to brush your daughter’s hair, and she says “no,” it’s so important to regard her “no.” If you ask to hug your son, and he says “no,” regard his “no,” too. You could reply with, “OK, I respect that. Let me know if you change your mind.”

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It’s also OK if your child doesn’t want to hug anyone at all. They can still respectfully greet others with a sincere acknowledgment of “hello.”

When you or anyone else begs or tries to convince a child to change their answer now, they learn to override their inner barometer of what feels comfortable and what doesn’t feel comfortable just to give in to someone who they perceive has more power. Over time, you respecting their “no” teaches your children that their “no” matters.

3. Model to your child that “yes” can become “no” at any time.

Let’s say you are gently wrestling with your young child, and she says, “Stop!” What do you do? You stop. Even if she is joking, you stop and check in with her.

Let’s say you have a group of elementary-school-aged boys over your house, and they are running around with swords and roughhousing. Teach them to pause the game every so often and check in with each other to see if the game is going OK for everyone.

And if you have a tween or teenager? Have “the conversation.” As you share about sexual intimacy based on your family’s values, include communicating to them that the absence of “no” is not “yes.” Teach them that a “yes” can turn into a “no” at any time.

When you model to your child that “yes” can become “no” at any time in everyday experiences, you are sending the message “at any point when you feel uncomfortable or have had enough in any situation, you are to listen to that inner voice. And at any point another person feels uncomfortable and has had enough, you are to respect them and stop what you are doing.”

4. Seek to understand.

This past spring, my daughter announced, “I don’t want to take gymnastics anymore!” I was confused. I thought she loved gymnastics. I had put a lot of thought and effort into finding the right place for her. But instead of saying to her: “Yes, you do! I know you do!” I said, “Tell me about it.”

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This opened the door for my daughter to feel comfortable to share what she was feeling and for me to listen to her. I came to understand that actually she loved gymnastics, but what she really loved was doing gymnastics on her own at home and making up routines rather than being in a structured class.

When you seek to understand your child, you communicate the message: “Your opinion matters. Your voice matters. Your feelings matter. And I’m here to listen and be alongside you.” Even if you think your child is playing around or sharing an opinion out of frustration, when you seek to understand, you are connecting to your child with regard.

5. Keep “regard” at the forefront of your mind.

Our children have their own bodies, minds, feelings, opinions, and dreams. Just like adults, our children want to be regarded, listened to, and respected. So ask for your child’s opinion. Speak your child’s name in a way that is regarding. Look at your child when he or she is talking. These are everyday ways that you can communicate the message “You matter.”

We are our children’s first teachers.

The recent Stanford sexual assault case reminded me, yet again, that we have work to do as a culture when it comes to teaching our children about sexual consent.

As parents, it can feel scary to broach loaded and triggering topics like sexual consent. However, these simple, everyday actions can empower us to show regard to our children in our daily lives. And as our children experience our regard in everyday ways, they are more likely to regard themselves and other people’s bodies and integrity, too.

No matter the age of your child, you can support your child being a confident, resilient, compassionate (to self and others) person by choosing to look at, talk to, and be with your child. You can support your child’s future by the regard you show them today.

Complete Article HERE!

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The Joys of Muff Diving

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Name: Carol
Gender: Female
Age: 28
Location: Montreal
I like oral sex, but my new BF doesn’t know what he’s doing down there. He’s really sweet and I like him a lot. Unfortunately, he thinks he’s like this really great lover when actually he sucks…and not in a good way. I know he reads your column, he was the one that turned me on to your site, so could you give him some pointers on how to orally pleasure a woman. He doesn’t listen to me.

keep-calm

Alrighty then, Carol! Instead of me, who has no pussy, pontificating on the joys of muff diving, I turned to my #1 friend of the lesbian persuasion, Joy. Not only does she have her very own pussy, she sure as shootin’ knows her way around other pussies as well. I shared your letter with her and asked her for her advice. I figure, if you wanna learn how to do something right, ya talk to a pro. Simply put, no one sucks cock as good as a homo; no one gobbles clam like a dyke. Enough said!

Joy’s first comment was…and I quote; “What’s this chick doin’ with a dude? If she wants good head, he should bed a dyke. Once you go lezzie, you never go back.” Ahhh, Joy is such a…joy!

Ok, so giving a chick some head is about the most perfect sexual thing you can do for a woman. It makes her feel special. What woman doesn’t groove on knowin’ her partner finds her finger-lickin’ good? And maybe that’s a real good place to start this tutorial. If you don’t like the taste or smell of pussy juice, give up on the idea that you’ll be a fabulous lover. However, if you want to give this whole eating out at the Y thing a try, but you don’t know if you can handle your partner smell, or she’s unsure about you bein’ down there, thinking she might smell, you guys could start off by showering or bathing together.

Many women prefer oral to intercourse, because it has the potential to give her an exceptional orgasm. And for all those gals out there who need loads direct clitoral work to get off, mouth-to-clit stimulation is one of the easiest, most enjoyable ways to get make that happen.

Joy says that the biggest mistake a guy can make with a pussy is divin’ in without knowing his way around. And like I always say, ladies, it is absolutely up to you to introduce your partner to your particular beaver. Remember, just because he might have been with other women, don’t make him an expert on your parts. Get it? Got it? GOOD!

muff2The novice cunt lapper will do well to approach this amazing piece of human anatomy very gently…at first. If the woman you’re eatin’ wants it more vigorous, she will ask for it. So relax and enjoy! If all this licking and sucking isn’t a turn on for you, it won’t be much of a pleasure for her, either. So, if you’re heart is not in it; don’t bother.

Don’t make the mistake that Carol’s boyfriend makes. Listen to the feedback you’re gettin on the job you’re doin’. If you’re not gettin feedback, ask for it. Just don’t talk with your mouth full. Once you hit on something that works with the gal you’re with, stick with it for a while. Unless of course you’re trying to drive her wild with some tongue teasing.

Joy insists that a soft tongue and a relaxed jaw works best. And holy cow, she knows of what she speaks. She always starts out licking her pal from vaginal entrance up to her clit. She follows the outer edges of her pal’s pussy along both sides —s lowly at first, then more rapidly. Sometimes she’ll even throw in a little raspberries. You know, the vibrating sound you make when you force breath through lightly closed lips. Joy stands by this technique, don’t cha know! Sounds like so much fun I kinda wish I had me a cooch.

Don’t be caught with idle hands while you’re eating out at the Y. Gently press the two outer vaginal lips together then run your tongue between the inner and outer labia one side at a time. Try poking your tongue into her vagina. The extent of the nerve endings for the typical woman’s vagina are around the opening and within the first couple of inches inside. Target them with a darting tongue motion. Insert a hardened tongue into her hole. Try moving your tongue in and out, as well as in circles around the inside of her opening.

Spread her outer vaginal lips with your fingers. With your tongue pointed, gently flick your tongue around her clit. Feel free to roam around in there, but keep coming back to her clit, because it’s the most sensitive area…just like your dick head, you dickhead! Some women find the direct approach too intense. If this is the case with your woman, blow a stream of warm breath over and around the clit. This lighter breathy touch might just do the trick. Again, be sure to ask for feedback and then do precisely what she says.

Once your partner is good and hot and juicy wet, Joy suggests you kick things up a notch. Spread her lips, expose her clit and give it a quick little suck. If this hits the spot, you might want to lightly pull back her clitoral hood and repeat the quick sucking motion. Joy assures me that this feels incredible, and it’s just the thing to do if you feel like tormenting your partner. Now take her exposed clit into your mouth and gently suck on it, simultaneously flicking your tongue over and around it. This combined with fingering her vag, will usually produce an intense orgasm.

Keep your tongue and hands busy flicking and massaging, poking and prodding lapping and kneading. In other words, find out what she likes and how she likes it and let her have it just that way.

Finally, Joy suggests you surprise the little woman by having a mint or an ice chip in your mouth while you eat her out. These can create a very intense tingling sensation and will enhance your performance immeasurably.

Good luck

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A handy history

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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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a pretty good looking guy, but a total wanker

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Name: Anonymous
Gender: male
Age: 22
Location: Phoenix
Dear Dr. Dick, Im a pretty good looking guy, with a pretty average penis size, with a pretty average ego and confidence level. I am unable to make a first move. Whenever the situation rises, I become nervous as a little girl and the only thing I can think of is the awkwardness of rejection. Its really starting to throw me off balance when I cant get the physical attention I need, you know? It’s starting to make me think I’m gay also, which is totally fucking with my head. Help me out doc, what’s going on?

head up your ass

Well, anonymous, the fact that you couldn’t even bring yourself to put your own first name on this anonymous submission form, or even think up a plausible substitute marks you as a world-class wimp. And hey, here’s a tip, stop comparing your total lack of cojones to being a girl or being gay. You are neither — a girl don’t need no balls and gay men have ‘em. You, on the other hand, need to grow yourself a pair, pal!

So you’re 22, a pretty good-looking guy (or so you report) with an average sized dick (although I don’t see what that has to do with anything.), and yet you still are stumped on how to connect with a chick. Holy cow, did you miss junior high? Is there anything about you that women might find interesting? Are you intelligent, witty, fun to be with, a good conversationalist, sensitive, kind, a good cook, romantic…are you rich? Listen chum, you’re gonna need more to recommend you than bein’ pretty good lookin’ and a modest peanut.

“I can’t get the physical attention I need…” I’m gonna go way out on a limb here and guess you mean you can’t get laid, right? Maybe you need to work on your presentation. Because what self-respecting woman is gonna want to put out for someone as desperate as you. Start by getting off the pity-pot and learn to handle rejection. Don’t take it personal, rejection is just part of being a grownup. Also, jettison the notion that women are put here simply to satisfy men’s physical needs, that’s so freakin’ Neanderthal.

Put your pride aside and start connecting women as friends, not as potential sex partners. For most women, sex flows from intimacy. If you take the time to get to know a woman first, without that lean and hungry sex-starved look that I just know you have about you, you’ll find that, unless you are a totally dorky klutz, even you will get laid sooner or later.

Good luck

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