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Sex and Food: The World’s Strangest Aphrodisiacs Through Time

Hot chocolate? The potato? Piranhas? Throughout history, humankind has persisted in the belief that some foods are linked to sex.

sexy_food

By Felisa Rogers

From the Garden of Eden to the oyster cellar bordellos of old New York, food and sex are entwined. Although every food under the sun has been touted as an aphrodisiac at some point in time, humans tend to get turned on by three categories of food: extremely expensive food, food that is risky to acquire, and food that resembles genitalia.

Rare and exotic foods have favored positions in the canon of culinary aphrodisiacs. Consider the truffle, the piranha and the labor of harvesting a plate full of sparrow tongues. Foods from far-off lands have the spicy whisper of perilous adventure, and there’s nothing quite like a hint of mystery to stimulate the imagination. For example, Aztec concubines taught the conquistadors to drink hot chocolate; when the Spaniards carried the exotic substance across the sea to Europe, they brought with it the rumor that the drink was an aphrodisiac. And during the reign of Charles I, when rice was still a luxury in Europe, noble Casanovas swore by the improbable aphrodisiac of rice boiled in milk and flavored with cinnamon.

As an ingredient becomes common, and thus cheaper, it loses its magic. Case in point: the potato. Your modern Brit is unlikely to find a plate of mashed potatoes sexually stimulating, but potatoes and sweet potatoes were hailed as aphrodisiacs when they were first introduced to the European palate; in Shakespeare’s “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” Falstaff reels off a list of the era’s aphrodisiacs: kissing comfits, snow eryngoes (the candied roots of sea holly), and potatoes. Once rare ingredients such as cinnamon, cloves, marmalade, rice and pepper have likewise lost their sexy status.

The second largest umbrella group of chewable aphrodisiacs is based on the crude logic that if something looks like your nasty bits, it’ll undoubtedly put your prospective partner in the mood. Thus, scheming Lotharios and temptresses have long relied on the amorous offering of edible flowers and roots. In the British Isles, wake robin (Arum maculatum) was once valued as a thickener for puddings, a starch for Elizabethan neck ruffs, and for its phallic bloom, which earned the plant a reputation as an aphrodisiac and spawned over 20 suggestive folk names, including Adam and Eve, lords and ladies, devils and angels, stallions and mares, and dog’s dick. On a similar note, the word “orchid” is derived from the ancient Greek word for testicle. Pliny the Elder recommended bulbous orchid tubers as an aphrodisiac, and the Romans called orchids “satyrion” because legend had it that the phallic roots grew from the spilled semen of a satyr.

satyrThe tribes of Mexico preferred not the root but the flower. The Totonoc Indians believed that the orchid Vanilla planifolia sprang from the blood of a goddess, and the Aztecs named it tlilxochitl, or black flower. Vanilla planifolia is an inherently romantic plant: its small blossoms open in the morning and are exclusively pollinated by hummingbirds and melipone bees. The dirty-minded Conquistadors noted the pod’s resemblance to female genitalia, and gave the plant the name vanilla, which derived from the Latin for sheath. Europeans soon prized vanilla as an aphrodisiac; wild stories circulated that vanilla could transform the ordinary man into an astonishing lover. Elizabeth I is said to have been especially fond of vanilla pudding.

Oysters and clams have had a lewd reputation since history’s dawn. The Roman author Juvenal (a nasty misogynist) uses oysters to complete his portrait of a slut partying away the night: “When she knows not one member from another, eats giant oysters at midnight, pours foaming unguents into her unmixed Falernian, and drinks out of perfume-bowls, while the roof spins dizzily round, the table dances, and every light shows double!” In keeping with the Roman talent for using food to call attention to those ultimate aphrodisiacs — wealth and power — emperors and aristocrats turned their noses up at local oysters and sent away to the British Isles for a superior variety. The association between oysters and strumpets would have staying power: As Rebecca Stott points out in her book “Oyster,” “Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth century, the woman oyster seller was used in poetry as a figure of erotic play, something like the oyster, to be consumed, part of the sensuous fruit of the street for the male urban voyeur.” In 19th century America, underground oyster saloons catered to base instincts — guests could slurp back dozens of oysters while cavorting with good-time girls and prostitutes; some of the seedier joints offered private rooms. A few decades later and a few hundred miles south, scantily clad ladies would shimmy in a popular striptease act called the oyster dance. In the 1940s, Kitty West (a cousin of Elvis Presley) danced on Bourbon street as “Evangeline the Oyster Girl”; to open her act, she stepped with aplomb from a giant half shell.

But food and sex also play an entwined role in more “respectable” culture. If we look at the big picture, we see food at the heart of every human ritual. As Lionel Tiger points out in “The Pursuit of Pleasure”: “The exchange of mates between families was the only process more significant for human evolution than food sharing. But it was also wholly associated with it; the wedding dinner established a circle of implication and meaning.” The Tzteltal Indians of Chiapas, Mexico, take it to the next level: in traditional families, a young married couple lives with the girl’s parents. For the first 15 days of marriage the bride and groom don’t speak to each other or sleep together. Their sole means of communication is through food. Every evening, the wife cooks a meal for her husband. If all is well on the 15th day, the couple will sleep together that night. These people clearly know their foreplay.sexy-fruit

Our literary masters have made much of the sensual significance of food. Eve parting her lips for the fruit of knowledge may mark the most infamous sexy food metaphor, but it is by no means the only time food and sex intersect in the Bible. Half the lyric beauty of “Solomon’s Song” stems from food metaphors: “I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste”; “thy plants are an orchard of pomegranates, with pleasant fruits.” Some phrases draw a direct correlation between eating and love: Food is a gift for the beloved, and the space where the lovers meet is made more beautiful by spices and fruit: “He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love.” Certain passages hint that food is part of the path to the boudoir: “The mandrakes gives a smell, and at our gates are all manner of pleasant fruits, new and old, which I have laid up for thee, O my beloved.” Mandrake, a poisonous root from the nightshade family, was a popular aphrodisiac during ancient times. “Solomon’s Song” also references other more tasty aphrodisiacs of the day: cinnamon, saffron, figs and pomegranates.

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Food scholars and scientists tend to ignore and/or ridicule the idea of a food that functions like Viagra. The Western world’s most popular edible aphrodisiacs, chocolate and oysters, do actually create a sexy hormone rush, but generally only when they are eaten in gross quantities. As food writer Amy Reiley notes, “You’re more likely to go into a diabetic coma than get that rush because you’d have to eat so much chocolate to get the effect.” Revered food historian Alan Davidson sums it up best in “The Oxford Companion to Food”: “In short, the concept of a truly aphrodisiac food is on par with that of finding a crock of gold at the end of a rainbow.”

So why the proffered carrots and the bowl of sparrow’s tongues? Perhaps because our entwined pair, food and sex, is really a threesome: food, sex and superstition. The human libido is both excitable and fragile, easy to titillate yet just as easy to destroy. So much of sexuality is subject to the vagaries of nature and the whim of another, it’s no wonder humans have sought to control the situation by relying on witch doctors, poisonous roots, dubious elixirs and our old fallback, food, a substance that we viscerally know to be the staff of life.sexy-fruit2

Or maybe we persist in the belief that specific foods can lead to sex because there’s something to it. According to anthropologist Robin Fox, food leads to sex because a male’s ability to provide food plays into the female’s need to reproduce with a mate who will help nurture their young: “a male’s willingness to provide food becomes an important index of his suitability as a mate. Above all, it suggests his willingness to ‘invest’ in the female’s offspring.” No doubt there’s something to it, but we prefer a less clinical explanation: The act of procuring or preparing a special food can be sexy in itself. We associate food with comfort, and cooking is an act of love. By creating or acquiring a special food or beverage for a potential lover, we are creating at least the illusion of love and security, which is generally conducive to sex. In his excellent book “Heat,” Bill Buford convincingly describes the concept of cooking with love: cooking as a singularly intimate act of love one performs for friends, family and lovers. He also writes of cooking to be loved: “The premise of a romantic meal is that by stimulating and satisfying one appetite another will be analogously stimulated as well.” If you’ve ever factored a date’s restaurant choice or cooking skills into your decision to put out, you’ve experienced the aphrodisiacal qualities of food.

Complete Article HERE!

Finger Food

We’re back with Part 2 of Jada’s show and tell of the Emotional Bliss massagers from the UK.

Did you some how miss last week’s presentation?  Not to worry!  Look for it HERE!

Chandra $49.95

Jada

This little lovely is the Chandra by Emotional Bliss.   Where last week’s offering, Femblossom, was a powerful, multi-speed handful; Chandra is a cute, discreet, single-speed vibe that you wear on your finger.  It’s so adorable and petite; at first I thought it was some kind of novelty item.  I soon discovered that the Chandra is decidedly not that.  This is a fully functional personal massager that has been shrunk down to the size of your thumb (2.75 X .75 in).  It is designed to direct stimulation directly to those yummy places on your body, like nipples, clit and labia.Chandra-Emotional-Bliss-558733---Emotional-Bliss-558733-MEDIUM_IMAGE

When I masturbate, I use my fingers; as I assume most women do.  I’m not one for vaginal insertions when I pleasure myself.  But rather I concentrate on my clitoris.  The Chandra is absolutely perfect for this purpose.  You simply attach the massager to one of the three finger clips (each clip is a different size), and that’s it.  Since it’s rechargeable, there are no cords to fuss with.  I absolutely love it.

I can direct as much stimulation I like to the precise area I want.  The Chandra certainly can be used in conjunction with a dildo if that’s what you’re into, but it’s perfect on its own.

My husband loves the Chandra, not only what it does for me but what it does for him.  To be perfectly frank, I’m only orgasmic with clitoral stimulation.  So even in intercourse, I must stimulate myself.  Sometimes this can get tiring.  Introducing a regular sized vibe can be intrusive to the intimate moment.  But there’s nothing invasive with the Chandra.  You see, wherever my finger goes, so goes my Chandra.  I can easily move from my clit to my nipples, to my husband’s nipples and then to his scrotum, then back to my clit.  My orgasms are amazingly strong, yet effortless.  It’s like I now have a bionic finger.

Chandra

The Chandra is surprisingly quiet for as powerful as it is.  You can immediately tell this is a quality vibe.  Like it’s big sister, the Femblossom, the Chandra is made of non-porous medical grade TPE plastic.  It also has the same antibacterial agent incorporated in it during the manufacturing process.

The Chandra come with:

  • 3 Finger Clips
  • AC Adapter
  • Water-based lube sample
  • Silicone-based lube sample
  • Instruction Booklet


Full Review HERE!

Is His Semen Normal?

All spunk is funky, but sometimes it is *too* funky.

By

jizz

Very many things about the male human body are a mystery. Penises, hy? Those tiny nipples, what!? But dip beneath the hairy surface of a man’s skin, and even more mysteries await, hiding away in his male depths.

While usually contained, safe and sound inside of the body, semen is a fluid most people eventually come into contact with, but also do not know very much about. If it weren’t for Samantha Jones calling attention to the phenomenon of funky spunk in the “Easy Come, Easy Go” episode of Sex and the City in 2000, women the world over may have lived in quiet misery, forever perplexed by the unpleasantness of the male sex fluid.

To help educate the masses on the contents, and, yes, healthy range of funkiness in semen, Cosmopolitan.com spoke with a urology specialist and sexual health counselor about all things semen.

How semen should look

Aleece Fosnight, a urology physician’s assistant and sex counselor with AASECT, explained that healthy semen should be a milky white or slightly grayish color. “Right after ejaculation, it’s pretty thick,” Fosnight said. “And 25-30 minutes later, it becomes clear and runny.” The change in fluidity is to help aid in reproduction, and thin out the cervical mucous to aid in the implantation of a ~fertilized egg~.

How semen should (generally) smell and taste

Semen is a bodily fluid. Can you name any bodily fluids that smell like roses or taste like freshly baked cookies? No! There are none. So as a bodily fluid, you can expect semen to have a specific taste and odor that isn’t necessarily going to be lovely. Just to clear that right up.

The thing to note about semen is that it’s a vehicle for delivering sperm through a vagina. So everything in it is meant to aid in that process. Semen is mostly made up of sperm, proteins, fructose (to help energize the sperm for transport), and seminal fluid. Fosnight said the typical pH of semen is somewhere around 7-8, or slightly alkaline. The vagina, on the other hand, has a pH between 3-5, or slightly acidic, so the alkaline nature of semen helps keep the sperm alive in an acidic vaginal environment (are you having fun yet?).

Because of it’s slightly alkaline pH, Fosnight said healthy semen should have an “ammonia or bleach-like kind of a smell,” and will taste a bit sweet (because of the fructose) and salty — like the perfect trail mix, in drinkable liquid form, straight out of a penis!

Something Fosnight clarified was that semen left dormant for too long will start to develop a more concentrated taste or smell. Think of it like a stagnant body of water, collecting film and attracting flies. To keep semen from developing a stronger taste or odor — and also to promote prostate health — studies have found that ejaculating at least twice a week is beneficial to a man’s health.

That thing about food changing his taste is true

Remember when Samantha Jones makes the guy with the spunky funk choke down a series of wheatgrass shots in an attempt to improve his semen flavor profile? According to Fosnight, that wasn’t the smartest move.

Although there’s been very little research done on the subject, health care professionals often hear anecdotally from patients that certain foods can slightly affect the taste of semen. While Fosnight said it’s normal for fruits, which are high in sugar content, to change the taste of a person’s semen, vegetables generally don’t have much of an effect.

“Smoking can change the taste,” Fosnight added. “It will have more of a bitter taste to it with smoking and with alcohol.” So, no one’s saying you should avoid ingesting a mouthful of piping hot semen after your partner’s spent the night having too many drinks and then *whoops!* accidentally chain-smoking outside of the bar, but know that semen might taste especially bitter and, ahem, spunky after such an occasion.

When the spunkiness is trying to tell you something

Though there aren’t very many health issues that can be spotted based on a person’s semen, there are a few things to look out for. “A lot of times guys won’t notice it, so partners report if there’s something wrong,” Fosnight said. She also added that at her practice, they call this “when semen goes bad.”

The things to look out for are changes in color. “The biggest thing is if it has a yellow or green appearance to it,” Fosnight said. “Like a prominent yellow or opaque consistency.” An opaque yellow or green color is typically a sign of an STI — usually gonorrhea. A guy whose semen has changed colors like this should definitely see a doctor, and avoid sex until any sort of infection is either ruled out or treated.

It doesn’t happen all too often — Fosnight estimated maybe once in a lifetime for most men — but a busted blood vessel in the prostate (which is responsible for carrying semen out of the body) can cause the semen to have a red or brownish color. If that color normalizes within a few days, there’s nothing really to worry about. But as with any health concern, a persistent discoloration should result in a doctor’s appointment.

While not super common, blood in the semen is often indicative of a prostate injury, explained Fosnight. These can be caused by using anal toys or putting pressure on the prostate, and if the bleeding subsides and doesn’t come with any other symptoms like high blood pressure, things are fine.

As long as a man is doing his due diligence by having regular STI tests, regular prostate exams when he turns 40, and just FORCING himself to ejaculate a couple times a week, semen should be pretty healthy. It may never taste like frozen yogurt, but at least it will be healthy.

Complete Article HERE!

Men: How to fight prostate disease

prostate-cancer

By Shawn Clark

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

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

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

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

Common prostate problems

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

Benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH)

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

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

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

Acute and chronic bacterial prostatitis

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

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

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

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

Chronic (nonbacterial) prostatitis

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

Prostate cancer

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

How Consumer Health Digest helps?

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

Latest news

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

Accuracy

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

Supplements

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

Healthy lifestyle

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

Conclusion

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

Complete Article HERE!

A handy history

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

by Barry Reay

A handy history

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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