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Men, Depression and Sex

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As anyone who has been depressed will tell you, depression isn’t just about feeling blue.

Man and woman with pensive expression --- Image by © Ocean/Corbis

It is an incredibly complex condition which brings with it a whole slew of emotional, mental and physical symptoms with it. For men and women both, part of the problem can revolve around their sexuality – and this in turn can cause problems in a relationship at the time when the depressed person most needs the support.  Fortunately, there are ways to help treat this particular problem and restore intimacy and pleasure to a relationship.

Depression and Male Sexuality

It is common for both men and women to experience sexual problems as part of their depression – but the ways in which this presents itself can be different.  Healthline notes that in men, depression will often express itself as feelings of low-esteem, anxiety and guilt and this, in turn, can cause problems with erectile dysfunction, delayed orgasm, premature ejaculation or just a loss of interest in sex itself.

There is still a lot we just don’t know about exactly how depression affects the brain. But according to Net Doctor, researchers have learned that the chemical changes which take place when someone has this condition can lead to an increase in emotional withdrawal and low energy levels so that activities like sex, which require a connection to your partner as well as physical energy to perform, can become a challenge.  This can be hurtful for the person’s partner and make them feel unwanted or unloved, putting a strain on the relationship that can, in itself, be difficult to deal with.

To make matters worse, many antidepressants are notorious for their side effect of causing sexual dysfunction or loss of interest.  Included in this group are MAOI inhibitors, SSRI’s and SSNRI’s and both tetracyclic and tricyclic antidepressants. 

What to Do

So the long and short of it is, both depression itself and some of the treatments for depression can both put a damper on a guy’s sex life. So what are some solutions to the problem?

Get the Treatment You Need

Depression is not a choice that people make – and it is usually not a problem that goes away by itself. If you have not yet been diagnosed, talk to your doctor about the symptoms you are having and get started on a plan of care that involves the combination of medications, therapy and lifestyle changes that are right for you.

If you are already being treated for depression and suspect that your anti-depressants might be putting the kybosh on your sex life, find out if you can switch medications. While it might take a little time to take effect, there are some drugs which do not seem to effect one’s libido, including Wellbutrin and Remeron.

Exercise

Both Healthline and Everyday Health recommend regular exercise – preferably with your partner – as part of a program to help reconnect sexually. First, it gives you and your partner time together doing something enjoyable and this alone can be good for a relationship. It also helps to release feel-good chemicals like endorphins that help fight depression naturally and keeps you in good shape so that you feel good about yourself and the way you look. All this can go a long way to enhancing your sex life.

Take Your Time

According to Everyday Health, sex therapist Dr. Sandra Caron also has a few tips for couples who are struggling to overcome the barrier that depression has placed on their sives.  She recommends, first of all, that couples engage in more foreplay and other physical expressions of intimacy – hand holding, caressing, massage – before engaging in intercourse itself.  Depression tends to slow down all responses, so taking this extra time to achieve arousal can help enhance the pleasure for both partners.  She also recommends the use, if needed, of estrogen creams or lubricants and even erotica (like lingerie or sexy movies) to help sparthe mood.

Open Up

Probably the most important advice for men who are trying to reconnect with their partner sexually is to open up and communicate with your partner. This can be more difficult for men to do in general, but is even more of a challenge when it comes to talking about intimate issues like sexuality, desire and arousal. But being honest about how you are feeling and letting your partner know that it is the depression that is a problem and not a loss of interest or a loss of love can be an incredibly powerful way to overcome this challenges and get support from your loved one at a time when you need it the most.  Also, partners can be more understanding and supportive if they understand more about what is going on – otherwise, it is easy to interpret a low mood or lack of responsiveness as being hostile or unloving.

In short, depression is a difficult condition with a whole slew of symptoms that go far beyond just feelings of sadness or being blue.  And when depression begins to affect a person’s sexuality, this in turn can lead to a strain on intimate partner relationships.  However, while there are no quick solutions to this problem, getting on a treatment program that is tailored to someone’s individual needs as well as exercising regularly, spending time with a partner to engage in more foreplay and simply opening up and talking about the problem can all help to reignite the sexual spark in a relationship – and hopefully make the battle against depression that much easier.

Complete Article HERE!

Coming strong : forceful ejaculations, part 1

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We all want to shoot our semen across the room. Granted, not many can boast to shoot that far, and to be fair we don’t always feel like cleaning the whole house after an ejaculation. But if there is something we still want, it is to have a powerful cum shot. For the uninitiated, this desire seems ludicrous or maybe appear as a show of personal vanity. But for anyone who has ejaculated more than a few times, the reason is clear : forceful ejaculations mean stronger orgasms, earth-shaking orgasms, fully draining orgasms. And maybe giving us some bragging rights too ! How can it be achieved?

Forceful ejaculations result from a combination of many elements. Some of which you can influence, and some of which you cannot.

Your level of arousal greatly influence the contraction strength of the pelvic muscles. How tired you are, how hydrated you are also directly influence your ejaculation’s strength.

Some anatomical peculiarities can greatly influence your ability to shoot forcefully. One of those is the size of the urethra. The urethra is the canal inside the penis where urine and semen flow. A urethra that’s too wide (slack) will allow semen to flow too easily, causing a rapid decrease in pressure as it leaves the posterior urethra (where the semen was assembled and pressurized before ejaculation). On the contrary, a urethra that’s too narrow will create too much resistance to the semen’s passing, in the end also diminishing the shooting distance. All in all, to be a far shooter, you need to have been granted with an ideally sized shooting tube. Can you change this ? It depends. If it’s too slack, there’s no way of narrowing the opening. If its gauge is too tapered, however, then dilation with a urinary catheter could be considered. But : be very wary. This needs to be done cleanly or you may cause severe infections (of the prostate in particular). And you should have a good understanding of your anatomy before inserting anything in your penis. That penis of yours is not built of steel and it has no user replaceable parts : you break it, you lose it ! Always ask a pro’s advice.

Exposing your body to longer sexual stimulation also influences the ejaculation’s strength. Indeed, the various glands that produce the different liquids forming semen will have all the time they need to produce and dump a lot of stuff in the posterior urethra if you take the time to prime yourself. Whatever your preparation is, the posterior urethra’s size is fixed (surprise !). So the more seminal liquid you produce, the greater the pre-ejaculatory pressure will be. And higher pressure, of course, translates as a more forceful cum shot. So a long male foreplay (the period before ejaculation) will cause you to shoot further.

Now, of course, there would be no forceful ejaculation without strong pelvic muscles. And this is the area where you can have the most influence (aside from taking your time, of course). Improving the strength of your pelvic floor muscles will in fact have numerous benefits :

  • Decrease the likelihood of peeing involuntarily (it had to be said, even if you understandably don’t care as of today !) (PC, BC).
  • Help with erectile dysfunction (BC).
  • Definitely help if you have premature ejaculation by increasing your ability to withhold your ejaculation. But even if you don’t have premature ejaculation problems, this increased ejaculation control will translate into better edging abilities : being able to edge longer and closer to the cresting point (BC, but also PC and IC).
  • Increase the strength of your orgasmic contractions, in effect enhancing your orgasmic pleasure (BC, PC, IC).
  • And finally, of course, since this is the topic, increase your shooting distance.

The pelvic muscles are a group of muscles formed of the iliococcygeus (IC), pubococcygeus (PC) and bulbocavernosus (BC). These muscles form a hammock holding the content of the pelvic floor.

  • The iliococcygeus (IC) muscles stabilize the rectal area, together with the PC muscle. The IC muscles pull the rectum towards the back. They contract rhythmically during orgasm.
  • The pubococcygeus (PC) muscles control the urine flow, and they pull the rectum towards the front. They contract rhythmically during orgasm. In women, the PC muscles also contract the vagina and are thus, for them, the most important pelvic muscles to work on. While men who strengthen their PC muscles definitely experience an improvement of their orgasmic experience, they will not shoot any further.
  • The bulbocavernosus (BC) muscles serves to maintain blood inside the penis during erection (even though the erection is largely a vascular process) and also serves to expel urine and semen out of the urethra. So this muscle is the one men should work on.

So, to summarize :

  • Forceful ejaculations are desirable because they translate into more intense orgasms
  • While the shooting distance is in direct relation with the strength of an ejaculation, shooting distance will always vary greatly between ejaculations because of various other variables. Moreover, some men will always be able to shoot further than others.
  • It is possible to improve the strength of your ejaculation by working on the pelvic muscles, in particular the bulbocavernosus. How far you will shoot, after these exercises, will vary from man to man. But a sure thing is that your sexual experience will be improved.
  • Being well hydrated and rested is also important.

Complete Article HERE!

Having sex with a man doesn’t make you gay

But if you’re man enough to do it and still call yourself straight, be man enough to talk about it

by The Guyliner

men who have sex with men

Labels are important. They help us. They can protect us. Labels tell you that there are baked beans in the tin you’re holding; labels warn us not to wash our merino sweater above 30 degrees. We trust labels, because without them, we’d get it wrong. But sometimes, labels don’t work – they are derogatory or incorrect or unwelcome. One part of society where labels are changing is within sexuality and gender. As the landscape expands from straight/gay and man/woman to include bisexuality, queerness and trans people, among others, many are finding themselves moving away from the specific, restrictive pigeonholing a label can bring and merely tagging themselves “Me”.

But what happens when you’re happy with the label society has assigned you, but quite fancy trying out something someone like you doesn’t normally do, or what if you start to travel down one path, only to find you prefer another, and want to change course and stay on it for ever? Do you have to re-label yourself? Does it mean you’re not who you thought you were? Is it time to mute whichever episode of Stranger Things you’re watching, stand up, tell the room you dreamt another man’s erection touched you and have an identity crisis? In short: if you’re straight but have sex with another guy, does it make you gay?

beautiful buttIt rather depends on what you think being gay means. For most people, ask what “gay” means to them and, if we’re talking about guys, they’ll say a man who has sex with other men. And this, of course, is a huge part of being gay. But the reduction of gayness to be nothing more than just sex can not only be counter-productive – as in, uptight straight guys are missing out on something quite spectacular – and, frankly, homophobic, but it’s also plain wrong.

You know when you see a kid acting or talking a certain way and you think, “they’re gay” or “they’ll be gay when they’re older” – how do you explain that? They don’t even know what sex is yet, straight or gay. The feelings “gay” children have and the character traits they display can’t be boiled down to some potential gay sex they may or may not be having 10 or 15 years down the line – that’s gayness right there, already in play. Whether you believe in nature or nurture or any other theory, there’s more to being gay than just shagging another guy.

So if we remove the label of “gay” from sex acts we traditionally assume are only the domain of gay men, does this mean you can take part in them and still be straight? Where do we draw the line? Getting a blow job from a guy, for example, is something a lot more straight men have experienced than the stony faces down at the Dog and Gun might have you believe. Is it less gay if there’s no mutual contact of genitals? Because it’s passive? A service, almost?

James, 28, says he regularly got blowjobs from a gay pal in his teens, but he doesn’t consider himself gay. “Me and my mate would fool around but mainly he would do it to me,” he explains. “I wasn’t as interested in his cock as he was in mine, but I think we both got something out of it.” If there’s one thing hormone-frazzled 17-year-old boys aren’t getting anywhere near enough of as they want, it’s oral sex. “I didn’t have a girlfriend yet and my mate was just discovering his sexuality and wanted to try. I always made it clear we weren’t in a relationship and that nobody should know. But I didn’t feel guilty and I think he was cool with it.”shut your cock washer

You could argue that there was an element of exploitation to James’s relationship with his mate. The friend was finding his feet with his sexuality and James was the willing guinea pig – as long as nobody found out – but if you’re encouraging a gay man to perform fellatio on you, aren’t you gay? “I’ve never been with a man since and I’m happily married now. I doubt I’d do it again as that would mean being unfaithful, but I consider myself straight. It’s fine to experiment; it’s a big part of finding out who you are.”

And what about when contact with another man happens as part of your relationship? Mark, a 28-year-old investment banker had already had one skirmish with a gay guy when his colleague’s boyfriend came on to him in a club bathroom and went down on him – real life really is stranger than soap opera – but his second time was a different matter altogether. His girlfriend was there.

downlow6“I was in the couples room at Torture Garden [a fetish club in London] and a stranger gave me a blowjob,” Mark explains. “I was there with my girlfriend at the time and we’d both got pretty wild.”

So why stop at a blowjob and not take it further? When in Rome, and all that. “I just didn’t really feel the desire to f*** him. I suppose it’s possible I might go further one day but I think it’s very unlikely. I almost never think men are attractive.”

But if you’re involving a third person in your hitherto straight sex life, does this mean either you or your partner is bisexual? For Mark, it’s not a concern. “Why do I continue to identify as straight? I suppose it’s because I couldn’t imagine myself having a relationship with a man. In the same way I have gay friends who’ve f***ed women, but would never identify as bi, or worry they’re straight.

“I think that ‘being gay’ or ‘being straight’ is about much more than some sexual contact.”

So a BJ is a BJ, but what about when things go further? Is the threshold for gayness actual penetration? Surely, if you’re having anal sex with a man, you’re gay, no? That’s what the guys in the locker room would say, right?

Thinking about having sex with a man isn’t a sign you’re gay yourself, no more than idly imaging pushing your evil boss under a truck means you’re a latent homicidal maniac. Sometimes, though, even if you’ve never imagined it, when the opportunity presents itself, a primal instinct takes over, as videographer Zak, 25, discovered.

“I’d never really thought about being bi or gay, he explains. “I’d only ever been with girls and had never really been sexually attracted to any guys.

“When I was 20 a load of our sixth form year got together for a party. George was a guy from my year I’d known fairly well but never been close to. We were both fairly drunk and I remember just feeling happy to see him for the first time in ages and for some reason, knowing he was gay, I kissed him rather than hugging him. We chatted for a bit and then we both carried on with the night – not really thinking much about it.”

So far, so straight – no need to adjust any labels so far. Everyone is as they should be.

Zak continues: “Later on, we were both alone on the landing and he kissed me again. This time, for some reason, I didn’t really stop him and before long we were fully making out – we snuck into one of the bedrooms and one thing led to another.”

But was this a harrowing experience? Was there much soul-searching or did Zak just have a blast?

“I did enjoy myself. I suppose I’m quite a sexually liberal person and didn’t really think of it as being ‘gay’, it was just was fun and at the time I was enjoying it.”MSM

The ability to distance oneself from any gayness of a sex act perhaps comes from how it plays out. Who shags who, who touches what – that kind of thing. Like James getting a BJ from his pal, Zak’s mate was also providing a service of sorts, but Zak was an active participant. “We had sex, both oral and anal,” says Zak. “I ‘topped’ [the other guy played a passive role and ‘received’], I don’t think I’d have been comfortable with it the other way around.”

It’s not uncommon for straight men who have sex with another man to experience “gay panic” and feel guilty about what they’ve done and what it means. This can, on occasion, lead to persecution of, or violence against the other guy, whether he’s gay or also straight. But Zak remains unfazed about the experience.

“I wasn’t embarrassed or ashamed,” he says. “I still identify as straight and don’t think I’d initiate something with a bloke, but put in the same situation I could see myself doing it again.”

Some guys might worry that they were gay – and if you’re wondering why anyone would “worry” about such a thing, do take a moment to research how gay men and women are treated across the world – but Zak takes a more relaxed approach.

“One of my uni friends described himself as ‘hetero-flexible’ and I reckon that’s probably where I am at too,” says Zak. “I don’t think repeating it would make me ‘gay’. I’m not attracted to them but I can appreciate men who are attractive. In the same way I’ve slept with women in the past who I don’t think I was really attracted to, sometimes sex is just sex and it’s fun.”

And Zak’s right, sex is just sex. It’s common for gay people, when they first come out, to say their sexuality doesn’t define them, that there’s more to them than simply being gay. It’s all part of the process of recognizing your sexual orientation and assert yourself as an individual, not part of some flock or movement. It’s the vestigial feelings of shame that coming out is supposed to eradicate, hanging on for dear life. “I’m not like the others,” they think. Most of us get over it eventually and reconcile with the fact we’re gay, but this refusal to define can, in some cases, be a positive thing – a defiance of society’s boring old norms. As long as it’s used constructively and positively, and not homophobically of course.

You as an individual get to decide how you label your sexuality, if at all. As long as nobody’s feelings are getting screwed over, you’re free to have sex with men or women at will and still call yourself straight.

But it’s worth acknowledging that you’re merely a tourist and all the privilege this gives you. You get all the pluses of gay sex – and they are pluses, admit it, you love it – but, as long it’s kept on the downlow, none of the prejudice and pressures the LGBT community faces apply to you. You get to dip in, and out, with little or none of the comeback.

Labels inform and warn and categorize, but they also help us come to terms with who we are. A label can be something to cling to, to identify with, to make us feel safe, to tell the world what we’re about.

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Avoiding them altogether is brave, choosing one and then flouting the conventions of it could be braver still, but living with a label 24/7 and taking all the consequences it throws at you is perhaps the bravest path of all. And those repercussions can be noxious: LGBT people are discriminated against, mocked, beaten and murdered, all for doing things you get to do without question. Just for being.

Having sex with a man doesn’t mean you’re gay, definitely not. You get to be who you want to be. But don’t forget the sacrifices your gay brothers make on a daily basis so you can have that freedom to choose. You get to go back to your privileged status in the world – we can only be us.

“Gay” sex acts aren’t something to be ashamed of; if you’re man enough to do it and still call yourself straight, be man enough to talk about it. Don’t let it be a dirty little secret; own your sexuality – whatever it may be – with pride.

Complete Article HERE!

Your Cock; A Complete Owners Manual (abridged)

Name: Hector
Gender: male
Age: 17
Location: Tujunga, CA
I’m afraid my penis isn’t right. I worry because it doesn’t look like other guys. For one thing I’m a lot smaller. I’m afraid to have sex or show my penis. Is there any way for me to know for sure? I hope to hear from you because this is making me real nervous. Thank you.

first-life-form-with-a-penis-humor

I’d chill out, if I were you, Hector. Lots of guys your age mistakenly think there is something wrong with their unit, when actually their willie is quite normal. This heightened concern, as you suggest, can lead to anxiety or even a complex about one’s cock size and shape. You don’t really give me much to go on as to why you think your pinga is not like the other guys. That leads me to think you don’t really know all that much about your package in general. Do you? I mean, who are you comparing yourself to anyway?

Since I don’t have a lot of information to go on, I suppose we oughta start with some essentials. Here’s Part 1 of my primer — Your Cock; A Complete Owners Manual (abridged). That’s supposed to be funny, BTW.

We all know that there are big ones and little ones, fat ones and skinny ones. Some are bobbed; some are whole. Some curve and bend; some are straight as an arrow. Some have a mushroom cap; some sport more of a helmet look. Some grow; some show. And they come in a veritable rainbow of colors.

Despite the amazing diversity, there are lots of things that each of our members has in common with everyone else’s. The average length of a flaccid cock is 3.7 inches with a diameter of 1.25 inches. The average length of a hardon is 5.1 inches, with a diameter of 1.6 inches. If you are over the age of 17, you pretty much have all the cock you’re gonna have. That’s not to say that as we age and as our muscles slack, our pal won’t hang a bit differently than when we were a young buck. But there’s not gonna be significant change in length or girth after puberty is done with us. Keep in mind that all this stuff is determined by genetics and heredity, like your overall body type, the color of your eyes, your hair pattern, and how tall you are. So the likelihood that any guy will add even one permanent inch to his dick either in length or girth, without surgery, is about as likely as him adding even an inch to his height.

The head of your dick is called the glans. (It’s the thing that can be shaped like a mushroom or a helmet.) It is made up of soft tissue called the corpus spongiosum. Just below the glans, on the underside of your cock is a waddle of skin called the frenulum. This puppy is chock-full of nerve endings that make it ground zero for dick-centered pleasure.

Male_anatomy

All uncut (uncircumcised) men have a prepuce, or foreskin that covers and protects his dickhead. Cut (circumcised) men don’t, because it has been surgically removed. If you are lucky enough to be intact, your foreskin is a highly specialized, sensitive, and functional organ of touch. No other part of the body serves the same purpose. Please note: circumcision actually removes 50% of the skin of a guy’s dick.  And who among us would choose that if we were allowed to choose?

You know the old adage, “Use it or lose it”? They may have had a penis in mind when that maxim was coined. Researchers agree — erections are good for you. When you get a woody, your cock is engorged with oxygen-rich blood, which is essential for the upkeep of the smooth muscle tissue. This kind of tissue makes up about 90% of your cock. You can see how a healthy circulatory system is vital to a vibrant sex life. An oxygen-deprived cock will build up a kind of plaque in your cock, which resembles scar tissue. This will cripple your rod (Peyronie’s disease) or rob you of your wood altogether.

penis mesureI also want to alert you of some startling new data that came out of recent research about masturbation. Australian researchers questioned over 1,000 men who had developed prostate cancer and 1,250 men who had not, about their sexual habits. They found those who had ejaculated the most between the ages of 20 and 50 were the least likely to develop prostate cancer.

The protective effect was greatest while the men were in their 20s. And get this; men who ejaculated more than five times a week were a third less likely to develop prostate cancer later in life. But let’s not get off topic too much.

The other big part of your package is the family jewels. We mind as well take a look at them too while we’re at it. Your nuts (testis) and the sack (scrotum) they’re housed in are an evolutionary marvel. Your testicles are about 4°F cooler than your core body temperature. Lucky for us, this is the ideal climate for healthy sperm production. 90% of the male hormone, testosterone, is manufactured in our balls. Evolution has even provided that one nut, generally the left, hangs slightly lower than the other. The lower nut will also be slightly larger. I suppose this keep them from knocking into each other so much.

Ok so you think the outside of your junk is pretty impressive, well you ain’t seen nothin’ yet! Here’s where things get really interesting. First, there is no “bone” in your boner. Don’t laugh! Humans are one of the few mammals (horses, donkeys, rhinoceros, marsupials, rabbits, whales and dolphins, elephants and hyenas are the others) that don’t have a penis bone. Most males of our species have a unique bone called baculum in their penis. The baculum is designed for speed fucking. Sliding a bone in and out of a sheath is much faster than waiting for hydraulics to kick in. This enables our mammalian relatives to spend very little time actually mating. Which is, after all, a vulnerable position for them to be in.happy penis

If there’s no bone in there what make our dick hard? Good question. If you dissected your woody and looked at a cross-section you’d see three distinct spongy tubular structures, each are made up of smooth muscle tissue. Two of these tubular structures — one on either side of your cock, both of which run the length of your cock — are called the corpora cavernosa. These marvelous structures become engorged with blood lifting and thickening your cock to erection. The corpus spongiosum, the third tubular structure is located just below the corpora cavernosa. This baby houses your urethra, through which urine and semen pass during urination and ejaculation, respectively. This may also become slightly engorged with blood, but less so than the corpora cavernosa.

There are several points of interest in and around your balls too. I already mentioned your urethra, which stretches from your bladder to the tip of your dick. It carries your piss and cum, but not at the same time, I’m happy to report. Your prostate is an almond shaped gland that sits between your bladder and the root of your dick. Slightly in back of that is a pair of glands called the seminal vesicles. These tubular glands open into the vas deferens as it enters the prostate gland. They secrete the lion’s share of your spooge (ejaculate) about 70% to be precise. Most of us have two vas deferens tubes to correspond to the pair of ball (testicles) most of us have. These convey your mature sperm, the ones that have been comfortably relaxing in the epididymis, which is a tube filled mass at the back of each of your balls.

To conclude, the average male, between the ages of 15 and 60 will ejaculate 30 to 50 quarts of jizz (semen), containing 350 to 500 billion sperm cells. How amazing is that?

Good luck

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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