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Experts: Sex and Porn Addiction Probably Aren’t Real Mental Disorders

By < sex-addiction-not-real

It isn’t just Anthony Weiner: There is a big, noisy conversation going on about sex and porn addiction, as a couple quick Google searches will readily reveal. Naturally, that conversation has brought with it a growing market for counselors and even clinics specifically oriented toward treating these problems.

The problem is, many sex researchers don’t think sex and porn addiction are useful, empirically backed frameworks for understanding certain compulsive forms of sexual behavior. This has led to a rather fierce debate in some quarters, albeit one the average news consumer is probably unaware of.

Last week, the skeptics won an important victory: The American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists, which is the main professional body for those professions, has come out with a position statement arguing that there isn’t sufficient scientific evidence to support the concepts of porn and sex addiction. “When contentious topics and cultural conflicts impede sexual education and health care,” begins the statement, which was sent out to the organization’s members last week, “AASECT may publish position statements to clarify standards to protect consumer sexual health and sexual rights.”

It continues:

AASECT recognizes that people may experience significant physical, psychological, spiritual and sexual health consequences related to their sexual urges, thoughts or behaviors. AASECT recommends that its members utilize models that do not unduly pathologize consensual sexual problems. AASECT 1) does not find sufficient empirical evidence to support the classification of sex addiction or porn addiction as a mental health disorder, and 2) does not find the sexual addiction training and treatment methods and educational pedagogies to be adequately informed by accurate human sexuality knowledge. Therefore, it is the position of AASECT that linking problems related to sexual urges, thoughts or behaviors to a porn/sexual addiction process cannot be advanced by AASECT as a standard of practice for sexuality education delivery, counseling or therapy.

AASECT advocates for a collaborative movement to establish standards of care supported by science, public health consensus and the rigorous protection of sexual rights for consumers seeking treatment for problems related to consensual sexual urges, thoughts or behaviors.

David Ley, an Albuquerque clinical psychologist whose whose book The Myth of Sex Addiction likely gives you a sense of his views on the subject, and who reviewed the statement for AASECT prior to its publication, described this as “kind of a big deal.” “It hits the credibility of sex-addiction therapists kind of between the legs frankly,” he said in an email. “These are clinicians who claim to [work on] sexuality issues, and the main body of sex therapist says that they are not demonstrating an adequate understanding of sexuality itself.”

Back in August, after the latest Weiner scandal broke, Ley laid out in an email why, even in such an extreme case, describing the disgraced former representative as a “sex addict” isn’t a helpful approach:

Ley’s basic argument is that that “sex addiction” isn’t well-defined, is quite scientifically controversial, and in recent decades has been increasingly used to explain a broad range of bad behavior on the part of (mostly) men. But in a sense, this robs men of their agency, of the possibility that they can control their compulsions and put them in a broader, more meaningful psychological context. “Sex addiction,” in this view, is a lazy and easy way out. […] Someone like Weiner, Ley explained, could obviously “benefit from learning to be more mindful, conscious, and less impulsive in his sexual behaviors. But those are issues resolved by helping him, and others, to become more mindful, conscious, and intentional in his life as a whole.” When you single out sex addiction as the source of the problem rather than taking this more holistic approach, Ley argued, it “ignores the fact that sex is always a complex, overdetermined behavior and that sex is often used by men to cope with negative feelings. Is Weiner getting the help he needs in his career, personal life, and relationship? Does he have other ways to try to make himself feel attractive and valued? Those are the questions that this latest incident raises. Sadly, calling him a sex addict ignores all of these much more important concerns.”

Weiner might not be the most sympathetic figure, but if Ley and the AASECT are correct, many sex-and porn-addiction clinics and clinicians are taking a lot of money from vulnerable people and their families, despite not offering a science-based approach.

Unfortunately, this fits in neatly with a longstanding problem in the broader world of addiction-treatment services: As journalists like Maia Szalavitz have pointed out, this is an under-regulated area of treatment that is rife with pseudoscience and abuse. To take just one example, Science of Us, drawing on reporting by Sarah Beller, noted in June that one court-ordered addiction-treatment regime draws heavily from nonsensical Scientology ideas. If AASECT’s statement is any indication, the world of sex-addiction “treatment” isn’t all that much better.

Complete Article HERE!

Apple’s Health App Now Tracks Sexual Activity, and That’s a Big Opportunity

By Lux Alptraum

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It’s no secret that Apple has a fraught relationship with sex. Since the debut of the iOS App Store, the company’s made every effort to keep its wares “family friendly” (read: porn free), often employing a very, very broad definition of what, exactly, constitutes porn.

But as iOS has moved more and more into the health space, Apple’s had to contend with the reality that sex isn’t just some seedy business it can push into the corner, but instead an integral, and unavoidable, part of healthy human life. And that’s starting to change the way the company interacts with sex… at least a little bit, anyway.

Case in point: take a look at how HealthKit handles sex. Initially, the combination of health tracking app and developer tools was completely sex free, refusing to even acknowledge the existence of menstruation. After pushback from angry female users (who reminded Apple that, even though it involves a vagina, menstruation isn’t some pervy thrill), the Health app was updated to sync with period tracking and fertility apps. In its current iteration, it even allows users to track their sexual activity. Yes, your HealthKit is also a HumpKit.

At first glance, the sexual activity tracking function appears to be extremely limited. As one iPhone user noted, it only integrates with period tracking and fertility apps (in spite of the fact that there are plenty of apps specifically designed to track sexual activity itself). Viewed this way, the Health app assumes that boning is purely about reproduction—whether you’re trying to get pregnant, or trying to avoid it—and the only people who need to keep track of when and how and with whom they’re doing the dirty are people at risk of getting pregnant.

The updated Health app has more options for reproductive health.

The updated Health app has more options for reproductive health.

But there’s more to Apple’s sexual activity tracker than just app integration. Users have the ability to manually input every time they get down and dirty (noting date, time, and whether or not protection was used), allowing users to create a calendar of when, and how, they’re having sex. While this may seem like nothing more than a virtual bedpost for would-be Casanovas to etch notches into, it’s actually a great step forward for sexual health tracking—and, hopefully, for the tech world’s attitude towards sex.

Why would Health app users want to track their sexual activity (aside from the standard baby making or baby avoiding reasons)? Well, for starters, STIs. If your latest health check up turned up a chlamydia infection, it’s helpful to have access to data that allows you to pinpoint when you may have become infected—and how many partners you may have spread that infection to.

Although the app does not currently allow users to indicate who they were having sex with (perhaps due to privacy concerns, although existing sex tracking apps like Bedpost have been navigating that issue for almost a decade), having a baseline for when an infection might have occurred is at least a good start.

On the flip side of the STI equation, people managing chronic STIs might want to keep tabs on their sexual activity as part of their strategy for keeping partners safe (something that would be even more useful when combined with a log of herpes outbreaks, for instance).

And even users in committed, monogamous relationships where there’s zero risk of STI transmission can still find value to keeping tabs on their sexual activity. Just like mindfulness and nutrition and exercise and sleep, sex is an important part of life that has an impact on wellbeing and general health. If the frequency with which you’re having sex is affecting your stress level, or your emotional wellbeing, or your general health and happiness, that’s useful and important information to have.

The sex tracker is basic, but still useful.

The sex tracker is basic, but still useful.

As the app itself notes, “sexual activity can affect both physical and emotional health,” and keeping track of when you’re boning can provide a better, broader understanding of what, exactly, is affecting your health.

Apple has long viewed sex as something taboo—and when it comes to porn and sexual entertainment, that probably won’t change anytime soon. But the latest iteration of Health is a step in the right direction.

And while it could certainly benefit from a bit of expansion—recognition of the possibility of multiple partners, a more nuanced reflection of what “protection” might mean for different users, ability to indicate a partner’s gender, just for starters—it’s still a huge step forward from a historically-sex-unfriendly company. Much as we try to deny it, sexuality is a fundamental and important part of human life. It’s wonderful to see Apple finally allowing it to be truly integrated into our tech as well.

Complete Article HERE!

BDSM for beginners – a former dominatrix guides you and your partner through S&M

By

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Let’s start in a very clear, very concise manner.

I’m going to assume you are two adults who want to try a bit of kink or BDSM, and you’re looking for a bit of helpful advice.

I’m going to make that caveat because I’m tired of seeing advice columns labelled ‘How do I tell my partner I want to try kinky sex?’

You just do – you open your mouth and ask.

I’m sorry if you don’t feel like you’re in an open and honest enough relationship and I feel bad for you son. But you got 99 problems and your kink ain’t one.

In recent years the S&M moniker has extended to BDSM – Bondage, Domination, Sadism, Masochism. (The S stands for Sadism – the art of hurting Someone else. The M stands for Masocism – the art of hurting Myself.)

I’m going to take you by the hand, and give you a few hints, tips and tutorials to help you start exploring your kinky side. But first, some housekeeping –

The key phrase in BDSM is ‘safe, sane and consensual’

1. Is it safe?

Figure out a safe-word, or if you’re planning a gag, try a click of fingers or a tap on the bed.

A signal of some sort to know this is where you need to stop and have a cup of tea and a cuddle.

2. Be sane

Yes, I know you get braver after a few drinks.

I know it sounds sexy to do it all when you’re full of Dutch courage but it’s not safe, and I promise you it’s not half as enjoyable as when you get to look back on it and remember it all – that feeling of power, or submission – with full clarity.

3. Be consensual

Strike an agreement. Sit down, and discuss how far you’re willing to go. If you want to go right up to 11, but your partner wants to sail on a steady 3, then fine. Start in the shallow pool.

When they say the safeword, you stop.

This goes for both sides – I’m always wary of subs who ‘Top from the bottom’ – they can be tied up and crying out for me to start doing things to them I’m not comfortable with, so I have no qualms in stopping the session.

Don’t run before you can walk.

Many people will ask who is the Dominant, and who is the submissive?

But perhaps you don’t know. Maybe you want to try both. You don’t have to put yourself into a box so early on.

You also don’t need fancy-schmancy equipment

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You don’t need a dungeon. You don’t need props, costume, or lighting.

You just need confidence, communication and a bit of imagination.

I say ‘a bit’ because there’s porn and your partner – a wealth of ideas and suggestions will come from both.

However, if you do want to try and bring some toys in the bedroom, then you can’t go wrong with visiting one of the monthly fetish fairs in the city.

In fact as a Londoner, it’s your civic duty to support these kinky artisans.

The London Alternative Market and the London Fetish Fair are monthly events who both offer handmade, sturdy and reasonably priced items to help anyone – from the beginner to the professional.

Clothing and articles are made to measure, furniture to suit all needs! I have to stop before I burst into a song worthy of ‘Oliver’.

But they’ll also provide demonstrations on various bits of equipment you might not be so familiar with.

‘Oh, but Auntie Miranda, these are all just WORDS! Give us something practicaaaaal!!’

Ok, your homework for this evening…

We’ll start slowly – work with what you know, and if you don’t know your partner all that well (hey, it’s 2016. It’s allowed) – explore.

If your partner enjoys going down on you, tell them you want them to go down on you.

Grab them by the hair and say ‘you’re going to please me until I tell you to stop.’

They’re going to be your toy, your plaything until you’ve had your fill and they’re going to like it.

And if you don’t know them, they’ll either just say no, and you get a brownie badge for trying, or they might throw their own suggestion into the ring.

If you’re not too sure what each other would enjoy, you can make this part of a kinky game.

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ext them, say ‘Hey, I read an interesting blog in the Metro today (It’s OK, you can blame me) and it suggested I tell you three things I want to do to you tonight and you should say three things you want to do to me…’

Enjoy it at home.

Don’t then launch into a massive sextathon – this isn’t about blowing your load before the fun has begun in person.

Also, fantasy sexting may lead down avenues you can’t necessarily repeat in real life and it might become intimidating for your partner.

Instead, use it to gauge what you think you would both enjoy – and try it.

If you’re too shy to even start that kind of conversation, then just remember a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.

Enjoy it. That’s what this is really about.

It’s not about sticking to the rules, just following some guidelines.

It’s not about being perfect and faithfully re-enacting half of Porntube, it’s about finding what makes you feel powerful or what makes you feel submissive.

It’s about positive re-enforcement. Did you enjoy that? Say so – thank your partner, tell them how good it was (either as the Dom or the sub).

You have both tried something new, and you’re both dying to know what each other thought of it, so lie back and tell them how much you enjoyed the fruits of their labours.

Remember, this is a small step to a much bigger world so don’t feel like you have to run before you can walk.

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Complete Article HERE!

The Thrills of Left-Handed Wanking

By Tom Usher

left hand

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Complete Article HERE!

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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