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Friday, July 21, 2006

Question

Is male masturbation an acceptable form of sexual satisfaction?

Answer

My first response is, acceptable to who? If we're talking about the larger society, I'd say that we still suffer from a Victorian hangover. During the 1800s and early 1900s, medical "experts" bolstered a religiously based crusade against all forms of sexual pleasure. Books were published that claimed masturbation caused everything from insanity to rape, and societies were formed to enforce a single standard of chastity for men and women. The obsession with preventing children from masturbating included mandates to use only the roughest and most abrasive toilet paper (a policy that persists in Europe to this very day), putting little boys to bed in harnesses that prevented them from touching themselves, and cauterizing the clitorises of little girls who got caught masturbating.

It wasn't until Kinsey came along in the 1950s and published his studies on male and female sexual behavior that we learned just how common masturbation was. Virtually all men masturbate. If they don't, it's because they think it's wrong or they have a medical problem. The majority of women masturbate as well, but there are still a significant number of women who don't masturbate because they don't know how. They may not know where the clitoris is located or what its function is.

Today, many parents understand that it's normal for children to explore masturbation and age-appropriate sex play. But there are still a number of homes where, usually for religious reasons, children are punished for masturbating and told horror stories about its supposedly ill effects. Our society remains uncomfortable with this universal form of self-soothing. The crusades against pornography inspired by wrong-headed feminists are basically anti-masturbation campaigns, masquerading as efforts to end violence against women.

We now know that masturbation is a normal part of human sexuality. We know that it has no ill effects, unless you practice it compulsively and injure yourself. When, then, are lots of men still asking themselves the question that you've asked me? Masturbation is seen as being inferior to partnered sex when in fact the orgasms one has during self-pleasure may be more intense than those experienced during intercourse. Without the knowledge of his own body gained during masturbation, a man might be unable to enjoy sex with a partner. Masturbation is comfort for the lonely, free entertainment, a preventative for adultery, and an erotic shared activity.

So why is masturbation so maligned? I suspect it is because we are afraid of the realm of fantasy. Arousing oneself usually involves visual fantasies, especially for men. A favorite fantasy can be as benign as kissing the woman one loves, as vanilla as touching her breasts or going down on her, or verge on more Shadow material like bondage and spanking. Every person is his or her own encyclopedia of fantasy. I sometimes wish we could see these themes, like cartoon captions, over people's heads, so we would stop being so afraid of our own and others' imaginations.

Extreme content in masturbation or pornography has been cited as a cause of sexual violence. There's no denying that sex offenders have been shown to prefer porn that reflects the crimes they commit. But the majority of people who consume fetish porn would never violate another human being. I think it's more likely that fantasies get heavier because they are fantasies. Partnered sex includes a lot of varied stimulation; a fantasy can only provide more stimulation if the images become more intense.

So, to come back to your question: yes, male masturbation is an acceptable form of sexual satisfaction. This is not to say that some men don't have concerns about masturbation. I frequently get questions about whether a certain masturbation technique will do harm to the penis, how often it's okay to masturbate, whether certain fantasies are objectionable, and how to spice up jacking off. My readers never cease to educate me. So if you've got a more specific concern, please feel free to write again.

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