Due to considerations of being a good guest and for temporary logistical ease, I stopped masturbating around the 18th of December. After a week of incidental abstinence, I chose to extend my efforts indefinitely. Needless to say, the world has not ended, and I found that ceasing a self-indulgent yet oddly joyless ritual has been a positive change. I started keeping track of my streak by adding a day counter widget to my tablet, marking the days since the “Mayan Apocalypse.”
I embarked upon this seemingly masochistic experiment because I was curious. Would I be able to stop? Would a dearth of orgasms negatively impact my temperament? Would another Mayan apocalypse come about should I fail? In light of yet another cataclysmic event, would I realistically look back on my life one day and wish that I had spent more time masturbating? (If you need any further justification for why I decided to give this a try — beyond impossibly low stakes and an impulse for self-improvement — here’s a TED talk.)
It’s been surprisingly easy to keep it up. I was stuck at home on break from school, and I had a sinus infection. When all you can really do is watch all seven seasons of The West Wing with your family while you deplete stocks of Theraflu and NyQuil, there’s not a whole ton of sexual desire to try to stifle. I was able to plot and arrange dates for the new year, and that was enough to make me feel I wasn’t wasting away, “high” on cough medicine.
In the wake of the failure of a long-term relationship, I found myself having crushes again. And it’s been really fun. It builds confidence to realize that so many of the requisite social skills for interacting with others, communicating desire, and not being a creep are actually pretty innate. They’re just muscles that need to be worked out more than the forearm.
Spending time figuring out how to be thoughtful, direct, and engaging also has decent side effects, like thinking of women as people. Lying down and jerking it, perusing an enormous catalogue of naked parts interlocking in cinematographically convenient ways, hardly inspires longing for meaningful connection. Apart from death-grip syndrome and an actual loss of physical sensitivity, habitual masturbation anesthetizes you to people around you.
I’m an opera singer and a writer — and just about everything that singers and writers do revolves around figuring out how to communicate themselves to others. The best parts of sex are about becoming even closer to someone you care about. It’s hard to share yourself intimately when your private life consists largely of masturbation. And there’s something incongruous about the image of the Toreador singing a song about bullfighting and wanking thereafter.
There are ways to masturbate well, and all of them hinge on remembering that masturbation isn’t everything. Masturbation is sexual expression. Masturbation has taught me that it’s good to value pleasure, and has given me some clues about what I’m into. At different points, masturbation has been my sex life. And it’s also been a retreat based on laziness, fear of rejection, and occasional self-loathing.
I’m not sure how many days will pass before the next Mayan apocalypse. Maybe my experiment will go differently if I strike out for the next six months. At least I’m not making myself stop masturbating entirely; Thought Catalog beckons.