Why Masturbation Positivity Is Sex Positivity

There is nothing more cunning, ruthless and casually amoral than a 12-year-old boy who’s just discovered the miracle of masturbation. I know this, because I was, and I did, and I wielded this newfound skill/toy/diversion like MacGyver, if MacGyver was just a show about a guy jerking it on a constant basis.

And it was everywhere. Living room, racing the clock when parents would be back any time? Sure. Friends’ basements when I slept there and everyone else was upstairs and asleep? No qualms. Hell, I recall once finding myself compelled to develop an overly familiar relationship with a family member’s bathroom floor rug. The only real defense I have for that one is that it had a very favorable shag carpet scheme and an enjoyable texture. The way some are encouraged to lie back and think of England, I laid forward and thought of storied female professional wrestler Trish Stratus until turnescence and subsequent release were achieved. And then went and ate Jell-O.

There’s something to the ways in which we engage with self-pleasure, what it says about us and even what it turns us into, that’s not often explored because it tends to be over-stigmatized. In addition to the standard hair-on-the-palms rhetoric, there’s also a prevailing sense that there’s something kind of sad about masturbation, that it’s merely a physical waiting room until you enter into a legitimate sexual relationship. Woody Allen’s oft-quoted platitude about sex with someone he loves has not helped the cause, either. It’s just given film geeks the world over a catch-all hero for all the sex they’re not having, rather than making them okay with playing tennis against the wall from time to time.

Sex positivity has to start here, because your sexual conception of yourself begins with knowing and enjoying your own body. If you’re only finding sex worthwhile with another person, that’s dependence, which isn’t exactly the best foundation for a healthy sex life in the long run.

A good base point would be getting over the inherent shame of masturbation as wrong or as a lonely endeavor. Not only does that benefit you personally, but it’s also the best possible way to explore your turn-ons and reach a place of acceptance with things you fear as “deviant.” Realizing that I was interested in more than the rote, pseudo-“decent”, let’s-finish-fast-so-I-can-watch-Burn Notice sex that I always felt was the appropriate thing wouldn’t have been possible, or at least would’ve been harder to come by, without the internet and my imagination. You learn things about yourself beyond just the sexual in this way, and get out of the realm of “what am I supposed to like so that people won’t find me weird?” (Also, in a post-Fifty Shades world, we all know that everyone’s been burying some shit way down anyway, so what’s the worst that could happen here?)

It’s also a way to sow some of your wild oats. While a genuinely fulfilling sexual relationship should involve a pretty good deal of boundary-breaking, some things just won’t turn your significant other on the way they do you, and getting it out of your system is, I’d argue, helpful. Obviously the best kind of relationship will allow for the negotiations of common ground between two or more consenting partners with divergent interests, but just because someone else might not be into something doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy it. To say that somebody should stop masturbating because they’re in a relationship is also bunk, because that’s how resentments begin when one person is more into sex at a certain point than the other, and also because once you do that, you’re automatically setting parameters for what your partner or partners is allowed to do in their spare time. And that’s no fun at all.

That’s not to say that there’s not some harm involved, though. Ideologically, I’m for porn, but there’s not a lot I can enjoy just because of how fucking terrifying it is. I don’t know who out there enjoys watching Lexington Steele scream his own name pre-, mid- and post-coitus (that last one doesn’t make sense to me either), but it’s not for me, nor is watching a woman who’s clearly on her third film of the day scream in a way that is neither human nor enjoyable to anybody. I’m in no position to tell someone in the adult film industry what they should or shouldn’t get off on, but there are some things that just seem empirically unpleasant. But at one time, because I hadn’t witnessed sex firsthand, I was constantly curious about this new manipulation of the human form, until I realized later that real sex doesn’t have things like lighting and sound technicians and me not accidentally elbowing someone in the face.

But then, porn wasn’t easily accessible for a long time. Even with broadband internet, you had to play what I’ll claim is a far more dangerous game than man, which is the “Oh, fuck, this picture isn’t loading, and the garage door is opening, and my family is coming in, and now Internet Explorer won’t close, and I’m going to be sent to a youth camp!” scenario.

The ruthlessness mentioned at the start of this article comes into play now, because during these earlier times, we were all forced to find fap material in everything. Even this is illuminating. I’ll always have a propensity for red hair because of my first major breakthrough being the Charlie’s Angels update, and with that came both Drew Barrymore in an unzipped track jacket, and me. An issue of Cosmopolitan and a vibrating back massager in the bathroom became the canvas onto which I painted. (Eww.) That it took me years to realize that nobody just owns one of those massagers for shoulder aches, and that I may not have been the only member of my household to figure out this new and wonderful use brings me a kind of horror which I cannot yet fully express.

One had to get resourceful, to be sure, but the simultaneous hazard and educational experience this provides is learning how to turn everything into a sexual object, and then realizing how thoroughly harmful this is. Looking back on it, this is where objectification starts, but then you’re hardly thinking about that at the time.

A lot of the logic behind even the most positive depictions of masturbation centers on the concept of learning what you like so you can share it with somebody else. Again, while I think this is useful, I don’t think conceiving of self-service as merely a part of a larger whole is the right approach. Yeah, if left uncontrolled, masturbation can lead to some unhealthy notions of how to function in a sexual relationships (and further, even sexual dysfunctions from a physical standpoint), but that’s like saying we shouldn’t swim because people have occasionally drowned. Learn to like yourself first, and a lot will follow. There’s nothing sexier, and arguably nobody more fun in bed, than somebody who’s totally at home with themselves. TC mark

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Want to write for Thought Catalog? Email Nico Lang at nico@thoughtcatalog.com.

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