CAVEAT: If you’re uncomfortable discussing masturbation, sexuality, or the human body then read no further.
It’s no secret that I masturbate a lot.
Every boy goes through the same kind of weird paranoia when he first discovers masturbation at around age 11. The feelings you develop creep up on you gradually and then one day you’re locked in your bedroom with your dick in your hand, completely unaware of what’s going on. It’s a scary feeling and it isolates you in ways that you never thought possible. Sexual attractions and the solitary ways one deals with them begin to dominate your day to day thoughts, they become invasive. It’s hard to concentrate because you’re distracted by these dark secrets you feel like no one else knows about. You look askance at your male friends wondering if they’re as disgusting and perverse as you, and you look shamefully at your female friends wondering how they’d feel about you if they knew the things you’ve done to them in the hidden recesses of your fantasies.
There are a few books that I find myself coming back to continuously no matter how old I get. Books that define so many of the dynamics of my life and one of them is Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe. I think that Wolfe captures perfectly so many of the fears and the isolation of puberty. I feel like I never really understood how terrifying puberty was for me until I read this passage and it brought it all back to me in striking clarity. I also don’t think that I understood that I was not alone in my experiences.
“She would have been stricken with horror if she could have known the wild confusion of adolescence, the sexual nightmares of puberty, the grief, the fear, the shame in which a boy broods over the dark world of his desire. She did not know that every boy, caged in from confession by his fear, is to himself a monster.”
I think that masturbation is something that is a barometer of the human experience. I think that the act of masturbating is a good pulse to put your finger on if you want to know what it’s like to be a man in the modern world. Masturbation is the act of satisfying the sexual urge alone and it is one of the loneliest and most isolating and alienating experiences that one goes through on a weekly basis. The men of my generation were born into a culture that still practices medieval genital mutilation to rob us of the appreciation of our natural sexual urges to appease some fairytale father-figure. We came into puberty during the advent of the internet and with more access to pornography than any generation before us. We stumble through a post-modern maze of outdated ideas of manhood, pushed and pulled by contradicting views of gender roles, and with a subconscious desire to apologize to every woman we’ve ever been attracted to.
We live by the act of shutting one’s self up alone in a darkened room to gratify sexual desires toward strangers, constantly reminded of a wounded masculinity, our bodies violated before we could even name our own limbs, turning our sexuality inward, disconnected from human contact by our own insecurities, afraid to reach out for actual human contact or perhaps so desensitized by the barrage of streaming media that we are bored by actual human contact. The information age wields a double-edged sword by exposing us to more people but eliminating intimacy. I have the ability to keep in touch with ten times as many friends thanks to social networking, but I feel like my relationships with each of them are less intimate. For most of my life my own sexuality was a boon to me because my physical attractions to people forced me into social interactions I may have otherwise not attempted. I don’t like very many people and I think that being sexually attracted to women was one of very few excuses I had to seek out real human contact.
I never thought that I would get to the point where I felt as though seeking out a one-night stand was the healthier thing to do on a given night, but recently I’ve chosen to masturbate rather than seek out sex nine times out of ten and I’m wondering if it’s laziness or if I’m really losing my interest in actual physical intimacy. I’m not saying that I think that pornography is causing my isolation, but I think there’s a correlation even if it’s not necessarily a causal relationship.
Any discussion of modern sexuality is a complicated one and for me personally my feelings toward masturbation are more complicated than my feelings toward sexual intercourse. On the one hand I wonder if my attitudes toward sex are unhealthy if it isn’t better for me to limit my physical relationships with other people and keep it to myself as much as possible. On another hand I wonder if pornography is sexually liberating or sexually repressive toward women and I wonder if I’m being exploited personally by pornography and whether or not I make excuses for an industry because I’ve become so dependent on it.
Every new development, each new idea is a mental and moral conflict. We are born into the most egalitarian gender landscape that America has ever known, with access to a hundred years of serious feminist theory but with much much easier access to a cornucopia of sexual stimulation beyond all imagination. I do not consider myself anti-pornography. I legitimately believe that limiting sexual expression or creating taboos does nothing to benefit progress. So it’s not that I am anti-pornography but I worry that perhaps my own trouble with intimacy might not be so unique, and that maybe I am not a singular case. I wonder if there are more men of my generation who would admit to feeling internally displaced by a sex-crazed culture and if pornography is turning all of our sexuality into a thing to be fully expressed only by ourselves, obsessing over images that we would be afraid to tell people we find arousing.
I pride myself on being a strong-willed person and I usually see moral issues in black-and-white terms, and so it is not a problem for me to cease a behavior I consider wrong. But when it comes to sex, when it comes to pornography, I don’t really know what I think is right, and I don’t know if I think there is a right or a wrong side to any of it. Maybe the issue isn’t necessarily what’s right or what’s wrong but rather what’s healthy or unhealthy for us and our loved ones on an emotional level. And while that may seem like some sort of touchy-feely hippie copout answer I find it even harder to decide what’s healthy than what’s right.
Truth be told I find myself liking fewer and fewer things about my fellow human beings the older I get and if I have come to the point where I dislike people so much that even my instinctually hardwired desire for sex isn’t enough to get me out of the house and talking to people then I am either a sociopath or very independent, depending on how you look at it.
“Masturbation is our first and natural form of sexual activity and if that’s inhibited or damaged, then we suffer for the rest of our lives.”-Betty Dodson