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masturbation: the universal taboo

Airing the orchid, flicking the bean, slapping little Johnny behind the German helmet. Masturbation. We all do it, so why is it so taboo?

It’s considered liberating if not expected, to casually discuss your sex life over a plate of fettuccini carbonara and a bottle of red wine. People often gather to boast, bemoan or berate their partners and discuss their own sexual preferences. It’s even acceptable to describe one’s orgasm in precise detail. That is unless you’ve achieved it solely on your own, because the moment we even allude to the topic of masturbation, a ‘caution ahead’ banner signals in our heads and the conversation is quickly diverted to lighter subjects, like apportioning blame to the neighbour’s cat for spotting on the new lawn.

It’s no surprise to see that the world of artificial stimulation is on the rise. Women and men enter sex stores and have a plethora of sexual paraphernalia from which to choose. Websites from ‘Vibrators 101’ to ‘Adult Discount Sex toys’ demonstrate the many different toys used to induce pleasure behind closed doors. However it is just that, behind closed doors and between the sheets.
The act of pleasuring one’s self is considered healthy in the medical industry. It is not known to cause any adverse effects either physically or mentally, despite old wive’s tales that condemned children to a life of ‘blindness’, ‘growing hair on the palm of their hands’ and lifelong ‘impotence’ (source). So why is there still an underlying stigma?

During the 1920s to the 1930s, people’s genitalia were not considered to be a ‘source of pleasure’ but rather parts of the anatomy that were to be dismissed and avoided. The shame and ‘anxiety’ associated with masturbation was considered to have occurred from the ‘Late Victorian period’ until the ‘First world war.’ During this era, some couples were unaware that the clitoris even ‘existed’ and upon realising that an orgasm could be obtained through the stimulation of such body parts, most felt ‘uncomfortable about producing orgasm this way.’ By the late 30s, authors had begun to accept Sigmund Freud’s theory that adolescent masturbation was simply an infantile ‘phase’ of which ‘the vast majority of the population’ soon passed. After Freud’s analysis, new theories rationalised why masturbation was considered a selfish act, conducive to ‘egoistic pleasure’ and an opposition to the ‘law of mating’ (source).

An article published on ‘Couple Dumb,’ cleverly reports children are taught everything, except masturbation. ‘We teach them how to walk, drive a car and how to love’ yet expect them to figure out of the most important aspects of humanity, ‘because we feel uncomfortable. The article suggests that due to our own ‘limited understanding’ of auto eroticism, and ‘puritanical up-bringing,’ the topic of masturbation is simply considered too ‘perverse’ to be discussed with our children. The article proposes that even though a majority of the populous does engage in masturbation, with ‘92% of men and 62% of women’ reporting regular masturbation in their lives, it is still considered a topic of awkward shame and embarrassment.

During the 1800s, various torture devices were implemented to ensure that young men did not masturbate. In 1831 for example, a corset made out of leather and steel was invented by a Dr. Fleck, a device which included a metal tube which was attached to the penis and ‘prevented access to the testicles.’ While in 1876, the ‘Stephenson Spermatic Truss’ ensured that a pouch stretched and tied down a man’s penis making it impossible to experience an erection. Twenty years later, Stephenson altered his device to include a metal hood that allowed the penis to hang freely while any erection would drive it toward painful, metal spikes (source). One wonders if these ‘doctors’ created their Frankenstein devices in an attempt to appease their own subconscious embarrassment at discovering pleasure and whether they ever subjected themselves to their own barbarism.

The topic of masturbation has always known to be hushed in religion sectors, though strangely, scriptures fail to condemn the act in itself. It is more likely that individuals have construed their own meanings overtime from religious passages and deemed the act selfish and immoral. According to Roman Catholic theologian, Ronald L. Conte JR, every sexual act must be ‘marital, unitive and procreative’ and as masturbation is none of these things, it is ‘an intrinsically evil act’ which is ‘gravely immoral.’ He also suggests that regardless of circumstance, in his example: collecting sperm in a bank, to help an infertile couple, the act of masturbation cannot be justified and cannot ‘remedy the deprivation’ of the aforementioned three sources of ‘morality’ (source) . This man clearly displays inherent paranoia and an underlying denial of sexuality, which has little to do with his dedication to procreation. Conte is not only depriving himself of a natural act, he is condemning others for experiencing one of life’s many enjoyments.

Ultimately, the art of sexual exploration comes naturally to almost all of us. If the act itself was really so unhealthy, our body would surely reject our attempts to reach orgasm. Instead it reciprocates, and that should be a true testament to how harmless masturbation really is.
Finally, a study held by The Cancer Council in Melbourne found that young men who masturbated at least ‘five times a week’ compared to those who did not, were ‘one third less likely to develop aggressive prostate cancer later in life’ due to ejaculation preventing carcinogens that build up in the prostate gland (source). So if you’re in doubt whether to feel guilty next time you find your hands wandering in places you’ve been told they shouldn’t, consider this: ‘The choice is completely up to you. Understand that despite prevailing myths and taboos, for many women and men, masturbation is a positive and healthy experience.’

By Sophia Anna

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