1. Health
Send to a Friend via Email
Cory Silverberg

We Never Masturbate Alone

By May 27, 2013

Follow me on:

I'm surrounded by people and still feel completely alone.

National Masturbation Month is coming to an end and I wanted to leave on a confusing note. Masturbation seems to me to be one of those parts of sex that everyone thinks is obvious. Even the vaguest of masturbation references gets a laugh because it seems to be a shared and shame filled part of everyone's life. But masturbation is never one thing.

Sinful to some, salvation to others, it can be a form of political action, a spiritual practice, a casual distraction. Ask any two people about masturbation and you'll get different answers. Of course, you should be careful who you ask, and make sure you know your insurance deductible before you do.

If there is a defining element of masturbation surely it must be that the action occurs one when one is alone. Isn't that why so many of the euphemisms for masturbation involve only one hand?

Yes, physically I think we could say that with a few notable exceptions (like mutual masturbation and masturbation as performance) masturbation takes place when you are alone. But being physically separated from others isn't the same thing as being, actually, alone. While it may be true that most of us masturbate when we are physically alone, to suggest that we are alone in any other sense of the word is to miss a fundamental aspect of human sexual experience, and one of the things that makes masturbation so hot and so potentially revolutionary.

When adults masturbate, we're never completely alone. We touch ourselves and focus our attention and energy inward to produce feelings of pleasure or release (or sometimes to express feelings of shame or anger or disgust or hatred). But take a moment and think about what happens to you in those moments, before, during, and after a little solo hanky-panky? What are you thinking about? Masturbation invariably draws on and draws out ones feelings about one's body and more broadly oneself. These feelings are not produced in isolation. When you love a part of your body, or hate it, you are invoking messages you've been told about your body, from family, from friends, from society. A sexual fantasy is drawing on interactions both real and imagined with other real people. When we masturbate we bring other people into the room, sometimes for better, often for worse. But they are there.

Masturbation is not one thing. For those of us whose bodies have never been loved, who have never been touched in a tender or erotic way, masturbation is quite different than it is for those of us who can easily access thoughts and feelings of eroticism about our own bodies. Part of what happens in these moments has to do with the messages and the people who are in the room with us. They aren't there physically but they are there nonetheless.

And so what happens to you when you are alone masturbating may in fact bare little resemblance to what happens to me. The hand gestures may be the same, but the meaning could be vastly different. One thing that I would say does connect all of us in one great masturbatory mass, is that we aren't really alone when we're doing it. And if you want to know something about a person's sexuality, find out a bit about what is happening in that room aside from the physical movements.

I started thinking about this while working on a response to a reader who wrote in about their struggle dating a Trans guy for the first time. It struck me that so much of what was difficult for the reader was all the assumptions they were making about their new boyfriend and what sex is like for him.

I think the myth that we ever have a completely solitary, disconnected, sexual experience is one that keeps us apart from each other. Masturbation may be a beautiful expression of individual desire and identity. But it is also something that connects us to each other. We forget that, or we deny that, and it allows us to make so many assumptions about each others bodies and experience of sexuality. And those assumptions only get in the way.

If you're looking for some closure on this year's Masturbation Month celebrations try this. Next time you're getting busy with yourself, take a second to think about who else is in the room. I can't promise this is an easy task, or one that will necessarily keep you masturbating (sometimes introspection is a real turn off). But I can promise that if you haven't done it before, you'll probably learn a thing or two about yourself. Which I hope can lead to a different kind of happy ending.

Comments
May 27, 2013 at 12:20 pm
(1) drdemarco says:

Great article! If you’d like to participate in National Masturbation Month in other, non-masturbatory ways, check out our upcoming documentary on masturbation “Sticky” as well as a viral photo campaign called #iMasturbate at that has safe for work photos as well as street teams interviewing folks about National Masturbation Month.

May 30, 2013 at 11:00 am
(2) TheGirl says:

masturbation or mutual masturbation can be a healthy alternative to sexual intercourse especially when STDs is a concern.

June 8, 2013 at 2:47 am
(3) jerry says:

even if STIs arent a concern. its just a nice change of pace.

Leave a Comment

Line and paragraph breaks are automatic. Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title="">, <b>, <i>, <strike>

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.