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Five Questions about the Masturbate-a-Thon

Drs. Carol Queen and Robert Lawrence on the Masturbate-a-Thon

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Updated May 05, 2013

Since 1999 Drs. Carol Queen and Robert Morgan Lawrence have been running what must be the most unique fund raiser and most unusual use of the marathon medium ever. They kindly took some time from their masturbate-a-thon planning efforts to tell About.com readers about watching people masturbate in public, masturbation as a competitive sport, and where they see Masturbation Month in 2027. They began by describing the event itself:

The Masturbate-a-Thon is like a walk-a-thon, except your feet don't hurt when you're done unless your masturbation style is rather unusual. It's a public event for people who wish to get more comfortable with (or revel in) masturbation and semi-public exposure, and those few who wish to compete for a world record (longest time and so forth). Since people need to get others to pledge them to participate, it's more than anything else a consciousness-raising event on behalf of masturbation, helping to raise its profile and getting people more comfortable talking about it.

As the founders of the longest running, and largest Masturbate-a-Thon you've probably seen more people masturbate in public than most. What's the most surprising thing that happens when people masturbate in public and in a group?

I think the average person would find surprising how comfortable it all is once people get going. There is such a focus to masturbation, as everyone knows who's done it in private; surprisingly, it's still there in public, and many people close their eyes and go into their own dream world. (Though of course it can be said that being in the middle of a group of people being sexual IS some people's dream world -- and those people keep their eyes open!)

Another delightful an interesting surprise: often when one person comes, so do several more -- it seems to be contagious, sort of like yawning!

We don't all live in the Bay area, surely the activist masturbation capital of the world. Let's say I'm a plain masturbation Jane or Joe living in the Mid-west, how can I get involved?

You can participate in the Masturbate-a-Thon wherever you are! Before there was a live group event, which the Center for Sex & Culture launched in 2000, there were the locally-based Masturbate-a-Thons in the U.S. and Canada, and you can still participate that way now.

The original Masturbate-a-Thon, invented by Good Vibrations in 1998 and promoted by GV and its sister sex shops like Come As You Are, Grand Opening!, and Babeland, involved people getting pledges and then masturbating at home in private (or as couples). Then they'd send their collected pledges to the closest shop or organization, which would disburse the money to that year's non-profit beneficiaries.

Where does the money raised during the Masturbate-a-Thon go?

The San Francisco live 'Thon is hosted by the Center for Sex & Culture, which uses the money for operating expenses. (Good Vibrations’ private Masturbate-a-Thon also funnels the funds its participants raise to CSC, as it has for the past two years.) People participating via other organizations around the U.S. will probably see their cash going to local charities; the other ongoing live event is in Portland, OR and those funds mostly go to local groups. The Summer 2006 Masturbate-a-Thon in London raised funds to benefit Marie Stopes International, the UK's longest-established sexual health clinics.

Should masturbation be a competitive event? Don't you think we should leave something to the imagination?

Well, certainly not everyone gets competitive at the Masturbate-a-Thon; relatively few people go for the distance, longest time, and most orgasms trophies. The competitive element is part of the attention-getting aspect of the 'Thon, though I'm certain that winners are duly proud of their efforts! This year, by the way, here are the numbers to beat:

  • Longest time male: 8.5 hours,
  • Longest time female: 6.5 hours
  • Most orgasms male: 6
  • Most orgasms female: 49
  • "Longest distance come to come" (the person who attends from furthest away): 6893 miles (that is, from Hong Kong to San Francisco!)

And of course even without the competition, which is all part of the fun but by no means central to our purpose, plenty of folks would think that masturbating in a group would take away the magic. I have only to say that those folks should probably stay home and masturbate there -- we are NOT knocking in any way the pleasure of comfortable, private solo sex -- though there they will miss out on the magic of the group, which for some participants ends up feeling very healing.

In 2006 you took the Masturbate-a-Thon to the UK (and caused quite a stir). Are there more plans to take the event on tour? Where do you see the Masturbate-a-Thon in twenty years?

We would love to bring the Masturbate-a-Thon anyplace someone wants to help us put it together: it is too complex an event for us to run from afar, so we won't even try it without a ground team. In London, it was Tony Kerridge and his terrific crew from Marie Stopes International, plus a group from ZigZag productions helping to ready it to be documented. For more about that adventure people can visit my blog. Some words were spoken then about taking it to Australia, and of course we'd be delighted to go masturbate Down Under! And we just spoke to some intrepid sex shop owners from Madrid who are thinking about holding one there next year.

In 20 years? Who knows? Best-case scenario is that masturbation will be far more respected and accepted than it is today, and Masturbate-a-Thons won't be needed any longer to jar people into thinking about the ubiquity and naturalness of self-pleasure. Now, the strategy is partly getting people to wonder why anyone would do such a wacky thing (and hopefully then ask themselves "Well, why not?")! Rather, future events can allow participants to enjoy the unique pleasures of public masturbation in an appropriate venue, and perhaps they will have a whole new role in an increasingly busy world as a venue where people can take a whole day to get out of the rat race and simply, blissfully, focus on themselves.

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