Masturbation is not popular – well, officially – with Christians. Indeed, a new website, Dirty Girl Ministries, has been launched to encourage girls to give it up! But why? As someone who has been “doing it for years”, Anne Sexton argues that it is a healthy, safe and pleasurable pursuit…
I heard the term “masturbation.” This increase in my vocabulary happened in the most unlikely of places – religious instruction class. The nun who gave the class tended to stick to relatively uncontroversial topics such as counting your blessings and honouring your parents, but this summer’s day she handed us over to a pair of Christian Brothers who gave us a fire and brimstone lecture on the evils of fornication and masturbation.
Their plan seemed to have been to scare the bejaysus out of us, and no doubt it would have worked if any of us had the faintest idea what they were banging on about. Come break time, my best friend and I consulted the Pocket Oxford Dictionary to find out what these great evils were.
“Fornication” was easy enough – that was sex. I was quite curious about sex because from the information I had gleaned watching daytime soap operas it seemed to cause an awful lot of fuss; but being ten years old I had around zero interest in actually having sex, so this one could be safely ignored.
“Masturbation” proved trickier. For reasons that I can’t recall, we got the idea that this too involved more than one person – and that being the case, it didn’t seem like an issue that impinged on our lives either. I’d seen what a penis looked like – I had a baby brother – and had no desire to get up close and personal with one. They were weird!
It was only a week or so later when I was doing that thing that I sometimes did, that thing that felt good, that a light bulb went off in my head. Argh! I was going to hell, but before that I’d go blind and develop hairy palms!
Luckily for me, I had already had cause to question the dictates of Catholicism. The whole idea of the infallibility of the pope didn’t square with what I knew of the history of the papacy for one thing. Instead of rushing off to confession I decided to ask my mother, who promptly put my fears to rest.
Many versions of Christianity, not just Catholicism, are more than a little leery when it comes to sex. They don’t seem to like it. One bit. But why all the kerfuffle about masturbation? It doesn’t even get a look-in in the Bible. There is the story of Onan in Genesis. If you recall, God was displeased with him for spilling his seed on the ground, but this story refers to withdrawal, not jerking off. God was angry not because Onan was wasting his precious man juices but because he refused to impregnate his brother’s widow, as he was obliged to do under the law of Levirate marriage.
Attitudes towards masturbation took a bizarre turn during the 19th century. Parents, teachers and doctors were warned to be on the lookout for signs of “uncleanness” in children and some went so far as to supply their sons with a special device to be worn around the penis at night to prevent nocturnal emissions.
If you think that’s bad, women who got caught indulging in a little “self-abuse” could be declared morally deranged and shipped off to asylums or have leeches administered to their cervix and labia to curb these unnatural tendencies.
All very interesting Ms. Sexton, I hear you think, but what the hell does that have to do with us here in the second decade of the 21st century? Sadly, more than you’d think.
In Kansas, a former self-styled porn addict Crystal Renaud has launched the No Stones recovery group. Part of an organisation called – I kid you not – Dirty Girls Ministries, 26-year-old Renaud’s mission is to curb female porn addiction. What soon becomes clear is what Renaud is really aiming for is to stamp out female masturbation. According to Renaud, masturbation is an addiction akin to drug abuse or alcoholism which “in a short amount of time can end up hurting you.” Really? In that case I should have been toast years ago.
Most kids discover masturbation around adolescence but plenty start earlier. Kids explore their bodies, from eating their toes to playing with their genitals. It’s completely natural, and as they get older, children learn that certain things are best done in private.
Dirty Girls Ministries targets mostly young single women in their 20s and 30s, but preteen girls as young as 11 are invited along to their talks too. These girls report feeling tainted and perverted because of their masturbation habits. If there is anything perverted going on, it’s making pre-adolescent virgins feel they have something to be ashamed of, for having normal and healthy sexual feelings.
Renaud isn’t alone in her crusade against self-pleasure. Google “stopping masturbation” and you’d be surprised at the amount of results returned and the attendant advice on offer. Frequent masturbators are referred to as sex addicts (a much disputed category of addiction) and told to take up a hobby, call up a friend for distraction, pray or talk to a therapist.
One site, called simply enough ‘How To Stop Masturbating’ argues that, “once the brain experiences the neurochemical stimulation of an orgasm, it pushes for more. Suddenly, masturbation becomes all-consuming, a sensation the sufferer must complete at any time of any day, whenever the fantasy arises.”
In fairness, it is true that once you discover masturbation you do tend to do it a lot. Young men in particular may jerk off several times a day. But is there anything wrong with that? Many people worry there is.
I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been on the radio and someone has phoned in to ask me how much masturbation is too much. The answer is simple – as long as you don’t end up with friction burns, you’re fine.
This site also argues that self-abuse can be a lifelong problem that never goes away – even seniors, especially if they are widowed, may be tempted to do it too! Yikes!
It’s funny, you’d think that since masturbation doesn’t result in unplanned children, doesn’t spread disease and doesn’t have any negative health implications, it would be encouraged. Instead it seems to be more of a taboo topic than sex, even in countries like ours where there are no laws against it.
You rarely hear people – except perhaps teenage boys – discussing their masturbation habits. Sure, they’ll tell you locker room tales of successful one-night stands and horror stories about pulling while wearing beer goggles, but you rarely hear stories of self-induced pleasure. Instead it’s a dirty secret, akin to an admission of sexual failure, and that’s despite the fact around half of all women aged 20-35 own a vibrator.
So here goes: I own four vibrators, but I only ever use one. My much loved Jessica Rabbit. The others are crap. Sometimes I prefer to masturbate the old-fashioned way. Some weeks I’ll masturbate every day, some weeks I won’t bother at all. On occasion, but not often, I’d rather masturbate than have sex.
Can masturbation become an addiction? The short answer is no. Yes, there is a small handful of people whose masturbation habits become unhealthy, but it is very rare. Very, very rare indeed when you consider the fact that most people masturbate on a regular basis. You have more chance of winning the Euromillions than getting addicted to masturbation.
I’ve been at it for years! Years! I haven’t a clue when I started, other than the fact it was so long ago that dinosaurs still roamed the earth. According to the masturbation addiction theory, I’ve been suffering for a long time then. Unlike other addictions, it hasn’t had negative consequences on my life. I managed to finish school and university; I’ve never been fired from a job; my relationships with friends, family or lovers have not been affected by my persistent and wilful wanking.
Nor does God appear to have punished me. After all, my palms are free of hair. At least I think so. I’m not wearing my glasses right now, so I may be mistaken…
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