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The joys of solo sex

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…

Anne Sexton, 14 Sep 2011

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.

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