05/29/2014 08:12 EDT | Updated 07/29/2014 05:59 EDT

Masturbation Is the Last Taboo


I was out for supper with a relative who decided to play a practical joke on me. He ceremoniously introduced me to our waiter as "the sex expert." In good form, the waiter laughed, squirmed, took our order and left.

It seems the joke was on my dinner companion. While clearing the dirty plates, the waiter shyly asked me, "How can I last longer with my girlfriend? If you know what I mean." With that, I calmly told him to slow down while masturbating, instead of rushing through it in three minutes or less. In essence, I advised him to create a new masturbation rhythm.

I am not sure who was more dumbstruck: my dinner companion, who was extremely red in the face, or the bug-eyed, slack-jawed waiter, who said, "How did you know?"

How did I know? In this case, it was an educated guess. Young men tend to have high libidos, therefore masturbation is an excellent means to satiate daily (or more) needs.

With that, I want to let you in on a little secret. Men and women masturbate. Sometimes often. It is a natural, good and extremely healthy thing to do.

Why then, in our modern society, is masturbation still the elephant in the room? Everyone knows it is happening and yet no one wants to talk about it. Just saying the word masturbation out loud makes anyone within earshot turn red. It makes me feel like I am back in Victorian times.

I decided to research and find out some history on this still private sin. It turned out to be quite a complex issue, so I will give the simplified Reader's Digest version.

The term masturbation dates from Roman times, although there is disagreement about how the word was coined. It is generally accepted by scholars that it is a combination of the Latin word manus (hand) with the verb turbo (agitate).

Masturbation was widely frowned upon through the centuries because the act did not lead to procreation. Then again, any sexual act that did not result in having children was considered wrong.

The height of Western masturbation hysteria occurred in the 18th century. An influential Lausanne physician, S.A.D. Tissot (1728-1797), concluded that all sexual activity was potentially dangerous because it caused blood to rush to the head. This, he believed, starved the nerves, making them more susceptible to damage, thereby increasing the likelihood of insanity. At about the same time, physicians observed in mental institutions that the certifiably insane masturbated a lot -- not more than the average person, mind you -- however, these people were under constant surveillance.

The good doctors put two and two together. It then became widely proclaimed that the prevailing worst kind of evil was the solitary orgasm. The reason being that it could be indulged in so conveniently and at a young age. Excess was inevitable and the resulting nerve damage irreparable.

Regrettably, the media and the medical profession had a heyday and started overstating the problem and spreading a great deal of unnecessary fear to the public. At its pinnacle, several articles in medical journals reported cases of successful treatment of insanity by castration.

Understandably, parents wanted to protect children from any sort of harm and did everything in their power to prevent their children from picking up this deadly illness. It was believed that talking about masturbation could only lead a child to try it; therefore, it became absolutely taboo to discuss.

Some people today laugh and shake their heads about the oppressive Victorian times. How could doctors and scientists believe that masturbation caused a whole series of maladies?

But if we remove the hysteria and lack of medical knowledge, I am not certain much has changed over the past 200 years.

Case in point: when the young waiter asked me about lasting longer with his girlfriend. Talking to him about his masturbatory habits was somehow more invasive that advising him about a sex pill, sex technique or sex toy.

We really need to ask ourselves why masturbation is still the ugly cousin hiding in the sexual closet? That is, self-pleasuring is really great to do, just so long as we do not talk about it and no one finds out.

As a sex educator, I am really not sure how to get this kind of conversation started. Maybe I could make up some bumper stickers that read "Honk if you masturbate," or badges that read, "I'm a proud masturbator." Perhaps as people start to realize how many people are doing it, it will not be such a big deal to talk about.


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