In the coded words of Cyndi Lauper, “she bop, he bop, and we bop, I bop, you
bop, and they bop.” Masturbation has probably been around since Adam was waiting
for God to finish up making Eve… having a bit of fun after having one of his ribs
removed. So, why did Lauper seem so ahead of her time when she talked about it in
1983? If nearly everyone does it, what’s the taboo?
In 2013, a video of a teenage boy, Matthew Burdette, masturbating in a bathroom
stall at his high school in San Diego went viral after one of his peers recorded and
uploaded it to the internet without Burdette’s consent. In the weeks following the post,
Burdette was subjected to relentless taunting and bullying until he couldn’t take it
anymore. On November 29, he took his own life while his parents were at their family
cabin, leaving a note which said, “I can’t do school anymore…I don’t want to kill myself,
but I have no friends.”
According to the 2018 TENGA Global Self-Pleasure Report, 78% of the world’s adults (between ages 18 and 74, inclusively) masturbate, including 92% of American
men and 76% of American women. With this in mind, why was Burdette tormented for
doing something that nearly everyone does, and something we can assume that most of
his tormentors participate in? Why do people carry so much shame about it, and
perpetuate that shame for other people?
The beginning of shame surrounding sexual curiosity and masturbation can be
largely attributed, obviously, to early interpretations of the Bible’s position on lust.
Usually, if something is enjoyable, Christianity has something to say about it. Matthew
5:27 addresses the sin of adultery and, specifically, adultery of the mind and the heart. The implication here is that any person who imagines sex with someone they are not
married to is committing an adulterous sin. Over time, this was translated to
masturbation, as it usually is quite difficult to masturbate without picturing sexual
Religious expectations of purity spread rapidly and dramatically influenced the
way that people thought about sexual desires and curiosity, essentially equating it to
perversion. People came up with insane (and I mean insane) theories about how to
discourage masturbation. The Kellogg Company, one of the largest producers of cereal
known today, initially began to sell cereal which claimed to prevent masturbatory
behavior in its consumers. Parents told their children that if they masturbated, they
could go blind, grow hair on their palms or have their penises fall off (so congratulations
to all of the non-penis-havers, we’ve beat that one). People even went as far as genital
mutilation, such as applying carbonic acid to the clitoris to burn it, in order to discourage
self-stimulation. Even today, many people associate masturbation with being dirty or
overly-sexual despite overwhelming evidence that it’s completely normal.
Maybe there’s some hope, though, especially for all you Catholics out there.
Pope Francis recently was recorded saying that, while masturbation was still considered
a sin of the flesh, “other sins are considered much more serious” and therefore we
should not devote much time to condemning masturbation. So, basically, you have a
free pass from the pope to paint your pickle, flick your bean, or whatever you may
choose to call it.
And if a holy man’s “permission” doesn’t convince you to give it a go, maybe
some of these benefits will: 1) masturbation is linked to the release of endorphins which can relieve stress, improve your mood, and even soothe bodily aches and pains. 2)
climaxing while masturbating can help you fall asleep much more easily and quickly. 3)
Exploring and becoming more intimate with your own body can help you figure out what
you do and don’t like, which could make for better sex with future partners. 4) It’s safer
than any other sexual activity—you can’t contract diseases! It can even prevent cervical
infections, prostate cancer and UTIs, as well as lower your risk for type two diabetes.
I could go on, but, unfortunately, I have a word limit for this piece. So, in
conclusion, nearly everyone does it, and it’s overwhelmingly normal. If you haven’t yet,
try it out! Talk to your friends, have a laugh, share tips and tricks, even. Help reduce
the stigma around masturbation, and have fun while you’re doing it!