The defining act of being a man

"After thirty days without masturbating, it's like you get this clarity, it's a new state of awareness."

There's no one as annoying as the newly converted. I'm at a dinner being hosted by a vegan group whose events I still go to even though I'm no longer vegetarian. There's this guy sitting at the same table as me, and if I got his typical sounding story straight, he was a banker or investment trader or whatever, but then he quit his job to go travelling through Asia to find himself. He went on a journey seeking spiritual enlightenment, and found it in the Yoga retreats in Thailand, the seminars in India, the temples in Japan, and so on. Now he was in Tokyo, his last stop before crossing the Pacific back to the US. And just before he went, his last task was to annoy the fuck out of everyone at our table with his more-enlightened-than-thou prostelyzations of how he really understood life now. Or whatever. It was verbose and tedious, and his presumption that no one else at the table might have an equally valid cosmology, or be as content in their spirituality, or lack of need for it, was actually kind of mildly offensive.

Anyway, he was talking about how people don't understand the Kama Sutra , and how the sexual component of it is only a tiny part of the whole teaching, and then went into great length about nothing but the sexual components. Part of which involved practises of abstaining from masturbation. He explained how one Yogi he knew had gone for something like 23 days without masturbating, and this was some kind of amazing feat that maybe he did on the regular. Mr Annoying described this practise of sustained abstinence as being the source of a kind of power this Yogi had, claiming one could look into the Yogi's eyes and see what almost like an electricity there.

I asked what this Yogi did with his special non-masturbating powers. "Oh, he's so active, he's always involved in all these projects!" Like what? "Like making websites and stuff!" My standard for super powers is higher than what can be achieved by reading HTML for Dummies , but I'll give the benefit of the doubt that this Yogi is putting more enlightened enthusiasm into his website development than I ever did.

In any case, the whole time, I was making all sorts of jokes about how three weeks was an unreasonably and nearly physically impossible amount of time to not masturbate. Because that's the kind of joke that's expected. The reality, though, is that at the time I was talking to that guy, I couldn't remember the last time I masturbated. I also can't remember the last time I masturbated as I write this either. Months at least. It's not a never thing, but, it's not something I think about often.

Unfortunately, I don't have super Yoga powers as a result, nor does it require super powers to achieve.

While growing up I actually thought masturbation was something that kind of faded out as you got older. I just sort of had it in my head that it was something only done by teenagers, like me at the time, who were out of control of their impulses, and the option of real sex was unavailable. As I got older, I discovered that not only does it not fade away like acne, society assumes it's part of the definition of being a man. A little while ago I was listening to one of my favourite podcasts, where, in one particular episode , they talk about masturbation, half jokingly, as something guys do three times a day. Everyone in the show is around my age.

Another time, another place, I'm hanging out in a TGI Friday's with some guys I perform comedy with. One, a guy a little older than me, talks about going on a camping trip for three days with his kids, who were both under ten or so at the time. The circumstances of being in close proximity to his kids made it impossible to masturbate, and so, arriving home after the trip, was finally able to get some release. Everyone at the table is talking as if three days was a challenge. I made the standard jokes along with everyone else. Three days? Hell, three hours and I might start malfunctioning! Hah! That kind of thing.

I wonder if I'm the only one at the table just going along to fit in. I barely do it, but I feel like mentioning that I hardly ever will make me seem like I'm either defensive because I'm embarrassed about the fact that I actually do, or that I'm some kind of insanely repressed religious nutcase or something who's doing some kind of emotional damage, as well as possible physical damage, to myself by not engaging in the perfectly healthy and should be accepted by everyone act of daily masturbation. But I'm not particularly repressed about sex, if anything I might value it too much. I think masturbation is, or at least can be, perfectly healthy. I definitely hold no religious or spiritual views that draws any lines around masturbation that segregate me from it. I just kind of fell into it not being that important a thing for me.

I started before I was physically capable of cumming, and through my teenage years and into my twenties I certainly did it as much or more than anyone else. I think of myself as a particularly sexual person, and that hasn't changed, but circumstances altered my take on pleasuring myself.

In my mid to late twenties, I had a girlfriend who was really good at filling the roles of my sexual fantasies. The weird thing was that the physical act of sex itself wasn't that great, for reasons I can't get into without divulging too much about her, but she more than made up for it in everything around the sex. She dressed, talked, and acted in ways that lived up to my fantasies, and inspired more. If I were to think of the girl that I wanted to fuck it would look and talk and act like her. Naturally, she became the focus of my internal sexual imagery.

Then we broke up, in spectacular dramatic fashion as was my modus operandi for most of my life. I've almost never been the type of guy who goes out and gets a new girl right away, or even have a one night stand or two to tide me over. I generally go a few months without much happening before coming across someone available who is my type. So there was a span of nothing sexual happening with anyone but me, and in that time, when I thought of sex, I thought of her. Thinking of her while masturbating was problematic in that afterwards, I would feel like shit. It felt so sad to be jerking off to someone you broke up with. Over some amount of time, no idea how long, the anticipation of feeling like some kind of loser was strong enough to kill my drive before engaging in the process. And so I stopped.

Eventually, I got over that woman, as one does. My thoughts turned to other women, but, I didn't go back to old habits right away. I actually remember one time, kind of like a scene out of a sitcom or something, brushing my teeth, and looking in the mirror, and thinking, "Huh... I guess I haven't done that since sometime after breaking up with whatserface... I guess there's no issue now. But..." pause from brushing my teeth, lock eyes with myself in the mirror, "Should I?" Is it the kind of hobby one decides to take up again?

Hammering a defensive point home, I don't think there's anything inherently bad about masturbation. But... I did feel at that time there was something kind of cool about being "master of my domain." It felt like I had more self discipline, that I had some say in urges that I previously thought were unstoppable. I guess it always feels satisfying to think that you aren't just a biological machine programmed to always carry out certain programs, but that you can exercise more choice over your life.

It wasn't long after that that I met another woman, and as she and I developed a sexual relationship, I found myself with more compulsion that was a little harder to control. I've since learned that, at least for me, sexual energy seems to snowball a bit, so I'm more likely to masturbate when in a relationship than not. In spite of my previous assumptions that masturbation would have an opposite correlation to how much sex I was getting. It's more like internal sexuality has a certain kind of energy to it, and if you wind it up, it goes up, and if you wind it down, it goes down.

Small side note, I also found that with more women than can be accounted for by simple random chance, they wanted to know that I masturbated to the thought of them. I think the assumption is that since men masturbate all the time, for a woman to occupy that part of his internal fantasy world is kind of flattering...? I suppose it is, but I've weirdly found myself in a position with more than one woman, lying about having masturbated while thinking of them the night before or whenever, when in reality I hadn't. The problem with telling the truth was that I feared it would come across as me covering for not being that attracted, since in her mind it's axiomatic that men can't help themselves.

Anyway, white lies to flatter a woman's ego and sexual momentum aside, in the long term, the overall compulsion has faded a lot with me. I barely ever do it, and I kind of lost the pride about my "self discipline" that I had for a while. It's just not something that I think really matters so much one way or the other.

I did look into the physical implications. There's all this mythology out there that you have to cum constantly or you'll get prostate cancer or just a general sense that you'll get some kind of blue balls or something if you go more than a few days without jerking off. All of it untrue, so far as I can tell. Or at least, the correlations, mild tendencies, and hypothesis don't add up to any reason to be fearful that anything inside me will break.

On the other side of it, there are no super powers that come with self abstinence, no particularly special benefits. I've heard tales of athletes who think that avoiding sex or masturbation before an important game helps because preserve some kind of testosterone level or ambiguous idea of male power. Were that true, I should be a lot better at ball hockey than I am.

Sex does not physically feel any better, the amount of nerve endings on your genitals remain the same regardless of how much you jerk off. I'm sure a lot of guys will disagree with me on this, because I know it's a thing that people will "save up" their sexual energy by not masturbating before some expected sex, in order to increase it's impact. I think that is all psychological, though, a matter of more emotional weight and enthusiasm to having sex if you make it feel prized. The most important organ in determining sexual enjoyment is your mind, after all.

I'd say maybe one upside is avoiding at least one potential pitfall, one that a recent girlfriend of mine had. If you get too particular about masturbating a certain way, you run the risk of possibly training yourself to cum only from specific nuanced motions that are hard for another person to emulate because they can't get the internal feedback loop the way you can within yourself. By not acclimatizing to a particular kind of touch, you open yourself up to the possibilities that others can offer. Maybe, but it's a fairly subtle thing that I think you could address without having to give up masturbation entirely if you felt it was an issue.

I've always held sex to be a very high priority in all my relationships, and I'm sure there are some ex-girlfriends who would tell you that I made my particular drives a problem worth breaking up over. That was true when I was masturbating like every other guy supposedly does, and when I wasn't, so it doesn't seem to increase or reduce my sex drive to not be masturbating. The particular relationship I have with masturbation seems to be its own thing, and the sexuality I experience with women seems to be another.

And then there's porn. One standup comedian friend of mine has a good bit where he talks about how you can't just "look" at porn. Even if you just decide to glance at it, just to satisfy curiosity or something, you can't help but end up doing the expected. I don't know if this is some kind of weird humble brag or something, but I can watch porn without masturbating. Of course, I don't look at it so often because, predictably, porn is way, way less interesting if it's not for facilitating that particular interaction. I still look it now and again, and masturbation is not a never thing in my life. But it often happens that I'll look at porn, I'll find it kind of dull, and my attention wanders away. I find the low production value to be a consistent turn off.

Does not watching porn make me more realistic about my expectations of women or anything like that? I don't know, it would seem kind of self aggrandizing if I were to make claims about being psychologically and socially healthier in that regard, and in any case I don't think I'm that much different in how I treat women as a result of less porn. I think I treat women much better now than I did twenty years ago, but that has much more to do the experiences gained from the relationships I've had, where my expectations of women were deconstructed by the real women I was with. I still have some fairly shallow concerns when it comes to women. I want to look at someone pretty when I have sex, and that has always been true. I think if anything, I'm more conscious of the fact that women are people and not merely avatars for my fetishes, but I'm sure that has more to do with learning from my countless histrionic break ups.

All in all, if you haven't got the sub text beaten into you already, what I'm saying is that I think not masturbating is a fairly mundane thing. It's just how I happen to be, and it may not be how you happen to be, and both are fine. I think masturbation could be bad if you were doing it so often it got in the way of you working toward other goals in life, but that could also be said of knitting. If maybe your fantasies while you masturbate are especially aggressive or unrealistic or distorting your perceptions of the people you'd like to have sex with, then it's the fantasies you need to work on, not necessarily the masturbation. Ditto, essentially, for porn. Anything can be a problem if you make it a problem. And anything can be a healthy outlet, even horrific fantasies that are antithetical to society's norms, so long as you know how to set boundaries for yourself. If you think masturbation is a problem for you, then deal with that problem.

Or don't. Looking around the net, there are two essential camps, one saying masturbation is this healthy thing that should be encouraged, and another saying it's this harmful act that should be discouraged, with little gradient in between. As far as the "stop it!" side is concerned, I can't see shame as being a healthy motivation for change. Slightly ironic, since I kind of stumbled into my current position by hating myself for fantasizing about an ex. In any case, there are communities... well, at least one that I know of on Reddit , dedicated to the pursuit of learning how to not masturbate. They go by the truly unfortunate moniker "no-fap", where "fap" derives from onomatopoeia of masturbating. Ugh. The word "fap" is in itself far more egregious than anything else, and I'm not going to give it any more air-time in my life. The important thing is, people share their ideas and personal stories to support each other in what seems to be this kind of crazy cult like concept of achieving some higher level of being by not masturbating.

Side note to those guys: "edging" is pointless. Stop it.

Masturbation isn't evil, and abstaining from masturbation doesn't make you enlightened. So is there any particular reason to do or not do it?

Where I think there is a problem is with this idea that masturbation is built into the definition of being a man. It's the pressure valve that stops a man from being an uncontrollable sexual monster. It's sort of equivalent to the stereotype that women are supposed to be completely irrational around their period. The reality is that women vary among individuals and over the course of their separate lives how they personally relate to their periods, and most women come to terms with it in a way so that they can function in society. But, it's part of how society keeps genders in their place to define women as beholden to these biological processes that will determine how they think. The same is true for men, except, of course, men already have sufficient power in society so that no one is going to tell them they can't run for political office because the need to masturbate is indicative of sexual mania that distracts them. Shouldn't the same logic for the irrationality women experience during periods apply to men's compulsion to masturbate, though? Shouldn't we require by law that the president of the United States rub one out before pressing the nuclear button just so we can be sure he's thinking purely rationally?

I don't know, but I'm pretty sure that to really get to know ourselves we need to start with less assumptions that are given to us by cultures that often didn't sit down to plan the impact of their lessons. The idea that masturbation is definitively such a powerful force that it's denial grants super powers is indicitive of some magical thinking around the topic that can't be a good sign. There's clearly enough sexual urge in men that masturbation became a thing, but are we creating feedback loops that spin it into more than it needs to be? Seems we've only ever tried either outright repression, the totalitarianism of which cries out for rebellion, or the other route is post modern ironic over acceptance. Either way, we set men up to focus on masturbation as a fight with the animal inside of us that we will lose to either with difficulty or ease. Surely there's a way to not fight that animal or be subjected to it, but just check in with where it wants to go and maybe walk side by side?

For me, right now, it's not that I feel good about my sexuality and my urges because I don't masturbate. I just feel generally okay with who I am, and through my experiences I've discovered a more honest assessment of what I really need to feel satisfied, and it turns out masturbation isn't a bright star in that constellation. You may find a different relationship. You do you. Literally, if need be.

Still, unless I find a way to make my particular take on masturbation funny and not accidentally sanctimonious, when I'm on stage doing standup, I'll still talk, as most comedians do, as if masturbation is something I do morning and night lest I explode. Didactic blog posts might paint a more honest picture, but they're not funny.