The following are our posts pertaining to the potential pitfalls of masturbation as well as the ubiquitousness of internet pornography.
Quitting masturbation is a trend on Reddit now, in the “NoFap” forum:
The goals for all these men, regardless of their personal lives or relationship statuses, seemed to be similar: to return to a more charged, natural self. It’s a throwback notion—virility as integral to manhood—but many of these anti-masturbators regard it as truth. “I feel like a man again” is a common refrain. One NoFapper referred to his 90 days without masturbation as “a passage into manhood.” They see masturbation as a failure of masculinity—not because it’s shameful or forever associated with adolescence, but because, on a fundamental, even chemical level, it’s draining their true potential.
The medical profession isn’t convinced. Every doctor and psychologist I spoke with informed me that “there’s no evidence” to link masturbation to sexual performance, and that it’s an oversimplification to think that frequent masturbation is the cause of delayed ejaculation.
Adam Weinstein isn’t on board:
The thing about jacking off is, it’s so personal it’s mystical: There is only you, and the feeling that arises in you. No one can judge that relationship better than you—as opposed to abstainers, who like ardent ex-smokers can judge and browbeat you, Mr. (or Ms.) Self-Abuser, as only the zealous convert can. For my part, jerking it makes me a calmer, happier, more compassionate person. I am confident in my body. I am exultant in sex and sensitive to anyone I’m lucky enough to share my sex with. And in compartmentalizing masturbation as separate from the finer pursuits of life, I feel more mindful of my surroundings, not less.
It’s worth recalling that the formal, theological case against masturbation is identical to that against contraception and gay marriage. It is sodomy, as defined in the early modern period, i.e. ejaculation outside the vagina of a married female. So, as I argued at length a decade ago, we are all sodomites now. Men, anyway. Has any priest now living not masturbated?
For the record, I could never grasp why this was so wrong. My instinctual reaction to my first teenage orgasm was total wonderment. Of course, I had been taught nothing about this strange liquid coming out of my dick. It happened while I was reading – of all things – one of the Don Camillo short stories by Giovannino Guareschi. Not the most predictable erotic trigger – but when you’re fourteen, it could be the ceiling and you’d hit yourself in the eye if you weren’t careful.
To me, having this amazing thing suddenly come alive in my body was so obviously marvelous, so instantly ecstatic, it never occurred to me that God forbade me to forsake it. Why give me this 24-hour, unlosable instrument of blind, transcendent pleasure – and then bid me not to touch it? I had never experienced anything so simply pleasurable in my whole life until then. If we’re talking natural law, all I can say is that masturbation was the single most natural thing I had ever done at the moment in my life. More natural than watching television or riding a bus. If I felt guilt, it required some excruciating effort – until I realized that the most effective thing to trigger the constantly loaded rifle was thinking of another man. Usually naked. I had no porn or access to it. So I drew the men I wanted (and they all looked scarily like my husband). It was only then that the culture began to bear down on my nature.
But as I’ve grown older, and mercifully less driven by my dick, I can see the point of self-denial. In your teens, you have a constant unstoppable production of more sperm than could ever merely reproduce (another natural refutation of natural law). By your forties (unless I’ve just had my testosterone shot), not so much. So a little self-restraint definitely increases the pleasure and intensity of the orgasm you eventually get. And no, I feel no guilt about it whatever. It’s so psychically natural, so obviously intuitive, it was the first step for me toward dismantling the strange doctrines of natural law on human sexuality, devised in the early middle ages by men who knew a lot at the time – but tiny shards of truth compared to what we know now.
Wank on, my brothers and sisters. Wank on.
Readers push back against Adam Weinstein:
The NoFap “movement” is much more about Internet porn than it is about fapping, whether the participants are aware of this or not. It’s not that frequent masturbating in itself is detrimental to sexual performance; it’s that frequent masturbation to online pornography is detrimental to sexual performance. For the first time in human history, a male can view more sexually arousing females in one hour than our ancestors did in a lifetime. The ubiquitous nature of Internet porn has provided a level of sexual novelty that our brains have not evolved to handle. The key here is dopamine and the brain’s reward circuitry. It’s one thing if you masturbate to mental images. It’s another if you just look at porn. Combine the two to orgasm, day after day, and you will have very real, very detrimental consequences to sexual performance. And once you do this for years on end, it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain boner-levels of dopamine when you’re with just one, 3-dimensional woman.
There is an epidemic of younger guys who are struggling with erectile dysfunction, seemingly due to the over consumption of Internet porn. Check out Gary Wilson explaining the problem in his TEDx talk [above]. So you get this group of guys who can’t get aroused by a real girl (or guy), maybe throw in some other issues such as depression and social anxiety, and due the psychological and social aspects of masturbation, they misinterpret cause-and-effect and quite “fapping” when they should be quitting porn.
I can’t even maintain an erection in a condom anymore, and during sex often think about the porn scene I watched the previous (or that same) day. Refraining from porn, deleting our downloaded collections, is an attempt to get some control back in our lives.
Another recommends a website that might help:
The Your Brain on Porn site, for all its pseudoscientific sins, was the first place I found that convinced me that maybe too much porn wasn’t such a good idea. I’d heard that a lot before, but always from people who said it would rot your brain and turn you into a crazed junkie craving your next lolicon bukkake fix, or from people who implied that clearly, a true manly man wouldn’t need such artificial aids for his sexual needs, both of which are viewpoints I reject. After browsing on NoFap, I kind of get how porn and masturbation can be natural and healthy for some people, but just not a good idea for others, especially those who did too much too early and missed a lot of early sexual experience.
I’m as skeptical as the next guy about the magic bullet properties of nofap. They’ll write it cures depression, inspires motivation, and makes you irresistible to women. This should be taken with a grain of salt. But I can tell you from experience – as a 33-year-old gay man who’s been on Viagra for seven years, who was given my first tablet from a 30-year-old man who was dependent on them, who has a handful of straight and gay friends who “can’t stay hard with condoms”, who knows guys who fight ED in their early 20s, and knows guys who can only come if it’s on someone’s face – there’s something happening to young men these days.
A lot of guys find the forum from the website yourbrainonporn.com. It features Gary Wilson’s TedX talk “The Great Porn Experiment” and Philip Zimbardo’s “The Demise of Guys”. It’s compelling stuff; the idea that Internet porn is not your father’s Playboy collection, that our brains aren’t equipped to handle what we’re putting them through, and the effects of tying dopamine reception to internet porn daily, for years at a time.
I encourage you guys to check out the site. It’s an interesting subject, and it deserves better than what New York magazine and Gawker gave it.
Technology vs Writing And Thinking
George Saunders ponders the effects of computer technology on his life and work:
I have noticed, over the last few years, the very real (what feels like) neurological effect of the computer and the iPhone and texting and so on – it feels like I’ve re-programmed myself to become discontent with whatever I’m doing faster. So I’m trying to work against this by checking emails less often, etc etc. It’s a little scary, actually, to observe oneself getting more and more skittish, attention-wise. I really don’t know if people are “deep reading” less these days in favour of a quick fix on the internet – I think this is a thing one hears a lot, but when I travel to colleges here in the US there are always people reading Joyce and DFW and debating about literary difficulty and praising William Gaddis and so on.
I do know that I started noticing a change in my own reading habits – I’d get online and look up and 40 minutes would have gone by, and my reading time for the night would have been pissed away, and all I would have learned was that, you know, a certain celebrity had lived in her car awhile, or that a cat had dialed 911. So I had to start watching that more carefully. But it’s interesting because (1) this tendency does seem to alter brain function and (2) through some demonic cause-and-effect, our technology is exactly situated to exploit the crappier angles of our nature: gossip, self-promotion, snarky curiosity. It’s almost as if totalitarianism thought better of the jackboots and decided to go another way: smoother, more flattering – and impossible to resist.
Reading this and watching this riveting Tedx talk on the impact of online porn on young male brains – essentially numbing them to actual sex with real human beings and creating an epidemic of young men with floppy dicks (I refuse to use the term “erectile dysfunction” when simpler English can do) – has woken me up a bit. Writing and editing and producing 50 posts a day – and doing something very similar almost every day since Bill Clinton was president – must be affecting my brain. It’s not as powerful as the effect on the younger, developing brain, but, yes, skittishness, dissatisfaction, and constant stress have doubtless changed my entire mindset. And I can see the point about online porn making physical sex more difficult – especially if you spent your most formative sexual adolescence under the spell of constant, dizzying varieties of sexual imagery and video. How can one woman or one man even begin to replace that cornucopia of dopamine?
Our brains were designed to be turned on. But not this often, this instantly, this pleasurably and without any consequences at all. Once again, our frontal cortex is getting way ahead of our primate DNA. And the Tower of Babel grows ever taller.
Previous Dish on Saunders here, here and here.
(Image: Outside ad of a mouse-shaped prison via Copyranter)
When The Rubber Hits The Road, Ctd
A reader responds to this post:
Under the category of “you’re doing it wrong”, I might suggest that one problem is that so many people put the condom on dry. Put some lube on first and the sensitivity is greatly improved. I’m surprised now many guys I’ve had sex with seem unaware if this tip. Maybe I was the only one paying attention during all those presentations in college. And not the molecule of lubricant some condoms come with. Use a bunch.
I was glad to see I’m not alone in losing a fair amount of sensitivity during sex thanks to condoms – and I was circumcised as an infant, so my senses are already dulled – but I’m going to keep wearing condoms. When I read in that post that the withdrawal method of birth control has a failure rate of four percent while condoms have a failure rate of two percent, I take away that “pulling out” is twice as likely to result in unplanned pregnancy as wearing a condom. That two percent is a significant two percent to me (and, more importantly, to my girlfriend).
Also, isn’t it only natural to connect that post to the posts last week about guys becoming addicted to dopamine, online porn, and Viagra?
A few more readers overshare to that “Master Of Your Own Domain” thread after the jump:
Like you I’m vintage ’63 and grew up Catholic in a traditional lower-middle / working class environment. Useful information about sex, other than the church’s helpful “it’s a sin – so don’t,” was scarce. I was also a bookish loner, thus without access to the carnal wisdom of my peers. At fourteen my experiments with “what sex would feel like” involved simply clamping my erection, tightly, in my fist. The concept of adding motion never dawned on me.
By fifteen I had graduated from “MAD” magazine to “National Lampoon,” which was racy and had the occasional picture of naked breasts. Carefully reading a new issue on the long Thanksgiving morning drive, I came across the fantasy story “My Penis,” the tale of a hot high school cheerleader who suddenly wakes up one morning with a dick, and all the things she later does with it. Masturbation was described. In detail.
That night on the couch in grandma’s living room I put my newfound knowledge into practice – and have yet to stop.
I never had a problem with masturbation. There were a few weeks when I was 15 or so when I wouldn’t but the urge became irresistible And I concluded that if God didn’t want me to do it, he wouldn’t give me the urge. And there have been times when I don’t have the urge.
I have a problem with recurrent prostate infections. Some men do, just like women have recurrent vaginal infections. One of the things to be done is to empty it out fairly often. That was the cure before there were antibiotics – expressing it. Flush out the infection and hope it goes away. First time it happened it was very very bad. No symptoms specific to prostatis like burning urination or orgasm. Just that I would get up in the morning feeling okayish and by late afternoon I would be running a fever. Had to take a nap. Would take one and the fever would be gone – but the nap was hours long. And by mid evening it would be back. I’d go to bed early and wake up in the morning feeling okay. Until late afternoon. Took about a week to decide to go to the doctor. I now watch for subtle symptoms. I can predict within a day or so when I’m going to get the urge to nap. Being very very sleepy is one of the symptoms.
I haven’t noticed much of a change since my late teens. I don’t want to hump any man still breathing but I get the urge about once a day and if I don’t have anything else to do I indulge it. I still enjoy it as much as I did when I was 16. Maybe not as noisy but it’s still a lot of fun.
Depending on how you want to read Romans, Saint Paul warned us against doing things that go against our nature. Some men want to do it three or four times a day and some men want to do it once and some men want to do it twice a month. Whatever works for you. But deliberately not cumming? I’d put in the same category that we are warned about in Romans.
Being Master Of Your Own Domain, Ctd
How writers approach the task, pen in hand:
Flaubert renounced masturbation in 1844, when he was 22, but apparently the ban didn’t last long. Four years later, while struggling with the novel The Temptation of Saint Anthony, Flaubert wrote to a close friend, “There are moments when my head bursts with the bloody pains I’m taking over this. Out of sheer frustration I jerked off yesterday, feeling the same bleakness that drove me to masturbate at school, when I sat in detention.” If Flaubert was driven to masturbation by boredom and despair, Balzac used it to further intensify his coffee-fueled writing binges. According to a 2010 Harper’s article (subscription required), the novelist would “masturbate to the very edge of orgasm, but not over, and that state—agitated, excited to the point of near madness—was Balzac’s sweet spot, in terms of composing. ” …
Other writers took the exact opposite point of view. John Cheever, for instance, placed a high value on the salutary effects of erotic release. He thought that his constitution required at least “two or three orgasms a week,” and he believed that sexual stimulation improved his concentration and even his eyesight: “With a stiff prick I can read the small print in prayer books but with a limp prick I can barely read newspaper headlines.”
The rest of this thread on the virtues and vices of self-abuse here. I think the discussion – especially this presentation about early exposure to Internet porn – has shifted my view a bit. Wank on, by all means. But be aware that moderation actually maximizes pleasure, excess can dampen it, and that our primary sexual organ is our brain.
Hugo Schwyzer considers another aspect of the debate over onanism:
Masturbation feels really good. It also can feel really icky, when conditioned feelings of guilt wash over the masturbator as he or she comes down from a post-orgasmic high. That shame may or not be rooted in religion, but it is certainly grounded in the idea that the fundamental sexual unit should always be more than one person. The persistence of that shame serves as a reminder that our culture war isn’t just about who we have sex with, but about why we have it in the first place. Is sex solely about connecting with one other person in intimate relationship, or is it about delighting in something that first and foremost, belongs to us as individuals?
I’d hazard the following ill-advised answer to that question: both, as a matter of pure realism (as that fantastic French video explains). But if sex is never attached to relationship, if it is merely an act rather than an interaction, it will wither eventually in ways not true of all solitary pleasures, and miss something essential about sex. As Malcolm Muggeridge once said in defense of lust: it’s all give-give-give. It suffers in some profound way when there is no one else to give it to.
A reader writes:
Your thread on onanism has piqued my interest. I don’t mind confessing that I’ve masturbated and not felt good about it. A few years ago I went through a rough time in my career (I was laid off during the financial crisis) and found myself in a very confused and angry place. I began to turn to more heavily to pornography during this time and, when I found I could not stop and that it was getting in the way of more productive activities, I actually broke down and began attending a 12-step “S” meeting to try and get some help. I was hesitant at first, fearing I’d be meeting with a bunch of sexual deviants, but it turns out that 12-steppers tend to be normal (although brighter-than-average) people who are serious about gaining control of their lives, and a lot of them are remarkably accomplished (at least in New York City).
That being said, a wide variety of people attend and I’ve heard more than one 12-stepper mention that they’d found quitting heroin to be easier than quitting their porn/masturbation/fornication addiction.
The last five years have seen the widespread adoption of huge 1080p television sets and retina-display iPads and FiOS Internet connections and so forth – all of it just fuel for the porn fire. In fact, according to this article, 30% of all Internet traffic is pornography. A choice quote:
Xvideos, the largest porn site on the web with 4.4 billion page views per month, is three times the size of CNN or ESPN, and twice the size of Reddit. LiveJasmin isn’t much smaller. YouPorn, Tube8, and Pornhub — they’re all vast, vast sites that dwarf almost everything except the Googles and Facebooks of the internet.
So, obviously, a lot of guys are jacking off.
But none of this is what prompted me to write you. What did prompt me to write you was coming across this Kickstarter project. (They also have this Craigslist post.) It’s a couple of guys trying to make a movie about kicking their masturbation habits. I don’t know if it will be any good, but it takes guts to tackle a subject that has so much shame surrounding it. This is obviously a conversation that society needs to have, so I think it would be great if they get their funding.
(Video: A scene from Shame, a film about sex addiction. A longer NSFW scene is here.)
Being Master Of Your Own (Christian) Domain
Rachel Held Evans hosted a symposium on “Christians and Masturbation,” highlighting a variety of theological perspectives on the matter. From Tara Owens’ contribution:
For the most part, we’ve been given two sets of unhelpful “rules” for what we should do with our sexuality: (1) respond to our sexuality as an appetite, like hunger, and feed appropriately or (2) avoid or subjugate our sexuality as something to be expressed only in covenanted conjugal relationship and ignored or sublimated at all other times. This is a false dichotomy, and both of these paradigms tend to end up in dysfunction. We either find ourselves at the mercy of our “needs” which leads to a low grade despair, or divorced from the life and pleasure that sexuality brings, living in a kind of discontented numbness.
Like many of the questions surrounding sexuality, I don’t think we can find simple answers—or any answers that hold together in real life situations—outside of the context of relationship. For me, sexuality is broader than mere genital expression (intercourse, foreplay, masturbation, etc.), and encompasses all of the embodied ways that we desire connection with the world, with one another, and with God—as well as all of the ways we go about expressing that desire. While that definition can be taken to extremes, taking a broader view of sexuality allows us to see the ways that sexuality impels us to connection with one another. Taken in this context, masturbation and whether or not it is a healthy expression of sexuality for a particular individual become questions of whether or not the acts of masturbation at a particular season of life are drawing you deeper into isolation from others and from God, or into deeper connection and intimacy.
Copyranter discovered the hathos-filled PSA seen above:
Jesus yanking Christ, this is perfect.
– the non-judgmental acoustic guitar music.
– the “make love not war” sign on Ricky’s door.
– Mom being so kind, and interested on how good it felt.
– Ricky’s facial expression, especially during the slow zoom-in ending.
– I wonder who Ricky was thinking about? Farrah Fawcett? Lee Majors? The school nurse?
Even Fetuses Have A Wank?
That’s the stunning news from the latest Republican lunatic, Michael Burgess. He’s from Texas and he’s looked at male fetuses and is suspicious of what he sees:
“Watch a sonogram of a 15-week baby, and they have movements that are purposeful. They stroke their face. If they’re a male baby, they may have their hand between their legs. If they feel pleasure, why is it so hard to believe that they could feel pain?”
Even better, he’s a former OB/GYN. What strikes me as a Catholic is how this finding affects natural law. How can masturbation be unnatural if even fetuses do it – or try to? But I digress …