What is Masturbation?


This is the second in a series of articles called An Absurd Guide to Getting Your Heart Broken. You can read the first here. With any luck (or misfortune), it won’t be too long before another one comes out.

There’s too much crap out there. You practically have to shout obscenities to get someone’s attention.


Sorry. I’ll explain if you stop rolling your eyes.

I know we don’t discuss this openly passed fifteen. Nobody wants to be the luckless loser stuck with their hand, but we shouldn’t let our embarrassment allow the moralists, the liberationists and the psychologists to rob us of some useful self-reflection while we’re giggling in the corner.

Go ahead and have a laugh first though. It is absurd: touching yourself and pretending it’s someone else. We work hard to convince ourselves of an external sexual “presence”. Nobody fantasizes about their own hand after all. Being alone isn’t erotic.

Masturbation demands an active imagination. Who is touching us, and what do they look like? Where are they doing what? How does it feel? …and now?

Careful or you’ll hurt yourself!!

Yet most of us are too lazy, impatient or distracted for this. Luckily there’s porn to recreate the experience of sex for us. Like a spell book, a wand or a genie in the bottle, porn magically conjures a champion to take us on a little adventure.

The sorcery is so effective we forget to question it, but we shouldn’t. Liking something we don’t understand is dangerous.

Partially recognizing this, we lock Rapunzel in a tower and lock Harry in a cupboard under the stairs, we keep Cinderella busy cleaning the house, and we scold Jack for playing with “magic beans” until they’re all of marrying age. Left alone they might blow themselves up. Or forget to eat. Rarely are we as impulsive as in our youth.

But rarely are we as pompous as in our adulthood, preventing candid reflection on one of life’s most commonplace absurdities. We’re all more ignorant than we ought to be.

What is this peculiar act? If masturbation were merely gross hedonistic pleasure-seeking, like a sweatier version of eating chocolate, we could masturbate while thinking about filing our taxes or getting our teeth cleaned. I know there’s a fetish for everything, but still that seems extreme.

Let’s look closer (STOP! Not that close!). First the individual excitedly anticipates the pleasure to come, allowing a disconnection from reality. Then during the act itself, the individual fully concentrates their creative energies on bringing to life the “sexual savior” and hearing the angels sing. Finally the individual returns to objective reality and realizes nothing has changed. There is no dragon defeated, no enlightenment, no minimal human interaction, just the same old dreary walls and a sweaty hand. Temporary disappointment or even guilt pervades.

The individual at peace with themselves can laugh and move on. It was fun; it was stupid. They have no regrets. But this emptiness can push others further into themselves on a quixotic quest for pleasure and away from a balanced vision of their own reality.

Masturbation and sex have much in common in this regard. The deed’s context clouds any “objective” sense of quality, because eroticism isn’t determined by crude physical desires but by a fear, rumbling around our intestines, that when the end comes, death will just shake his head at us out of pity or embarrassment.

We seek out the company of others, because we lack the perspective to judge the adequacy of our own lives. People don’t seem to understand us in a meaningful way. Doubts build. How can they assuage our fears if they can’t even see who we really are? Our words fail us. We lack eloquence, and they lack interest. The doubts remain. If only there were some way we could communicate to others our innermost being without all the confusions and misunderstandings.

This is when the erotic whispers in our ear that it knows a purer way to communicate, without any of the bullshit that normally hinders comprehension. We can finally have the much desired confirmation of our own existence’s legitimacy. All it takes is two nude bodies, intertwined, writhing. We scream. They scream. The joy is shared and therefore real. Through this mythical ideal, we no longer feel alone. We understand and need nothing more. This is what it means to be alive.

But the crash afterwards tests our strength. The person lying next to us could be mean or boring or ugly or smell funny. How could someone we don’t even like understand us? Or worse, if we’re masturbating, then they don’t even exist! At least not the way we want them to. We’ve been looking at pixels on a screen, ink drops on a page or fuzzy projections on our cerebral cortex. How futile are our efforts once again!

This is why understanding the motives behind our little absurdities is so important. Masturbation or even sex by themselves can’t shield us from our existential fears. The erotic can only paint in new colors an existent pain or reaffirm a positive belief that itself requires no external confirmation.