Be careful when asking people on the internet what euphemisms they know for male masturbation: the range of answers is limitless. When the question was put to r/AskReddit, for example, user castles_of_beer replied with an exhaustive and alphabetized list — scrolling through the entire thing may just put a cramp in your finger. From comprehensible favorites (“five-knuckle shuffle,” “polish the helmet”) to honestly baffling novelties (“closet frisbee,” “feeding bologna to the Smurfs”), it seems as though every conceivable Anglo dialect or slang is represented. Keep this encyclopedic document handy and you’ll never have to say “jerk off” for the rest of your natural life.
Intrigued by the scope of the archive, I messaged castles_of_beer about his interest in this subject. Turns out he had little to none. “I literally just Googled ‘euphemisms for masturbation’ and cut and paste the first list I got,” he wrote. “I thought it would be funny to have a wall of text, reminiscent of that scene in Varsity Blues where James Van Der Beek’s character rattles off a bunch of euphemisms of erection.” In fact, he admitted, “I honestly didn’t even read them.” So much for discovering a scholar of self-abuse.
Still, the availability of lists like this one — which appears to have been sourced from Dribbleglass.com, a no-frills humor site — bespeaks an endless search for the perfect phrase to describe the coaxing of jizz from one’s testicles. So much of the terminology is practical and workmanlike (think of all the curt verbs we hear, like “wank,” “whack,” “fap,” “rub,” and “stroke”) that we are stimulated to spawn ever more baroque turns of phrase. For while flogging the dolphin is a basic, almost overlooked privilege, it’s also a supreme, transcendent pleasure. Making yourself come is free, and therefore priceless.
Once you start breaking down the poetic elements of these witticisms, you notice how much they are striving to convey. Some focus on the resulting spurts of semen — your “tartar sauce rainbow” and “making Pearl Jam” sort of fare. Others are concerned with the mechanics of the operation, especially the violence sublimated in the act: “fist your mister,” “hand to gland combat,” “playing tug-of-war with the Cyclops,” “roughing up the suspect.” Finally, there are the options that reek of abstraction so rarefied that we hardly know whether Onanism is the topic at all, with diligence strongly implied: “doing your homework,” “practice session,” and, per 30 Rock’s Tracy Jordan, “Google yourself.”
Could any single English clause hope to capture both the puerile ecstasy and secret shame, the mix of ferocity and gentle attentions that define the solo male sexperience? And, on top of that, describe the physical action? “Rubbing one out” gets to the perfunctory aspect of erotic release but makes it sound too much like an assassination. “Liquidating the inventory” is a delightfully rich metaphor, though anatomically suspect and overshadowed by the specter of capitalism. “Windsurf at Mount Baldy” can take all the points for originality, yet falls apart under the slightest scrutiny. Windsurfing? Really?
So the search continues, spiraling us in many directions, from the merely cartoonish (“buffing your banana”) to the willfully disgusting (“firing the yogurt cannon”) to the culturally historical (“shaking hands with Abe Lincoln,” “spanking Elvis”). I suppose, in the final analysis, your preferred choice of words has a lot to do with how you handle yourself in private. Maybe, for you, achieving an orgasm alone is just a bit of housekeeping — “turning on the sprinklers.” Maybe it’s an art: you “jazz yourself,” or “play the quarter-sized violin.” If lubrication is an important part of your process, “greasing the weasel” could fit the bill. If it’s just plain brutish, you’re probably “pounding off.” And for the devoted soccer fan, may I humbly suggest: “bringing Brazil out through the tunnel.”
In that light, it makes sense to have this many masturbatory euphemisms — the styles of self-satisfaction are as varied as people themselves. What I find suspicious, however, is the idea that we’re actually talking about masturbation this much. Conservatively, I’d estimate that about 10 percent of any jerking jargon catalog has ever gained any traction in the spoken language. I can’t prove there aren’t 15-year-old boys dropping a hundred of these synonyms at every lunch period (and indeed I believe that a significant subset of this demographic are walking thesauruses on the matter), but even on the horniest days of high school, my friends and I barely scratched the surface of this lexicon. When we did mention the ol’ manual override, it was often blunt — accusatory.
No, the lists prove the existence of a particular mind apart from typical pubescence: crudely inventive and sophomoric, sure, yet scientific, taxonomic. These euphemisms are collected and displayed with the deliberation of a natural history museum, as if they are butterflies under glass — of no real use besides to elicit a reverent wonder at the scope and scale of organismal biology, and our talent for translating it into information.
Once you figure that out, anything, anywhere may as well mean “cranking the hog.” With a little imagination, it usually does. By stretching our semantics as far as they can go — “yanking the yo-yo,” you might say — we realize they can be warped to suit any purpose, including the task of cooking up an even saucier alternative to ménage à moi.
Try it for yourself. Go out into the world, to a restaurant, and listen to some conversations, but silently persuade yourself that everyone is speaking in code about masturbation. I expect you’ll hear a few brilliant, accidental coinages. You could pick up a truly inspired idiom. At last, when the filth overwhelms, you’ll want some time alone.