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Five Lies You’ve Been Told About Masturbation

Did Pee-Wee Herman get caught jacking it? Did Onan make God angry when he spanked it? Let’s find out the truth.

The world is full of lies, and it’s hard to get through life without taking a few on board. Luckily, we’re here to sort the fact from the fiction, and find the plankton of truth in the ocean of bullshit. This week: jerking off! It’s a pretty popular pastime, but talking about it makes you an uncouth ruffian, right? Or does it? 

Lie #1: You’ll Go Blind, Get Hairy Palms, Go Insane, Get Acne, Irreparably Damage Your Dick And So On

There are no medical downsides to masturbation, if you do it in a safe manner. Not everyone does this, though. There are obvious medical downsides if you do it in some stupid-ass way, like choking yourself with a belt, ramming your dick into a bottle or doing it while driving. Spend five minutes trawling through the subreddit r/jackoffconfessions and the amount of people who have knocked themselves out giving innovative self-love techniques a go will put you off ever touching yourself again. Don’t cut off the oxygen supply to your brain! Just don’t! Every year, though, up to 1,000 people in the U.S. alone die from autoerotic asphyxiation — in fact, the real figure is probably higher, as some families undoubtedly opt to shut a few browser tabs, flush a few tissues away and present the death as deliberate. 

Hey, that’s bleak!

That’s not doing it in a safe manner, however. Similarly, if you’re doing it to such excess that it’s interfering with the rest of your life, that’s not ideal — being late for a meeting because of a spur-of-the-moment menage a un is no way to live. If you can’t focus on anything else because you can’t stop thinking about your next five-knuckle shuffle, yeah, you might want to wind it back a bit.

But normal masturbation presents no health risks whatsoever, unless you slip in it or get it in your eye.

Lie #2: Don’t Talk About Playing With Yourself, You Uncultured Simpleton

There are all sorts of highbrow reasons to talk about that thing where someone plays with their winky until stuff comes out. It’s a subject that has interested some of history’s greatest minds, as well as led to the invention of Corn Flakes. You might be discussing ancient Sumerian mythology, for instance — a perfect time to mention that both the Euphrates and Tigris rivers were said to have originated when Enki, the god of water, had a big fat wank into a couple of empty riverbeds. 

Or maybe you’re a highly regarded Egyptologist — you’ll know as well as anyone that the god Atum created himself from nothing, then tugged himself silly and created the universe out of semen. Classical scholars will be familiar with Diogenes the Cynic (412-323 BC), who used to masturbate in public (and sometimes poo in the theater). Mark Twain, the father of American literature, had a fun 10-minute routine in which he recounted the history of meat-beating and compared it to farts, lamenting that at least farting in groups was allowed as long as they were all-male and nobody was likely to mind. 

Lie #3: Pee-Wee Herman Got Caught Jerking It

Actor Paul Reubens got caught jerking it. Back in 1991, the fictional, childlike simpleton wasn’t caught, meat in hand, grinning like a dolphin and mashing himself silly — the fully grown 38-year-old man who played him was. That might not seem like an important distinction, but it is: A dude being a bit gross is way less compelling a mental image than a dainty manchild, grey-suited and red-cheeked, bicycle chained up outside the Spank-O-Rama, hunched over himself, muttering about being the luckiest boy in the world.

Honestly, Reubens was pretty much fucked over — he was staying with his parents at the time, went out and ended up in a porn theater (which was still a thing in 1991). That’s an adults-only venue, designed for people to watch porn in, and it doesn’t seem unreasonable to assume the occasional tug might take place there — it feels unlikely that the business model of those places was based on the idea of people patiently watching until the credits, calmly taking the bus home and then thrashing themselves silly. Reubens just happened to be spotted in solo flagrante by the police, made the panicked error of offering to perform a show to benefit the local sheriff’s office, and was then unlucky enough to have his real name recognized by a court reporter.

The ensuing press scandal damaged his career massively, and led to Pee-Wee Herman toys being removed from sale and, more financially devastatingly, caused Pee-Wee’s Playhouse to be pulled from syndication. Syndication is where, as the star/creator/producer, Reubens would have stood to make enormous amounts of money over the years, making the incident possibly the world’s most expensive wank.

Still, without it we might not have got his incredible death scene in the original Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie, so every cloud and all that.

Lie #4: There’s This Cool Newish Thing Called “Edging”

Macaque monkeys invented edging, ages ago. All primates are fans of yankin’ it, and they’re among the animal kingdom’s most enthusiastic self-pleasurers (up to 6 percent of their metabolism is used just on cum production), but generally don’t do it to completion — in a 2013 study published in Ethology, they were found to bust a nut just 15 percent of the time. Meanwhile, bottlenose dolphins pre-empted the Fleshlight by wrapping eels around their dicks

Lie #5: Onan Whacked Off and Made God Angry

The Biblical figure Onan, despite being the origin of the polite chicken-chokin’ term “onanism,” didn’t get in trouble for whacking off. He got in trouble for pulling out (while having sex with Tamar, wife of his dead older brother Er, who had just been killed by God “because he was wicked”) and nutting on the floor.

Despite opting for the floor — the floor — being rude at best, that seems like a bit of an overreaction on God’s part. Onan’s reasoning was kind of sound, as well: While the law of levirate marriage demanded he impregnate the newly widowed Tamar, if the resulting child was male, he would be ahead of Onan in line to inherit Onan and Er’s dad Judah’s wealth. Busting onto the desert floor was, financially at least, fairly wise. Plus, think of Tamar — if your husband had just been killed by God for non-specific badness, would you be like, “Ah, cool, guess I’ll get pregnant now off another dude”?

(Judah, the dad, later had sex with Tamar while not recognizing her, thinking she was merely “a shrine prostitute,” and then, when hearing his daughter-in-law had taken up sex work, demanded she be burned to deathdude. Duuude.)

However, Onan was then struck dead by God as well (God doesn’t come out of this story particularly well) and then had his name become a euphemism for beatin’ it that’s lasted thousands of years. Onan might not have been masturbating, but he must definitely have felt like a jerk!