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Why We Can’t Let Go of the Rite of Passage That Is the ‘Beat Rag’

Some people count sheep to fall asleep. When I was 13, I counted cum stains.

I’d recently borrowed my father’s Sharper Image massager to nurse a hamstring injury and learned, miraculously, that when compressed against the shaft of my nubby pubescent boner for any length of time, a wondrous explosion would ensue. Thereafter, the off-white J. Crew boxers I’d soiled became a de facto landing pad which, over time, resembled something from Jackson Pollock’s Drip Period. Each cumulus blotch was unique, though, like a semen snowflake. I know this because I took inventory nightly, before sending the off (off) white undies deep under the bed, well out of reach of both my mother and my golden retriever.

Look what I can do! I’d think, drifting off to sleep. Procreate!

Thus began what Paul Nelson, a male sexuality educator and clinical sexologist at Maze Men’s Health in New York, calls “man’s complicated relationship with his semen.” Most guys’ maiden voyage with their cum is mysterious, like mine, and Nelson says that wonderment can persist into adulthood. “As men get older and look at porn,” he says, “the ‘money shot’ reinforces the idea that semen is the ultimate sign of manhood, virility and pleasure.”

That might explain why it’s omnipresent, says sociologist Lisa Jean Moore, author of Sperm Counts: Overcome by Man’s Most Precious Fluid. Millions wait in line to watch Old Faithful bust every year, urban landscapes are flanked by majestic fountains and fireworks are a hit every Fourth of July — all for the same reason: Surging fluids please spectators. We’ve been socialized in our semi-conscious to admire ejactulate — the bursts, thrusts and mini-explosions — and rejoice in the “springing forth of juice,” she explains.

Is it any surprise, then, that some guys fetishize their cum rag? “I suppose it’s a souvenir of achievement and a memory of good feeling,” Moore posits, likening the cum rag to a “masculinity security blanket” and a testament to the virality of a “fully-functioning man-body.”

But for other guys like Jake, a 30-year-old “relatively straight male,” cum rags simply keep his sheets clean. As a teen, he stuffed a washcloth under his mattress that he would soil and then surreptitiously add to his weekly batch of dirty laundry. (It wouldn’t smell unless he stuck his nose right up into it, he mentions awkwardly.) “The important thing was to make sure I didn’t get any on my sheets since the stains were unique and people would know exactly what they were.”

I’d initially intended for this story to be about man’s relationship with his beat rag. Everyone knows about the sock, a common depositary for baby batter that’s long been satirized in teen comedies like American Pie. “I use dirty socks,” admits Reditor Bhorzo. Not super dirty, he clarifies, just the ones he’d worn that day. “Heaven forbid you need to recycle a sock or two,” says Ander594, likening it to “a game of Russian Roulette that I don’t have the courage to play.”

But the more guys I spoke with, the more evident it became that cum dumpsters are as vast and varied as their owners. For example, 64-year-old Palmer in L.A. uses tissue, but only the “softer three-ply variety.” For many years, Kleenex was the only brand making the three-plys, but now Palmer’s local grocery stocks a generic version. (Those looking to upgrade their three-ply game might consider SpankRags, available on Amazon, or Brooks Brothers monogram cum rags, via The Onion.)

Random trash will do for Fred in Boise. Empty yogurt containers, specifically. “I eat 2 or 3 yogurts everyday and tend to leave the containers on my desk near the computer,” he writes on Reddit. “I jerk off, cum in the container and throw it in the trash.”

For uncircumcised guys, the toilet can be their beat rag. “I’m not circumcised,” writes Aspbi, explaining that when he’s about to shoot, he pulls his foreskin over the tip and squeezes it shut with two fingers. “I cum into this ‘balloon’ of skin, hop over to the toilet and empty it into the bowl. No paper, socks or towel wasted.” Uncut Kingli concurs: “Jizz into my foreskin and release them suckers in the toilet.” As does Mrohyeah: “Pinch my foreskin closed, flex my PC muscles to get as much as possible out, go to the toilet and PLOP!”

“No!” exclaims Sean Christopher, author of What Guys Do: 101 Masturbation Techniques, when I ballpark the above paragraph for him. “It’s revolting to me when guys say they cum in the toilet. A toilet is for waste. Cum is an essential sacred fluid.” (Or, as Monty Python put it, “Every sperm is sacred, every sperm is great. If a sperm is wasted, God gets quite irate.”) As for Christopher, he’d prefer guys came on themselves and played with it for a while in their fingertips. “It’s a spiritual part of being a penis owner,” he says. “Linger there for a moment and be present with your cum.”

That sounded familiar to something masturbation guru Bruce P. Grether told me last year when I was learning how to jerk off properly, so I reached out again and asked him to clarify. It’s most therapeutic, he believes, for guys to cum on themselves and then rub it into their skin. Other ways to honor semen, per Grether, include burying it in a houseplant or flower bed. If you must use a cum rag, Grether says, at least burn it, seasonally, as a ritual offering.

“Whatever you do with your semen after you ejaculate,” he continues, “do it consciously as an offering of something precious, rather than a chore to clean up and dispose of. That dishonors a special product of the male body. It’s the literal essence of who you are — and all of your ancestors. Treat it with some reverence.” Grether says he’s worked with men who keep a week’s worth of their ejaculate in a jar. Some keep it in the freezer and use it as lube later, he notes, adding that (defrosted) “semen makes for nice lubrication.”

When my nearly 70-year-old friend Jim started masturbating as a teen, a glass jar was his preferred beat rag, too. “I graduated to doing it in a sock,” he tells me. “Now it all depends on where I do it. At home I like to cum on my belly. In the car, I do it in my hand and eat it.” Grether almost always eats his semen, too. Some consider that gross, (or gay?) he says, but he rolls his eyes. “It’s no different than eating your own spit or your blood. If you cut yourself and you don’t want to drip over a nice tablecloth, you suck your finger.”

Regardless of where it lands — in a sock, a yogurt container or your own stomach — it is significant. (They don’t call it the money shot for nothing.) As Nelson explains, the act of cumming is hyper-valued, especially among his coupled clients. Wives get upset if their husbands don’t cum because they see it as failing him sexually. This notion — semen as proof of man’s pleasure — has permeated American culture. And so, dried cum is revered as a sign of power and virility. It’s been like this for millennia, too: Ancient Eastern cultures even believed jade was the dried semen of the celestial dragon.

Of course, there are things to remember: 1) Don’t mistakenly wear your jizz rag; and 2) ants love cum. At least that was MajorCojonescautionary tale on BodyBuilding.com. The Good Major explained that he’d just completed a “glorious fap session” and was cleaning up with an old sock he kept under the bed. Whilst “reveling in the euphoria of his man-burst,” a prickly stampede of ants swept across his groin. “I looked down to find my dick covered in tiny black spots… that were MOVING! I panicked and frantically wiped my dick down and sprayed that sock with Raid.”

While not everyone else in the thread could relate to the insects under MajorCojones bed, they most certainly could relate to the presence of an old sock under it. Or in the words of SierraKilo: “You bust on the same sock for a week? Christ. If I tried that, the fucking thing would be like concrete.”