The Student News Site of University of Arizona

The Daily Wildcat

57° Tucson, AZ

The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Give masturbation a chance

    Love it or hate it – or be extremely confused about it – masturbation is a fact of life.

    Though many might not consider it a part of their love lives, there’s definitely a connection, and some great minds in the arts and sciences have seen it this way. In his Oscar-winning film “”Annie Hall,”” writer-director Woody Allen openly pulled for the act: “”Don’t knock masturbation – it’s sex with someone I love.”” And a recent scholarly anthology – “”Masturbation as a Means of Achieving Sexual Health,”” edited by Walter Bockting and Eli Coleman – trumpeted the virtues of physical self-love, linking it to healthy sexual development, self-esteem and well-being in relationships.

    Yet if there’s one thing everyone agrees on about masturbation, it’s that social stigma surrounds the activity. Masturbation remains a conceptual hot potato many don’t want to be caught holding.

    I asked several UA students their opinions on the topic, and although most generally saw no problem with masturbation or even admitted its role in their lives, few wanted to be quoted out of fear for their reputations. Given last July’s issue of the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy reported 61 percent of males and 38 percent of females living in the U.S. acknowledge masturbating, anxiety about discussing the issue publicly seems silly. Yet a need to repress masturbation – both as conversation topic and evening festivity – has characterized our society since before science began to call it unhealthy in the 18th century, and its sinful status is maintained by fundamentalist religious perspectives.

    This is exactly why masturbation is a bit of dirty laundry worth airing out in the open. Many feel guilty or uncertain about it – but should they?

    Some brave enough to share their feelings think otherwise. As Alan Mackey, a mathematics sophomore, told me: “”It’s ridiculous, the extent people go to vilify masturbation – saying it will deplete sperm or make you blind.”” Freshman Andrea Hartzell took a biological perspective befitting her major, biochemistry and molecular biophysics: “”Masturbation is a natural phenomenon, observed in many animal species.”” She’s right: Even whales have been noted to weigh anchor.

    A biology student researcher of Rhesus Macaque monkeys, Robert Gibboni has witnessed such phenomena first-hand. “”Solitary monkeys will rely on self-stimulation as a last resort,”” Gibboni said, “”but given the consistency of its occurrence, it may well be a necessary behavior.””

    Although ethically we might not consider masturbation a case of monkey-see, monkey-do, there is a wealth of biological research on human populations weighing the potential physiological and mental benefits of masturbation. The Journal of Sexual and Relationship Therapy has published some conflicting results in recent years – while Roy Levin claims masturbation can improve quality and quantity of sperm and even the male immune system, Stuart Brody argues that the health benefits of penile-vaginal intercourse consistently exceed any effects of regular masturbatory orgasm.

    Well duh, Dr. Brody – when asked, most of us would probably just as soon not fly solo on this one. But given that we are sexually active animals in a cultural environment with many norms against regular reproductive activity, yet constantly bombarded by sold sex images across media, masturbation can serve for many as a mode of letting off steam or biding time between or before sexual relationships. People invested in the values of monogamy who haven’t found Mr. or Ms. Right yet shouldn’t by necessity suffer constant sexual frustration, or have to experience negative psychological consequences just because they do what Rhesus Macaques do when left in isolation.

    Indeed, there may well be uniquely human psychological and existential benefits to self-stimulation. In our modern era, talk of loving yourself and taking care of your body abounds – exercising, liberating oneself from popular images of what’s attractive and so forth. So why does it rub people the wrong way to assert that occasionally showing yourself the same affection you would a lover might not be a terrible thing?

    Philosopher Damon Young argues beautifully from a Heideggerian perspective in his treatise “”Knowing Thyself … In Private”” that masturbation helps us unearth fundamental truths about our being, our innermost fantasies and especially our relationship to a world in which we are capable of experiencing deep love and intense passion. Indeed, Karl Marx pointed out that as philosophy helps us understand reality, so masturbation aids our relation to the act of sexual intercourse.

    Don’t get me wrong – I recognize masturbation isn’t for everyone. Many have profound religious issues to consider in connection with the issue, and scientific research indicates it can be linked with both healthy and unhealthy factors in different individuals. Yet it is unquestionably a biological and existential reality that deserves a destigmatized position in discourse on human sexuality.

    Daniel Sullivan is a senior majoring in German studies and psychology. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

    More to Discover
    Activate Search