History of Masturbation
First off, my heart goes out to all those who have been affected by Hurricane Katrina. I had the pleasure of visiting New Orleans for the first time last year, and I instantly fell in love with the city. I sure hope that magical place can get back on its feet soon.
I am having a lovely time doing some preliminary research for a future Erotic Museum exhibit called the History of Masturbation. I thought it would be a kick to share here a portion the lovely bits of information I have found:
Before the Dawn of Man there has been masturbation. As one scientist put it, all animals masturbate that are physically capable. Porcupines rub against a stick. Bonobos, who share 98% of our DNA, masturbate. Archeologists have interpreted some cave paintings as depictions of masturbation. Self-pleasure has been around much longer than the oldest profession, the sanctity of marriage, and Hustler Magazine combined.
In Ancient Times, depictions of male masturbation are relatively common. The Egyptians, for example, celebrated masturbation as the process by which the sun god, Atum, created the first Adam and Eve equivalents, Shu and Tefnut. "With the hand of God, Atum masturbated and brought forth the first pair of souls." A clay figurine of the 4th millennium B.C. from a temple site called Hagar Qim on the island of Malta, depicts a woman masturbating.
The Sumerians, who invented the first written Western language, make reference to the Mesopotamian god Enki masturbating, his ejaculation filling the Tigris River with flowing water.
The ancient Greeks had a more natural attitude toward masturbation, regarding the act as a normal and healthy substitute for other forms of sexual pleasure. They considered masturbation a safety valve against destructive sexual frustration. The Greeks also dealt with female masturbation in both their art and writings. Greek women were often depicted using dildos or artificial phalluses made of leather, wood, or ivory for self-satisfaction.
With the Growing influence of the Christian Church, masturbation began to suffer a serious stigma. In the Judeo-Christian tradition prevalent throughout Western society, the main Scripture quoted by Christians to denounce masturbation is Genesis 38. In biblical times, under Jewish law, a brother was required to procreate with his brother's widow. Onan of Judah refused, and "spilled his seed" (i.e. ejaculated), on the ground instead. This is the origin of the term Onanism (The Sin of Onan) which is incorrectly used in place of masturbation—in fact, what really happened was premature withdrawal (i.e. coitus interruptus).
In the 20th Century, the medical community started to question the validity of linking the act of masturbation with psychiatric and medical illnesses.
Beginning with the Kinsey Report of 1948, masturbation was demystified and even discovered to be beneficial. In 1966, Masters & Johnson revealed the practice to be virtually universal in North America, cutting across all boundaries of sex, age, race, and social class. In 1971 Goldstein, Haeberle & McBride determined masturbation to be the most common form of sexual activity among humans.
Despite almost universal backing by modern medical and psychiatric communities, the actual practice and discussion of masturbation continues to be a social taboo within most societies. Former Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders was immediately dismissed by President Clinton in 1994 after she stated that masturbation "is something that is part of human sexuality and something that perhaps should be taught."
Masturbation continues to be a hot button issue, and, when not condemned by the Christian Right, is often addressed publicly by the liberal, sex-positive members of music, art and activist circles. Activists/Artists such as Annie Sprinkle, Betty Dodsen and Susie Bright have been tireless activists for all sorts of sexual expression, including masturbation. Sex experts like Dr. Ruth and Sue Johansen have found more mainstream ways to advocate masturbation as healthy sexual expression. There are plenty of masturbation-friendly sex-advice columns in mainstream city weekly papers, such as Dan Savage's syndicated column, Savage Love.
Musicians like Cyndi Lauper, Madonna, Prince, and the Devinyls had hit singles that addressed self-pleasure, and movies such as American Pie and Adaptation have shown masturbation in a human, ordinary light. Masturbation has been talked about on hit TV Shows such as Sex in the City, and is often discussed in mainstream magazines such as Self.
Vibrators have come a long way in the past century; a slew of new, pretty, humorous, and fancifully expensive vibrators have dominated the market. Many female-friendly sex-toy stores that feature vibrators have opened successfully all over the world, and online sex-toy stores have grown by leaps and bounds and offer endless varieties of masturbation-oriented toys for every taste and have made sex toy shopping available internationally. There is a National Masturbation Month and May 7th is Masturbation Day (don’t hold your breath hoping it will soon become a paid day off!).