Masturbation had achieved the height of its moral prestige


Freud’s favorite sexologist, Havelock Ellis, unleashed the dignified term “autoeroticism” on the world in 1899. The date was fitting, for the century that followed was nothing other than the triumphal march of masturbation—from Freud’s Dora to Joyce’s letters to Nora (“Are you too, then, like me, one moment high as the stars, the next lower than the lowest wretches?”) and Leopold Bloom on the beach (“And then Mr. Bloom adjusted with a careful hand his wet shirt”), to Kinsey and Masters and Johnson and back to Molly Bloom, yes yes yes, and Anaïs Nin of course and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick claiming that the sisters in Sense and Sensibility were masturbating (poor Jane Austen—you understate a few things and this is what they do), and then Ginsberg masturbating while his mother died, and Portnoy, and Woody Allen (“Now you’re knocking my hobbies!”), and that movie where Cameron Diaz had semen in her hair the whole time. Most touching in this procession is the extent to which male and female masturbation went hand in hand, so to speak, into the bright masturbatory future. Even radical feminists, who stressed the female right to self-pleasure in the face of male sexual incompetence, graciously extended the olive branch on this one point. For wasn’t the masturbating youth just as defenseless in our culture as the objectified, sexualized female? At one point the feminist writer Lonnie Barbach even suggested that men’s propensity to ejaculate before their female partners had achieved orgasm was the result not of selfishness but of an oppressive anti-masturbatory regime that taught boys to come as quickly as possible so as to avoid detection by their parents and schoolmasters. Now this—this was solidarity. Masturbation had achieved the height of its moral prestige.

more from n+1 here.