Monday, July 21, 2014


So here’s what we know:

    A 14-year-old boy in San Diego, Calif., killed himself last fall after a fellow
    student snuck into their high-school bathroom and recorded a video of him
    masturbating in a stall.  The student…posted the video on social media, it…
    went viral, and two weeks later, on American Thanksgiving weekend, Mat-
    thew, bullied, friendless and beyond comforting, took his own life.*  

When I read this, I was angry, really angry.  But perhaps not for the reason you might think.  Sure, there’s a whole lot wrong with what happened here; however, I don’t believe one of them was the young man masturbating, not even in a bathroom stall at school. 

No, the real problem is our culture’s perception of masturbation.  If jacking off was not so stigmatized, there’s a good chance Matthew’s classmate wouldn’t have recorded him doing it.  With no video, nothing would have been posted online or gone viral, and a Southern California family would still have their son today. 

I don’t care where you stand on the subject of masturbation, I think we all agree this young man should not have ended his life because of the embarrassment, shame, or guilt associated with it.   

Over the years, I’ve learned a good number of my readers, particularly those who take the time to contact me, are young people, both male and female.  No one in their family is gay (that they know of, anyway), so, in a sense, they see me as a surrogate father, someone they can trust.  I’m gay and older, I’ve been in a relationship with another man for over twenty years, and I have some experience behind me.  As a result, they feel comfortable talking to me, opening up, telling me what’s going on in their lives, what some of their concerns are.  And they ask questions.  I believe, from reading my posts, they know I’ll be straight with them, and tell it like it is. 

That’s why I’m going there today–all the way there.  That’s why I’m talking about masturbation.  As we’ve seen in the case of Matthew Burdette, the stakes are too high if we keep silent, if we don’t tell young people what they want to know, what they need to know.  If parents or guardians or someone in authority isn’t comfortable telling them, then I will.    

And I’ll start, as I usually do, by talking about my own experience, so you know I know what I’m talking about.    

I masturbate.  There.  Another closet behind me.  If admitting I masturbate makes you laugh, or squirm, or somehow lessens your opinion of me, then so be it.  I’d rather be honest than not.  As I see it, what’s the point of writing this, or any post here, if I don’t tell you the truth?  If I don’t opt to help instead of hide.   

I’ve masturbated for as long as I can remember, starting when I was a little boy and had no idea what I was doing.  All I knew was, it felt good, I liked it, and, after it was done, I felt sleepy (in fact, many doctors recommend insomniacs masturbate before bed, because it reduces anxiety, relaxes, and encourages sleep).   

I continue to masturbate today, even though I have a partner.  I enjoy having sex with Chris, but I also enjoy having sex on my own.  Chris knows I masturbate and has no problem with it.  He doesn’t believe, as some do, that it takes away from our sex life.  Sometimes, we even masturbate together.  Sex is a multi-faceted experience.  There are all kinds of things to do, either with someone or alone.    

A lot of myths surround masturbation; perhaps you’ve heard some of them.  Like, if you do it, you’ll go blind.  Or you’ll grow hair on your palms.  Or you’ll get acne.  Ridiculous.  Believe me, if they were true, I’d be afflicted by all of them.  And, just in case I need to say this, I’m not.  Nor are 95 per cent of men, and 60 to 80 per cent of women, who are reported to also masturbate.   

When it comes to masturbation, I’m particularly concerned with our culture’s misguided perception of it.  And how you might perceive it, as a result, or perceive yourself, if you do it.   

So, let me be clear on this.  It’s possible you’ve gotten information from somewhere that jacking off is wrong.  Or shameful.  Or self-indulgent.  Or something else that’s negative or awful or even sinful, because of religious beliefs, or because whoever told you was embarrassed and wanted the subject to go away, or because he didn’t want to admit he does it himself.  But all of that is nonsense.  To repeat, it’s nonsense.  Don’t believe any of it.  

Masturbation is useful.  If you have no one in your life, which a good many people don’t, you can still be sexual (as you should be), and still enjoy one of the most pleasurable experiences available to us as human beings (and it’s completely safe sex).  Masturbation is good for learning what you like and what you don’t like; what feels good and what doesn’t feel good.  There’s nothing wrong with knowing your body, exploring your sexuality, enjoying what you’ve been given–even if it’s by yourself.  What you learn will make you more self-aware, and it will make your sex life with a partner more fulfilling. 

So, if you feel guilty because you masturbate, stop it.  You have no reason to.  

In the end, masturbation is no different from eating, or sleeping, or going to the bathroom, or any other function we do.  It’s perfectly natural and normal, not shameful or self-indulgent or sinful.  And we owe it to ourselves, and each other, to see it that way.  I do it, and millions and millions of people around the world do it.  There’s no reason why you shouldn't too.    

In his article, referred to below in the footnote, Peter Scowen, editorial writer and editor at The Globe, writes:  

    In the absence of even nominal public education about masturbation, what Matthew
    Burdette needed was some person of stature in his social circle–a teacher, or a jock, or
    maybe a celebrity–to step forward and admit, I do that too.  In the absence of that,
    and if it could help other boys struggling with the fear, guilt and shame of being
    caught, maybe all of us men should find the courage to stand up and say, don’t worry,
    guys, you’re not alone.                              

So here I am, standing up and saying it.  You are not alone.  I masturbate.  And it’s okay if you do too.
* Quotes are from “Masturbation is…a Sin, Selfish, Healthy, Harmless, a Weakness, Human Nature, the Last Taboo,” by Peter Scowen, The Globe and Mail, Saturday, July 19, 2014, p. F4.


  1. I find it interesting that you write about that. In my experience, the problems associated with masterbation seem to be linked culturally. Where I come from it's not a stigma or a problem, it's just something.

    In North America, there is still a lot of society that is built on puritanical belief system, and shame and guilt plays a huge role. It's unfortunate, but it's sadly the way it is.

    1. Wow, oskyldig. I didn't think I'd get a single comment on this post, so shocked or offended or upset some of my readers might be that I brought up the subject. Just goes to show, as you say, the European sensibility–at least some European countries–is much different from the North American.

      It's past time we recognize masturbation as a healthy part of everyone's sex life, and there should be absolutely no shame or guilt associated with it. If I can generate some discussion around the subject, get people thinking about it a little differently, more openly, so much the better. Then putting myself out there will be worth it.

      Thanks for your terrific comment. I really appreciate your interest.

    2. Well I'm going to take a little bit of a different direction on this reply. While you indicate it as being a healthy part of (most) people's sex life, you have to remember that there are two sides to many coins.

      I have encountered communities of "NoFappers" on the internet; mostly men who have become addicted to pornography and as a result the PMO (Porn, Masterbation, Orgasm) has ruined their lives and relationships. These members try desperately to reprogram their brains and kick, essentially an addiction.

      While it is in fact a personal choice, I think that people need to become aware of what drives and controls their habits when it comes to this, as well as other things. While there is nothing wrong with it, you have to accept that people may abstain for personal reasons, and it in no way should stigmatise them in the same way that you write about people who do masterbate are stigmatised.

      Just some food for thought. :)

    3. Good point, oskyldig, and I couldn't agree more.

      I suppose masturbation, like anything, can be taken to an extreme. But that's not the context in which I'm writing about it here.

      In the normal course, I believe masturbation has it's place in most people's lives, as well as in the sex lives of well-adjusted and loving couples.

      Thanks for sharing. Your comment is an important one.

  2. I cannot claim to know the intent of the boy taking the video, the school who indulged in the viral sensation, or the poor soul who ended his life over it. I do know that even though most schools educate on masturbation, and even if a celebrity comes out and says it's ok, kids will still find ways to mock each other over a number of vulnerabilities, and this will always be one of them. I somehow believe that the key here is vulnerability. The boy was caught doing something private, which should be private, and some boys looking to further isolate a boy who was already on the shit list used that to their advantage. My suspicion is that even if they caught the boy taking a dump, or walking around with a booger on his face or toilet paper on his shoe, they would have exploited that just as much. This is how things go in high school. Not to condone the behavior at all, I just think it's a deeper issue than allowing discourse about masturbation. I think sensitivity training towards people in general is warranted.

    1. Simon, I couldn't agree more. I really appreciate your thoughtful comment on this unfortunate situation.

      That said, if what I wrote in this post can remove even a little of the stigma and shame associated with what I believe is a very human (and common) activity, and help to make a young person feel better about what he does, then it will have been worth my while.

      But, yes, kids will always be kids. I don't think even sensitivity training would have made a difference in this case.

      I'm hopeful the young man, who took the video and posted it, learned his lesson as a result of what happened. Imagine having the suicide of another human being hanging over your head for the rest of your life.