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.