Go masturbate! Seriously!
I have never believed that masturbation was a layover on the way to secure (or consistent) partnership or, as some would have it, an adolescent habit on the way to adulthood. Earlier in my sex-career, I discovered that finding sex was hard work. First, the finding, then the having, then the after-having. (Usually, the after-having was a lot of work. But sometimes also the having—I get bored easily.)
Masturbation solves many of these labor issues.
And it need not be selfish, to kill yet another myth. Shared and public masturbation can be intensely pleasurable. I have spent many wonderful hours watching masturbation happen, sometimes joining in, sometimes just enjoying the spectacle. These moments have been filled with generosity, tenderness, playfulness, and experimentation. And while some of us might really just be into “getting off,” understanding masturbation as a simple transaction—pull-hard-cum (this being how a good friend once described his patterns)—others attend to the leisure of exploration—they know how to “edge.” To balance on the knife edge for hours at a time, sometimes as pleasurable or even more so than the act of release. The sustained hum of the edge, the accumulation of pleasure-tension feels oh-so-good. Little touches it.
As feminist sex activists discovered in the 1970s, masturbation is an act of giving oneself permission, of learning the importance of pleasuring oneself. There are psychic and social benefits to this, and here I use language from Audre Lorde:
The erotic is a measure between the beginnings of our sense of self and the chaos of our strongest feelings. It is an internal sense of satisfaction to which, once we have experienced it, we know we can aspire. For having experienced the fullness of this depth of feeling and recognizing its power, in honor and self-respect we can require no less of ourselves.
Beyond the superficial, the considered phrase, “It feels right to me,” acknowledges the strength of the erotic into a true knowledge, for what that means is the first and most powerful guiding light toward any understanding. And understanding is a handmaiden which can only wait upon, or clarify, that knowledge, deeply horn. The erotic is the nurturer or nursemaid of all our deepest knowledge.
Another important way in which the erotic connection functions is the open and fearless underlining of my capacity for joy. In the way my body stretches to music and opens into response, hearkening to its deepest rhythms, so every level upon which I sense also opens to the erotically satisfying experience, whether it is dancing, building a book- case, writing a poem, examining an idea.
That self-connection shared is a measure of the joy which I know myself to be capable of feeling, a reminder of my capacity for feeling. And that deep and irreplaceable knowledge of my capacity for joy comes to demand from all of my life that it be lived within the knowledge that such satisfaction is possible, and does not have to be called marriage, nor god, nor an afterlife.
This is one reason why the erotic is so feared, and so often relegated to the bedroom alone, when it is recognized at all. For once we begin to feel deeply all the aspects of our lives, we begin to demand from ourselves and from our life-pursuits that they feel in accordance with that joy which we know ourselves to be capable of Our erotic knowledge empowers us, becomes a lens through which we scrutinize all aspects of our existence, forcing us to evaluate those aspects honestly in terms of their relative meaning within our lives. And this is a grave responsibility, projected from within each of us, not to settle for the convenient, the shoddy, the conventionally expected, nor the merely safe.
Lorde’s insistence on the importance of “it feels good to me” and her claim that being “in touch” with the pleasure of the erotic gives flesh to the demands we can make on the world remain powerfully provocative. I want to use these two to think a little about Philip Kitoto’s agony aunt column on masturbation, or what the newspaper copywriters have termed “self-abuse.”
“Masturbation causes a lot of stress, shame, depression, guilt and low self-esteem in those who practise it. . . . Understanding the causes of this habit helps you to get to the root of the cycle.”
This promising caption precedes several letters:
I have a problem with masturbation and pornography. I have never really understood how it started since I grew up a chaste man.
Things changed about four years ago. I am approaching my dream marriage age (26 years) and I want to end this so that I can have a good marriage. Please help me since it is becoming serious.
First is to thank you for your informative column. In last week’s column you discussed a problem that I am currently suffering; masturbation.
I wish to disclose to you that I have been suffering this problem for the past 22 years. I am now 35 years old and tired of the suffering I have been going through. Please help me.
I would like to thank you for your good work. I am a regular reader of your DN2 column.
Due to the fact that I work outside the country, I found it difficult to meet and get into relationships with women, so I found myself engaging in masturbation. My problem is that I am now addicted to it. Please help.
Responding to these queries, Kitoto offers up these gems:
Since masturbation is a physical act of exciting the sexual organs by rubbing, stroking, or fondling, it may be as a result of sexual habits that develop during adolescence, sexual abuse, and lack of love and support while growing up and enticements that come through subjecting one’s mind to pornography or cyber sex.
Recognising that the time one would have spent building productive relationships is now spent trying to achieve an elusive satisfaction will help you come up with strategies to help you overcome the habit.
Most people caught in the habit of masturbation tend to feel helpless, but this should not be the case.
Breaking the cycle of masturbation is a process and will require a lot of time, willpower, and accountability support from yourself and a counsellor.
Those familiar with the history of anti-masturbation campaigns will recognize Kitoto’s rhetoric—masturbation is infantilizing; it robs a nation of useful erotic energy; erotic energy should be directed to hetero-reproduction; God is watching. What worries me is that Kitoto writes in the major Kenyan newspaper. He has a reach and grasp and hold (yes, I use these terms deliberately) that is difficult, if not impossible, to match. No matter how many pro-masturbation and pro-sex individuals take to twitter or blog, he has a massive headstart on his shame-spreading crusade.
Shame is a vicious instrument of control. Hierarchy-producing and hierarchy-sustaining, it shepherds those who are often seeking guidance and those willing to confess their vulnerabilities into self-destructive and often pleasure-denying lifestyles. (Yes, I am aware of the very sophisticated work done on shame, but allow me this).
I am worried when young men (only young men?) believe that masturbation and marriage are incompatible or even that masturbation might make marriage impossible or unbearable. I wonder what this reticence over masturbation suggests about how we learn about other people’s bodies and pleasures. I fret over our own reluctance to explore (and even celebrate) our bodies and our capacities to experience pleasure. Learning from Lorde, I wonder about the attenuated modes of existing we term living, about the demands we are unwilling or unable to make of each other and of ourselves.
Something interesting (even useful) happens when we are able to envision our bodies and those that surround us as being capable of intense pleasure, as more than useful bags that transport inner essences (call this soul or spirit) from place to place. There is something interesting (even useful) in understanding a capacity for pleasure as one of the things that binds us–this from the capacity for simple laughter to the pleasures of erotic play. Something interesting (even useful) happens when we are able to multiply the ways we can imagine embodied points of commonality.
I understand that Kitoto writes within a specific faith framework and I want to respect the practices and beliefs of that framework–in other words, I’m not invested in urging those who view masturbation as sin to commit sin. However, his writing extends beyond that framework to all potential readers of The Daily Nation. The newspaper gives him a powerful platform to address the curious, the hungry, the experimenting, the young, and groups that I cannot envision. He speaks to multiple publics, and I would like those publics to have additional frameworks, to be able to choose how to live, whether that includes masturbation or not.