Masturbation – once known as self-abuse – a subject of universal interest from the moment one first learns about or experiences it. There’s no point in denying it and hiding one’s head in shame, everybody does it. There was a time, not so very long ago, when it was believed to be the cause of blindness, madness, and ultimately even death and boys from a tender age were warned in no uncertain terms of the dangers.
Books for boys were written about it and no doubt the writer at the time was having a jolly good slaver over what he was writing and being frequently forced to wipe his chops so as not to dribble on the paper. I remember as a very young schoolboy a joke played on innocents which went, if you wank too much you grow hair on your hands, and watching as the young innocent surreptitiously tried to look at his hands to see if it was true and his secret game was up. Was it in the play ‘Boys In The Band’ that a character says the good thing about masturbation is you don’t have to look your best?
So, according to the Sunday Times review, what does Mels van Driel, a Dutch urologist whose previous book was a history of the penis have to say about it in his book, “With The Hand”? Well, from the nineteenth century’s blindness, madness, and certain death we now have: “It is a cure for hiccups and insomnia, (top sheet tapping I know it as) helps keep women’s blood pressure low and reduces the risk of prostate cancer in older men. It features in paintings by Titian and Gorgione, in drawings by Klimnt and Rembrandt (and probably by modern painters like Hockney maybe?) and in writings by everyone from Rousseau to Philip Roth and surprisingly Emily Dickenson. Now there’s a turn up for the books. It is pleasurable and exceedingly common but something we don’t like to talk about. According to Doctor van Driel the anti-masturbation hysteria of the post-Enlightenment was the strange child of Christian distrust of non-procreative sex and quack medicine and began with the Swiss physician Samuel-Auguste Tissot He warned that it causes haemorrhoids, tuberculosis and paralysis and recommended severing the nerves at the head of the penis (Ouch!) His many followers added to the list emaciation, listlessness, asthma, acne, warts, cramps and, yes, blindness and created fresh sadistic cures like “sewing shut” performed without anaesthetic of course. Circumcision was thought to be a preventative and Sylvester Graham, inventor of the cracker, and John Harvey Kellogg came up with their diet-based solutions, though how corn flakes was meant to stop people wanking I simply can’t fathom. Neither can anyone else I shouldn’t wonder. In certain sleazy joints men pay money to be masturbated by an unseen hand and sympathetic medics have been known to do it for patients unable to do it for themselves.
So to wind up, are we humans the only animal who masturbates? Far from it. Parakeets do it, pigeons do it, porcupines do it. Male elephants auto-fellate with their trunks and females give their vulvas a satisfying slap with their tails. Horses do it by slapping the penis against their bellies. And of course our nearest relatives the apes do it. I remember as a kid visiting the Johannesburg zoo where a chimp was a great exhibitionist proudly doing it in front of an audience and if the audience, out of embarrassment, moved, he moved with it keeping up the good work all the while.
Finally there is a wonderful video on the net showing a commentator in the foreground blissfully unaware of a great big buckaroo behind him lying back and wanking itself to a standstill.