Leah Rumack

Principles of Self-pleasure

In the early 1900s, schoolboys were terrorized by social purity educator Arthur W. Beall and the Women's Christian Temperance Union on the potential damaging effects of "self-abuse," including lesson number 9: "The more you use the penis muscle, the weaker it becomes."

And much to Beall's horror, there could be a lot of weak willies in the wind soon (leading to nervous degeneration and insanity), because the second annual national masturbate-athon is coming on May 7.

Chronic masturbators should take the day off work to raise money for the Black Coalition for AIDS Prevention.

"I think of it like Mother's Day," says Sandra Haar, the co-owner of Come as You Are, one of several sex shops across North America participating in the marathon.

San Francisco's Good Vibrations, the big mama of the funky sex shop universe, declared May National Masturbation Month five years ago. It is not, however, in The Farmer's Almanac.

Masturbation, says Haar, has poked its head out of the social stigma closet, but it still needs encouragement.

"It's seen as an adolescent thing -- like if you're an adult and doing it, you're kind of a loser."

Historically, masturbation has certainly been dealt a bad hand. In Genesis, God condemned Onan for spilling his seed on the ground rather than conceiving an heir by his widowed sister-in-law, Tamar. In the 16th century, a famous anonymous treatise entitled "Onanaia: or the heinous sin of self-pollution, and its frightful consequences in both sexes considered, with spiritual and physical advice to those who have already injured themselves by this abominable practice" set the tone for the anti-"self-abuse" diatribes of later generations.

Ills thought to be brought on by masturbation included stunted growth, cowardice, causing one's eyes to have a "dull, sheepish look" (well, duh), blindness, nymphomania and death.

"We are socialized to look at our bodes as a site of sin rather than a site of pleasure. Masturbation allows us to be in unity with all of who we are," says Juanita Smith, executive director of Black CAP sagely.

Joan Marsman, a sex therapist who runs orgasm support groups for women, says she encourages masturbation as a nice way to get to know yourself, but "if it causes you anxiety or nightmares, than don't do it. It is optional."

But if you think that just because the era of seeing masturbation as a sign of insanity is over, you try to get people to pay you -- by the minute -- for a masturbate-athon. (Is that a sponsorship form in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?)

It is fraught with social peril, as is evidenced by the prompt response I received from the first person to call when you're trying to raise money for a cause -- Mom.

"No. Go away. Get lost, you meshugina. What do you want from my life?"

Also included in the litany of responses were: several comments (one from boss) to the effect that "this could get expensive," two requests for pictorial evidence, one offer of webcam services, one offer of "No money, but you can fantasize about me," three mentions of my likely relative expertise in the area, and polite quantitative inquiries as to length of my personal record before committing to a per-minute rate.

"Maybe they're worried you'll wear yourself out," offers Haar helpfully.

I am truly devoted, but so far I've only raised a sorry $45.

So c'mon, Mom. Puleeze. Your donation will come in handy.

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