(The M. Word)
In an alternate sense of the word, I have already masturbated my life away.
I have imagined fantasy sojourns to invented places; won fictitious victories; had successes and pleasures; and a million other visions. In my adventures as a superman I have swum out of the ocean after jumping 10 thousand feet from a crashing airplane; I have run for office to become Prime Minister and have camped out with the tribes until peace is won; I have invented underground trains that run at the speed of modern aircrafts using electromagnetic energy; I have changed the world. It has been fun but it has all been unreal; I did it all with closed eyes, inside a mind struggling to sleep.
Imagination knows no boundaries. We are all guilty of useless fantasizing and daydreaming. But what baffles me is that while it’s considered alright to daydream, yet an army of moral and religious policemen tries to hush up sexual imagination. Maybe society worries that openness to ideas of sexuality would breed disorder, create uninhibited individuals who would express more than their sexual imagination – perhaps violence and anarchism – and that we would lose respect for human relationships. Perhaps that’s why society puts such guilty labels as sinful, evil and immoral in big bold letters all over the acts of sexual fantasies, but in doing that, does not discriminate between masturbation and perversion, both of which are extremes of fantasizing – although one is completely harmless (to others) and the other may not be. No doubt that fantasy, masturbation and perversion are spread over the same spectrum and one can easily spill over into the other, and I understand society’s unease with perverts; but I don’t understand why a private act like masturbation has to be vilified to the extent that it is.
It is really odd that the clergy synonymizes masturbation with sex, as well as brands it an agent of bodily harm and moral degradation. There are no alternatives to sexual fascination in religion except a monogamous relationship – and we all know how well that has worked so far. What’s worse is the allegory that masturbation amounts to rape. It is an extreme position and could have arisen either because of some exaggerated insecurity resulting from an all-controlling religion’s inability to reign in all its believers, or something that happened with a past society that was destroyed because of its open lust for masturbation. I won’t be surprised if clerics cite Sodom and Gomorrah or the ancient Greek society with its perverted aristocrats as examples of such societies. But as I already said – perversion is not the same thing as masturbation – and therefore I am left to believe that it was the need, or a desire, of some of the older religions to control an individual’s private life that made them come down so hard on masturbation. Fantasies may be tolerated to some extent but no religion looks favorably upon masturbation.
But is there something really wrong with masturbation, at least biologically speaking? I think it’s a private process, or act, and may not necessarily be a bad thing because it helps fulfills the needs and desires of an individual (since a partner may not be close by to reciprocate or even appreciate an individual’s needs or desires). It is useful because it does not need proximity for fulfilling a simple human pleasure. It is harmless to the one (or many) imagined in the process. I personally believe that fantasizing to masturbate helps an individual explore his or her sexual needs and is therefore a necessary exercise for the mind. Just as a young child cannot imagine a sphere without first knowing a circle, a human mind cannot explore all its sexual needs without first letting all the urges, images and fantasies that constantly oscillate inside the mind go wild. For those of us who believe that we are constantly changing, wouldn’t our definitions of pleasure and our wants for stimulation change with us as well? And therefore I find it foolish to think that masturbation is just a teenage kind of thing.
Up until now I have tried to suggest that sexual fantasizing and masturbation are not biological aberrations. However, the whole idea of fantasy and experimentation hangs at such a slippery precipice that it could possibly drag a society down into a moral abyss. But even with such fears, mainstream religions cannot be allowed to clutch the human mind into such violent submission against a basic proclivity. The only case I see against masturbation is “addiction”. The tendency to want sexual pleasures solely through masturbation or to overdo it can affect a person socially and it can destroy relationships but so can addiction to food, drugs, sex, alcohol, and gambling. Every society has its share of addicts; China was infamous for its heroin-addicts, India and Pakistan has its share ofpaan-chewers. Alcoholism is common in Europe and US and I am sure there are a hundred other stimulants with millions hooked to them all around the globe. Interestingly enough every society also has its own unique contributing factors to addiction: economic woes, thriving drug trade, repression, ease of access or quite often just a popular trend among a social class. While I am not an expert on addictions of all forms, I do know that no form of addiction is universal, even within the most addicted society; I also know that most addictions result from the struggle between hormones and neurotransmitters that make us seek gratification and pleasure and the frontal lobe that keeps us in check. My mind gives in more easily to the call of calmness that comes with the release of dopamine and the actual calmness associated with it. I am scared of dopamine’s control on me and scared of overindulging in simple pleasures; scared for the diminishing returns. My intellect warns me that I am becoming anti-social and becoming more isolated. I am not fighting to stop myself from pleasures; I am fighting to not become an addict.
I guess my point is that the only way to talk about masturbation in an open way is to treat it like a potent addictive stimulant, not by doing the opposite i.e. treating it the way most religions have treated it so far. Maybe I am the odd one out but I highly doubt that there are adults in this world who have never ‘done it’ so let’s act a little maturely. This is not a fight between religion and biology; this is merely a difficult conversation. I don’t want people up in arms; I want to know how far we really are from the edge of the cliff? I am not asking for a million-march with placards in people’s hands saying ‘I masturbate’ I am only saying: I am tired of lying.