Being single sucks - and other times it blows. And still other times it's like an amazing this-is-just-the-way-I-want-to-live-my-life tune that floats through your mind as you survey the world in all its glory. It's a lie that we can't be happy alone. May is National Masturbation Month. Over the past five years, it's become my favourite holiday. While I don't get any presents or cards from my family, because of my job I do get to spend the month talking to people about jerking off. And people are fascinated. As one of four people working at a coalition of four feminist sex stores across North America, I've done hundreds of interviews around the world about National Masturbation Month .There's little that compares to the satisfaction of hearing about masturbation on Metro Morning - except maybe masturbation itself.
The skeptics among you may say that I love my Month so much because I'm not getting any on the outside. And while technically you'd be right, in practice you couldn't be more wrong.
About five months ago I decided to stop having sex with other people. This wasn't such a strange decision; it's something I'd done before when I've felt like the kind of sex I'm having isn't the kind of sex I want to be having. By that I don't mean I was having bad sex. Rather, it was like eating my very favourite foods but only when I wasn't hungry. It's still a very enjoyable experience, but the element of need isn't there. This has only happened twice in my life.
Being aware enough to make this distinction between desire and need is tricky. I like sex a lot, and making a conscious decision to have less sex seems counter-intuitive. Plus, the people I have sex with are always so nice and sweet and kind that I never really feel bad after having sex with them. But despite (or perhaps because of) being raised in the morally vacuous sex-will-set-you-free 70s, sometimes I feel that even the mostly good sex I'm having isn't the sex I want to be having.
So I've spent the last five months having sex with myself. (Actually, I've cheated on myself twice, but I've decided to keep it from myself. Sometimes it's better not to tell.)
I should say that I don't for a second consider this decision one that moves me into the celibate category. Sex is sex is sex. If you think orgasms brought on by yourself are karmically or cosmically different than orgasms brought on by someone else, you're only fooling yourself. (You sure aren't fooling God. God knows better.) If you're having sex with yourself and no one else you aren't virginal or a loser. In fact, you can have a perfectly bizarre, complicated, amazing and even fucked-up sex life when the only person you're doing is yourself. And when you really devote yourself to the task, amazing things can happen.
The last time I decided to stop having sex with other people, I learned several interesting tricks you can do with an ordinary wooden spoon and some Jell-O (tricks I no longer partake in now that I know what's actually in Jell-O).
One thing I love about masturbating is the fact that I can still surprise myself. You'd think that after fucking yourself, oh, a few thousand times, you'd pretty much know everything there is to know about how you get off. But you'd be wrong. I find that every time I go solo for more than a few weeks there are always a few new surprises around the corner - unfortunately, not always welcome ones. This time around, for example, I discovered a truly unenviable ability.
Here's what happened one night about a month ago.
I'm jerking off. Everything seems regular, and it's all going as I know it will. But once I'm finished, lying in bed I sense that something's amiss. I'm not feeling any of the usual relaxation or tingle-in-my-toes/flush-in-my-skin I've come to expect and love. Replaying the last 15 minutes in my mind, I realize that while I did in fact ejaculate, what I didn't do was have an orgasm. The next day I tell everyone at work about this, a little bit dumfounded.
I go home early that day to see if I can replicate the experience. And to my horror, I can. I haven't tried it again since, and now I live in fear that the old warning, "Don't make that face or your face will freeze that way," could apply to orgasms as well.
I'm not suggesting that everyone should stop having sex with other people and go on some sketchy New Age, learn-to-love-yourself journey of the soul. Not at all. I love having sex with other people. Hell, some of my best friends have sex with other people. But I think National Masturbation Month is a perfect time to reflect on the unique nature of our intimate sexual relationship with ourselves.
Since I was four and first discovered that pouring water over myself in the bathtub felt special and tingly (to say nothing of the fancy footwork of a certain GI Joe doll) I have only stopped masturbating twice in my life. Once was for a two-month period when I was 10 years old and learned about New Year's resolutions. The second time was when I spent a week living with my grandmother.
Aside from these two indiscretions I've remained a true and consistent lover to myself all these years. I've never chosen sex with someone else over sex with myself. (You can always have both, and anyway, how awful to reject oneself. How would you stand yourself up for a sex date and be able to talk to yourself the next day?)
The thing is, whether we like it or not, our sexual relationship with ourselves is the longest sexual relationship any of us will have. Some people, probably many people, consider masturbation second-best, the thing you do when you aren't having real sex.
I'm not trying to argue that sex with ourselves is better than, or more important than, sex with partners. That's a ridiculous argument to try to make. But because our sexual relationship with ourselves takes place over so many years, it seems silly to suppose that the way we feel about masturbation will stay the same.
Some of the best sex I've had is sex I've had with myself. Some of the most boring sex I've had I've also had with myself. And more than once I've fallen asleep while having sex with myself. (I can tell you there was plenty of explaining to do the next day.) What I am arguing, though, is that we should try to integrate masturbation into the list of all the kinds of sex we have. We need to stop thinking about it as something different, the "other" kind of sex.
What I would love is for us to give masturbation the same kind of credit and respect we give to all of our sexual relationships. When we masturbate (whether it's a four-hour-long self-love session or a quickie in the bathroom at work) we are loving ourselves. We are, on some small level, accepting ourselves and showing a kind of tenderness and attention that we can not only transfer to the way we treat others, but take into the non-sexual realms of the way we treat ourselves.
Cory Silverberg is a worker-owner at Come as You Are. He will be in this year's Masturbate-athon and at the annual Jerk Off! Cabaret at Buddies in Bad Times, May 23, 10:30 pm. firstname.lastname@example.org