"Individuality is fine," Major Frank Burns once said on "M*A*S*H," "so long as we all do it together."
And that pretty much sums it up. As much as Americans are herdlike followers of trends in pop culture, religion and politics, we still celebrate our individualism. We love ourselves and romanticize the image of the lone wolf, the rebel, the cheese who stands alone. And I can't think of a better way to celebrate the love of self than to celebrate the fact that May is Masturbation Month.
It may not be what the Founding Fathers had in mind when they took up arms against the Brit oppressor, but that does not mean that this celebration of the individual isn't worth sitting back (or lying back, depending on where you are) and appreciating. It is, after all, free and socially responsible. And — to paraphrase Woody Allen — masturbation relieves tension, unlike love, which causes it.
In my mind, full and healthy social acceptance of masturbation came in There's Something About Mary, when Cameron Diaz casually discussed her vibrator with her friends.
It's tough to appreciate how easily most of society now accepts this simple joy unless you understand that it used to be treated as nothing less than a vile sickness. If you were found out to be enjoying yourself, you wouldn't get locked up ... but parts of you might.
According to The Sex Lover's Book of Lists by Ron Louis and David Copeland (Reward Books, 2001), up until the 1930s masturbation was regarded as smoking is today — a social evil. As a result, between 1856 and 1932 the U.S. Patent Office awarded 33 patents to inventors of painful and humiliating devices to stop masturbation, or even involuntary nocturnal erections.
One simple approach was to tie up the person, or the penis, so tightly as to make any movement impossible. But then there were devices like the spike-lined penis ring, a metal cage which allowed for erections but prevented the wearer from touching them. There was also The Bowen Device, a cup or harness that fit over the head of the penis. It was attached to the pubic hair by chains and clips. If the wearer got an erection, the pubic hair would be pulled painfully. This would wake the sleeping patient, giving him the opportunity to "prevent or check the discharge." The prevalence of such devices makes one wonder if they used to be as popular as "the patch" is for smokers today.
Masturbation was regarded with such disgust that people couldn't even admit it was going on. Any errant seminal emissions were blamed on a disease called "spermatorrhea."
If this brief history doesn't make you better appreciate the state of sexual freedom we enjoy today (though in some regards we have a way to go) then you're probably very tense and need to relax. Guess what would be a good way for you to do that.
First, it's probably a good idea for you to find a place where you can be totally alone (although masturbating with a partner is perfectly fine and could be fun). I've read that women can set the right atmosphere for themselves by putting on relaxing music and lighting candles. That sounds OK, but, in my opinion, if you're going to all that much trouble you might as well just get a partner.
If you need help engaging yourself but don't want it from an actual human being, there are places to go. Women, in particular, should try the Good Vibrations website (www.goodvibes.com). It is operated by the 25-year-old, women-owned co-op that founded Masturbation Month.
On the site, you can visit the Antique Vibrator Museum to learn about the history of this beloved instrument. You'll also find lots of products to help romance yourself, like The Itty Bitty Keychain ("You'll never misplace your keys again once you attach your vibrator to them!") and Fukuoku Pets ("Finger puppetry has never been so erotic!"). The puppets are little silicone sleeves shaped like Australian animals in case you want to pretend like you're jacking or jilling off in the outback. After all, Good Vibrations' slogan for this month is "Think Globally, Masturbate Locally."
Speaking of local, another means of enhancing your pleasure is as close as your friendly neighborhood adult-video, book and "novelty" shop. Try putting your hands on some CyberSkin. It's the latest rage in the grown-up toy market, a material that feels so much like real human skin that it may creep you out a little — just before you fall in love with whatever object of your desire it has been molded or shaped into.
So do yourself — and those around you who would like it if you were calmer — a favor: Celebration Masturbation Month. Go screw yourself!Liz Langley writes for Orlando Weekly. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org