Long, long ago, when I was a sexual neophyte, I was ashamed to admit that I played with myself. Most people (especially women) go through this, and most get over it. I obviously got over it. But I went beyond leaping over the hurdle of masturbatory shame to discover the immense pleasures of masturbating with a partner, an exchange so innocently naughty that prude vanilla types would recoil at the thought. I don’t mean each person using his/her hands to get the other off—that’s standard. What I’m referring to is a mutual masturbation, where each person manually stimulates his/herself in front of the other. Kissing or any other contact may or may not be included.
Here’s an example: I was in a relationship that involved a temporary exclusivity agreement. While my boyfriend (Rick) was out of town, I had a dangerously flirtatious e-mail exchange with a friend who I’ll call Slick Wiggler. One night I became possessed with lust and found myself at Slick’s apartment. We were so hot for each other that we could barely keep our hands to ourselves. To heighten the tension even more, I had met him through my boyfriend and they were friends. I told Slick about the agreement. “I respect that, and I don’t want to upset Rick … oh but you’re turning me on … What do we do?” Suddenly I had an idea. “Maybe there’s a way we can get around it,” I said. He was intrigued. “What’s that?” “Well, we could get off without having sex, just masturbate in front of each other. No penetration, no oral, no genital-to-genital contact. That way we wouldn’t be breaking any agreements.” He penetrated me with his eyes. “That’s hot. I’m up for it, as long as you’re OK with it.” OK with it? I was thrilled with the concept. Backing out of pleasure is not my style; after all, I didn’t just accidentally end up in Slick’s apartment. I felt evilly noble in my decision and have no regrets. It was one of those incredible sexual experiences worth writing about.
Mutual masturbation is hot! Placing a limit on sexual contact heightens arousal, whether the distance is imposed (as in my case with Slick) or experimental. Physical separation encourages eye contact—with a full view of each other, energy passes more expansively through the space, encompassing the whole being, as opposed to oral sex and some fucking positions that make it easy to get lost in your own pleasure. As you tickle your pickles together, touching feet or sensual kisses can enhance the connection. What is most erotic about jerking off in front of someone? Each person is equally sexually vulnerable. When someone is watching you do what you’ve been doing in private since you were a virgin, probably before you knew anything about sex, you’re exposing something very personal. Sharing in this way is like telling secrets.
I recently was at a sensual soiree with some friends. We decided to create a masturbation circle: Our feet met in the middle as we played with ourselves. Eyes darted about furiously … The energy was so intense, I had to close my eyes for a few moments to concentrate, but even with my eyes closed, I could feel everyone’s pleasure mounting. Amazingly, we all came at around the same time. Not only is mutual masturbation an alternative to cheating (if, in the best of all possible worlds, you agree with your partner that masturbating with someone else is OK), it’s also a safe way to ease into group sex. Masturbation is the only truly safe sex you can experience with another person.
But is it really sex? If a 15-year-old girl masturbated with ten different partners but never had intercourse or oral sex, is she a virgin? The dictionary defines sex as sexual intercourse. Bill Clinton said oral sex isn’t sex and now teenagers are adding fellatio and cunnilingus to their high school curriculums, while abstinence-only programs keep mum about the M word. Leslee Unruh, leader of the abstinence movement in the notoriously conservative state of South Dakota, has described masturbation as “the first stage of sexual addiction.” Well then, according to her warped view of the world, I must be a sex addict along with everyone else who masturbates on a regular basis! If high school sex educators presented masturbation as a positive, healthy practice, unwanted pregnancies and STI’s would decrease significantly, and more teens would feel good about their sexuality. The fact that many young people prefer oral sex to unprotected intercourse is a step in the right direction, but having mutual masturbation as an acceptable alternative would not only encourage them to be more sexually responsible, it could help them become more confident, open-minded individuals.
Shame is the first stage of sexual addiction, not masturbation. And masturbation is sex in my book. If you can’t give sexual pleasure to yourself, you can’t truly give it to somebody else. If I had known that long, long ago, I would’ve had one less hurdle to jump.