As any baby boomer who once kept a pile of moldering Playboys under his mattress will tell you, the internet revolutionized masturbation. But the instant access to (and dizzying proliferation of) graphic porn is only half the story. By creating a network suitable for spreading content that inclines us toward self-pleasure, we also gave ourselves a venue to discuss how, when and why we like to achieve solo orgasms.
Perhaps you’ve indirectly engaged this collective masturbation consciousness — filtering your PornHub search results by “Most Viewed” or “Top Rated,” for example. Maybe you’re more proactive, telling camgirls what you’d like to see them do next time around. There’s a chance you’ve even gotten into an argument with a stranger about stroking it to fake tits versus real ones — captured for our amusement by eagle-eyed individuals who evidently spend just as much time on these streaming sites, but for their concept blogs. The subtext of PornHub Comments on Stock Photos, PornHub Comments on Valentines, et al., is a simple, Seinfeldian question: What’s the deal with these people?
If replying to an article on a news outlet’s Facebook page is like shouting into the abyss, then posting on PornHub about how hard you came to an incest scene should be akin to whispering into your own asshole. The major difference with porn is that people actually click past the headline before offering their sticky two cents. Comment sections on porn videos are, for my money, way more entertaining and informative than anything you’d find scrolling down past the bottom of a New York Times op-ed. Hell, the folks over at PornHub even had some decent advice for a guy trying to improve his lasagna.
This is merely scratching the surface, however. If we want to know the secrets to masturbatory bliss, we can Google them. Teen Vogue has the search-optimization lock on guides for both penis-pumpers and clit-flickers; Men’s Health promises new tricks you’ve never heard of; and Women’s Health wants to help you have way more fun.
In pieces like these, and people’s willingness to talk about their own self-stimulation on social media, you can feel a taboo melting away. Bizarre to think that 23 years ago, Bill Clinton fired Joycelyn Elders, the first African-American surgeon general of the United States, for saying that challenging the moral stigma around masturbation could potentially reduce unsafe sex and underage pregnancy. The culture warriors who called for her head back then would likely still disagree today — but would their opinions matter as much?
For hard proof of a turn toward accepting the impulse, not to mention a completely unfiltered conversation about getting your rocks off, look no further than Reddit’s r/masturbation. Here you will find answers to all the great questions, including:
Are you able or willing to masturbate with your cat in the same room?
Would it be okay, at age 13, to ask your mom if you can get a vibrator?
And, of course: Is your orgasm better if you haven’t had one in a while?
Other societies, outside or predating the last few centuries of Western civilization, have sometimes (though not always) been this candid about autostimulation. Yet while the ancient Greeks considered masturbation so ordinary as to be of little interest, and Egyptian myth says the god first Atum had union with his hand to spur creation, history seems lacking in examples of public, collaborative, amateur research on the act.
“I randomly found it three years ago,” moderator SirNeon says of the r/masturbation subreddit. “It was abandoned, so I grabbed it through /r/redditrequest. At the time, it was mixed with porn, spam and discussion.” When he took control of the forum and asked users what they wanted out of it, they opted for the ongoing roundtable, “since there’s plenty of other places for porn.” SirNeon, when he’s not posting about politics or moderating the 26 other subreddits in his purview, manages this community of 8,000 members alone. It’s generally low-maintenance: “I usually only have to remove spam.”
“I’d say it’s turned into a place where people ask questions they have and share their experiences,” is how SirNeon describes the evolution of this hub. “The community itself mostly seems to be people looking for information about the subject.” In keeping with the forum’s normalized view of masturbation, he says he doesn’t recall any strange or surprising posts that “have particularly stood out” to him.
In clicking around myself, I’m rather bewildered by the detailed jerk-off diaries — but I guess I’m the weird one here.
For those who would rather cut down on their manual self-gratification, there’s r/NoFap, a subreddit dedicated to helping users abstain from porn and masturbation, usually for a set period of time. They call this “rebooting.” The community has 30 times as many members as r/masturbation — nearly a quarter million — and the supportive atmosphere owes something to addiction recovery programs like Alcoholics Anonymous. But while r/NoFap is the spiritual “opposite” of r/masturbation according to SirNeon, it’s not religious, and it’s not judgmental; it’s just self-help. Moreover, you can see that the rival channels in fact hew to many of the same principles: honesty, the dismissal of shame and an eagerness to share intimate particulars that are rarely if ever spoken aloud.
Whether you’re an inveterate masturbator or master of your domain, it’s easy (and tempting) to find this stuff undignified. What happens between you and your junk, as with the dynamic of your partnered love life, doesn’t necessarily call for a wider audience, and you may prefer to keep the process entirely private — an isolated pain or delight. But those who discount the kindness and understanding of people who face the same problems and seek the same joy are deliberately retreating from a digital landscape where anonymity makes it possible to say whatever’s on our mind. Instead of using that privilege to troll and harass, we can make connections where they never existed. Because if the web shows us anything, it’s that we’re never actually alone.