There’s a lot of talk about shame connected with the art and the act of masturbation; sometimes it’s overt, immediate and very hard to deal with because it comes from outside yourself, but sometimes you don’t understand the effects until you look back on it from a position of much greater experience, when you’re able to recognize your own participation. When I was a kid, I didn’t have any sense of shame regarding self-pleasure; my parents weren’t especially religious, and in spite of being raised in an at least nominally Catholic environment, I didn’t hear anything much about it. On the few occasions I attended confession, it didn’t even occur to me to mention how much I enjoyed my time in the bathroom with mom’s hand soap. Masturbation was a secret thing, but not because it was shameful or embarrassing – more because it was a body function, private like the rest of them. I had, as I think everyone has, a couple of instances of getting walked in on by family members, but it was the same reaction, for me anyway, as I would have had if the bathroom door had opened while I was on the toilet.
It took accession to adulthood for me to find out what it meant to be embarrassed about masturbating, and it arrived in a most unexpected way. Sometime around my early twenties, I started imagining, just after coming, what my grandfather would think if he could see me. He’d been dead for fifteen years by then, we’d never been especially close, never talked about the subject, and he hadn’t even been the kind of guy who would have had a big opinion about it – he was a lazy Lutheran at best, and probably an atheist by the time I go to know him. Why he showed up in my imagination, looking down with mild disapproval from a Heaven even I didn’t believe in, I’ll never know, but there he was; for a couple of years, every time I sagged back onto the bed, splattered with jizz and breathing hard, I’d think of him being faintly disappointed in what I’d made of myself. And then he went away.
It’s possible that his ghost just decided that I wasn’t going to get any better and wandered off to do other more rewarding ghost things, but I think it’s a lot more likely that the change came when I met a girl in college who confided to me that she had always wanted to watch a man masturbating and couldn’t ever get any of her lovers to do it while she watched (this was fifteen years before the technology to make it happen became common on the internet; I imagine she’s sick of it by now). I wasn’t one of her lovers, and never would be, but the revelation that someone wanted to watch was the catalyst that made me realize I was an exhibitionist; even though I never achieved it with her, the tremendous rush that came with being watched burned out of me any idea I had ever had that the act itself was something to hide. Luckily, I can still maintain a sense of proportion when it comes to when and where it’s appropriate – being a professional reviewer of porn and sex toys requires a keen eye for what constitutes proper conduct, especially when you work in an office – but nobody’s shade has appeared lately to grimace at the mess I’ve made.
Julius Prince has been masturbating for three times as long as he has been professionally writing about things people like to masturbate about. After an only barely whelming experience with a Fleshlight, he decided his hands were good enough to do everything he needed done, but he has reversed course on that, realizing that masturbation is like pizza – when it’s good, it’s fantastic, and when it’s not good, it’s still pretty good, so you might as well try as many toppings as you can to find out what makes it great. To that end, his contributions to “Better Than The Hand” will be enthusiastic and, with luck, adventurous.5 Articles