What Happens When a Feminist Stops Masturbating?

How often do you masturbate?

“I masturbate almost every day,” declares the feminist writer, Amanda Chatel, in her essay What Happens When You Stop Masturbating for a Month published by Bustle in September.

“If I’m bored or feel the urge, I will do it a couple of times a day.”

Chatel, who lives in New York, gamely confesses to a fickle fondness for masturbation – which she calls “a woman’s best friend.”

But the heart of her narrative – as its title implies – concerns her experiences during extended periods when she doesn’t masturbate at all.

She attributes these weeks of abstinence to a number of things. Sometimes, she says, an orgasm is simply the farthest thing from her mind – as is often the case when she has just gone through a breakup.

Then there are those times when she stays over at her parents’ house, where, she admits:

“I wouldn’t feel comfortable, for whatever reason, so I just don’t do it.”

“I masturbate almost every day,” declares the feminist writer, Amanda Chatel, in a recently-published essay. (
“I masturbate almost every day,” declares the feminist writer, Amanda Chatel, in a recently-published essay. (Photo: Oneras/Wallhere)

An Unspoken Guilt

One might wonder how Chatel could feel uncomfortable about masturbating in her childhood home even as she quite unblushingly writes about the subject for Bustle’s 80 million readers.

She herself ponders over the question, writing:

“I do spend some time wondering why I can’t bring myself to masturbate at my parents’ house, especially since that’s where I masturbated for the very first time when I was teenager.”

Chatel never explains the reasons for her discomfort. In the end, there is little need for an explanation. The average reader understands – at least on a purely intuitive level –the guilt and awkwardness she might attach to the mostly solitary act.

Masturbation… not quite a dinner table topic yet!

In fact, even talking about masturbation can prove thorny for many people. However liberal our views on sex might be, we generally don’t talk about masturbation as casually as we talk about – say – eating, sleeping or even, politics.

The extent of our discomfort over such a mundane subject can even be laughable:

In 2013, Swedish authorities arrested a 65-year-old man on charges of sexual assault after police caught him masturbating openly on a Stockholm beach.

Bewildered by the rationale behind the seriousness of the charge, a magistrate promptly cleared him of the crime “because he was not pleasuring himself towards a specific person.

The assault charges against the Swedish man so tickled the European press that his acquittal made the news worldwide.  

That’s all well and good for much of the world, of course, but few would have seen anything humorous about the situation just a few hundred years ago.

In 2013, Swedish authorities arrested a 65-year-old man on charges of sexual assault after police caught him masturbating openly on a Stockholm beach.
In 2013, Swedish police arrested a 65-year-old man on charges of sexual assault after the fellow was caught masturbating on a Stockholm beach. (Illustration Source: Wallhere)

Epileptic Fits and Gonorrhea

The anonymous author of the pamphlet, Onania, which first saw print in England in 1716, most certainly saw masturbation as a criminal act. And it seems that most of people alive during the European Enlightenment agreed with him… at least publicly.

The “shameful vice,” the “solitary act of pleasure,” was something too terrible to even describe in print at the time. The pamphlet’s author nonetheless saw no reason for reticence when it came to cataloguing “the frightful consequences of self-pollution.”

These consequences, he said, included – but were not limited to:

  • epileptic seizures
  • consumption
  • gonorrhea
  • impotence
  • body aches
  • stupidity
  • blisters (of the hand perhaps 😉 )
  • glandular swelling
  • trembling
  • dizziness
  • heart palpitations, and
  • incontinence!

The author of the Onania makes it clear that he is well-aware that the sin of Onan refers to the superfluous spilling of male seed. But women are – apparently – just as easily lead to depravity.

The full title of his pamphlet was Onania: Or the Heinous Sin of Self-Pollution, and all its Frightful Consequences (in Both Sexes).

Oh no… not my virginity!

It seems that women who masturbated could expect diseases of the womb, hysteria, infertility and the loss of ‘that valuable badge of their chastity and innocence’ – their virginity.

Europeans of the 18th and 19th century believed masturbation caused epileptic seizures and gonorrhea.
Europeans of the 18th and 19th century believed masturbation caused epileptic seizures and gonorrhea.

Breakfast for Your Soul

Fortunately for many generations, masturbation hasn’t always been the object of such horror and derision. In more ancient times, masturbation was either not much mentioned or – at most – regarded with cheerful humor.

In the Middle Ages, and for much of the early modern period, masturbation, while widely viewed as sinful and perverse, was not treated with such importance.

When did things change? In the West, apparently, it wasn’t until people started believing that the soul was present in semen! Whoa!

This notion remained prevalent among religious Europeans up until the 19th century, according to the historians Jean Stengers and Anne Van Neck in Masturbation: The Great Terror (2001).

There were exceptions, though – especially toward the late 1800s, when medical professionals began opposing masturbation for more ‘enlightened’ reasons of self-control.

Neither the plague, nor war, nor smallpox, nor similar diseases, have produced results so disastrous to humanity as the pernicious habit of Onanism.

Dr. J. H. Kellogg

In 1877, the American physician, J H Kellogg, claimed that “neither the plague, nor war, nor smallpox, nor similar diseases, have produced results so disastrous to humanity as the pernicious habit of Onanism.”

Kellog was both a doctor and a health-food pioneer. His development of dry breakfast cereals was largely responsible for the creation of the flaked-cereal industry.

Corn flakes… the anti-masterbation diet!

“Few of today’s eaters of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes know that he invented them, almost literally, as anti-masturbation food,” the psychologist John Money once pointed out.

How deeply such harsh views on masturbation affected people in the 1800s is anyone’s guess. We can reasonably assume that – at least in the beginning – they felt much the same way Chatel feels after a few weeks of self-denial.

The author of the Onania believed women who masturbated could expect diseases of the womb, hysteria, infertility and the loss of their virginity.
The author of the Onania believed women who masturbated could expect diseases of the womb, hysteria, infertility and the loss of their virginity.
(Photo: Angela Nairod/Wallhere)

The Itch You Can’t Scratch

Chatel says she typically feels perfectly fine throughout the first week of self-imposed restraint. But by week two, she notices a jangling in her nerves like an inexplicable itch she can’t scratch.

“In fact, it’s not just that I can’t scratch it, but it also feels like I’m not even sure where that itch is,” she says.

Unlike Chatel’s strange itch, however, some of the more palpable consequences of previous public policies against masturbation are still with us.

For example, male circumcision originated in part with a 19th-century idea which associated the foreskin with masturbatory practices, say some researchers.

In March 2004, a general court in Saudi Arabia sentenced a teacher to three years in prison and 300 lashes for declaring that masturbation is permissible under Islam.

And a recently as 2009, the supreme court of Alabama outlawed the sale of “any device designed … primarily for the stimulation of human genital organs.” The ruling formed part a political effort to deter sales of masturbation machines.

The vibrator industry must have been overjoyed with that ruling! NOT!

The condemnation of masturbation began with the idea that the soul is present in semen.
The condemnation of masturbation began with the idea that the soul resides in semen.

When the Dam Breaks

Thankfully, much of the world merrily masturbates penalty-free today – so long as the self-indulgent activity is not directed towards an unwilling “specific person” in public.

Still, even as we don’t talk about masturbation much, the ideas of individual freedom, sexual liberation, and sexual consumerism have conjured their own demons.

Chatel becomes supremely aware of their temptations after five weeks of abstinence, when even the notion of smelling something sexy in her dreams causes her to orgasm. She also observes a deceptive sharpening of her imaginative abilities during her waking hours.

“The fourth week is still one of high creativity, indifference to sex, and sometimes it even makes writing about sex seem silly, because the desire for it is non-existent,” she says.

This illusion of easy restraint collapses in its entirety by the time Chatel arrives home after one month and seven days of abstinence. “I know I’ve come to the end of my rope,” she writes.

She does not even bother to unpack her bags before the vibrator – her favorite mode of transport to the shores of unmentionable bliss – is out and buzzing.

A sweet wave of relief and release finally washes over the writer. Her ordeal is over.

Seven hundred miles to the west of her pleasure, under the grassy fineries of Oak Hill Cemetery in Battle Creek, Michigan, Dr. Kellog is turning in his grave.    

What’s your story. We say there are two groups of people… those who masturbate and those who lie! Which camp are you in? How long do you think you can hold out? Tell us in the comment section below.


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