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Anouszka Tate

Anouszka Asks...

Why do you wank?

Relationships

In this new column, Anouszka Tate, will be introducing us into the sex positivity movement for transformative new ways to think about - and do! - sex. Firstly, our old friend masturbation.

I’m Anouszka, I’m a radio and podcast producer, and I have a degree in the history of sex and sexuality. A couple of years ago I combined the two and co-founded Project Pleasure, a multi-award winning podcast that puts the pleasure back in to safe sex and healthy relationships. As a journalist, producer, speaker, and sex educator I’m constantly asking questions.

Across this new column, I’m going to ask you to question yourself. I’m going to ask you to question what you’ve been told about what sex is. Some might wonder why I’m so willing to give yet more time and space to male sexuality. The world is set up to cater to it. It’s over-represented in all corners of culture. Men certainly bloody well know they have a right to sex. All true. But for something that’s ever-present, current representation isn’t necessarily truthful or desirable for men or the people they’re having sex with.

Some of my questions might feel uncomfortable. Give yourself the space to examine why what I’ve said has made you feel that way. Stay with me, because I’m never going to take anything away from you; I only want to give you more examples of all the exciting things sex can be.

 

To start, I’m going to ask you what should be a fairly straightforward question: why do you wank?

I can hear the sniggers swelling around the class already. Humour me. Think about it. Really, why do you wank? Because you want sex but don’t have anyone to call at 2.32am? Because you know a quick one will help you sleep? In the hope it’ll make you last longer when you do have sex later? Because it’s just what lads have done from time immemorial coz penises = bEinG a PRoPeR mAN?

Dare I ask if it’s to indulge in exploring exquisite realms of pleasure with yourself, for yourself, for no reason other than savouring an erotic moment?

Anyone?

Is there a tentative hand going up in the back there? It’s a brave move if so. Access to genuine conversations about masturbation – ones that aren’t wrapped in bravado or delivered in disgust – is probably the only example within sex (and arguably all of life) where women might actually have it better than men right now. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a painful amount of shame and denial bound up with female masturbation that needs to be unpacked, but we’re at least having realistic conversations that make it clear we have a right to enjoy our own bodies, on our own terms.

The other day I checked in with my mate to ask if the new vibrator I bought her has a setting soft enough for her fairly sensitive clit. I regularly have chats like that. How do you talk about wanking? Anecdotally, I would say teenage boys – and indeed men – talk about masturbating a lot. But I’m not sure you’re actually talking about it. It’s often being used as a vehicle to show off about your masculine sexuality to other men, to take the piss out of chronically single mates, to make women feel slightly uncomfortable in your presence. All of these things are a show of dominance. An exchange of power. None of these things are about your own pleasure.

I found myself deep in a Reddit rabbit hole recently and stumbled upon someone sharing my concerns. ‘I’ve been thinking about how in movies we see pretty much every type of sexual activity, from regular sex to paedophilia, and everything in between. However, the sexual activity that seems not to appear is male masturbation. We see it treated in comedies, but I mean in serious movies, as a scene of self-eroticism from a serious perspective.’ Spot on my friend. For the most part popular culture depicts male masturbation as comedic, sinister, or sad. Weirdly, it’s definitely not sexy.

We choose words to best express our experiences, thoughts, and feelings, but we’re already limited by the words and representations available to us. We need to give boys and men the language to realistically talk about their own bodies and pleasure in a way that isn’t either extremely aggressive, desperately depressing or absolutely hilarious. Your pleasure deserves more respect than that.

With that in mind, may I introduce you to ‘solo sex’? This is your first foray into the new world of sex-positivity. Solo sex puts masturbation on a par with all other sex acts – penetrative sex, oral sex, manual sex, anal sex, and so on. It’s one of many delicious ways of having ‘real’ sex.

It begins to break down the bizarre idea that there exists some sort of sex hierarchy where penis-in vagina penetration reigns supreme, looks down on hands and mouths from a lofty height, and can barely see wanking it’s so far down the ladder. It reframes masturbation so it’s not either just a lame last resort, or a threat to partners, but a legitimate, pleasurable sex act in its own right. In this buffet of sex, wanking isn’t better or worse than any other exploit, just one of many wonderful different options that you might choose to engage in for different reasons at different times.

A 2017 study in the US* found that men tend to masturbate in a compensatory way. That is, using it to make up for the desired partnered sex they aren’t getting, whether that be quality or quantity. Pitting masturbation directly against partnered sex demotes the former to a frustrating, frantic last resort, rather than an exciting opportunity to explore and experience previously unimaginable pleasure.

Exploration. This is another area where society needs to change its tune. We tell men that their sexuality is completely natural and inborn and insatiable and that real menfolk are bloody excellent at sex from the moment they’re born. When we tell men their role is to be good at sex it a) puts a load of horrible pressure on them to perform, and b) doesn’t leave any space for discovery or practice. Under that narrative doing anything to actively get better or try fun new things that aren’t necessarily on the script (like masturbating solely to discover previously uncharted plains of pleasure) is a weakness.

A big part of the sex-positive narrative for women is that masturbation allows a safe space to explore the kinds of touches, strokes, and sensations our bodies react to. We’re empowered by the discovery of just how much our bodies are capable of.

You should be doing this exploring yourself too. The trouble is, the sexual script for men (straight men in particular) is excruciatingly narrow. There are only so many acts and body parts allowed within the stifling walls of masculinity. It affects not only your behaviour, but your sense of self. Will I be seen differently if my fingers find my prostate? Or if I experiment with toys or lube? If I lightly touch my nipples will the world notice an embarrassing change in me? What does it mean if I derive pleasure from this part of my body?

Nothing.

It means nothing. It means you’re a human who happens to feel pleasure from a certain body part. In your most private moments, when you’re alone, you’re allowing some omnipotent cultural force to dictate which parts of your own body you touch. You deserve to enjoy the sensations you enjoy shame free. You might not enjoy it, and that’s fine too. Having solo sex is your time to answer your own ‘what if?’ questions without the pressure or judgement of anyone else’s eyes on you.

Now we’ve established that wanking is an entirely legitimate act in its own right, I’ll let you in on a secret. Taking the time to experience pleasure on your own will also better your partnered sex life, if that’s what you want.

I want to be unimaginably mindblowing in bed (don’t we all, eh?) but in order to be unimaginably mindblowing I have to know what buttons to press to get my partner off. I need my partner to communicate. I cannot tell you the number of times I’ve asked men I’m sleeping with what kind of touch – exactly ­– and where feels best / most intense / soft / spine-tinging / different / surprising / insert ANY QUESTION THAT MIGHT ELICIT ANY ANSWER THAT ISN’T A BLANK FACE OF CONFUSION HERE… I need you to know your body.

In my opinion there’s no such thing as being bad in bed. There’s such a thing as bad communication. Instead of being quick to shame a partner behind their back for giving you a ‘bad’ hand job, be present and mindful during masturbation so that you can tell your partner precisely which parts of your body bring you most pleasure, so they’re not wasting their time doing something else you’re not massively bothered by.

So, I’ll ask you again: why do you wank? I know I’ve bombarded you with a lot of new information, so I’ll give you some time to go and erm, ‘think’ about it…

This has got to be a mutually enjoyable experience for us both, so I want you to ask me questions too. What are you confused, curious, or concerned about? Ask me a question in the comments below or on my Instagram page, and I’ll do my best to answer in my next column!

* ‘Masturbation and Partnered Sex: Substitutes or Complements?’ Regnerus, Price, and Gordon 2017

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