We live in an age where masturbation is normal and essential. In our post-modern times, there is no shame to having a happy, relaxing moment with yourself. Yet masturbation has a chequered history and has been subject to prevalent cultural values. You might say it’s had its ups and downs.
Historians think that certain ancient civilisations celebrated masturbation. For instance in southern Mesopotamia, it was thought to enhance potency. In ancient Egypt, male masturbation was the central part of their creation myth. Egyptian Pharaohs masturbated ceremonially into the Nile to ensure the regular ebb and flow of the river. Whether the average man was thought a god when discovered pleasuring himself, isn’t recorded.
Unlike many ancient civilisations, the Greeks left a large selection of writing. They ensured we inherited their thoughts on everything from democracy, to love poetry. They recognised that it was a healthy substitute for other sexual pleasures. Even Aristotle wrote about self-stimulation amongst young men.
It may not have been taboo, but we cannot be sure whether it was socially acceptable. Given it was the responsibility of the men to produce as many children as possible, it might have been a waste of semen. It still held a modern familiar comic possibility for derogatory terms. Comic playwright Aristophanes called the Spartans “wankers” in his play Lysistrata.
Diogenes the Cynic was caught pleasuring himself in the market square. On discovery he said, ‘if only one could satisfy one’s hunger by rubbing one’s stomach’. He is perhaps also a comedic figure given that he was also condemned for eating in public. Masturbating, eating, all things that are best saved for private places in the classical world.
Perhaps it is no accident that food and masturbation go together hand in ‘hand’. Classical inventiveness knew no limits when it came to creating fake vaginas. Given they had access to pure organic olive oil, they had the best lubricant. Olive oil combined with a dildo-shaped bread stick made a perfect single use vaginal substitute in the ancient world. This has echoes of the modern warm apple pie legend.
The Romans appreciated the release of pent up fluids but generally the left hand was thought to be dedicated to masturbation. The tolerant citizens of Pompeii took a relaxed view of masturbators, even as they mocked the wealthy as tossers. One bar in Pompei enjoyed images of figures in solo action, as well as ejaculating phalluses on the counter.
Food stuffs, large round fruits, warm rolled up cloths, soap, oils, jellies… with imagination, men can poke anything. But where the classical attitude to masturbation seemed to be amused tolerance, the new Roman church wasn’t so open. They wanted to control everything including what went on in private. They proclaimed that it was particularly evil, especially amongst young men. As it became more taboo, this has informed many of the prevailing attitudes of shame and embarrassment towards masturbation throughout the twentieth century.
As we head into the enlightened century, we are free to buy anything we like to enhance our solo sexual experience. Inflatable dolls, the ‘pocket pussy’, realistic artificial vaginas and anuses with or without hair. The choice is overwhelming. And given the digital revolution, we can now combine the orifice with the artifice leading to a whole new world of interesting holes to explore.
We’ve come a long way…