men, masculinities and gender politics

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Me? Wanking?

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MASTURBATION has a 'hidden history'. Masturbation is an important part of many men's lives. It seems quite a common experience for men to have masturbated in groups at school. Sexual experimentation of other sorts also happens. Lots of 'boys-only' institutions - cadets, male boarding schools, the army, boy scouts - involve experiences of group masturbating. I've heard of 'circle-jerks'; several boys stand around in a circle, each masturbating, competing to cum (ejaculate) first. And of boys seeing who can cum the furthest.

Areas such as masturbation connect with other experiences we've had as younger men, of puberty for example. I remember the tensions that existed when I and other boys were in the school changing-rooms before sport. The boys who had reached puberty and had hairy and larger genitals were more prepared to walk around naked than the boys who hadn't. These boys, with their hairless genitals and 'little' dicks, would get changed facing the wall or in a corner, always quickly and self-consciously. You got status for having hit puberty in a visible way, and those who hadn't were teased for their 'peach-fuzz' and 'bum-fluff' faces and their 'squeaky' voices.

Talking about masturbation raises the question of fantasy. What do we (men) think about when we are masturbating? Do we imagine fucking with past lovers or people we'd like to fuck with? We may invent imaginary sexual partners or faceless bodies. Do we fantasise unreal and unusual situations, or multiple partners? Do we fantasise about the sex we are used to, or the sex we haven't had, or the sex we'd have if we were brave enough? Some men when masturbating use elaborate and detailed scenarios, whole sequences of sexual situations with characters and plot. Others imagine fleeting images; body-parts, sounds, smells.

Some men don't fantasise at all (in the sense implied above). One man I know concentrates on the feel of his body, gets into different sensations and touches, and doesn't imagine being with anyone or anywhere etc. Masturbation is described as 'lovemaking with myself' in Jamie Bevsons' article in A book of readings: for men against sexism.

I am clear that fantasising about having sex in a particular way or situation doesn't necessarily mean I actually want to do that in reality. Fantasising can be a way of playing with taboos and breaking rules, acknowleging the desires that we may not want to act on.

Lots of heterosexual men in this culture use pornography when masturbating. This raises lots of issues; How do we (men) relate to the images of naked women? What do we get out of using pornography? How does pornography shape desire? What effect does the use of pornography have on our own sexualities? Does it affect how we (men) think about women or how we treat women?

With these last two issues, fantasy and the use of pornography, I'm only just starting to ask the question "What do men do ? What is actually going on for men?". I also know there are vital political issues that men need to address here - especially regarding our use of pornography. But questions of "What is okay for men to do? What should we be doing?" etc. depend partly on knowing what men do and how we do it

 

Reprinted with permission from the magazine XY: men, sex, politics. XY, PO Box 26, AINSLIE, ACT, 2602, AUSTRALIA. © Copyright 1995