Eye’s handy-dandy guide to dandy handies

Last weekend, several thousand North Americans beat their meat or brushed their beavers for hours on end in a continent-wide masturbation marathon to mark National Masturbation Month. Though the idea of all those people, no doubt some of them very hot, stroking it might inspire us to launch our very own marathon, many of us are a little perplexed. Isn’t every month masturbation month?

Not for everyone, sadly, and so for the past five years, May has been declared National Masturbation Month by sex shops in various cities across North America (an idea originated by Good Vibrations in San Francisco), including Good For Her and Come As You Are in Toronto. If you missed the annual Masturbate-a-thon (a fundraiser for women’s health organizations), you can still catch the Jerk Off! Cabaret celebration at Buddies in Bad Times on May 23. The idea is about more than selling dildos and lube (though there’s that, too); it highlights that giving yourself a hand is not simply a desperate substitution for sex with a partner, it’s the cornerstone of sexual health.

“Know thyself,” Socrates told us, and today’s sex educators have grown to believe that getting in touch with ourselves helps us do that. It’s widely held in the sexpert press that paddling the canoe is maybe the most important way that women learn what they like sexually. And both women and men can learn techniques that come in handy when more than a hand is at hand, particularly if they’re with a partner of the same sex.

Yet it isn’t just physically that we learn from jerking off. People can probe their imaginations exploring sexual fantasy, finding out what does and does not rev their engines, and explore various scenarios in a trial-and-error fashion that might otherwise seem awkward or silly. In fact, masturbatory fantasy can be a way of purposefully expanding your sexual horizons, opening yourself up to the idea of older partners or those with less conventional body shapes, other races, preliminary research on same-sex stuff. Try it out in your mind while you work on your own plumbing, goes the thinking; find things you didn’t know you liked and teach yourself to be attracted to more and more varied sexual partners. Expand your palate. If it doesn’t stick, you’ll know it isn’t because you’re closed-minded.

There’s another use of sexual fantasy: the exploration of those things you could not or would not want to do in interactive life. Rape fantasies fall into this category, as do the long, leering looks you’ve been getting from the neighbour’s German shepherd; you can have sex with your stepbrother in your fantasies, you can be someone else. No laws govern the private imagination, no one is hurt by imagining. And, importantly, it’s a way to establish, and then meditate and act on the distinct difference between pornographic, masturbatory desire, and the sort that governs interpersonal relationships. You may fantasize about Japanese schoolgirls, or college football players (or something considerably less mainstream), but that doesn’t necesarily mean you want to have anything to do with them in real life. The schoolgirls have a tendency to giggle excessively; college boys fart.

There’s more. Your correspondent, having devoted over 20 years to field research on the subject, can attest to additional benefits: banging the bishop can help you relax, focus and even cure insomnia. It’s virtually riskless for disease and unwanted pregnancy, you can do it whenever the mood strikes you, take as long or as little time as you want, and it’s free (no bothersome dinner tabs or movie tickets).

Yet for all the benefits and openness that surrounds jerking off, it’s still, for many, embarrassing to discuss in detail, sometimes for prudish reasons, sometimes because it just seems geeky. Maybe that’s why even those who encourage the practice don’t often talk technique.

Many men, most of whom have been dating Palmala Handerson since grade school, assume they know all they need to know.

This is not necessarily the case for women. As many as 40-50 per cent of university-age women (depending on the survey), report never having played the slots. For women, discussions of technique might unlock some mysteries. Why beat around the bush about beating around the bush?

The internet (so noted as a source of wanking inspiration), offers valuable information. For women, there’s clitical.com, which offers frank discussion and instructive, close-up, well-labelled photographs, as well as a large how-to section.

Beginning with the most basic techniques (“Place your thumb and forefinger on either side of your clitoris and gently roll it between your fingers…”) the site progresses through a list of options that makes your correspondent feel somehow short-handed. Fingers, vibrators, dildos, thigh squeezing (on a long bus ride, even), makeup brushes and humping the floor (!) or the edge of the bathtub are all discussed in detail. Indeed, the bathtub is apparently the ne plus ultra for coming into your own. In addition to the obvious uses of shower heads and jacuzzi jets, a remarkable number of women seem to favour a technique that involves lying with their legs on the wall around the faucet, so that water pours directly onto their vaginas while one or both hands are used to spread open the labia.

The reader-submitted techniques make for arousing reading. Some of them seem dangerous — like the plunger handle one woman suggests — but plenty of tips seem handy: using a facial roller-wheel massager on the breasts, using a vacuum-cleaner nozzle as a vibrator (not inserted or applied directly to the pussy — just layed alongside), inserting a long balloon full of frozen water. Many techniques advise avoiding direct contact with the clitoris, instead directing fingers or vibrators or an electric toothbrush a few centimetres to the side. There’s enough here to keep a woman buffin’ her muffin for several Masturbation Months to come.

Though men tend to be more experienced, there are helpful websites that offer tips on technique for pulling the goalie. Jackinworld.com outlines the four basic finger positions (the fist; the five finger, which employs a semi-open hand; the three finger (“good if you have a smaller penis”); and the backhand, which is a sort of reverse fist that feels awkward at first but turns out well).

Endless variations on these techniques are outlined in the expert section. One version highly recommended by jackinworld.com jackers is “The Vagina,” in which one lies on his stomach and humps into the reverse grip to simulate the missionary position. Your correspondent recommends the strangely named “Monkey Grip,” which involves two hands, one in the reverse grip on the cock and the other massaging the scrotum.

Other sections involve stimulating the prostate (a few centimetres inside your butt, upwards if you’re on your back — you’ll know it when you find it; works best with lube) with fingers, toys or produce. There are many contraptions you can make at home to simulate a cunt or anus. Many seem like too much work, like the baggie filled with petroleum jelly that they recommend you insert between mattress and box spring that you can then kneel on the floor beside your bed and hump it doggie-style.

So many variations, only a handful of Masturbation Month days left. Book time off.

Originally published in Eye Weekly on May 22, 2003.