As a young teen whose suddenly-developed body brought me more sexual attention than I could handle, masturbation was always something that made me feel like I was in control of my own sexuality. When I took masturbation breaks from my algebra homework in high school, I wasn't just burning off some of the frustration I felt over my inability to solve for "X" — I was reminding myself that my body was mine, and its capacity to turn men on was an afterthought. This gave me an incredible sense of power as a teenager, as well as a Teflon coating against the sometimes off-putting sexual overtures of my peers. Buddy, I'd think, my walk full of masturbation-induced swagger, You couldn't handle me if you tried. Masturbation and I go way back, and she's always been good to me.
But lately, I had noticed that we had fallen out of touch. Before I decided to try this experiment, I could barely remember the last time I had masturbated, period. What's more, I literally couldn't remember the last time I had masturbated for anything besides practical reasons, like trying to fall asleep or to take the edge off some period cramps.
Sure, I wanted to get back in the habit because of all the health benefits you read about in magazines, like how masturbation can improve your sex life and reduce your stress levels. But mostly, I wanted to commit to a new masturbation regimen because in spending less time patting the bunny, I felt like I was losing yet another part of myself to the crush of adult responsibility. Could I whack my way back to a sense of carefree, youthful joy? Or at least to fewer stress headaches? I decided to find out.
I would try masturbating every day for one week. I thought this would be a cakewalk; less of an actual time-consuming project and more like catching up with an old friend. Yet once I committed to trying to masturbate every day, I had to restart at least three times, because I kept forgetting to do it. Despite the fact that I covered my house in reminder notes, sent myself emails with "Make sure you masturbate today!" in the subject line, and at one point put it in as a recurring item on my to-do list app, I still kept forgetting to polish the chafing dish, and I'd have to start all over the next day.
Forcing myself to click my Tamagotchi for seven days straight presented a real challenge, both on a logistical level and to my own identity. How did I come to the point where I was sending myself Google calendar reminders to pleasure myself? Eventually, I managed to remember every day, and the experiment began in earnest.
I hadn't told my boyfriend about the experiment. It wasn't that I didn't want him to know; I just felt like fewer and fewer things in my life were just for me, with no purpose but to make me feel good. I missed having an aspect of my sexuality that didn't involve having to figure out if someone else was having fun, or if I was doing a good job.
On the first day of my experiment, I woke up in a hotel room, which seemed fortuitous. As anyone who's ever watched one of those shows in which they use black lights to show the dried sexual fluids on the bedspreads can tell you, a hotel room is the natural environment of the masturbator. I quickly masturbated while my boyfriend was in the shower. Due to years of laser-focused experience, I can (under ideal circumstances) bring myself to orgasm while masturbating in slightly less time than it takes to listen to the full-length version of "Thriller."
I finished a jog, and while still clad in some comically dorky tights (I did have time to take off my high-tech jogging fanny pack, thank you), I got down to business. And business was ... difficult.
I tried to utilize my standard masturbation technique of aggressively rubbing my clit like I was doing a butter churning demonstration at a historical re-enactment, but I didn't really feel anything. I don't know if it had something do with the jogging. I had heard that exercise was good for orgasming, but was the blood pumping so efficiently through my heart that there was none to spare for my poor junk? I just kind of felt like I was mashing my hand against the underside of my knee or something. I thought of the articles I've read about women who have orgasms while exercising, and silently cursed them (a turn of events that, unsurprisingly, left me even less horny).
I mashed away until I basically forced myself to have an orgasm; it gave me a little headache. I realized that I have rarely masturbated when I wasn't horny, and when I have, it was to distract from a bad mood or to take the edge off some period cramps. I've never masturbated just to do it, and I wasn't sure that I enjoyed the experience.
This day went off without a hitch. My boyfriend was out of town and I had no social obligations, which meant I got to pay a visit to Dame Helen Mirren completely on my own schedule. I had a nice, soothing orgasm, which relaxed me even more than usual, since my difficulty masturbating the night before had put me on edge.
I've always kind of thought of my own horniness like a tube of toothpaste: There's a set amount for the near future, and you can either work through it slowly or squeeze it all out at once. By Day 4, I felt like the tube was pretty fairly squeezed, and I would have been just as happy to watch some TV show about a British detective.
But masturbating wasn't a total slog. I had the time and space to run through my Mental Masturbatory Index to come up with something compelling. (For those interested, it's mostly British rock musicians from the '90s and David Duchovny circa the fourth season of X-Files.) When I finished, I just felt ... fine. Moments after, I got up and started matching up socks from a recent load of laundry, as if nothing had even happened.
I was far enough into the experiment to notice that I was not reaping any of the alleged benefits of masturbation. I certainly wasn't any less stressed than I had been before I started, and if anything, I was sleeping a little bit worse. Not that I lay that at masturbation's feet, of course. I think it's a little silly that we need to focus on the potential health benefits when the actual great thing about masturbation is, you know, the pleasure.
Still, I did wonder if I was somehow missing out. If you read enough descriptions of the benefits of masturbating, it basically sounds like it you jam out with your clam out enough, you turn into Keira Knightley — which was definitely not what was happening for me.
After spending the day running errands, masturbating again began to feel like yet another. That's the real challenge behind this experiment — trying to masturbate when you're not horny can feel as appealing as, say, loading a dishwasher.
When I did finally lie down to do it, my mind began to wander. I thought of all the men in my life who openly talk about masturbation as part of their daily routine, and how I don't have any female friends who do the same. All my male friends talk about masturbating the way you'd talk about eating an apple because you're hungry. My female friends, I realize, typically talk about masturbation as part of making a political statement about women's sexuality, or a joke — if they talk about it at all.
I wondered if men are genuinely that horny every day. I wondered if maybe I would genuinely be that horny if I didn't have to constantly read news articles about violent rape, or deal with catcallers, or figure out new ways to pretend that I don't notice random men judging my body. I wondered if I'd be hornier if I didn't have to carry my keys like a little improvised set of brass knuckles when I walked home alone at night.
I orgasmed due to the repetitive pressure of my vibrator on my clitoris, while I was still thinking about this stuff. It happened so suddenly that it almost felt like I'd come against my own will. I felt startled, and got up almost as soon as I finished.
On Day 6, my non-masturbatory life just happened to feel like it is going to hell in a hand basket. At least you can jerk off, I muttered to myself spitefully. Then at least you'll have accomplished something today.
I got in my bed and immediately realized that my hand was not going to cut it. I took out my most industrial-strength vibrator — the one that needs to plug into a wall socket and makes sounds like I'm grinding coffee. I didn't have a sexual thought in my head; I was simply going through the motions. It's a situation I've been through many times in my partnered sex life, but rarely in my solo sex life. I was having, I realized, bad sex with myself. I kept plowing away, and eventually, I noticed that I was crying. I had been tamping down my feelings by staying busy the rest of the day, but here, with my Hitachi Magic Wand and nothing else to think about, I cried.
My tears remind me of the only sustained period of my life during which I regularly masturbated for non-sexual reasons. A few years ago, everything seemed to be going wrong for me. My anxiety made sleeping more than four hours a night impossible, and the sleeplessness compounded every worry and sadness. During this time, I felt too exhausted to have sex, or do much of anything besides watch TV or stare listlessly at my work computer for hours.
But I could still masturbate. I had my own office at work at this time, and every afternoon, I'd close my door and masturbate through my jeans on my office floor. I masturbated not because I was horny, but because I knew that these were the only few minutes in my day when I was guaranteed to feel good. I would lie down on that industrial carpeting and think, "At least no one can take this away from you."
When I woke up on the seventh day, I felt relieved. Just one more wank to go, I thought. This experiment had turned one of my fondest pleasures into something more akin to choking down a kale salad. Even my orgasms seemed to be taking notice of my bad attitude — they became flatter, more like a dull, localized sensation as the week went on. I didn't use my vibrator every day, so I wasn't afraid that I had numbed out my vagina or anything — it simply seemed watered down by my lack of interest.
With this headspace, it should be no surprise that masturbating that last night was a struggle. After taking twice as long as usual, I squeezed out the weakest orgasm of my adult life. I gave my vibrator side-eye, like it was a lover who could not be trusted, and turned on the TV.
Over my week of constant bow-plucking, I hadn't reaped any of the supposed benefits of masturbation, like relief from anxiety or insomnia, or increased overall horniness. I was excited to have it once again just be a thing I did simply because I spent too much time looking that one Jared Leto penis GIF.
A few days ago, I finally found myself moved to masturbate for the first time since the experiment. Once I got down to business, it took longer than usual, and seemed to require more effort. I was kind of tempted to give up midway through, but I plowed ahead (ahem). I knew if I didn't, I'd start getting paranoid that I had somehow broken my clitoris by going ham on it so many times last week. (Which, by the way, is not a thing.)
As I struggled to wrench out my orgasm, I felt like I was fighting something; a brain that seemed increasingly interested in everything but masturbation. If I wasn't Gabrielle Moss, Masturbator, the mistress of her own destiny (vulvic and otherwise), then who the hell was I? I orgasmed, panting, wincing. And for the first moment in what felt like forever, my mind was blank.
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