You Probably Didn't Know This About Masturbation

It's International Masturbation Month, which calls for whatever kind of celebration you see fit. A little history lesson: Masturbation Day, which is either May 7 or May 28, has been celebrated annually since 1995 — that year, sex-positive sex toy company Good Vibrations dreamed up the holiday for Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders, who was fired by President Bill Clinton for proposing that masturbation be taught in sex ed classes. Since then, the holiday has ballooned to include the entire month. And the entire world. Soon, perhaps we'll have International Masturbation Year, which is basically in effect already, so why not make it official?

The folks at Lelo compiled some strange facts about masturbation in honor of this special month, and they're pretty great. But it got me thinking: What other weird, wonderful things can I uncover about pleasuring oneself? What is the history of, say, the vibrator? Where did the secrecy and shame that have been attached to masturbation come from? So I took to the internet, obviously, because that's where bizarre facts lie in wait, and also because that's where you go in relation to all things masturbatory. The first eight of these are courtesy Lelo; you can thank me for the last five. Well, me and the internet.

1. Records of masturbation date back to the Chalcolithic age.

The dawn of masturbation probably came before any record-keeping, but the earliest accounts on record come from Sumer, one of the civilizations of southern Mesopotamia (that's southern Iraq today). They were pro-masturbation, either alone or with a partner to increase potency. Science hasn't yet ascertained whether that's true or just a really, really old wives' tale, but prostate massage has been linked to men's health.

2. The Kama Sutra isn't just for epic sex.

The ancient text has some interesting advice for masturbation: “Churn your instrument with a lion’s pounce: sit with legs stretched out at right angles to one another, propping yourself up with two hands planted on the ground between in them, and it between your arms.” I suppose this could make for an interesting night.

3. So this is how rumors get started.

"Onanism," a term for masturbation, comes from the biblical story of Onan, who married his widowed sister-in-law and then "wasted his seed on the ground" instead of getting her pregnant. I've never heard this term before, but apparently this is where the Judeo-Christian, shameful view on getting oneself off comes from.

4. Masturbation? Never heard of it.

There is no word for masturbation in several groups in the African Congo Basin and members within these groups are not familiar with the practice.

5. This gives new meaning to the idea of secrecy around masturbation.

If caught masturbating in New Haven circa 1656, you could be given the death penalty, thanks to legislation that was put on the books against such acts that year.

6. No touching!

It's no secret that Victorian doctors were all about getting women off to cure "hysteria," but they were simultaneously advising against masturbation, as it was believed to lead to weakness of character and venereal disease. They told people to tie their hands to bedposts (kinky!), dress children in pajamas that only opened in the back, and created scary-looking chastity devices.

7. Say no to spicy food and meat.

The doctor who invented cornflakes was a bit of a prude, turns out. Dr. John Harvey Kellogg ran a vegetarian sanitarium in the late 1800s — meat and spices excited the libido, he said, which is how cornflakes came to be. Kellogg on masturbation: “If illicit commerce of the sexes is a heinous sin, self-pollution is a crime doubly abominable.” Tell us how you really feel!

8. Caliente!

Talk about some vintage porn: El Sartorio is perhaps the oldest surviving pornographic film, likely shot in Argentina around 1907. Three women bathe in a river, having sex with each other and then the devil. Well, then. Perhaps also one of the oldest surviving mixed messages on film.

9. Feeling sniffly?

A study in 2004 found that masturbation resulted in an increase in sympathetic activity in the nervous system, as well as higher concentrations of catecholamines (hormones released into the bloodstream under times of stress, including dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine) and prolactin plasma (a hormone secreted from the pituitary gland that is an important immune system regulator). The study concluded that "components of the innate immune system are activated by sexual arousal and [masturbation-induced] orgasm." Way to put a lab coat on sex, y'all.

10. Infinite orgasms for all!

Apparently somewhere along the line, the myth was promulgated that women get only a certain number of orgasms in a lifetime. Not true. As Planned Parenthood doctor Vanessa Cullins told Refinery29, "Fortunately for all of us, orgasms aren't like teeth — we all have the potential for an infinite number." Phew!

11. Vibrators are over 100 years old.

The electromechanical vibrator came to be in the 1880s, when it was invented by a British doctor. It solved a problem that writer Rachel P. Maines says "plagued medical practitioners since antiquity: effective therapeutic massage that neither fatigued the therapist nor demanded skills that were difficult and time-consuming to acquire" in the book The Technology of Orgasm. Yeah, those skills do take some practice.

12. It's a neck massager, I swear!

Maines also reports that the vibrator took off as a home appliance for women advertised in such spots as Home Needlework Journal, Hearst's and Woman's Home Companion. Much like the "neck massagers" of today, vibrators were billed as health and relaxation aids, with such choice promises as "all the pleasures of youth . . . will throb within you."

13. FYI, there's such a thing as orgasmic meditation.

Here's how it works: You get 15 minutes of clitoral stroking. You don't touch your partner back. You might come, you might not. No fancy breath work, no visualization, no frills. It happens in an "OM container," or a pillowed and blanketed "nest" in which one is supposed to nestle while the practice is underway. And it's part of the OneTaste movement, which may or may not be a sex cult.

Images: MarioWageman/Flickr; WiffleGif (13)