Wanking: the past and future of masturbation
By: Chris White
Perhaps you’ve noticed a few products around the internet that claim to unleash ‘the future of wanking’. I’ve seen blowjob machines; Fleshlights; Occulus Rift-driven virtual reality experiences; creepily realistic sex dolls; and equally creepy tissue-paper bearing images of women’s faces.
To really understand the future of wanking, we should probably first examine its past. Wanking has been going on for a long time. Considering that video of the bored chimpanzee using a frog as a sex-toy, and the fact that bonobos, who share 98% of our DNA, love to masturbate, we can assume it’s been going on since before humans existed.
While masturbation is fun, free and relatively easy to do, it has not always been seen as strictly for sexual pleasure. Across the ancient world there were spiritual and cultural depictions of masturbation, from cave paintings to ancient Egyptian religious rituals.
In Europe, cave paintings from around 40,000 years ago depict almost the entirety of human sexual experience, ranging from oral sex to bestiality, masturbation and voyeurism. In ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt, masturbation was seen as a way to increase potency as well as a religious rite.
Many theologies feature ejaculating gods giving birth to the world, from Atum, the first god of ancient Egypt, to the Sumerian belief that the Tigris was created by the ejaculation of the god Enki. Atum’s ejaculations also controlled the annual flooding of the Nile, and so the Pharaohs were expected, in their role as God-Kings, to follow suit and ejaculate into the river.
In Meso-America (in the Moche culture), there is an abundance of what archaeologists call “sex pots” – ceramic pots featuring images of various sex acts, often involving sex-slaves with swollen and gaping orifices. The sex pots also feature images of the dead masturbating, and their sperm endows life on their descendants.
The Kama Sutra, an Indian text more than 2000 years old, recommends that you “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 in between them, and it between your arms”, which actually sounds quite difficult.
In ancient Greece masturbation was widely accepted, although in ancient Rome it was seen as something only slaves should do. This didn’t stop the Romans writing line after line of poetry about it. We know, for instance, that the Romans, like many teenage boys, preferred to use their left hands to masturbate: “When my worries oppress my body, with my left hand I release my pent-up fluids,” reads an ancient graffito from Pompeii.
The word ‘masturbate’ itself comes from the Latin masturbor, which means to beat with the hand.
While it might seem that the Bible led to the moralists’ anti-wanking crusade, it wasn’t until the Victorian era that masturbation became actively proscribed. In the 17th century, nannies used to masturbate their restless (male) charges to help them sleep. By the 18th century, however, famous campaigners like Dr John Kellogg (of Cornflakes fame) recommended sewing the foreskin shut to prevent the solitary-vice. Other famous people who set out to stop masturbation include Immanuel Kant (who wrote an entire book about it), Sigmund Freud and Rousseau (who called it ‘mental rape’). It was thought that masturbation could cause substance addiction, dimness of vision, insanity, cancer, impotence and even epilepsy.
Interestingly, it’s now thought that masturbation can prevent cancer. Scientists have shown that if you ejaculate between 4.6 and 7 times a week you are 36% less likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer. It’s medicinal, which, to me, sounds like the perfect excuse.
While there are cultures without masturbation – for instance, in the Congo basin, the Aka, Ngandu, Lesi and Ituri people all have no words for masturbation, and are reportedly confused by the concept – the activity has had a long and varied history.
So, are intricate devices bought and sold online really the future of masturbation? Perhaps. One thing is for sure: wanking isn’t something we’re likely to stop, it’s just a matter of how, where and why we go about it.
Chris White is a writer, with an interest in history, society and humans in general. Follower him on Twitter @chriswhitewrite
Read Michelle Dicinoski’s article on masturbation in issue #3 of Archer Magazine.