Do you remember the first time you ever masturbated? As 21st century adults, we often take for granted the fact that masturbation is beneficial to your physical and mental health. It becomes easy to forget that for many of us our first experiences of masturbation were tinged with worry or shame.
We wanted to understand what factors create that shame around male masturbation, and how those attitudes changed over time. So we spoke to three people with penises about their first masturbation experiences, the stigmas attached, and how their sex education fed into their attitudes about solo sex.
“Masturbation is a vital part of my daily routine and maintaining my mental health”
Our first interviewee asked to remain anonymous, and he talked us through some of his early experiences of hearing about masturbation.
“I had sex education at a Roman Catholic school so masturbation was completely absent from lessons. I remember being told ‘you’ll go blind’ if I touched myself which I didn’t realise was hogwash until my mid-teen years.
As friends we didn’t talk about it until a weird coming of age moment. We all knew each other did it in our early teens but it was such a taboo, no one dare speak of it.
Then one day on a school trip it happened. We sneaked alcohol from a petrol station in Germany and sat in a hotel room drinking it surreptitiously.
One of my mates just blurted out “I wank” out of nowhere. After a short, stunned silence we all sort of nodded at each other and that was the last it was spoken of.”
Did this affect your attitude to masturbation later in life?
“I’m 32 now and my attitude has changed in that I’m no longer ashamed of it. As an adult I know it’s completely normal. In fact it’s a vital part of my daily routine and maintaining my mental health. I really can’t think straight without it.”
And what do you wish you’d learned about masturbation? Are there any messages we should be giving younger men to make sure they have a healthy relationship with masturbation?
“I wish I’d known it was normal when I was very young. Thing is, I remember feeling like some sort of sexual deviant!
I also wish I’d known girls do it too at a younger age. That probably would’ve helped me understand female sexuality better sooner.
As a general thought I only recently came to the realisation that male sex toys don’t make you a loser. I wish I’d had that epiphany years ago!”
“I’m 35 now and I’ve only just started to accept that masturbation is normal.”
Sex blogger and erotic writer Charlie Forrest told us about his formative experiences of masturbation:
“Porn wasn’t really a factor in sex ed back then, the limited availability meant I never thought of it as something I could learn anything from. School sex education and whatever books I was offered were pretty positive about it.
My parents never discussed it and, well, the term wanker was used pretty liberally at school as a pejorative, so it came with an implicit mixed message I guess.
I’m 35 and it’s only in the last year or so I’ve come to fully accept it. There were years as an adult where I’d wank regularly, but still feel I had to conceal it from partners, although none of them ever actually ever raised objections.”
So what was your first experience of masturbation?
“In my pre-orgasmic days I knew that I liked it, but I’d just sort of get it out, look at it, get hard, then after a bit put it away again. I was more experimenting because I knew that there was something more.
My first time was actually pretty exhausting, working my arm and wrist until they felt like they were about to explode; in fact I’m pretty sure I took a breather or two. Then I started to feel something different. Not quite pain, more an over sensitivity. Tipping over the edge was a little scary actually. I’m pretty sure it was a Friday night, and that my parents didn’t see much of me that weekend.”
Is there anything you wish you’d been taught about masturbation before you tried it, or any guidance you wish you’d received in sex ed or from your parents?
“I think just mostly how insignificant the stigma actually is. That and lube, and the world of possibilities that it opens up.”
“If God exists he gave us genitals, if he doesn’t then it doesn’t matter. Either way, I’m wanking.”
Brian, like our anonymous interviewee above, also had a Catholic upbringing, and as a result had no sex education at all in primary school. We asked him how this affected his attitudes towards masturbation.
“We had no sex education at all in primary school and my parents didn’t really talk to me about sex till I was at high school. There were two types of sex education at my Catholic high school, the one in biology in which a teacher described to a bunch of 14 year olds, many of whom were already sexually active, the mechanics of sex.
In religious class we were told that sex leads to babies and that celibacy was a perfectly acceptable lifestyle for both men and women. You will not be surprised to hear there were a lot of teen pregnancies in my school.
My catholicism at the time did feed into my attitudes to wanking though. Frankly I used to pretend that I wasn’t wanking, what I was doing was wetting the bed (far more dignified obviously!). I used to try not to wank on a Sunday either, always failed that one. That was in the early days.”
Were there discussions about sex and masturbation with your peers at the time?
“Us boys were always quite open about our wanking habits. We talked about them. When I say talk, I mean boast about how many we could do in one night.
The girls in our class meanwhile would ask us about our wanking habits whilst pretending they never did any such thing. It was fun scandalising them.
My point is we knew that what we were being taught and what we thought and experienced pretty much had nothing to do with one another.
I guess this disparity between what we were being told and what we were experiencing was a major thing which helped send me atheist. Adults were talking such shit about sex, this unprovable God stuff was probably shit as well.
I guess wanking and atheism became part and parcel of what became my somewhat practical attitude to life overall. i.e. wanking cannot be a bad thing because I am a teenage boy who girls don’t fancy much and if I didn’t have this release then I would go nuts.
If Catholics think we can all just keep this at bay till we are married then produce ten children because we aren’t meant to use contraception then they must be joking. Also, if God exists he gave us genitals, if he doesn’t then it doesn’t matter. Either way you fucks, I’m wanking.”
It sounds like you managed to figure a lot of the useful stuff out by yourself! Is there anything you wish you’d been told about masturbation while you were young?
“I don’t think I wished I had any tips as such. Finding my own way made me body conscious; you learn how your bits work by trial and error rather like how, in your early days of having sex, you learn how your partner’s bits do the same thing.
Sex and wanking is a practical thing more than it’s theoretical I guess. Maybe the thing I wished I knew is just how ubiquitous it is. Also, at the time, I thought I only had a limited amount of sperm. I was quite worried I’d wank it all away. Knowing that that wasn’t true would have been a weight off my mind.”
Have your attitudes towards masturbation changed since you were younger?
“I’m 44 now and my attitude hasn’t changed. The fact is I have two young children and this has affected my sex life with my wife. Frequently one (or both) of us are too tired for sex, and a wank can be done in two minutes. You get a rush of serotonin and then you fall asleep quicker which is damn handy when a kid will be shouting you awake at 5am.
Wanking keeps you sane when there are limited other options. As a teen it’s hormones, as an adult it’s being time poor and struggling to be as awake and horny at the same time as your partner.”