When I told people I wasn't masturbating for 30 days, their response was unanimous: "Why?" No one responded, "That sounds interesting!" or "Jolly good for you!" I only got confused, inquisitive, weirded-out Why's.
I was working on a cruise ship apart from my monogamous boyfriend, which gave me the unique chance to not orgasm for 30 days. (On land, we bone like rabbits. Rabbits who have kind sex 1-3 times per week.) Plus, I had a roommate, so masturbation was no longer a crime of passion. Only first-degree masturbation is possible with a roommate.
Also, I was damn curious. A group of Reddit users reported heightened testosterone production, attractiveness to lovers, and creative productivity - after only 7 days of abstaining. They claimed the male body goes into hyperdrive to create a baby, and if not a baby, to create some thing.
The logistical ease, coupled with the promise of increased productivity, tripled with a writer's perverse incentive to seek out painful and challenging scenarios so they have something to write about, answers the Why's of my friends. What happened? That's below.
Below are daily field notes and a difficulty scale, documenting what happened to a body and mind when it was deprived of its singular evolutionary purpose.
Not Masturbating Difficulty Scale (0-10)
0 - mastur-what?
1 - oh, masturbation
2 -i guess that could be fun
3 - sounds really cool, but i'm busy
4 - man, must be nice to be able to masturbate
5 - i would really rather not be not masturbating
6 - i'm a fucking idiot
7 - why on God's green earth am i doing this to myself?
8 - i need to explode ASAP
9 - my penis is sending death threats to my brain
10 - i want to put my semen in everything
Day 1 was quite easy. Like a New Year's Resolutions in January, I was so filled with purpose that I breezed through the day without significant temptation. I did hear a hip-hop song with the lyric "grab his business," which reminded me of the experiment and led to ever so slight arousal.
Difficult Rating: 2
Today was slightly more difficult, but still easy. My usual masturbation cadence on land is every 2-3 days, so I didn't expect the first few to be too challenging. I was reading the Third Edition of J.M. Roberts' "History of the World" since I'm pretty rusty on all history pre-1600, and $4 seemed like a bargain for the written record of mankind. Turns out that history involves a lot of sex, so my experiment was slightly threatened.
Difficult Rating: 3
I snapped a photo of a passage in "History of the World" I liked, which reminded me that I had done the same yesterday with a passage that aroused me, and remembering that arousal aroused me. I then wrote this down in an iPhone note, and writing the word "excited" excited me.
Around lunchtime, I recalled the experiment in a rational way, not a sexual one. I made a note of this in my phone, but when I wrote the word "sexual," it aroused me.
It was a very meta-masturbatory day.
Difficult Rating: 5
Nothing to note. A surprisingly easy day squeezed in between two difficult ones.
Difficult Rating: 2
Today, I considered quitting. I questioned why I was doing it, depriving myself of this tiny joy, and started to envision what quitting after 5 days or 7 days would look like. But I did not fail. I courageously pressed on.
Difficult Rating: 8
I started to put together the structure of this piece, converting iPhone notes to the words above. The very act of writing about NOT masturbating caused me to think A LOT about masturbating. I began to bargain with myself and consider loopholes in my experiment. Does "not masturbating" mean "not orgasming," so am I permitted to touch myself just not to completion? Or is that somehow crueler to my body? Is it playing with fire, or does it reveal the strength of my will? Is looking at sexy photos itself a sort of masturbation? Wikipedia laid down the law:
Masturbation: a definition.
Masturbation is the sexual stimulation of one's own genitals for sexual arousal or other sexual pleasure, usually to the point of orgasm.
I wonder if this experiment would be easier if I wasn't writing about it.
Difficult Rating: 4
The hardest part about not masturbating on Day 7 was whenever I talked to someone, I had to censure myself from saying, "I want to put my penis inside you."
I felt in profound physical pain, not just in or near my penis and testes, but in and around my entire stomach and gut. In a moment of weakness, I considered giving up.
"A week of not masturbating is an achievement!" Penis said to Brain. "If someone can do something for a week, that's a long time!" "It is an achievement," Brain conceded, "but it's not the achievement you set out to achieve." "Fuck you, Brain," Penis cursed.
Caught in between my bickering penis and brain, I survived, the sun set, and the experiment carried on.
Difficult Rating: 10
During a particularly trying moment, I sexually stimulating my genitals but did not approach the point of orgasm (to use Wikipedia's sterile lexicon). By many metrics, this might be masturbation, but for the sake of our experiment, we'll continue on and simply not do this again.
Masturbation: A revised definition.
Masturbation is the sexual stimulation of one's own genitals for sexual arousal or other sexual pleasure, [DELETE: usually] to the point of orgasm.
Difficult Rating: 7
He removed his shirt, as beautiful men at beaches do, as I watched from behind my fajitas. He posed against the yellow Volkswagen bug. His girlfriend took too many pictures: pictures of his pecs, long, smooth sand dunes, and pictures of his arms, strong, exercised for strength not vanity. He must be a swimmer, I thought in between bites of tortilla, or a dancer or just a beautiful man.
He smiled for the camera, which made him less attractive. Magazine covers conditioned me to believe sexy people don't smile, they lustfully stare while headline copy surrounds their heads and pecs and abs. His girlfriend -- fiancé? I didn't see a ring, but I was staring at other things -- handed off the camera and took her turn as subject. When the solo photo shoots were complete, they looked around for a third.
I screamed from the nearby cafe, "Need a picture?" They were about to ask someone much closer, but I ran towards at full speed. My sprint was fueled by lust and by not masturbating for 9 days. I reached them and he handed over his phone.
"It's on SnapChat," he said. I remembered deleting SnapChat 2 years ago when I decided it was dumb, and now I regretted it. I was an unhip, boring old man to this hunk of young flesh. How old was he? 24? 25? It must have taken years for his muscles to develop in such strong, long shapes, like piles of shipyard rope stacked and braided together, yet his skin looked so soft and sunkissed. He took back the phone and adjusted it from SnapChat to Camera. In hindsight, I should have used this opportunity to steal a glance of his abs. I snapped the photo and returned the camera, delighted by my bravery and embarrassed by my hardcore crushing on a taken stranger.
In some alternate reality, he pressed the small of my back, kissed me on the cheek, pushed me into the backseat of his yellow bug, had his way with me, asked me questions about the U.S., and walked with me along the beach while the wind ran through his dark hair.
I didn't masturbate on Day 9. But the experiment seemed to backfire. I wasn't becoming more attractive to other people, they were becoming more attractive to me.
Difficult Rating: 8
The culprit that ruined my experiment came in the night, and so did I. While dreaming, my brain convinced my penis that it could create an offspring with someone in my dream. My boxers, and my experiment, was ruined.
Masturbation: A revised, revised definition.
Masturbation is the conscious sexual stimulation of one's own genitals for sexual arousal or other sexual pleasure, usually to the point of orgasm.
After a few fruity drinks later that day, I reasoned that if I had a wet dream, I might as well masturbate, too. I've already expelled what had been marinating in my balls for 10 days (is that how biology works), so whatever benefit I was to reap in terms of heightened creativity was gone. I might as well enjoy myself and pick back up tomorrow.
After I did, I felt empty.
Not only in my testicles, but cosmically empty, tired, done. My experiment was over, and the release was not any more satisfying than a regular Saturday morning hungover rubbing. I had been holding onto my purpose, and now it was gone.
Which purpose was stronger: my biological purpose to orgasm and potentially create an genetic heir, or my higher purpose to not orgasm and complete the experiment? Biology had come like a thief in the night while my rational brain was out, but I jumped at the first excuse to call it quits. Was my animal instinct more powerful than my human will?
Difficult Rating: 0
I masturbated again. The experiment was definitely over.
Difficulty Rating: 0
Conclusion: 9 days
In the end, I managed to not masturbate for 9 days, which sounds more like an accident than an accomplishment. My failure is both scary and silly: scary since I have discovered that my body is dependent on a specific cadence of orgasm, and silly since masturbating is good, clean, harmless fun, ya'll. This experiment was like giving up Slip 'N' Slides for 30 days.
In terms of the two initial reasons I set out - logistical and creative - the experiment did shed some light. Logistically, it was a breeze. Creatively, I didn't feel more productive. If anything, not masturbating and documenting not masturbating came (pun intended) to occupy more of my brain space. If my goal were to minimize the amount of time spent thinking about masturbating, I failed. It would have been easier to work with my given urges, masturbate, and move on, rather than fight against my hardwired nature.
My friends who all asked, "Why?" also never followed up, like you would with someone on a 30-day clean eating challenge. Why? Masturbation is rarely a conversation topic, whether out of shame or to keep a thing private we by definition share only with ourselves. Did hearing I was attempting to not do it make other people question why they do it, like getting lunch with a vegetarian or going to H&M with a sweatshop activist? Did it remind them how dependent they are on masturbation, that despite Chaucer and history and Einstein and opera, we're no better than a dog in heat? Or was it just good ol' American shame baked into our being like apple pie? Or a desire in our increasingly tracked and cookied world, to keep a private secret to ourselves? What will reading a masturbatory story about a man trying not to masturbate and failing make you feel?
Further studies must be conducted.