Selfish Flesh


Mask on vine leaves and bunches of grapes” (20-10 BC) – from Pompeii

I just read a most interesting set of blog posts over on Molly and Michael’s blog – on reactions to partners masturbating. I’d ask you to read both posts first. Molly’s is “How I feel When I Am Not Used” and Michael’s is “It’s My Penis and I’ll Wank If I Want To.”

The discussion brought me up short. It shocked me in a gentle sort of way. It forced me to think about how I conceive of masturbation and sex drive and sex with another person, and how I associate them. I don’t believe there is a right or wrong way to associate these things. My only goal here is to proffer my own perspective, after a little consideration.

Or a lot of consideration.

What I discovered is that I conceive of my own sexuality in radically different modes. I have an intensely erotic relationship with myself. I don’t let anyone else into it – there’s no room for anyone else. It is utterly mine and I have never had any desire to share it. The idea of allowing anyone – even someone I loved and lusted after passionately – into this part of my existence literally makes me want to bring up my breakfast. The prospect of having to make room for anyone else in this part of my life is repulsive to me.

The erotic intimacies I share with another person are completely unrelated conceptually. Yes, there are genitals involved, yes there are orgasms involved, but they are entirely different discourses of the body. One is about me, the other is about us.

Meanwhile, I have always simply assumed everyone felt this way. When my lovers masturbated (unless they started in front of me and it was clear I was meant to be a witness or a participant), I assiduously gave them their space to do it, because that is what I would want and I assumed they felt the same.

God knows, I have never wanted to be distracted by the realism of a lover, of another intellect, or another body when I’m in self-service mode. I want the space to fantasize about all that is NOT possible or even desirable in reality. I don’t want him or her in my face when I’m having a nice implausible wank about something with tentacles or Donald Trump. Meanwhile, I would never allow myself to fantasize about being with someone else while I’m being sexual with my lover. I’m weirdly Catholic. When I’m with them, I feel the need to be absolutely with them, mind and body. And perhaps, for that reason, I need my autoeroticism to be mine alone.

Masturbation is often presented as a substitute for sex with someone else, or somehow lonely. And perhaps for many people it is. But not for me. It’s never a substitute. It’s always a glorious act in and for itself. And I never feel lonely; I love my own sexual company.

Now, of course, I realize that most people are probably NOT like me. And perhaps those times when I politely left a lover to their own devices after interrupting their wank, they saw it as a rejection. I hope not. But perhaps. Who knows?

What about you? Where does masturbation lie in your constellation of erotic possibilities?





  22 comments for “Selfish Flesh

  1. May 8, 2016 at 12:33 am

    I have an extremely high libido. I’ve been involved with only one woman who was interested in having sex as often as I was. If I viewed masturbation as a lonely substitute for not being able to have sex, I’d be in a bad psychological state.

    As a result, I see them as different things. Masturbation is relieving the pressure so I can get on with my morning, or my afternoon, or my evening. As a rule, it’s really not erotic the way yours is apparently, though there are times it is.

    Partner sex is a different because it’s more than pressure relief. It might be a connecting experience. It might be a more drawn out erotic experience, but it’s rarely about just getting off, because I can (and do) that faster and better on my own.

    • May 8, 2016 at 12:38 am

      So…it’s kind of utilitarian for you?

      • May 8, 2016 at 12:41 am

        Most of the time it’s utilitarian. Probably once every other week or so it’s something more erotic, but that’s <5% of the time.

        • May 8, 2016 at 12:44 am

          When I stop to consider it, I think I have the occasional wank that starts as completely utilitarian, but inevitably, I just distract myself into something more elaborate and think… well, this wasn’t as quick as I thought it would be.

  2. May 8, 2016 at 12:36 am

    I like that our posts have inspired your post. I can see your point of view about the solitary nature of masturbation (being a recovering Catholic myself might help there) and how easy it can be to sometimes assume your point of view is shared. I do think that the D/s dynamic Molly and I have can put a different spin on this often overlooked area of sexuality.

    P.S. Are we having some sort of blog post threeway? Because I might have to add it to my log book 😛

    • May 8, 2016 at 12:41 am

      Yes, I think the D/s part of it does make it very different indeed. And yes, of course it’s a three-way. I thought that was obvious!

  3. Isla
    May 8, 2016 at 1:43 am

    When I masturbate it’s a solo act. I don’t want anyone else there. I couldn’t do it if anyone else was there. Because usually when I masturbate I am consumed by my fantasies, things that can never happen in reality, and that’s where I give them life.

    I have never walked in on my lover masturbating but I have performed oral while he watched porn. Probably not the same but it falls somewhere between the reality of being another person and the fantasy of being alone and therefore having licence to indulge in selfishness.

    • May 8, 2016 at 8:34 am

      ” it falls somewhere between the reality of being another person and the fantasy of being alone ”

      I think you’re touching on something very interesting and that doesn’t get discussed much. The fantasy of being another person and being fantasized as being someone else, or the fantasy of being with someone imaginary are similar all in terms of shifting identities and the paradox of subjectivity and sex. Rich to think about.

  4. Lee
    May 10, 2016 at 3:52 pm

    Masturbation has always about being a private way for me to sublimate my libido (which is pretty high) where no other sexual outlet is available. In that setting, beimg walked in on is a total mood killer; it’s not a shared activity.

    So if I’m with my partner, we’re having sex that, if it involves masturbation, is mutually done (genital touching) or not a feature of our joint sexuality. It would feel strange to me for us to masturbate together without getting mutually involved, and thus doing something else. After all, if you’re with somebody else, your options are so much more, right?

    Over the last ten to twelve years, my partner has had a complete failure in libido (there’s a clearly attributable medical cause) and has thus lost all interest in sexual relations; I’ve been left high and dry. It doesn’t seem to ocurr to her that, since we’re in a monogamous exclusive relationship, her decision not to have sex basically abrogates my sexual choice.

    She expects me to remain faithful; this was never up for discussion, from her point of view, regardless of her sexual decision. To be honest, that’s a bit shitty. Since I don’t want to cheat, i’m therefore forced into a situation where masturbation is my only sexual relief.

    So my motivation for masturbating is what GOTN calls an “admin wank”; it relieves sexual frustration. And it’s a solitary activity, coupled with pornographic material for stimulation.

    The difficulty I get with this is, at the back of my mind, is thinking “I should be with my wife”. That’s the type of sex I want to be having, not just making do with an admin wank twice a day.

    So for me, it’s “make do and mend” rather than a fulfilling sexual relationship. Which I miss more and more as the years clock up. 🙁

    • May 10, 2016 at 8:37 pm

      I think the belief that masturbation is a lesser form of sexuality, or somehow worse than or a poor substitute for anything is so pervasive, most people never really make an effort to conceive of it in any other way. Which is fine, I guess.
      But I don’t.

  5. Roger L
    May 11, 2016 at 3:32 am


    Thanks for your essay. I also consider masturbation to be a distinct relationship with myself, a private place in which the feedback is inward, meditative, and more exploratory (believe it or not) than when with a partner.

    When I’m with a partner, I’m focused on a constantly shifting and interactive dynamic, the possibility of random and unexpected inputs, adjustments and “improvisation.” It is a kind of physical and intensely intimate performance, subjective in the extreme, even if masturbatory elements are part of it. When I’m by myself, all performance is in service of my own response and therefore the role-play, even if I’m in high-flight lingerie, quite objective.

    I’ve never quite understood how simply jerking off doesn’t “get me in the mood” for partner-sex. Thanks for helping to unpack it a little.

  6. Jane Anne
    May 15, 2016 at 7:52 pm

    “The Waiting Room” has wandered around in my mind for a long time. What an introduction to the layers of consciousness … Or other…you provoke and explore here. Even when as reader I am stubbornly recalcitrant, you poke, peel, push and provide. Self-pleasuring and its sharing, examination, seem somehow part of the circle search for completion. Not th divided self, the whole self.
    A remarkable gift RG.

  7. KC
    May 22, 2016 at 7:23 pm

    Interesting topics. ‘Table for one’ is my favourite kind of sex! These days partner sex is unrewarding and lonely (just coming out of a looong monogamous relationship). Just another surprising erotic twist in the tale!

  8. Steph
    May 26, 2016 at 9:39 pm

    This post and the associated D/s posts from the couple are…helpful. I have been married to my husband for 11 years – and I am very much in love with him. He and I have known from the beginning that I have a strong libido, stronger than his. I was always a “good girl.” We met randomly and fell in love immediately after I finished my BA. I was 21, and he was 28. He is the only person with whom I’ve ever had sex, and I still have occasional and lingering good Catholic girl guilty feelings after I get myself off. I take great pleasure in my own “nice implausible wank” sessions, but sometimes I think: Should I be doing this? Reading your post has left me feeling relieved. I am not alone. I am not some anomalous freak for indulging in solo sessions, even though I am married to a wonderful (and sexy) man. My appetite is voracious, and I find sensuality in so many things. My masturbating is not, and has never been, a rejection of him. Rather, it is a nice add-on to the tapestry of my sexual reality. I realize as I type this that I am typing these words as an attempt to further convince myself that it is indeed all right to take a trip to my fantasy land and find pleasure in all its kinky corners.

    • May 27, 2016 at 2:52 pm

      I think we each find our own way to be at peace with our flesh. Personally, I think everyone has a right to their own pleasure as distinct from the pleasure they share with others, which is a different thing, and SHOULD be different thing.

      I honestly can’t conceive how they are even related. Being with someone else, being present in the moment with someone else, is an entirely different universe. The fact that both may involve genitals and orgasms only tells me that perhaps we focus too much on genitals and orgasms, and not enough on being WITH another when we are with another person.

      • Steph
        May 28, 2016 at 4:26 am

        I have been studying mindfulness and mindfulness-based stress reduction and the positive physiological effects of being present and in the moment – on purpose. I am fresh out of grad school, so academia is still at the forefront for me! Anyway, there is plenty of talk & research out there on mindful eating, leaving mobile devices turned off and put away while spending time with loved ones, etc., but not much about mindful sex. Sex with a partner – anything with a partner, really, is so much more enjoyable when you are fully WITH the other person(s). It’s a no-brainer, but I feel reminders to be mindful between the sheets are just as necessary for a healthy society as news reports on mindful eating. Now, if I could just get some funding for a mindful sex research study…..

      • Jane Anne
        June 5, 2016 at 7:19 pm

        Your insight is again so spot on. “Peace with our flesh….SHOULD be a different thing” than pleasure shared with others, an “entirely different universe”. “Pleasure’s Apprentice” drew on the learning experience we all have in whatever fashion with techne. Sharing is far deeper than technique and involves gifting of a self at ease with itself.

  9. Clive
    March 6, 2017 at 10:13 pm

    I have always enjoyed masturbating. It is a sexual exercise which brings great solo pleasure and relief from distracting erotic thoughts which can occupy my mind when having to concentrate on work and other matters. I never rush it. Just take my time until I ejaculate and relax in the afterglow.

  10. claudia
    October 31, 2017 at 11:05 pm

    It’s my oldest memory, and it’s related to pleasure, punishment, intimacy, almost everything that is important to construct your sexual personality. It has to be addressed more frequently and, hopefully, one day the school will teach girls how to do it in a healthy, pleasurable way after getting to know their bodies better and all the possibilities it offers in terms of sexuality.

  11. Saurav Das
    December 24, 2017 at 12:07 am

    I have always thought of masturbation as a means of releasing pent up sexual pressures. I have masturbated all my growing up years in the sexually repressive Indian society I grew up in right upto the time of my marriage, but for a good many years in the golden period of our marriage I never felt the need to masturbate. I guess we had a good fit in love making in all senses of the term, and more often than not we came together, Then, pressures of life and medical conditions disrupted our sexual life and I had to turn back to masturbation to fill up the void and continued to do so upto a fairly advanced age with increasing degree of difficulty. Up until then, masturbation was a strictly private pleasure. Then I discovered online sex, and found that the difficulty to construct an erotic imagery so essential to maintain an erection felt unreal at my advanced age, but the condition was greatly mitigated by watching a “friend” masturbate on screen even as I masturbated for her. All this leads me to surmise that masturbation is not an alternative pleasure of the flesh, but a substitute for love making.

    • rose
      September 3, 2018 at 11:07 am

      This really helped me learn something – and the writer had to be very brave to express these feelings

  12. Evie
    August 26, 2018 at 9:46 pm

    I love the way you describe the independent sensuality of masturbation. I feel similarly. Granted, I thoroughly enjoy mutual masturbation and my voyeuristic tendencies enjoy the watching, but it is never as intimate nor erotic as when I am enjoying my body in private. I am yet to experience a real life situation that reaches a similar level of specific arousal that my mind manages to invent.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

2 × four =

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.