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Tom Scotus

Masturbation: The Broader Context

The Angel of Purity Maria Mitchell Memorial 1902 detail

Some magazine ads have subliminally linked smoking to masturbation. The ads were designed to create the unconscious belief that smoking the advertised cigarettes would provide the same gratification that masturbation does.

In this broader sense, any behaviour might be “masturbatory” when it is done not to achieve a good or productive end but for “meaningless” self-centered pleasure or gratification. By this definition, sex with another person can be masturbatory, if it is done only for selfish pleasure and not for the higher purposes of expressing committed love and possible procreation. Another example of masturbatory behaviour might be completely a one-sided “conversation” where the listener is used only as a sounding board to gratify the egotistical demands of the talker.

Religion can also be used in a masturbatory way. The purpose of religion should be, I think, to help people become more holy so they can achieve salvation. This takes work: studying the Bible, prayer, and doing good deeds. The masturbatory approach would be to use religion only for self-centered gratification, such as, perhaps, engaging in long, inane theological disputes.

Years ago, I met a man in his thirties who spent much of his time studying car ads in old magazines. Supposedly, he was planning to buy one of these old vehicles to “fix up.” He was separated from his wife who had the kids. He was unemployed and was renting a single room in a private home. Buying an old vehicle and doing a good job restoring it, I don’t think is masturbatory. Doing what he was doing, might be considered as such, especially when he seemed to be making little effort to get his life in order.

I don’t mean to imply that pleasurable activities or diversions are always “masturbatory.” It’s true that all work and no play make Jack a dull boy. So, for example, going on a picnic, ice skating or eating dessert are not necessarily masturbatory behaviours. The purpose of recreational diversions should be to sweeten a productive life, not become a substitute for one. Ideally, pleasure or gratification should come as an “added bonus” of productive behaviour or as a reward for it.

“Masturbatory” behaviour is not the same as trying to make work more pleasant or enjoying one’s job. It is rather an attempt to avoid altogether the hard effort that real accomplishment demands or, better still, the attempt to extract only self-indulgent pleasure from what should be productive or meaningful behaviour.

A “masturbatory” approach to life shows a deep immaturity. It’s perhaps okay if a three year old tries to do only what feels good all of the time. However, as he matures, he must learn the basic principal of achievement: “No pain, no gain!” There can be a fine line between “masturbatory” and productive or meaningful behaviour. Take a critical look at the many ways you send your time. You be the judge!