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The Crazy Myth I Learned About Masturbating — & How I Learned To Enjoy It Again

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Photographed by: Lauren Perlstein
My humping hobby started around third grade. It began with a pillow, then a plush doll of Dopey from Snow White. Before I knew it, I had done it with every stuffed animal on my shelf. I was such a humping fanatic that, still, whenever I visit my parents and walk into my old room, I can feel them calling me a slut with their judgmental plastic eyes.

Like most children, I didn’t know what I was doing, except that it felt good. Really good. So good that I didn’t understand why no one had recommend doing it before. Since no one told me about “it,” I assumed I had invented “it.” I thought that when I got older, I could write a book about “it,” teach classes about “it,” and maybe even have a talk show about “it.” “It” would sweep the nation. Except “it” involved your “thingy,” which led me to believe this was perhaps a wrong thing to do. So I kept my invention a secret — a solo secret thing reserved only for bedtime.

Then, my parents bought the greatest inadvertent sex toy ever: a beanbag chair. The beanbag chair lived in the living room, where I’d watch TV every day after school. One day, I was sitting on it in a straddling child’s pose-style position and when I moved in a particular way, I felt a feeling better than previous partners had provided. Forget Dopey, this chair was my new boo.

Although the beanbag chair was located in a very public part of my house, the way in which I mounted it looked simply like a cozy position to my unsuspecting, stay-a-virgin-before-marriage Catholic mother, which made it possible for me to sneak in a quickie while we watched Dynasty together. By age 10, I had mastered the hump so well that I could make the slightest, inconspicuous grind against Mr. Beans that no one would notice.

But the best was when I was alone in the living room and I’d let myself go crazy. Occasionally, I’d roll around the floor passionately gyrating my love seat (a move I learned from an episode of Moonlighting, except Cybill Shepherd actually rolled around with Bruce Willis, not a bag of plastic). Once, during an episode of Out of this World, I was alone, humping my chair shamelessly, when my father walked in to let me know dinner was ready. I froze like Evie’s boyfriend after she did her magic finger-touch trick. When I joined my parents in the kitchen for pasta, no one said anything, which just caused me to feel more anxious. Did he see what I was doing? Am I in trouble? Can I eat an entire plate of ziti fast enough to finish that episode of Out Of This World?

Of course, that didn’t stop me from continuing my humping habit. Perhaps getting caught added to the thrill. I humped my beanbag chair daily — sometimes multiple times a day. My friends would invite me over, but I’d opt to go home so I could essentially fuck a chair. Still, I didn’t know that this was masturbating. I knew that seeing two people fooling around on TV would make me want to do my magic beanbag dance, but I didn’t know why or understand how.

Then, I met Jenny. Her mom gave her a book about sex when she was 8 and Jenny taught me about sex when we were 11. I listened in amazement as she told me all about “wee wees,” “ding dongs,” and “wonk wonks” — until Jenny said something that pretty much ruined my life.

“So masturbating is when you touch your thing or rub your thing and it feels good. Isn’t that gross?! You don’t do that, do you?”

“Me? No. Never. Ew. Why?”

“Good, ‘cause it’s so gross and you can get pregnant!”

Apparently, Jenny didn’t read the whole book.

I spent a few hours nervous that, in nine months, I’d be giving birth to tiny beanbag-chair children. Thankfully, a little pre-Google encyclopaedia research quickly debunked her theory. However, one fact remained: Masturbating was “gross.” And when I passed Jenny’s knowledge onto other girlfriends, they all expressed the same disgusted reaction. If masturbating was “gross,” that meant people who do it are “gross,” which meant I was “gross.” The last thing any preteen girl wants to be is “gross,” so I forced myself to end my chair affair.

At first, there were a few relapses. To make matters worse, the beanbag chair had popped and my mum was confused as to why the seams had busted open when I, a small child, was the only one who really sat on it. And because Italian immigrant mums rarely throw anything away, my mum put the chair in a trash bag and kept it in the downstairs family room “just in case” we needed it. I needed it. I needed it bad. Yes, I was so addicted that I humped garbage.

If masturbating was 'gross,' that meant people who do it are 'gross,' which meant I was 'gross.'

I began to pray a lot, begging God to help me quit humping and stop being “gross.” My prayers were answered when my mum finally decided to throw away the beanbag chair.

Years passed and I eventually lost my interest in chairs and actually became interested in other human beings. One boy in particular took up most of my high school daydream space, a "friend" that I went to third base with once. We only “hung out” for a week before he called it off, because I called him 30 times in one day. (How was I supposed to know he had caller ID?) We never officially dated, but developed a flirty friendship in which I’d let him talk to me about other girls in the hopes he’d realise, rom-com style, that I was The One. One night, as we chatted about my new Jodeci CD, he began to breathe heavily.

“Are you listening to me?” I asked.

“Ah, yeah,” he said. “Yeah, keep talking.”

“What are you doing?”

“Just talk.”

“Are you...”

He let out a sigh of relief.

“What were you...” I began to ask.

“I was touching myself.”

“Why?!”

“Because your voice turns me on.”

Now, this is not me being self-deprecating, because I do think there are things about me that are sexy — but, in my opinion, my voice is not one of them. Still, I was flattered.

“It does?”

“Yeah, don’t you touch yourself?”

“Ew! No, that’s so gross!”

“No it’s not, do it. Trust me, you’ll love it.”

As I heard his deep voice say “do it,” I felt the beanbag chair feelings come rushing back, so I got off the phone and finished myself off — I was a born-again masturbator!

From then on, I refused to ever believe that something that felt so wonderful could ever be “gross.” As long as you aren’t hurting anyone (or anyone’s furniture), there’s absolutely no shame in masturbating.

Sure, at the time, I was bummed that the dude who took my HJ virginity didn’t ask me to prom, but he had given me something better than a lame corsage: He had given me the courage to explore my body without shame. (Okay, fine, I wanted the “lame” corsage, too.)

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realised how much it sucked growing up in a world where boys seemed to be able to speak freely about “jerking off” while girls who touched themselves were “gross” or promiscuous. Perhaps if I had learned early on that “thingys” were actually called “vaginas” and it’s okay to touch your own, I wouldn’t have wasted so much time feeling ashamed and dirty. Of course, just because I learned that masturbating was okay doesn’t mean I was free from any further sexual guilt — even as an adult, I would face slut-shaming, judgment about my thoughts on monogamy and heterosexuality, and a sense that I should be feeling bad about feeling good. Thankfully, I’ve come to realise that, as long as everyone consents, feeling good is a great thing.

And while I don’t currently need the help of home decor or stuffed animals to masturbate, I have to admit that I still get a little excited when I see a beanbag chair. I guess it’s true what they say: You never forget your first love.
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