They say that a stitch in time saves nine,
They say I better stop, or I'll go blind.
This post has taken many days to write and almost never got to see the light of day. I tend to put a lot of the "I" in these blog essays so a post about masturbation is a difficult one to write. But my point, as you will see, is that it should be written about, so it would be silly of me to want others to do so if I can't myself. As members of my family sometimes read this blog I won't stray into the realms of TMI. (Too Much Information.) I wouldn't anyway, come to think of it!
There's always been lots of discussion about sex in YA books--how much is suitable, whether it's suitable at all, whether books containing sex should be in the school library. But what about masturbation? Like most words of a clinical nature that deal with sex, I'm not fond of the word "masturbation", but we have a limited vocabulary when it comes to sex and "masturbation" is vastly preferable to "rubbing one out" or any of the other slang terms, so I guess I'm stuck with it.
I never read a YA book as a teenager, if my memory serves me correctly, that contained or dealt with masturbation. For girls, anyway. I think I may have read one or two with male characters that did. I did read adult books (not xxx adult, just regular adult) that mentioned masturbation in passing, but in hindsight I see that they didn't deal with it in a very sensible way. They were mainstream popular romances by Diana Gabaldon and Elizabeth Chadwick and Jean M. Auel. These books are absolutely stuffed with sex, especially virgin deflowerings of both the male and female variety. In one Chadwick book it was remarked that Guinevere/Elisabeth/Marietta or whatever her name was never masturbated; it was implied that this just Wasn't Done. Of course dear Guinevere/Elisabeth/Marietta came in five seconds flat on her wedding night. Jean M. Auel handles things similarly to Chadwick: her heroine Ayla is turned on watching some mammoths go at it, but doesn't do anything about it until Jondalar comes along. Jondalar "relieves himself", as it's euphemistically put, near the end of The Valley of Horses and feels an incredible sense of shame and loss at having wasted his precious fluid. Diana Gabaldon's Jamie professes to detest the act as well, in Drums of Autumn if I remember correctly.
These are all historical novels, so perhaps the authors believed that this was the way their characters would think due to the times in which they lived. But this explanation doesn't sit well with me. Really, grown men being precious about their fluids? Eighteenth-century lusty Scots detesting the act? I was probably fourteen or so when I read these books, and instead of scoffing (as I am doing as I type) I took it all to heart. The sex-ed teachers only made it worse with their silly cartoons about kids being ashamed in their beds and being struck by lightning. (I had a secular upbringing and I suppose the lightning was meant to represent God, though I didn't realise it at the time. Lightning itself was alarming enough.) These vids were meant to assuage any fears ("don't worry, you actually won't get struck by lightning"), but they had the opposite effect on me. We watched them when we were about twelve, I think. My reasoning went something like this: "if those kids on the tape are ashamed, and the teachers assume we're ashamed, there's probably a good reason for it; ergo, these videos are meant to prevent the freaks who do masturbate from killing themselves. Masterbation is therefore the lesser of two evils. No one normal must be doing it. All right then."
I really did over-think things that much, and being "normal" was a big deal for me at the time.
I outright asked my closest male friend around this time whether he "did it" not and he cried "No! Of course not! How could you ask me such a thing?" Years later over beers I called him out on that. He replied, "What did you expect me to say? We were thirteen. 'Wanker' was the biggest insult around."
You could argue that it's my own fault for being confused due to the books I was reading as they really weren't meant for younger teenagers. Chadwick and Gabaldon and Auel are written for grown-up women and I should have stuck to LJ Smith. But where's the fun in that? I was looking for smut, and there sure isn't any in LJ Smith! I say smut in the most affectionate way, might I add. I loved the Chadwick and Gabaldon books. I still do. I just didn't have any thoughtful YA lit to counteract these ridiculous romantic ideologies like Sex Is For Married Virgins and Love And Babies, and all that rot that goes along with it. Like, Masturbation is Wasteful and Wrong.
You could also ask why on earth I took anything seriously that I read in mainstream romances. Again, I was fourteen and books, even fiction books, were like my religion: therein lies the Truth. I knew that vampires weren't real of course and my wardrobe didn't lead to Narnia (*cry*), but the characters in my books were like real people and I tended to pay attention to what they thought and felt.
I also may have responded, "Really?" the first time someone said, "You know, they've taken 'gullible' out of the dictionary, Rhiannon." I was a dear, trusting child ...
All this muddle could have been undone by one or two thoughtful Blume-esque chapters on the subject in the many hundreds of YA books I was also reading at the time. But no, there was not one book I read that dealt with the subject of masturbation, at least for girls. And we all know that boys get up to far grubbier things than girls do, right? (Which is how I thought then, and occasionally do still think now. Like the other day when I found my dear boy washing his feet in the bathroom hand basin. Thirteen or thirty-five, boys can be bloody gross.)
Around this time I read Tiger Eyes, my very favourite Judy Blume book. I reread it earlier in the year and still loved it, and read the Wikipedia page about it for trivia. Imagine my disappointment when I read this:
Judy Blume states in her book Places I Never Meant to Be that this was the only book she has written that she has voluntarily censored. In the original draft submitted to her editor the character Davey masturbates while thinking about Wolf. Her editor pointed out that the book was likely to be read by many more young readers if the scene was left out. After agonizing over the decision, Blume agreed and removed the passage. This remains the only occasion in which the often censored author has removed a controversial passage from one of her books.
I'm still fuming about this. Younger readers wouldn't have given a damn if that scene was left in--if the book had been allowed into school libraries, which it probably wouldn't. If there is any author that can sort out the confusions of an adolescent in a few neatly penned chapters, it's Judy Blume. If only I'd read Deenie, a Blume book that does deal with masturbation. But I didn't. I don't think I ever crossed paths with Deenie. Maybe the libraries I used didn't stock it for some reason. Funny that.
I managed to sort things out on my own and never did get struck by lightning (phew!), but I'm feeling rather betrayed. Not by Blume as such. Heavens know that she's pushed enough envelopes and copped enough flack for her books over the years. She's done so much good with books like Forever, a book I'm personally grateful for. I'm annoyed at the whole squeamish system; that books that deal with subject matter vital to a certain age group aren't being given to that age group. Are people even writing YA about masturbation now? I certainly haven't come across any.
This might turn into a case of "Fine, I'll write it myself!" But I'm going to have to come up with a more elegant turn of phrase than "rubbing one out."