- I didn’t masturbate until I was in my 20s and in college.
- It wasn’t a religious thing — it just didn’t dawn on me or other girls I knew that we could do it.
- When I finally had an orgasm, I had to look up “orgasm” in my textbook to make sure it was that.
My social evolution in grades six through 12 went from eating lunch in the middle-school library to eating lunch in the high-school library, I did a lot of homework instead of exploring my own pleasure or anyone else’s.
It wasn’t a religious vow, or because in horror movies virgins never die, or even because women are taught that our reproductive parts are “gifts” that are to remain “wrapped,” “or else.” It was because masturbation never dawned on me or any girl I knew. One friend of mine thought “to masturbate” meant to scratch an itch, which made me afraid to scratch an itch.
Perhaps men and some women can’t find the clitoris because it’s been misconceived and misdescribed — and it’s been misdescribed because, well, guess who wrote the dictionary and forged the American lexicon? It was men: Samuel Johnson, Noah Webster, the Merriam brothers, et al.
I tried once in high school without success
One time — just once — in high school, I tried it: I tried m-bating. I could not bring myself to use the full word, so I castrated it.
In my childhood bedroom, I lit every scented candle I owned, and I played what was, in the year 2000, the sexiest music on the planet, John Mayer.
With candles burning and the masturbation anthem “Your Body Is a Wonderland” blaring, I positioned myself horizontally on the inflatable clear-plastic loveseat at the foot of my bed.
Thus arranged, I was ready to make some hand motions on/in/around my swimsuit area in order to awaken its potential.
But nothing happened. And then the song ended, and then the CD ended. The candles burned out.
I figured, meh, how important is masturbation anyway? Couldn’t I just live without it?
By college, I resented my body and tried again
By the time I got to college, I hadn’t jilled off, hadn’t put my mouth on another person for longer than 10 seconds.
I began to resent my body and its inoperability as a sexual beast; this bitterness, this slow rot, was why I bought a silver-bullet vibrator and a cylindrical mauve device that I never figured out how to work or where it went.
In my college dorm single, I’d take the silver bullet, recline in a squeaky black scoop chair, and apply the buzzy bullet where applicable. This was boring, so I watched DVDs — my only DVDs, of “Family Guy.“ Because if the room were dark and my eyes were closed, then thoughts would rush in.
Don’t think about your mom right now. Don’t think about her, right now, while you’re doing this, shopping at Saks Fifth Avenue. Don’t think about your dead dog. Don’t think about your dead dog going down on your mom in the middle of Saks Fifth Avenue. Don’t remember that in middle school you and your mom used to sing along in two-part harmony in her Honda Accord to Boyz II Men’s “I’ll Make Love to You.”
Also, college-dorm walls are supermodel thin, and the TV muffled the vibrator’s sound, which was not unlike a tornado of lawnmowers.
I anticipated something magnificent, or anything at all.
I went through episode after episode and packs and packs of batteries without feeling what I should feel.
Until one day, I felt something. I almost cried out, “I FEEL A THING.”
There was a buildup and a release — I sneezed, but not with my mouth and nose. Then my whole body felt like one foot asleep. AndI didn’t overuse the word “yes” or manically call for god. I didn’t giggle or breathe in a vaporish way or make long, low sounds to broadcast unhinged gratification. I didn’t undulate or writhe. Instead, I made what was most likely an ugly and distended face that I’d be afraid to see in the mirror. Gargoylian.
To make sure that what happened to me actually happened, I looked up “orgasm” in my Women & Sexuality studies textbook. I fact-checked my orgasm. And it checked out.
I wondered if this is what I’ve been missing, and how much I missed out on
A girl can get good at m-bating, like, 14-year-old boy good. A girl can go off the rails, go dark, and lose herself in herself. A girl can read Jane Austen’s Emma for class and get off at the same time. A girl can go and go until her fingers resemble a petrified claw. A girl can be a machine that has just figured out it’s also a woman and that never has to turn off.
But reaching pleasure’s extremity was also super sad. This is what I’d been missing? This heaven-on-earth euphoric spasm that’s responsible for humanity and has made life worthwhile since time immemorial? This, my clit, had been here the whole time? And I wasn’t supposed to know?
I had ignored myself
In my 30s, I took my niece and nephews for ice cream. Alone with them in the car, I told them, very seriously and with complete authority — also very normally and totally appropriately — that it was vitally important that they masturbate, that they get to know their bodies before anyone else does, especially my niece. I advised them to spend their youths wisely, by going to town on themselves.
For two decades of my life I ignored myself. That’s 20 years of missed masturbation, 20 years of lost orgasms during the years when my body belonged all to myself, before it learned to keep the score. If I could have had one orgasm per day for 20 years, that’s 7,300 orgasms I never had. And if I’d had multiple orgasms per day, that number could be doubled, tripled, even octupled, to 58,400.
Measuring how many kisses I missed is harder. Thousands of hours, probably. Let’s say a make-out session is one hour, and to be conservative, maybe I would’ve made out every day of summer but never during the calendar school year. Five summers is 465 hours when instead of making out, I wasn’t.
Then there are the missed arm touches and missed shoulder brushes, the legs that never trembled, the heads that didn’t spin, the hearts that didn’t race. The unheld hands and the untouched, unexplored body parts. The lack of chemistry, electricity. And the smiles, oh, god, the smiles I didn’t smile or see smiled at me.
Then there’s the sex I didn’t have: at least five years of missed sex, of sex in cars and in fields, sex after school dances and before-class sex, sex in my twin bed, and sex wherever young people have sex.
But if I factor in quality, did I miss anything worth missing? Did I miss only bad sex? How many regrets do I not have? How many nights did I not have that I wish I could forget? How torturous would it have been, thinking all day about someone and into the night and into dreams.
Maybe I just need to stay alive a little longer than most people to make up for it, to fit in those 58,000 orgasms, those thousands of kissing hours, and five years’ worth of sex in parking lots.
Why not start the clock now?
Elissa Bassist is the editor of the “Funny Women” column on The Rumpus and the author of the award-deserving memoir “Hysterical,” available now from Hachette. She teaches humor writing at The New School, 92NY, Catapult, and elsewhere, and she is probably her therapist’s favorite. Visit elissabassist.com for classes, events, and gossip.