Posted by olvlzl.
Steve Colbert mentioned the great heroine of sexual realism, responsibility and so of morality, Dr. Joycelyn Elders on his show the other night, I’m told. He contrasted her hisory with the Holsinger nutcase Bush has nominated for the post of Surgeon General. Even if you didn’t see his quite funny piece you know, of course, that the subject was “self-abuse”. It was the famous answer she courageously gave to a direct [set-up?] question with the camera rolling and the administration she was a part of under full media attack.
[masturbation ] "is a part of human sexuality, and it's a part of something that perhaps should be taught."
She didn’t lie, she didn’t dodge the bullet she must have known the question was, she didn’t put her job or even her boss first, she took it on behalf of public health. She did the job she had been asked to do. It was the kind of raw of political courage that has become almost unknown in this country. A woman of her brilliance couldn’t have failed to know the entire consequences, the firestorm on hate talk radio and the cabloids, the pursed lips and disapproving squint of the “legitimate media”. She probably knew that it would cost her the position of Surgeon General, she’s no one’s fool. That doesn’t excuse Bill Clinton in her case. Not backing her up over what he must know was true was one of the most dishonorable things Bill Clinton did in office.
I think what Dr. Elders meant was that children should be taught that it was normal and nothing to be ashamed of and that it was a safe and uncomplicated means of dealing with sexual tension. She certainly knew that just about every one has, does or will do “it” anyway. It really wouldn’t have an impact on “incidence”. Actually, unless the person doing it is unusually careless I don’t think you could exactly call masturbating an “incident”.
Since Dr. Elders has had a long career of public service with many accomplishments I always felt kind of embarrassed that it was that one answer that would define her public life. But then there is this other quote from her:
"Our country talked about masturbation more in December of 1994 than they ever have in the history of the country - and you know, people would think you'd be embarrassed about that. I'm not embarrassed about that."
Only a true heroine could hold her head up and be unashamed to tell a politically inconvenient truth and promote the public’s welfare in performance of her duties and at her personal cost.
Who knows how much misery has been avoided over the centuries because of the near universality of masturbation? Unwanted pregnancies, venereal disease, fruitless yearning and the rash behavior that could be dissipated without anyone getting hurt? Hardly anyone really believes that it’s immoral, it harms no one so how could it be? Those benefits should be promoted and not suppressed. What other sexual practices are taboo anymore?* It’s really more of a housekeeping problem, when it comes down to it. The issue should be taken out of the hands of hypocritical conservative moralists** and handed over to people with an advanced knowledge of stain removal. The shame around it is just about the only health issue involved. Pretending anything else is simply a lie.
So, as a tribute to Dr. Elders, it is a duty to talk about masturbation and to make it accepted as valid a sexual practice as intercourse. The reason it’s always been such a school yard joke and a shame is because everyone was doing it, they didn’t know everyone else was and they didn’t want anyone to rank them among the “dubbers”. If they felt more comfortable with continuing to masturbate instead of engaging in sexual intercourse before they are wise enough to protect themselves or experienced enough to know a con when they see one many personal disasters could be averted. That’s what we should be working towards.
For another appreciation for Dr. Elders you can read this recent post by Kate Harding at Feministing.
Note: In a discussion on a thread on Eschaton about the Holsinger crack pot, it was speculated that given the disparity in numbers and the fact that a large percentage of gay men don’t practice anal sex, there might actually be more heterosexual anal sex than gay. I have been wondering how you would figure that out. Since he’s obviously quite interested in the subject perhaps Dr. H. might like to spend a little bit of his obviously too abundant time to expand his hobby research. His 1991 “paper” went into quite baroque detail about the possible tissue damage that can result from gay anal sex. To deny that some damage is possible is sometimes is, of course, dishonest. But maybe he isn’t as concerned with what happens to heterosexual women’s lower digestive tract as long as it’s a straight man doing it. Given the reports of the increase in unprotected heterosexual, anal sex among “chastity” teens, it could turn out to be quite acceptable to the chastity industry. Or it might be profitable to pretend it’s not happening.
*There are the controversies about “frottage” among some gay men. Some react with surprising vehemence to the suggestion that mutual masturbation is a more sensible alternative than anal sex. Some even claim that those who promote “frottage” as an alternative to anal sex are homophobes. That is an absurd idea. About a quarter of gay men surveyed in the mid-70s said that they didn’t engage in anal sex. Since that was before AIDS emerged you might imagine that an even large percentage doesn’t engage in anal sex now. I don't have any idea if the figures then were accurate, well, you've heard what I think about polling. But, don’t adults get to decide what they do among themselves, in private?
All of these decisions about sex have to be taken out of the hands, not only of the phony “chastity” industry but they also have to be taken out of the hands of those who are the reaction to the traditional moralists’ disapproval. These are personal decisions. Personal decisions will be different but they should be based on mutual respect and consent and with full knowledge of what will promote continued health, not on “doing it the real, right way” or on coercion. Luckily, the law isn't involved, for the time being.
** Who, exactly like the school yard bullies, all either did, does or will masturbate and they should know we know about it. If they deny it we should question them about their abnormality.