Courts in Sweden and Italy dropped charges against men arrested for public masturbation in recent years. This seems trivial in the week we learned that Brunei shall introduce the death penalty for sodomy and adultery. But they are very much related.
The bloody British, my ancestors, started it. In particular, it was a breed of English meddler from London and New England in the present-day United States. Puritan’s were Christian separatists. Yet, in 1659 they banned Christmas in Boston which does not seem very Christian at all. So if Christmas was a satanical cluster fuck, one imagines their heads exploding at the thought of masturbation. Indeed, a few years prior, Puritans ruthlessly restricted sexual expression, including masturbation, in the name of God. Sadly, they gained power in London just as the Empire was ascendant and able to impose influence over much of the World. The History of Sexuality (pdf) is in large part a study about how humanity changed from this period onward.
Puritan’s were maniacally hostile to what God apparently told them was unnatural sex. More than other religious groups of the time, they had a genuine horror of sexual perversion comprising all sex outside marriage. In 1656, masturbation was made a capital crime in the New England colony of New Haven (🍆+✊💦=💀).
[New Haven] prohibited under pain of death men lying with men, women lying with women, masturbation (if aggravated [like in public]) and any other carnal knowledge.” – Sexual Orientation and Rights edited by Nicholas Bamforth.
It is ironic that countries which call themselves the leaders of the free world today, a few centuries earlier were responsible for shepherding humanity off a cliff of sexual repression. While there was only limited progress over the last 50 years, compared to Brunei, the sexual freedom we enjoy today cannot be understated. And unlike the cancerous spread of Puritanism, Brunei is a sobering reminder that no singular reversal of repression will ever happen.
It’s ‘okay’ to masturbate in public
A man who pleasured himself on a Stockholm beach was acquitted of sexual assault by a Swedish court because he ‘was not targeting a specific person.’
Public masturbation is not a crime
A man who masturbated in front of female students had his conviction overturned by Italy’s highest court on the basis that, unless minors are present, ‘public auto-eroticism’ is not a criminal act.
Sweden and Italy decided that there is nothing wrong with men masturbating in public. If we too accept this, we must accept that laws which prohibit masturbation or define indecent acts and prohibit them from public places are likely to do more harm than good. It has often been the case when humans try to ‘fix’ human traits or otherwise play God using ungodly powers such as with law and punishment that the outcome is perverse… There are pages of search results about men in the news for rubbing their penis in public. You wouldn’t be blamed for wondering if the frequency or ‘severity’ of public masturbation has increased, not decreased over the generations.
Intuitively it makes sense. Men strongly identify with their sexuality and their penis. Locker Room is proof of this and so is men’s impulse to share their dick pic. It does not require much of a leap to imagine the fallout. Centuries of castigation of male sexuality would manifest as penis weakness and male disempowerment resulting in self-doubt, guilt, ego problems and an increased risk of hypersexuality. Masturbating in public is not hypersexual. But how about masturbating in public expecting that being seen would cause shock, being aroused by that and pursuing it?
Three hundred and sixty-three years ago only sex within marriage remained because it was a gift from Allah, I mean God. But at least they acted within their social context. Today, we cannot say we are doing the same. Divorced from all context and solidified into the mechanisms of law and order, what remains is the odd idea that male sexuality is fearsome and an affront to fearful sexual objects – women and children. Our system of justice is designed to make laws appear immutable, and so one generation after another has found it too easy to point to this and that as justification for the rule. As citizens of the free world, we fail to notice that we have long since lost our capacity to act independently and to make our own free choices about sexual expression. The free world may have witnessed God’s benevolence when He recently gifted us back sodomy and, more recently, same-sex relationships. However, the natural socio-sexual relations of humankind remain steadfastly unable to operate according to how we evolved. The result is continued suffering and disempowerment of men and women.
The banning of “indecent” acts like masturbation and nudity is almost like a how-to guide to creating fetishes. A fetish is a sexual fascination with something that is not sexual. Masturbation is sexual. But to be aroused by the idea of being seen doing it in an unsanctioned space by someone expected to feel violated by it is a fetish. It’s a fetish that can trace its existence back to the Puritans. It is the very fact that women and children (their parents) are pre-wound to be deeply affronted, even scarred before they have ever seen an erect penis that allows for the invention of arousal of disempowered men who probably having compounding suffering that drive this particular kind of hypersexual behavior. Both are culturally constructed, constantly regenerated by repressive laws, and entirely reliant on each other to exist.
This does not mean women should suck it up when they are walking home at night and a man jumps out in front of them with his penis in his hand. Whatever might be going on for said man, no one has the right to harass another person sexually or otherwise. When we decriminalize public masturbation, we will make sure others remain protected from sexual assault and harassment.
To this end, men must see the continued reversal of sexual oppression as a catalyst for the transformation of masculinity. We must reckon with penis weakness by abandoning the old tropes of intra-masculine competition. We must embrace our emerging masculine freedom to restore our penis power without fearing the presumption of homosexuality. In doing so, we will reinvent manhood.
Men must also involve women in this journey. That is the only way that the false characterizations which burden both genders will be dismantled. Women, I hope, will invite men back into their spaces to regain long lost trust in penis power as the source of masculine wholeness. Only together will the fetish producing dichotomy of the feared and fearful be destroyed. Men and women must take this on together.
Finally, there is the sobering realization that each of us needs to appreciate. Public masturbation and nudity exist on exactly the same continuum as sodomy and adultery. Laws which criminalize public masturbation are historically, and so presently, related to Brunei’s imposition of the death penalty for sodomy and adultery under a different god. We should rightfully condemn Brunei, but we must not do so while we sit idly at home, cock in hand.
Let’s applaud the decisions in Sweden and Italy where judges saw the suffering of state-sponsored moral judgment. Let’s right the wrongs of the past so that boys faced with the task of integrating an adult identity can experience manhood and their penis to the fullness that Nature/God/Allah truly intended. The job has only just begun.