It might sound weird to call for more masturbation on TV. After all, we’re already treated to some pretty excellent sexy TV shows, and if we’re after anything more explicit then there’s a whole world of ethical porn to explore.
But a recent article at The Conversation really got us thinking about the ways in which masturbation – and particularly male masturbation – is portrayed on TV and in films. The author of the article, Lauren Rosewarne, has done a lot of research into masturbation in pop culture, and what she’s discovered is … not exactly positive:
“Rarely is masturbation – particularly so male masturbation – portrayed as the common stress-relieving, sleep-inducing, pleasurable pastime it is for most of us. Instead, it’s used to give insight into a character: a clue that they’re mad or bad.”
She uses examples from things like Stephen King’s ‘Mr Mercedes’, in which one of the characters is seen masturbating – a visual shorthand to show us that he is depraved. Rosewarne also points to Mindhunter, another show about a killer where the killer’s masturbation habits are used to emphasise that he is ‘mad and bad.’
Reading this article made us more aware of the ways in which TV and films perpetuate masturbation stigma, particularly when it comes to male masturbation. So we thought we’d put on our scriptwriting hat and suggest a few ways we could get more positive (and, let’s face it, realistic) depictions of masturbation onto our screens.
Masturbation in montages
Think of all the times you’ve seen ‘time passing’ montages on TV – a character is waiting to find out some news, or waiting to be rescued, or the director just wants to show them doing lots of different things to mark the passage of time. Well, what is it that many people do when they’re waiting or passing time? That’s right – we masturbate. It doesn’t mean that we are weird or pervy: it just means that we have discovered one of the best, free ways to have a good time while we wait for one of the other characters in our life to arrive and ring the doorbell.
Masturbation as anything but a necessity
On the rare occasions when ‘good’ characters masturbate, usually the masturbation is seen as a functional thing: it is done out of necessity, because there might be sex on the cards later on. The most obvious example of this is in ‘There’s Something About Mary’ – the infamous masturbation scene saw Ben Stiller masturbating so as not to be too eager during his date with Mary. But masturbation isn’t always (or even often) a thing we do purely because it’s necessary: we do it because it’s fun, and pleasurable. We do it to celebrate having finished a hard day’s work, or to pick ourselves up when we’re stressed, or even just to help us get to sleep.
Seeing masturbation represented like this on TV would be a wonderful way to help bust masturbation stigma, and show that for most people, masturbation is an everyday thing. Like putting the kettle on or watching TV itself.
Masturbation as a relationship positive
Whether it’s sitcoms which have scenes of people desperately trying to hide their porn, or drama series’ where a partner finds evidence of masturbation and gets upset, there are far too many pop culture examples of masturbation as something that could ruin a relationship. The reality, though, is that the vast majority of people still masturbate when they are in a relationship, and masturbation – whether on your own or together – can be a vital and healthy part of your sex life. We’d love to see more TV shows embracing the idea that couples can have a healthy solo sex life without having to hide it from their lover.
As with so much TV, trans, non-binary and intersex people are woefully underrepresented when it comes to sex and masturbation. Very occasionally a TV show will include trans characters that have fun sex lives (hats off to Sense8!) but it’s still rare. Likewise there is also still not nearly enough representation when it comes to people with disabilities or larger bodies. Essentially, we want to see more sex and masturbation scenes which show that there are many different ways to have sex, and many different body types. If we want sex and masturbation on TV to be more realistic, we need to ensure that it represents real people, in all their diversity, and all the different ways that they choose to get off.
Masturbation with sex toys
Vibrators, dildos and strap-ons have had some really powerful TV moments – in programmes like Sex and the City and more recently shows like Broad City and Sense8. However there is still a huge stigma surrounding masturbation sheaths and other sex toys designed for use on penises. We’d love to see characters on film and TV talking about these sex toys more – recommending them to friends, giving them as gifts, and generally showing just how many people (and there are so many people) use these sex toys without feeling ashamed or embarrassed.
So fingers crossed we can see more examples of positive masturbation on TV and in films. Meanwhile, if you’re proud to be a wanker, keep spreading the word! We certainly will…
Update: Not long after we published this piece, the marvellous Lauren Rosewarne published a reply to *our* reply on The Conversation, in which she provided an impressively thorough list of existing film and TV wank scenes meeting our requirements. Normally we don’t like homework, but we were OK with it this time. Cheers, Lauren!