Tuesday, October 25, 2011

I will not talk about masturbation.....yes, I will

I hate to blame everything on Miss Serendipity. I really do, and I'm sorry I'm posting again so soon. I'm a lousy blogger.

But she's done it again. I don't know how to explain these .... dot-to-dots that I notice running through my life.  I know other people don't see them so often, but they are real, the dots and the connections. If I wrote about all of them, I'd need several blogs and more hours in the day. I must share this one though because it has to do with masturbation and I don't think I've ever written about that. Or maybe I have, but I want to again.

Last week I read a post on Jane Pratt's blog, xojane.com, about how her 9-year-old daughter took to class an editor's note Pratt had written for Jane magazine that included a reference to masturbation. The assignment was simply to bring a piece of writing from an adult in her household that didn't have any thing "age-inappropriate" in it. Pratt claims she has talked with her daughter a lot about masturbation and doesn't consider it inappropriate for 8- and 9-year-olds to discuss. And then she wondered if she's the worst mom in the world for letting her daughter take it.

Before I go on, I have to share what went through my head when I read her short post. I have both been a 9-year-old girl and I have raised a 9-year-old girl. Neither of us were thinking so much about masturbation at that age. I was open with my kids about all things sexual when they wanted to talk. In fact my daughter once thanked me for being a sex-positive parent .... awwww. But Jane Pratt says she has "talked to [her] daughter about it plenty." Plenty? How do those conversations go?

Jane: (from the kitchen where she's fixing dinner) Sweetie, please don't play with Mommy's vibrator. You'll run down the batteries and then it won't work when Mommy needs to masturbate.
9-year-old daughter: But, Mom, Barbie and Ken just had sex and he had his orgasm before her. Now he's asleep in the Barbie fun house and she needs to get her cookie masturbate too.
Jane: OK, of course she does Just remember to put it back in the dildo basket by my bed so I can find it when I need it. 
9-year-old daughter: I will, Mommy. Thank you. Barbie says thank you too. (Buuuuzzzzzz.....)

Pratt got a variety of responses from hellz yeah, she should take mommy's masturbation writing into class; fuck 'em if they don't like it to more sensible responses like the one I posted:

Talking to your kids about masturbation is admirable. I talked to mine about it too. And when I did, I told them it was something they should do in private. With boys in particular it’s necessary to have that talk at the "I need to hold on to my wiener 24 hours a day" stage. It's the private part that's important. Both in practice and in speech, masturbation is a culturally sensitive topic. So I also expected they knew better than to get up in front of the class and talk about it, which would include not talking about Mommy talking about it. And I walk the masturbation walk myself. I don't stand up in front of my college English class and talk to them about masturbation. I could, and probably in a way that would entertain and scandalize them way more than thesis statements and annotated bibliographies. But it’s not a dildo I intend to fall on just to prove a point that masturbation is natural and feels good and lots of people and monkeys do it. I don’t think a suggestion to your daughter that she choose a more appropriate piece of writing would have taught her the wrong lesson.

Yes, the  red text is important. I didn't teach a class after I posted that comment until today. I held individual conferences for two days last week instead of meeting with my classes. In fact, by the time I crawled into my class from my death bed today, I'd forgotten entirely about my  assertion that I would never talk about masturbation in class. I was suffering (terribly) from a scratchy throat and a congested head, so we watched several short videos to support our discussion of argument fallacies. One of the videos was a Monty Python clip, which I've posted below. I didn't even notice one of the characters used the word "wanker" in it.

But one of my students, L, did. "He called the guy a 'wanker.' What does 'wanker' mean?" Now earlier in the quarter this guy also said he didn't understand why Michelle Bachman shouldn't eat a corndog in public.

Michelle Bachman giving head to a corndog.

I'm not sure if he's serious or if he's fucking with me, but my syllabus says no questions are stupid. So. "What does 'wanker' mean?"

I stared at him. Several students snickered, but nobody helped me out. They just looked at me with those Lord of the Flies eyes they get sometimes.

"Really, I don't know. Is it somebody who wanks? What does wank mean?" He seemed sincere, damn it.

I sighed. "It means to masturbate. A wanker is a masturbator and to wank is to masturbate. It's a British term." How do you like me now? Giving the etymology and everything.

Another student, E, corrected me. He said, "It's more than just a masturbator. It's a gay guy who masturbates another guy."

"What?" I said. "I've never heard of that."

"It's true," E said. "Look it up. Look it up now."*

"No, I'm not looking it up," I said. "I never wanted to talk about masturbation with you guys in the first place...."

"Why not?" L said. "I do it all the time." I glance over at the interpreter for my deaf student to see if she's getting all this. Yes, I know sign language.

"Well, there's nothing wrong with that, L, but I've just made a fool of myself by talking about it. I just posted a comment on someone's blog last week, after our Monday class, and said I would never talk about masturbation in one of my classes. And now I've said it 37 times, you wanker. I just can't believe the timing." I told them about the post and what I said. I did not show them, and they did beg.

"What's wrong talking with masturbation?" L said. He gets this really sincere look that probably works for him with the girls.

"Nothing is wrong with masturbation." They all laugh. I wait for them to get control. "It's just that we're here to talk about argument fallacies, not wanking."

"Give us an argument fallacy about wanking," someone shouted out.

"No, I'm not talking any more about masturbation. I'm not saying that word again in this class."

See what I mean? Things like this happen to me every day. Can this be coincidence? Or is Miss Serendipity a god, a clock-maker? The woman behind the curtain in the Oz of the Universe? What do you think? Are these dot-to-dots all coincidence, the product of the over-active imagination of someone who needs to toss out her foot-long, 50's style "massager" and buy a bullet or a rabbit?

And the other question is, would you let your 9-year-old daughter take your piece of writing that mentions masturbation to school? Am I really a prude in disguise?

One more thing. Please don't send me any photos of yourself masturbating. I don't think it's all that OK really. (That includes you....and you know who you are.)

* I did, when I got home. It's a popular word in the Urban Dictionary, which is where I get my cool. Look for yourself, ya wanker.


  1. I don't remember my mother discussing maturbation with me. I never wrote about it so my 9 year olds couldn't have taken it to school but if I had, and they wanted to, I would have nixed it in favor of something else.

    It was ok to discuss it in the context you did with your college age students. no question is stupid and you have to be able to answer them all with a straight face. even the stupid ones.

  2. Ah masturbation,that is a touchy subject(hehe).
    On a serious note though, I feel that far too often adults project their own thoughts on children at far too early of an age sexualizing children that have no sexual thoughts yet.

    When behavior is noticed or questions are asked by the child is when this should be addressed. I believe in preserving the innocence of youth and allowing children to be children.

    If my father had told me all about masturbation when I was nine the first thing I would have thought to do was to try it out. I would have suddenly had to deal with thoughts and feelings that I wasn't equiped to deal with yet.

    As a parent myself I can say that it was easy to see when my child discovered his penis and an age appropriate discussion followed but that doesn't mean that he was ready for a full description and explanation of masturbation.

    As far as students go,I recall that I had one of those people in most of my classes that enjoyed putting the instructor on the spot most sincerely. The answer I heard was always "see me after class to discuss it" or "see me during my office hours to discuss it" and then we moved on.

  3. I remember the boychild of friends of mine back in the 60s, about 6-7. He would rub himself against the floor,the wall the kids sat on, while watching tv. His parents if they saw him would say very matter-of-factly, "G, if you want to masturbate, please go to your room."

    I found it somewhat disturbing that they weren't addressing how often he was doing this, but interesting their matter-of-factness.

    So what was my mommy response on such matters? I just did what my 50s mom did, employed distraction.

    BTW, I lol-ed at the turn of phrase 'it's not a dildo I intend to fall on'

    You're writing a book someday, right?

  4. Kristin, my mom never talked about masturbation or anything else sexual with me. We didn't even have words for .... .... .... down there.

    I've answered lots of questions from students that had nothing to do with writing or English. For many of them, I'm the only teacher who even knows their names. Writing and sharing it can be pretty intimidating. I try to offer them a safe place. I shouldn't have been surprised masturbation came up, but the timing was pretty amazing.

  5. Vapor, I agree about age-appropriate discussions. At age nine, my daughter would have been annoyed if I'd tried to talk to her about masturbation. There is a difference talking to boys and to girls. Maybe I'll write about that someday. Boys are easier. Way easier.

  6. 'Zann, as an adult I'd be concerned about a child who constantly masturbated. I'd probably be looking for a yeast infection or worse.

    As for a book, I'm not sure I have one in me, although I'd love to go on a book tour. I think I'm just a blogger though. I write these long posts--too long for a blog, I've been told, and yet I still do it--but I don't know how I'd expand any of them into a book. It would just be a blog on paper. I guess that works for David Sedaris.

    I wrote a homeschool book and even had a contract on it, but the publisher reneged on the contract and I moved on.

  7. This is going to sound really weird...but I actually talk a lot about masturbation with kids. A whole lot. Like, at least once or twice a week. My mom neeeeeeeeeeeever discussed anything sexual or sexual-ish at all with me, so the first couple times, this was incredibly awkward. Now, I can't tell you how many social stories I have written for kids (read as: BOYS) about "private time." It is really not my favorite thing to talk about. It is probably in the bottom 5, actually, only above such things as coprophagia (if you don't know what it is, don't google it. Just assume gross). But boys between 4 and 16 with developmental disabilities really like to masturbate, and they like to do it everywhere and often. I have at least 5 treatment plans for masturbation teaching them that masturbation is okay, in your bedroom, during private time. It is not okay for school...not in terms of talking about it, doing it, or taking your mother's article about it (although, admittedly, that last one hasn't come up...yet). It's always interesting to me to hear parents perspectives on it. The Jehovah's Witness family I see is NOT OKAY with it. At all. Another family is totally cool about it and can go with me on the "private time" idea. It's a touchy subject (pun totally not intended).

    All that to say...I'm with you on the 9 year old with the article.

  8. I'm not surprised you have to talk to little ones about wanking, AutoD. Do you call it wanking? You serve a special population, and I'm sure some of your kids are all too familiar with in appropriate sexual situations.

    I have known one child who masturbated frequently and publicly like 'Zann described, but she was a Down syndrome child. That's not unusual, although it's something her family constantly had to deal with.

    If you don't tell me what coprophagia is I'll have to look it up. I can't get anything from the roots. I'm just afraid I'll see photos if I google it. Or worse, I'll end up talking about it from the front of my classroom tomorrow!

  9. You crack me up. I hear you on the serendipity thing. It's crazy. Happens to me alllll the time. It's enough to make you feel like you're losing your mind sometimes.

    Coprophagia is eating feces. I have no idea what you would get if you Google it, but I still whole-heartedly recommend steering clear. I pray to all that is holy that I didn't just invite Ms. Serendipity to your classroom tomorrow. I don't know how that would evvvvvvvver come up...but considering I just talked about it on your blog (which I bet you also never expected), I guess anything is possible.

    And no, I have never actually used the term "wanking"...ever, actually, except for just now. However, the euphemisms my clients come up with are always highly entertaining.

  10. Oh, it could come up. I wouldn't be surprised if one of them brought up two girls and a cup. Don't google that either. Somebody showed it to me (the body has never been found) and you don't want to see that shit.

  11. I wouldn't send an article like that to school with my child unless I was on a crusade and didn't mind using my child in its service. At 9 it's age-appropriate for some children and not for others. And your child doesn't know that she's going to be different from other children in this regard, so you could be setting her up for some unpleasant fallout that she's not given informed consent to. Not to mention, depending on how it's going to be used, you could be really putting that teacher on the spot.

  12. She claimed her child chose it. I don't know what kind of school her daughter goes to, but most parents wouldn't want their kid's 4th-grade teacher introducing masturbation in class. I can't imagine how it would be worth the possible consequences for the daughter.