Masturbation might be a mostly private affair, but some of the world’s greatest musicians weren’t afraid to bring the activity out into the open. In celebration of their candor, we compiled some of the best odes to five-finger love. If you have others, let us know.
"She Bop" by Cyndi LauperHey, they say that a stitch in time saves nine
They say I better stop or I'll go blind
Oop she bop she bop ...
Pop pioneer Cyndi Lauper was inspired to write "She Bop" when she spied a copy of gay erotic magazine Blueboy in her recording studio. She knew the song would be controversial, but she was confident she wouldn’t lose her young fans. She hoped they’d think it was simply a song about dancing, and only learn the "real meaning" when they were older.
Cyndi refused to explicitly state that meaning, knowing that to do so would mean radio suicide in 1984, but a quick read of the lyrics makes her meaning clear. And then there was that film clip loaded with innuendo, including self-service gas pumps, "Uncle Siggy" Freud hosting a game show, and blind Lauper with her dark glasses and cane!
If you think Lauper sounds uninhibited on the track, you’d be right. She confessed to recording the song in the nude to make it feel freer! (Learn more why you should feel less inhibited yourself in 10 Things You Don't Know About Self Love.)
"Pictures of Lily" by The WhoPictures of Lily made my life so wonderful
Pictures of Lily helped me sleep at night
Pictures of Lily solved my childhood problems
Pictures of Lily helped me feel alright
While the song doesn’t explicitly mention masturbation, it’s not too hard to connect the dots on this tale of a young boy who falls for the woman in the picture that helps him sleep through the night. The Who lyricist Pete Townshend says it was inspired by a picture he saw of Vaudeville star Lily Bayliss, but others suggest the song may refer to Lillie Langtry, a music hall star who passed away in 1929, just like the Lily in the song.
It probably makes no difference who Lily was. What matters is that she helped Townsend achieve his dream of seeing a song about masturbation becoming a hit. Despite widespread radio bans for its sexual content, "Pictures of Lily" cracked the top five in The Who’s native United Kingdom in 1967.
"Icicle" by Tori AmosAnd when my hand touches myself
I can finally rest my head
And when they say, "Take of his body"
I think I'll take from mine instead ...
As the daughter of a minister, a five-year-old Tori Amos remembers being taught by her grandmother that sexuality must be denied to "love Jesus properly." However images of the good-looking Christian savior and the sensual voice of Robert Plant began to introduce the prepubescent singer to another reality.
Her anecdotes of budding sexuality make their way into "Icicle," a track from Amos' 1994 release Under the Pink. There’s an innocence to the song, which is poignantly set at Easter, a time of new growth and awakening. Of course, that didn’t matter to conservative Christians, who weren’t impressed with Tori’s lustful thoughts about JC! (Oh the things our parents teach us. Read more about it in The Talk: What I Wish My Mom Had Told Me About Sex.)
"Pump it Up" by Elvis CostelloDown in the pleasure center, hell-bent or heaven-sent
Listen to the propaganda, listen to the latest slander
There's nothing underhand that she wouldn't understand
Pump it up, until you can feel it
Pump it up, when you don't really need it ...
While on the road in 1977, Elvis Costello says he became frustrated by his promiscuous, drug-taking tour buddies. Or perhaps he was just fed up that he only had his hand for company while they lived the rock-and-roll dream. Either way, the frustration he felt inspired him to scrawl the lyrics of "Pump It Up" on a Newcastle hotel's fire escape wall. The cheeky title cleverly refers to turning up the music - and turning up the heat!
It seems Costello had self pleasure on the brain that year. "Pump it Up" is one of two odes to masturbation on the album This Year’s Model. "The Beat" wasn’t as big of a hit, but it does show where Costello's mind was that year.
"Touch of My Hand" by Britney SpearsI love myself, it's not a sin
I can't control what's happenin'
'Cause I just discovered imagination's taking over
Another day without a lover
The more I come to understand
The touch of my hand ...
As Britney Spears shed her squeaky clean Mousketeers image, she reminded us that she’s not so innocent with this celebration of self-love. Spears co-wrote the track, which she said provided "a balance for the rest" of her 2003 album, In the Zone.
The controversial song might have concerned the parents of the pop star’s tween fans, but Spears insisted it was a "tastefully done" feminist statement. (Check out some of the things parents have told their kids in Good News: These Old Myths About Masturbation Aren't True.)
"I love the subject that I'm touching on because no one's really talked about some of those things in a lot of songs written lately because people are scared to express themselves in that way," she insisted in an interview for Barnes & Noble Music. "I think it's an empowering thing for girls."
"Longview" by Green DayBite my lip and close my eyes
Take me away to paradise
I'm so damn bored, I'm going blind!
And I smell like shit ...
There’s no romance in Green Day’s masturbation anthem. Instead self-confessed "chronic" masturbator Billie Joe Armstrong penned the song during a creative rut.
"I was in-between houses sleeping on people's couches. It's a song about trying not to feel pathetic and lonely," he told VH1. "I didn't think that masturbation was really seen from the point of view that I was looking at it."
Rather than glamorizing masturbation, the track sees the habit as a means of escape from a depressing reality. Its grittiness struck a chord with American hipsters, who took the track to the top of the American alternative charts in 1994. It went on to win a Grammy for best hard rock performance in 1995.
"I Touch Myself" by The DivinylsI don't want anybody else
When I think about you I touch myself ..
"I Touch Myself" by The Divinyls might be the song about masturbation that got the most play. It topped the charts in the band’s native Australia, where it stayed for two weeks in 1990. It also cracked the top 10 in the United States, Ireland and the United Kingdom. Unlike some of the more subtle songs in this article, it enjoyed its success with relatively little controversy. It was banned in relatively few countries, perhaps because it was so brash.
While it began as an ode to masturbation, the band’s lead singer Chrissie Amphlett later hoped the song would remind women to conduct annual breast exams. Tragically, she lost her own battle with breast cancer in April 2013.
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