On the other sticky hand, it can’t be a surprise to the Big Bang Theory gang to learn that Howard is a fan of the five knuckle shuffle. That said, they probably hope he just sticks to his knuckles and not enlist the aid of a robotic arm. Looking to get a better grip on his pleasure situation, Howard finds himself in a penis pinch, so he enlists the help of his buddies for a different kind of release. Sure, they tease him a bit, but they are generally sympathetic to his plight and know they need to rescue him from the bionic handjob before his mother finds out! A friend in need...
Despite many years of warnings about hairy palms, social ostracization, and eternal damnation, young people continue to explore their bodies. Roaming hands and experimental thoughts are an intrinsic part of human development and growth. Our bodies are pretty fantastic things. When we find pleasure, we are likely to repeat the experience. Combine this with burgeoning sexual feelings for others and we begin to see just how important self-discovery is, particularly for young people.
For the most part, television shows have left the possibility of masturbation among young people as a great big ellipses before the next scene. Characters swoon over crushes. Their faces flush, their voices squeak. We all know they are headed off to a private space to rub one out, but that is rarely shown. This shouldn’t be declared a universal experience everyone can relate to, but many galaxies have been painted with the sticky fingers of those who have been there.
Of course, depicting youth sexuality on television is a controversial subject that needs to be approached with care. There have, fortunately, been two excellent examples that show producers pushing boundaries to give viewers a truthful glimpse in.
Mad Men challenged many social ideals and the show really pushed the envelope with Sally Draper. The precocious child grew into an even more precocious teenager throughout the series. When Sally touched herself, on a sofa with other kids around, while watching "The Man from U.N.C.L.E.," Mad Men made a quantum leap forward for honest sexual and masturbation representation. In reality, though, there should have been nothing shocking about the scene. If you have children or spend time with little ones, you know they are going to shove their hands down their pants at some point. Mad Men just brought this reality home.
Another brilliant example of showing masturbation as much-need self discovery is the recent brilliance of Everything Sucks! Usually, movies and TV portray teenage boys stealing pornography for self-pleasure purposes. Everything Sucks' Kate turns this trope on its head as she explores both her sexual pleasures and sexual orientation with some pilfered porno. By revealing Kate’s same-sex attraction and equating it with sexual feelings and not just warm feelings, the show does the unprecedented. This is a great movement forward and an awesome representation for LGBTQ youth.
In much the same way that self-discovery is a key part of our continued masturbatory growth, so too is exploring our bodies and exploring different types of pleasure. As we meet and have sexytime fun with different partners, we will pick up different tips and tricks, likes and dislikes, through interacting with others.
However, what we learn with others is our secondary type of sexual learning. Our first, foremost, and most fantastic sexual experimentation comes firsthand. Or hands. Or hands and toys and shower heads and washing machines and lotion and so much more. Every time we touch ourselves, we add more to our individual sexual encyclopedias.
Two great scenes embrace some stereotypical masturbation scenarios - the infamous “dead hand,” the bath spout, and being walked in on - to highlight the humanity and commonplace nature of masturbation.
In the outstanding teen coming of age comedy "The Inbetweeners," ultra-confident, big mouth Jay tries out the “dead hand” method. To create the sensation of someone else touching his penis, Jay cuts off the circulation in his hand. Maybe this works, maybe it doesn’t. It does,however, render said hand useless in turning off a laptop playing porn when your Mom and friend walk in.
If that is a typical penis-personed trope, then folks with vulvas seem to be universally attracted to masturbation in the shower or bath - with the help of running water from the faucet. No doubt this must feel good for some people, given the traction it has in pop culture. So when Caroline has some time to herself on Two Broke Girls, she tries to enjoy some alone time in a warm bath. Unfortunately, and as if on cue, Max returns to their apartment and interrupts Caroline’s self-love session. Sure, it's funny, but it also depicts a woman taking charge of her own pleasure ... and hopefully she manages to finish!
Finally, we cannot talk about masturbation without exploring the idea of straight-up fulfilling sexual need. While it is entirely inappropriate to think of other people as responsible for meeting our sexual desires, we do have agency over what we do with our own bodies. Sexual tension can build in our desire for others, but it can also build in our desire for ourselves.
For some, however, it is challenging or downright impossible to fulfill those sexual needs. People who have specific fetishes might not be able to find partners who will participate. Queer folks who aren’t out might not be able to reach out to partners they desire.
Another population who cannot act on all of their physical desires are the incarcerated. Prison is a lonely place and the separation from sex can be a major life challenge for some inmates. Even engaging in solo pleasure requires a shift in mindset because privacy is non-existent.
Of course, it would be naive to believe that sexual activity does not occur in prisons. We know it does, and people scratch that itch both through masturbation and partnered sex. The groundbreaking show Orange is the New Black depicts the measures some prisoners must take to enjoy masturbation, providing critical insight and empathy for those of us who have not experienced such conditions.
After all of this talk of the progress made in depicting masturbation on television, there’s only one thing left to say: