Stroke of Genius: America’s Forgotten Champion

Human achievement is most awesome when one of the common folk, doing common things, rises to greatness. Da Vinci’s representation of distance and perspective may have forever changed the way humans perceive their world, but it fails to register more than a brief “oh really?” from the general public. On the other hand, I have seen people wait an hour to sit at the counter in a diner where the fry-cook can prepare and present a dozen breakfasts, keep-up a running argument with a waitress, and smoke a cigarette all at the same time.

The mastery of some banal craft — mixing drinks, laying bricks, dismantling a fallen tree with a chainsaw — appeals to us in a way that grander, more esoteric achievements don’t. We may not all be able to comprehend string theory, for example, but we all know what it takes to fold a pizza box, and we stand properly in awe of someone who can accomplish that task 50 times a minute.

It is unlikely that there is a more commonplace endeavor than masturbation. There are a remarkable number of studies related to sexual self-gratification, as if sex researchers just enjoy the freedom their profession gives them to ask question like, “Do you masturbate?” All the studies reach pretty much the same conclusion: almost everyone has, and most of us still do.

However frequent and accepted masturbation may be, it is not something we normally associate with excellence. A largely private endeavor, we have nothing to compare it to — and the achievement of excellence demands comparison. We are nervous and insecure with no frame of reference. One of the most common questions sex experts get is how our individual habits compare with others’.

With the exception of adolescent circle jerks and mutual masturbation between consenting adults, self-pleasure has mostly remained beyond public inspection. I say “mostly” because there are those who are drawn to masturbation in places and at times where they might well be seen. In a single comment thread on the blog of David Wygant, who describes himself as “the world’s leading dating coach”, masturbation enthusiasts list the following public or semi-public places they have masturbated: car, truck, office, highway rest area, public pool, park, airport bathroom between flights, airplane lavatory during a flight, airport parking lot after a flight, train, subway, church, atop a stack of boxes in a warehouse, in a locker room, doctor’s office, hospital, Starbucks, on a forklift, in the water at the beach, standing between gas pumps, hiking in the woods, behind a barn, on a hotel balcony, on a roof-top, behind a display at trade show, at a table in a restaurant, in a bar, and at a poorly attended Texas Rangers baseball game.

One commenter summed it up like this: “Maybe the question should be, where have I not masturbated?”

Given the common, banal endeavor that is masturbation, it is impressive that, for at least one man, it became a lifelong focus, a common act to be studied and crafted and honed toward a sort of Platonic ideal.

Allow me to introduce Masanobu Sato, who is something I’m betting you didn’t know existed: a world-champion masturbator. In fact, he is a two-time world champion masturbator. He has a LinkedIn profile that lists his occupation as “Masturbate-a-thon Champion” and says he is also skilled at international relations and search engine optimization.

Sato has not evolved in a vacuum. He did not wake up one morning and say, “I’m the best masturbator who ever lived!” In fact, he earned the title fair and square, in competitions inspired by a political squabble a quarter century old.

Perhaps you remember: Jocelyn Elders, President Bill Clinton’s Surgeon General, suggested that sex education would do more to reduce teenage promiscuity if that education included instructions on how to masturbate. Congress went predictably berserk. There were pro- and anti-masturbation demonstrations around the country. The most adamant were, not surprisingly, in sex-positive San Francisco. There, protesters decided carrying signs declaring their belief in the nobility of rubbing one out just wouldn’t get the job done. They concluded, instead, that what the masturbators of the world really needed was some kind of attention-grabbing event. The Masturbate-a-Thon was born.

The early Masturbate-a-Thons were private affairs that worked on the honor system. People filled out paperwork, went home (or to a poorly attended Texas Rangers baseball game), did what they did, and reported it back to event officials. There was no objective way to know whether participants exaggerated how much they masturbated, but if they did it is likely the first time in human history when people publicly claimed to masturbate more than they really did.

The idea for a more open Masturbate-a-Thon came from two sex therapists who, apparently, wanted the rest of us to share the joy of their typical day at work. Dr. Carol Queen, a sexologist working for masturbation equipment supplier Good Vibrations, and her life partner Dr. Robert Morgan Lawrence decided it would be more fun if all the participants masturbated together.

I think the average person would find surprising how comfortable it all is once people get going. There is such a focus to masturbation, as everyone knows who’s done it in private; surprisingly, it’s still there in public, and many people close their eyes and go into their own dream world…Another delightful and interesting surprise: often when one person comes, so do several more — it seems to be contagious, sort of like yawning!

Yes, exactly like yawning.

In 2003, website Toys in Babeland, a competitor of Good Vibrations, filed a trademark for “Masturbate-a-Thon”. The filing described the purpose of the trademark as:

Organizing and conducting sex education and masturbation marathons to raise money for various charitable organizations promoting sexual health; Charitable fundraising in the field of sexual health.

Since then, there have been Masturbate-a-Thons all over the world, from Great Britain to China. They work like a Walk-a-Thon: supporters pledge to donate money based on the amount of time participants spend actually pleasuring themselves. Can’t you just imagine that conversation around the office?

Masturbator: Hi, Michelle. I’m raising money for charity and I was wondering if you could donate.
Co-Worker: Sure. What are you doing?
Masturbator: I’m taking part in a Masturbate-a-Thon this weekend. I’m expecting to go about three hours.
Co-Worker: Get out of my office, and for God’s sake don’t touch anything.

To make things more interesting — as if a room full of masturbating strangers weren’t interesting enough — prizes are also awarded to those who have most orgasms and the longest continual rub. The records, as near as I can tell, are, respectively, 36 orgasms and our friend Masanobu Sato’s still-standing record nine-hours-and-fifty-eight minutes. (It is lost to the mists of history why he quit only two minutes short of a solid ten hours. Really, you’d think he could have held on.)

As in any reputable competition, Masturbate-a-Thons have rules.

To qualify for the record, the organizers say, “at least 55 minutes of every hour shall be spent self-pleasuring by manual or sex toy stimulation”. The remaining five minutes are set aside for the participants to “replenish and renew”.

At most events, the doors open at 5:00 for “regular” participants and at 4:00 for those attempting to set endurance records. (I think that’s kind of like the pro-am golf tournaments where they let the pros tee-off first so they don’t have to wait for the hackers to line-up their fourth putt on all the greens.) Spectators pay $50 to sit disturbingly close to the action. At the flagship San Francisco event, those who grow bored can attend seminars, including one led by Betty Dodson, “The Mother of Masturbation,” whose impressive how-to demonstration lasts four hours.

Since the first Masturbate-a-Thon, the world of competitive masturbation has grown more competitive. There are now official records for speed, distance, and “weight release”. The fastest recorded masturbation — referred to from now on as the “hand speed record” — is 2.5 seconds by one Kevin Stagg, who has turned something most men would consider shameful into a point of pride. There is a masturbation triathlon. There are separate men’s and women’s records. Surprisingly, at least to me and Kevin Stagg, men in general can masturbate for longer than women.

Finally, to emphasize the natural grace of the female form, there are events that measure not just athletic ability, but aesthetics of movement. “Solo Artistic Masturbation” is really a thing. Participants are given 15 minutes to exhibit precision, beauty, artistic merit, and pubic hair decoration. “Team Artistic Masturbation” is kind of like synchronized swimming, with eight women putting on a coordinated display of modern dance, rubbing, and poking. As you can probably guess, the effect can be quite striking:

One of the best-remembered Masturbation Cup performances occurred in 1999, where the German team, led by Anna Shlick, performed a perfect routine with a spectacular anal fisting finale. Nowadays Shlick performs analysis of masturbation performances on German television.

If you have ever wondered why German television is not generally available in the United States, well, now you know.

One does not become a world champion by accident. In his prime, Masanobu Sato trained rigorously. Like Sinatra swimming under water to increase his lung capacity, Sato swam uncountable laps to build his general stamina. He built a sort of masturbation gymnasium in his living room, with a wide variety of equipment and lotions. He shook the cobwebs off every morning by masturbating for two solid hours. On YouTube, there is a video of him preparing to masturbate while his apparently neglected girlfriend operates a sewing machine in the background — just another day in the home life of an aspiring champion.

His achievements did not go unnoticed. His first world championship earned an endorsement deal with TENGA, a company that makes sex toys for men. In post-masturbation interviews he displayed his professionalism by giving those toys much of the credit for his success.

The variety of sensations each TENGA gave me was ideal for long masturbation. Without those variety sensations, my dick would feel the same sensation for a long time, which would paralyze my dick in the end. I use as many as 10 different TENGAs so that my dick avoids being paralyzed.

A few years ago, Masanobu Sato apparently did what few champions dare to do: like DiMaggio, Marciano, and Borg, he stepped away from the game at the peak of his powers. On the Internet, where history is recorded in real time, 2011 seems to be about it for Sato’s public life. There are several Masanobu Sato’s who appear in Google searches and on LinkedIn, but none of them comes forward to relive the heroic past, to take credit for the objectively awesome achievements of a man who set aside the comfort of normality in a quest for greatness.

Legend, like everything else, fades into history. Like Lindsey Lindberg, who set the world record for crushing apples with her bicep, or Alvin “Shipwreck” Kelly, who sat atop a telephone pole for 49 days, Sato is disappearing from our collective memories. He will be in no hall of fame; there will be no medal forged to commemorate the first time he came upon the scene.

We can only hope that, wherever he is, he feels the deep satisfaction of a job well done.