The Agony And Ecstasy Of Masturbation

I can feel the perfection of my former solitude and the aching bliss of being satiated by another.

I love masturbating. I can barely remember a time when I didn’t seek out my own body with my own hands.

Somehow I managed to start touching myself before I could ever conceive of it as shameful. (I realize when closely examined that this feels impossible, yet here we are.) I always knew — in a soft fuzzy way — that just like my naked body wasn’t a free-for-all for public consumption, my southern explorations were, by and large, just for me.

It was a shadowy deed, but not scandalous.

And by the time I was made aware that there were a lot of folks who weren’t so keen on 10-year-old girls furiously rubbing themselves as the sweetest of lullabies on their Laura Ashley rosebud sheets (is there anything more delectably loaded than that image?!), I was already too much of a clit-junkie to let vague notions of hell, hairy palms, madness, or mortification deter me.

I was already too much of a clit-junkie to let vague notions of hell deter me.

Having since made my way from masturbation to full coital conundrum — I had eight years of lone bodily wanderings before I truly introduced someone else into my repertoire — I am humbled by former delight in sexual solitude.

It’s intensely bittersweet. I can remember not caring if anyone else was there. I was enough.

I was a geographer, an explorer, my boundaries boundless, my world perfect. Alone but not lonely. An expanse of freckled flesh laced with blue veins, knots of black hair; my smell warm and sour like bread dough.

Today I find I am not enough. I have glimpsed other planets and sensations and I have betrayed myself even as I’ve expanded the boundaries of my own body. I find myself perfectly bifurcated.

I am Janus. I am two-headed. I am poised between the past and the future, my youth and age; I can feel the perfection of my former solitude and the aching bliss of being satiated by another.

I often start with my nipples. Grazing them, tugging them. Pinching their pinkness, feeling my breath quicken in perfect unison with my own heart, my desire mirrored and met, again and again. I know exactly what I want and I withhold and wait and beg and acquiesce and feel a hot light grow between my legs. I press my fingers against the damp heat of my underwear — always nerdy cotton, always nerdy Hanes — and hook my thumbs around the elastic, slowly sliding them down my legs.

Knuckles and wrist bones arch over my mound, fingertips trace the edges of my vagina, my ass. I catch my breath as I slip two fingers inside myself. The warmth of my body is always startling, always comforting. Soft, slick with self-desire, I move my hands against the walls of myself; my own sighs are bare and warm too.

One of my favorite poems of all time is called “Tortoise Shout— it’s by D.H. Lawrence.

It’s a long, complicated doozy of a poem that depicts a tortoise copulating. It imbues sex with a kind of horror, a kind of existential realization that humans — by and large — need someone else to survive. And sex is the most fucked up, poignant manifestation of this cosmic wiring.

I remember reading this poem and feeling it reverberate through me like the rattling of a subway car; for me it was a truth my body knew but never had the words to tell me.

“Tortoise in extremis. Why were we crucified into sex? / Why were we not left rounded off, and finished in ourselves, / As we began, / As he certainly began, so perfectly alone?
Sex, which breaks us into voice, sets us calling across the deeps, calling, calling for the complement, / Singing, and calling, and singing again, being answered, having found.”

Why the hell do we cry out during sex? Moan and groan and grimace and beg? Yes it is pleasure, but surely it is sadness too.

Perhaps in these moments of shared bodies, we feel the sensation of our “wholeness” again. We cry out because our momentary wholeness is predicated on our own lacking; we remember that we are not whole in ourselves and when this exchange is complete, we will be fractured yet again.

We are, through sex and companionship, forever searching to fill a void that we carry within ourselves.

For so many of us, the “I” is no longer sufficient, and what could be more sorrowful?

“Giving up the ghost, / Or screaming in Pentecost, receiving the ghost.
A scream, / A yell, / A shout, / A pæan,/ A death-agony, / A birth-cry, / A submission . . War-cry, triumph, acute-delight, death-scream reptilian”

Our sex-cries are complicated indeed. But I believe our triumphant wails of “yes!” belie our deeper feelings of “oh no.” Perhaps the louder we shout, the more we frighten the fear of isolation?

But surely our bodily offerings — held out with both hands — are also stunning displays of strength and vulnerability. How few things in life occupy both sensations so completely; how incredible to couple fingers and mouths and hair and sweat and semen and vulvas and breath and toes — and unlike the force of two rivers forever entwined, disentangle your limbs and return to yourself, intact and autonomous yet again.

Is sex a testament to our resilience or our weakness?

When I come — alone or together — there is always a tipping point from bliss to a blue-grey sensation. As the flickering spasms ripple their way in and out and fade, I feel a familiar sadness — a warm reassuring sadness — wash over me. Like watching an old couple holding hands.

When this feeling creeps its soft teeth and claws into the nape of my neck and pins my throat to the pillow — as it always does — I often think of a passage from Toni Morrison’s novel The Bluest Eye:

“I begin to feel little bits of color floating up into me — deep in me. That streak of green from the june-bug light, the purple from the berries trickling along my thighs, Mama’s lemonade yellow rus sweet in me. Then I feel like I’m laughing between my legs and the laughing gets all mixed up with the colors and I’m afraid I’ll come, and afraid I won’t. But I know I will. And I do. And it be all rainbow inside. And it lasts and lasts and lasts.”

I love that her body is a receptacle of her own life, and it’s a kaleidoscopic of memories rendered in fruit and joy and sweetness; her orgasm is pending light, a prism of the past that she can recall again and again, conjured by her own flesh.

Her orgasm is pending light, a prism of the past that she can recall again and again, conjured by her own flesh.

I too, am always afraid to come — I never ever want that burning build of bliss to end — and also, always afraid I won’t, because there are few finer sensations to me than owning my pleasure, than bearing witness to my own body bucking about in helpless ecstasy. Whether by my own hand or someone else’s.

But how to make this rainbow last? How not to muddy its colors?

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