Sex Is Not a Natural Act and Other Essays

By Leonore Tiefer | Go to book overview

turbation, am I saying it is good or bad? Neither. Both. I really don't care! By talking about pornography and masturbation, I'm talking about sexual practices and what they are useful or not useful for.

Sexuality is an option in life, although one wouldn't think so to listen to many "experts" talk. If someone wants to have a long and lively sexual life-- and believe me I don't care whether anyone does or does not want to, and I am making no recommendations--but a person who does want to needs to learn about sexuality and take time to practice. Masturbation is a form of learning and practice that is known in every culture. It's also a hobby, and like many hobbies it can be practiced frequently or rarely.

What always amazes me is people who want to have exciting and gratifying sex but who think it just comes "naturally" without practice or knowledge. I'm sorry, but no one can play Rachmaninoff without putting in a lot of piano practice! If someone just wants to have a little bit of sex in his or her life, or if the experience itself is not very important, then masturbation is of much less relevance or importance for that person. As a sexologist my goal is to discuss sexuality without choosing values, without endorsing particular acts or patterns.

For the religious right, however, sexuality is always a moral issue. Conservative religious organizations oppose women's autonomous sexuality and believe that sexuality is for procreation, for families, not for individual pleasure, identity, and exploration. Masturbation or individual sexuality is a threat to the vision of sexuality as the tie that binds a family. Ideally, the right wants to return to the years before the women's movement demanded and won the right to abortion, contraception, mandatory sex education, accessible day care, women's health centers, and so on. Picking on pornography to "protect" women attacks women's independence, and I propose that masturbation is an important subtext. Supporting women's sexuality requires supporting (though not mandating) women's masturbation and the availability of explicit sexual materials of all sorts.


Conclusion

Shame and ignorance make cowards of us all, but now is no time for cowardice about women's sexual practices or imaginings. Censorship harms women because women need sexual empowerment, not sexual protection. Antiporn campaigns say that porn gives men power. But in fact, men already have power. Explicit sexual materials and performances can contribute to women's sexual power. People who do not like certain types of pornography can avoid them. Or better yet, they can create something completely new.

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