Masturbation: A Brief History Of Masturbation


Masturbation is universal. We all do it. Even those of us that say we don’t. Old and young, gay and straight, male and female and everything in between. A recent survey found 80% of men and 70% of women regularly indulge in the solo dance, telling us that if there’s one thing that connects us all as humans it’s the ability to put one’s hands on one’s bits and fiddle for fun.

This has, since the dawn of time, always been the case and throughout history our attitudes and ideas of self pleasuring have changed, evolved, grown and shrunk depending on which part of the planet you’re from, what culture or religion you grew up in, and what era you were doing it in. To write an entire history would be book-sized, so instead here is a brief history looking at the different ways masturbation has been viewed and practiced throughout history.

The Life, The Universe, And Everything

In the beginning there was nothing… And then the God Atum had a big ol wank and splodged his gunk into the universe and low and behold the world was born! This is the creation myth as told by the ancient Egyptians and, if you think about it, it kind of makes a bit more sense than just “wishing” the world into existences like some other Gods have been known to do. In fact, masturbation was so important to life and living in ancient Egypt that it was the duty of the Pharaoh to wank into the Nile every year to bring fertility and prosperity to the land.

However it wasn’t for everyone. Some of the earliest arguments against masturbation stem from the idea that self gratifying was a “divine” thing that only Gods and their advocates could do, so while it was all fine and dandy that the Pharaoh was pleasuring himself into the river of life, no-one else was really allowed to do it. But that isn’t necessarily the case for all ancient cultures, starting off with the most primitive of them, our cave dwelling ancestors.

Primitive Playing

Yeah there wasn’t much to do back in those cave days apart from spearing mammoths and inventing fire and stuff. The people had a lot of time on their hands to fiddle with, and fiddle they did!

In 2005 a group of archaeologists stumbled across what they believe is the world’s oldest dildo! A beautifully smooth and carved phallus made of stone which dates back to around 28,000 years old! Cave paintings also suggest that not only masturbation, but group sex, casual sex, oral sex, and even sex with animals was a normal part of everyday life, and while it was understood that sex between a man and a woman created life, these primitive pornos prove it was also done for fun as well.

Ancient Wanking

So we already know about the Egyptians but almost every ancient culture on earth has their own stories about and attitudes towards masturbation and, surprisingly, it quite often focused on women with statues and depictions of women masturbating being quite common in places like Maltese and Sumerian temples of worship.

The Sumerians, like the Egyptians, believed their life source rivers (the Tigris and Euphrates) were created by the god Enki ejaculating into the dry beds and they also believed that masturbation was a healthy and vital part of both single and partnered life.

As a little aside, in ancient Sumer all the records and writing was kept by women in the temples, it was called cuneiform, and their writing was created by carving little triangles and mounds, similar to vulvas, into stone and is one of the ancient etymological bases of my favourite word: cunt… But I digress…


Butt Plugs and Balls

Similar to the stone dildo found in those caves in Germany, the ancient practice of using jade eggs and ben-wah balls was well documented in ancient Asian cultures to be used as sexual intercourse enhancers, solo pleasure enhancers for women, and also in helping to strengthen the pelvic floor after birth.

There have also been discoveries of 5000 year old bronze and jade butt-plugs and hollow dildos in China, but these (the butt plugs) were thought to be more about preserving the “chi” of a deceased person (inserted after death so nothing leaked out) and the hollow dildos have been theorised to be both female masturbation implements and hollow strap-ons for men to wear.

To The Left, To The Left

In Ancient Greek cultures male masturbation was celebrated and encouraged as something to do when you couldn’t get a girl, and to also stave off sexual frustration. Women were expected to be a little more reserved, but that basically just meant they didn’t do it in public and instead went to special spas and saunas where they used dildos and other implements to get themselves off with their friends.

Both men and women were depicted in artwork and decorations having a good ol’ fiddle, however in some “elite” factions it was seen as something a bit “low class”, a waste of time (and semen) and the practice of slaves with too much time on their hands.

The Romans also had similar thoughts but still loved to stick their hands down their pants, although it was generally relegated to the left hand, as depicted in some ancient graffiti found in Pompeii that reads: “When my worries oppress my body, with my left hand I release my pent up fluids”. Which just goes to show that writing dick jokes on walls is a practice far older than the toilets at your local pub.

Spiritually Talking

In ancient India sex, pleasure, masturbation, love, spirituality, all of that was celebrated as the force of life with the Kama Sutra and Tantra being part of their religion, lifestyle and culture.

In a bit of a change, however, in these practices the idea of male ejaculation was actually often thought to take away from the pleasure of women, which they viewed as an essential part of sex and spirituality, and so male orgasms with ejaculation was shunned (Tantra practices actually teach men how to orgasm without it).

Male masturbation was seen as a bit disrespectful and could possibly be the reason why male masturbation was later looked at as a crime that needed to be atoned for by cleansing and/or prayer.

A Right Royal Go… Or not

Kings and Queens are notoriously horny! I mean hell, Henry the Eighth invented a whole religion just so he could divorce and get his rocks off with someone else (okay slightly embellished history there but it’s pretty much that) and Queen Victoria is well documented for having a very satisfying love life with her husband, even if female sexuality in her time was looked at as a disorder.

Actually, to be fair, almost all sexuality in Queen Victoria’s days was looked at as a disorder with both male and female chastity devices being almost as common as mobile phones are in our times! Yes, people couldn’t be trusted to keep their bits in their pants so they were literally locked into them! The men often wearing rings or sleeves with spikes on the inside to stop any impure and naughty thoughts slipping through. Men would perform all sorts of strange and painful rituals to their genitals to stop them from feeling the pull of the devil, and women were pretty much locked up in asylums if they even dared think about sex.

It didn’t matter that the Queen herself enjoyed a good ol’ rogering, if you were a lady in those times and you felt a bit funny in the pants area you were deemed quite mad and suffering from hysteria and, up until very recently (I mean like super recently in the course of writing this article),  it was believed that in those days the only cure was to have your doctor manipulate your bits until you shrieked the hysteria out.

In fact I am sure you have all heard the “history lesson” that doctors were so overwhelmed by how many women had “hysteria” that to save their poor tired hands from all the work they invented a special machine to do it for them… What we now know as the humble vibrator… But alas, my fellow sex geeks, it would now appear that this is all just a hypothesis created by a woman in some paper in the late 1990s!

According to new research just released in September 2018, the hysteria/vibrator/doctor history is most likely made up and not really true at all… And, just to burst those bubbles even more, that’s almost exactly the same as new research coming out about another “inventor” of buzzing things, a certain Queen of the Nile with a box full of bees…

Sorry, folks, but it is highly unlikely that Cleopatra had anything like that at all. It’s just…

Well, look, it’s a nice little story that everyone likes to latch on to but there is literally NO documented proof of this whatsoever. Some woman wrote a thing in the early 90s (sound familiar?) with that in it and, a bit like that story we all heard in seventh grade about how Marilyn Manson removed a rib so he could suck his own dick…

It’s just not true no matter how many times you whisper it in the Science labs. In fact stories of Cleopatra’s “sex fiend” ways are also probably not true and were actually done in a way to discredit her and make her out to be “nasty”. Gee, a woman in power having her sex life embellished, lied about and then used against her? So glad we’ve moved on from that stuff…

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Religion Says No

Just like with Cleopatra all those centuries ago, making up lies about people, their bits, and especially their fun bits is one thing nearly all modern and modernised religions can agree on and is probably one of the largest causes of shame in the entire world.

This bizarre idea that God is watching you touch your bits and he will get angry and smite you for it has always sounded a bit off to me. I mean, putting aside for a moment the creepy idea of someone watching you play with yourself without your consent, the fact that so many religions seem to think God is more concerned about you having a private fiddle in your bedroom than they are with the general death, violence and destruction of the world, makes me wonder if that’s a god I’d want anything to do with anyway.

Whether it’s the priest telling you you’ll go blind or some weirdo inventing cold cereal as a way to stop you from fiddling (yes, this is literally why Kelloggs makes cornflakes. I’m not even joking a little bit) modern history is full of religious whack jobs telling us not to whack our jobs all in the name of getting ourselves into heaven. I don’t know about you, but if you can’t have a wank in heaven then it’s probably not somewhere worth going to.

Future of Fiddling

These days we’re definitely a bit more open about it and there is a lot less taboo in general discussion about it. Adult shops are literally everywhere with all sorts of bits and bobs to help you play. There are magazines and websites and educational programs set up to help you get to know all about your own body, and it’s talked about far more in mainstream media and with far less shame attached. We’re beginning to talk about it in sex education, and take the shame away from our kids just exploring their bodies, and with open minded conversations and the growing nature of sex positivity in the world, it can only get better from here on in.

Whether you use your hands or you add something extra into your routine, masturbation is something that is as old as time and is here to stay. It’s fun, it’s good for you, it’s a great way to pass the time and it’s totally free! I can’t see why anything that good is treated so badly! I mean, as long as you don’t do it on the bus in peak hour (or any time. Please don’t wank on the bus) and you’re enjoying yourself I reckon everyone should have at least one fiddle a day!


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