Monday, 28 May 2018

Masturbating Venuses and other thoughts for International Masturbation Day

I originally published this post two years ago and today seems a good opportunity to republish it in my new blog, as it is International Masturbation Day.  I have updated it a little and am grateful to a couple of my lady friends for some additional information on Asian practices.  There are some new pictures as well.  My original post was engendered following a good post on the subject by Scarlett Knight, which generated some interesting comments from (mainly) female readers. I suggested to her that I might look at the subject too (egged on by my friend S who is a particular expert!) from a male point of view.  

International Masturbation Day, 28th May, is the climax(!) of International Masturbation Month. which grew out of what was originally National Masturbation Day and was first celebrated on 14th May 1995 in San Francisco. It was originally set up as a reaction to US President Bill Clinton sacking the Surgeon General, Joycelyn Elders, for suggesting that information about masturbation should be taught to school children. The day itself is now celebrated on 28th May, as part of the month of celebration. Except, of course, it isn't celebrated at all with only a few online news pages, like the Huffington Post, giving it any profile. This is, of course, because the whole subject is mired in a web of embarrassment, shame, derision, and condemnation. 

The world's oldest dildo is presented by a delighted German archaeologist 

People have always masturbated (the first reputed dildo dates to 28.000 years ago) and, in fact, the Ancient Egyptian creation myth involves the God Atem who was created out of the primordial sludge of the world but when the time came for him to have children he masturbated by the athletic method of sucking his own penis. He ejaculated into his own mouth and then spat out his semen from which two twin babies, a boy and a girl, were formed, as his semen hit the ground .He named the girl Tefnut and she would become the goddess of moisture and dew. 

Atem goes for it 

The brother he named Shu who would become the god of the air. Shu married his sister and they would have two children Nut, the goddess of the night sky, and her brother Geb, the god of the earth. These two would marry also and have children too, so there were strong incestuous elements, as well as masturbation, underpinning the very beginnings of ancient Egyptian mythology. There is no doubt that this was influential and it would be not unusual for later pharaohs to take their sisters as brides.  Pharaohs would also publicly masturbate into the Nile, as a fertility ritual. This all helped give the Ancient Egyptians a very liberal view of sex and masturbation ,which was considered to be a pleasure of life. Unripe bananas are reported to have been a favourite of Egyptian ladies. 

The Ancient Greeks considered the practice normal and without shame. Traders in the Ancient Greek city of Miletus sold objects called 'olisbos' for wives to penetrate themselves with when their husbands were away and these have been illustrated in Greek pottery of the time. Galen, the Greek physician, recommended it for women to relieve bottled up "acrid humours". 

Greek pottery 6th Century BC

One Greek legend has Hermes teaching masturbation to his son Pan, as he had failed to seduce the nymph Echo (who because of a curse put on her by Hera, could not tell him how much she loved him - she could only repeat the last part of a sentence) leaving him pent up with frustration. Pan then taught it to Greek shepherds (which was no doubt less tiring on a lonely hillside than chasing an attractive sheep) and thus it spread around the world. 

 While Ancient Greek writings considered  masturbation a normal and healthy way to dissipate sexual frustration, the more uptight Romans believed it was only appropriate for slaves. Women. however, were not expected to enjoy sex, that was for men alone, so did frustrated Roman wives look after themselves when they weren't serving their primary role of procreating?  It has been argued that sex was so easily available for Roman men, through slaves or numerous brothels, that they wouldn't bother to masturbate at all.

Women in Renaissance Italy used leather dildos (they didn't appear in Britain until about 1500) lubricated with olive oil and rubber dildos were first manufactured in 1850. This was all despite the fact that masturbation, according to the Christian church, fell under the sin of non-procreative sex (it carried the death penalty in the seventeenth century puritan community of New Haven, Connecticut). Tragically, there are still US Christian websites railing against the evils of masturbation.

In Asia, the Indian love text, the Kama Sutra, says that men men shouldn't do it but it was positively recommended for women.  Men shouldn't waste their fluids (men could masturbate, as part of learning control, but shouldn't ejaculate), but women's sexual fluids are constantly replenishable.  In addition, the process of replacing these fluids was supposed  to have a positive effect on the health of a woman, whereas loss of fluids had a negative effect on health for men .  As wel;  as this, unsatisfactory sex for women was considered an evil but given it was acknowledged that women take longer to reach orgasm the Kama Sutra and other Indian love texts recommend a woman masturbates before meeting her lover for sex. Ardhendu was the Sanskrit word for using your fingers on your (or another woman's) vulva and using different fingers was supposed to provoke different emotions.  Maids would masturbate their mistresses to prepare them for their lovers and objects, as well as fingers were employed (although these were banned for Hindus) although Indian texts recommend plants, fruits and vegetables, rather than artificial aids. Today, custom and legislation militate against frank discussion of sex and especially masturbation for women in India but things are changing.  In an India Today sex survey in 2003 only 25% of the population admitted to masturbating whereas in 2017 65% admitted to doing it.  The figures are now 57% for women in India (compared with 71% in the UK). Figures complied by Pornhub now show that 30% of their visitors from India are women (6% more than British women), up 129% in 2017. Women from the land of the Kama Sutra are rediscovering themselves.

In Japan, where the production of explicit erotic art for young married couples was common, masturbation pictures in Shunga, especially using fingers, are rare although not unknown. However, the depiction of dildos is quite common and examples of Japanese tortoiseshell and buffalo horn dildos (harigata) have survived.

Rich ladies were expected to own a tortoiseshell replica of their husband's erection to use when he was away.  One woman in a household would often employ it on another, not as part of a lesbian relationship but as a way to help a friend to orgasm. Some dildos were designed to tie on a woman's ankle. In China (Mien-ling) and Japan (Ri-no-tama), partially filled balls were used to place inside the vagina to create stimulation during day to day activities.  No need to stop what you were doing to masturbate, ingeniously.

In China, under Taoism, sex was considered an important part of the path to happiness. Before this thousand years of enlightenment (which ended with the communist revolution) there were times in Chinese history where masturbation was seen as a bad thing for men but was seen as quite alright for women. Dildos were very common in Chinese erotic art. 

Most visual erotica in Asia and Europe concentrated on images of copulation rather than masturbation, apart from a few examples from the late eighteenth century onwards (and many of those are depictions of a, usually female, character masturbating while observing others copulating). 

Written evidence of masturbation is much harder to find, although Samuel Pepys, in his diaries, admitted masturbating (albeit in code), even in church, at the end of the seventeenth century and obviously felt no shame about it. Candles appear quite often in eighteenth century erotic art as convenient dildos, although not usually lit like this French example. We think the engraver is just showing off his skill at depicting lighting effects! 

A few years after Pepy's death in 1703, however, everything changed in Britain with the publication of a series of books, beginning with a pamphlet by a Dutch theologian Balthazar Bekker (or a surgeon called John Marten - the work is anonymous) called Onania, or the Heinous Sin of self-Pollution, And All Its Frightful Consequences which first appeared in 1712 and led to masturbation being seen as physically and not just morally damaging. By 1745 a British doctor, Robert James, and a Swiss doctor, Samuel-August Tissot, had also published anti masturbation works. The latter's treatise, in particular, said that men losing a lot of semen would lead to "loss of strength, of memory and even of reason; blurred vision, all the nervous disorders, all types of gout and rheumatism, weakening of the organs of generation, blood in the urine, disturbance of the appetite, headaches and a great number of other disorders" This was actually not that different from the Ancient Chinese and Indian views of male masturbation, as previously mentioned. Others took this far from scientific publication as fact and we are still living with the fallout of this pernicious nonsense today.

Kellogg: crackers 

None were worse than the notorious Dr John Harvey Kellogg (of Corn Flakes fame), a Seventh Day Adventist, who spent nearly a hundred pages of his book Plain Facts for Old and Young (1877) railing against the effects of masturbation and how to cure it. One of these ways was by eating a plain diet and so Corn Flakes were actually invented to help stop young people masturbating! Kellogg was a follower of Presbyterian minister, Sylvester Graham whose Graham crackers, which were first produced in 1829, were also promoted as a bland food that would discourage carnal urges. For boys, Kellogg advocated circumcision (without anesthesia) as one of the ways to stop masturbation, as apart from making the process less pleasurable, the pain and tenderness after the operation would, he hoped, put them off touching themselves and get them out of the habit. If not that, he inserted silver wire around their penises to stop them getting erections. Girls were dealt with by putting carbolic acid on their clitorises. For children, tying their hands or electric shocks were suggested. Incidentally, I have only recently become aware that most (around 79%) American men are circumcised. In the UK the figure is only 15.8% and most of these are from religious groups (Jews and Muslims) or from those born overseas. We can't understand why this barbaric practice continues and wonder whether it is partly the fault of Dr Kellogg and his peculiar ideas.

Martin van Maele

Personally, I can't remember when I started but it was certainly when I was at junior school. I remember being asked by a local authority child psychiatrist (I have no idea why I was referred to one by my school) if I masturbated. I must have been no older than eleven but I denied it, of course, although I had just started doing so, while probably thinking about the girls at school and their netball skirts, I suspect! My denial was so firm and my tone so appalled that the psychiatrist must have known instantly that I was, indeed, already at it. Dr V, the South African psychiatrist, always wanted to talk about sex while all I wanted to do was talk about Airfix model kits. Being a clever psychiatrist he started bringing Airfix kits in for me to build during the sessions while he talked. Being a clever eleven year old boy I knew he was giving me the Airfix kits to distract me so I was always on my guard.

"What do you think of girls?"

 "Not much."

"You are getting tall, have you noticed the girls at school developing too?"

"Not really."

 Have you noticed them developing breasts?"

"No." And so on.

Auguste Rodin

The key issue, of course, was that as a young adolescent male there was no sex education whatsoever for people in junior school (unlike today when it starts at age eight in UK schools). My parents didn't talk to me, either, of course, about such things. The biggest issue was that you wanted to keep the fact that you were starting to think about sexual things from your parents. You did not want them to know you were growing up, I suppose. It was a very big thing for me when I first put up a poster of a girl (Debbie Harry - my journalist cousin later told Ms Harry that his first memories of her were from that poster, to her amusement) on my bedroom wall at home. It was a declaration, in a way, to my mother that I was now, sexually an adult male. I was later surprised to see that my younger cousin had put a very provocative picture, of a girl in denim shorts astride a motorbike, up on his bedroom wall when he was only thirteen. I had waited until I was seventeen but I couldn't really deny it given my initial sexual experiences with a girl at the time.

I wonder if this wanting to keep things hidden from your parents is one of the key triggers to shame about masturbating at a very sensitive age.  You become furtive about it because of worrying about what they might think.  In retrospect, if I had had the conversations Dr V had wanted me to have at eleven I may have had a different attitude to it. I certainly think that Surgeon General Elders had the right idea. Interestingly, I don't think I ever felt guilty about masturbating; just that it wasn't something you should ever, ever talk about and never admit to doing.  I never thought it was wrong.

As I started senior school I was in a situation where some of the boys were sexually mature and others, in the same class, were not. The more mature ones talked about sex a bit, usually linked to particular girls on TV or in the newspapers (there were a lot of topless women in UK seventies newspapers, thankfully). Within a couple of years I became aware of an underground lending library of men's magazines circulating around the school. I remember J, at school, handing over a particular magazine to a friend with the words 'satisfaction guaranteed with that one!'.  J's father worked for the Paul Raymond organisation, which helped a lot.  There was, therefore, an acknowledgement by those participating in this trade as to what these magazines were for (sadly, I also read the articles and, particularly, the stories as well!). However, equally the term 'wanker' (a UK person who masturbates) was also the biggest insult at school. So there was a dichotomy between those who exchanged magazines as masturbation aids and those who used the word for it as an insult, on the basis that it was a sad and pathetic thing to do and by extension the insultee was also sad and pathetic.

The word 'wank' (still widely used in Britain) was not used so much for the act itself at school. More popular was the term 'J Arthur' which was Cockney rhyming slang derived from the film company J Arthur Rank. I have also heard the term Barclays (from Barclays Bank) used too. Whatever, it indicates one of the key problems with masturbation; that the word itself is cumbersome and overly serious. It is also a medical word (like penis and vagina) so sounds pompous and unappealing. It is a word for medical professionals and grown ups (as far as adolescents go) and sterilises the process. The word is, in short, not fun!

Egon Schiele 

 The Victorians and Edwardians used the better term 'frig' for both male and female masturbation but these days 'frig' tends to be used just for women's activity. I was very amused when Penthouse magazine, some years ago, picked up on the UK use of the word 'wank' and used it a lot to describe women's activity. I thought, at the time, that they had completely misunderstood it; women frig, men wank! Incidentally, it is a comparatively recent word. I have heard it used anachronistically in a couple of recent period dramas on UK TV. One was in the series Banished, about eighteenth century convicts in Australia, but 'wank' wasn't recorded until the nineteen forties.

Achille  DevĂ©ria (1848)

The other problem with masturbation, once you can dig yourself out of the remnants of Victorian opprobrium over self-abuse, is that it is largely seen (especially by men) as a sex substitute not a valid activity in itself. One of the things that is often misunderstood about the Victorians is the idea that they were all anti sex (as Dr Kellogg was). I have seen it written that, for example, men were discouraged from having sex, even with their wives, for fears that the process of giving birth was so hazardous to nineteenth century women that a real gentleman would control his urges to prolong his wife's life.

Gerda Wegener

In fact, nineteenth century Britain was awash with books and pamphlets telling women (in particular) how to have a happy and fulfilled sex life. I have also seen it written that men did not acknowledge that women could enjoy sexual fulfillment or orgasms but, in fact, these pamphlets discuss the importance of orgasm for women and the general idea on the subject was that couples should try to achieve simultaneous orgasm as it was the best (at the beginning of the nineteenth century it was believed to be the only) way to get pregnant. Of course, all this was posited on the basis of sex within marriage and any other kind (fornication) was considered sinful (especially if you were a woman). The prevalence of prostitutes in nineteenth century Britain was a sort of safety valve for frustrated men, as even going with whores was preferable to the evils of masturbating, not unlike the view in Ancient Rome.

Mutual fun in 1835

Erotic literature of the time is full of 'frigging', however, albeit some of it is mutual. We have never really understood the concept of mutual masturbation. You are either doing it to yourself or you are not. If someone else is involved it isn't masturbation! This is different from masturbating with someone, of course. One of my lady friends learned to masturbate by lying on the bed with her sister in front of a large mirror on the door of her wardrobe. There was no contact between them, just a happy shared time. They did it quite regularly together for about a year.

Otto Schoff

I enjoyed watching two young ladies doing this, side by side, while at university. They were not sexual partners, and I was involved with only one of them. They said they quite often used to do it in each other's company, often when reading. Sometimes they would give each other a stroke during their sessions but it never led to anything more. They were masturbating each other not engaging in sex. They didn't caress each other when I wasn't there. I had to masturbate for them afterwards, of course, while they watched which was quite fair. I had several girls at College and we used to masturbate in front of each other quite regularly.  One wasn't even a girlfriend (we had sex once) but she found it much moire exciting if someone watched her.  In fact, I have had several girlfriends who liked to watch and this got me very confident about the process and removed any last vestiges of embarrassment about it some time in my early twenties. This was useful when I had an encounter with an older lady in Rome a few years later. This episode forms the basis of a the activity in a chapter of my erotic story The Lust World,

Egon Schiele

In fact it was at university that I watched my first girl masturbate to climax. She and some of my other girlfriends had masturbated when I was present but it had always been under the covers or inside their knickers. Hidden. I went to see the girl, C,  at the beginning of the autumn term after we had broken up at the end of the first year. She was in her room wearing a white towelling bath robe which she undid and got to work on her lovely ginger pussy while caressing one breast with the other hand. It took her about ten minutes to come, while I sat there in silence (not wanting to break the spell) watching her in tumescent delight. It may have been in the nature of a "look at what you are missing" exhibition or even a "come back I have made a mistake" ploy but it was a fascinating and erotic visual experience that I can still recall, more than thirty five years later, in every detail.

We both moved on to other partners shortly afterwards but we remained sexually involved to a certain extent. It was she who introduced me to Schiele's erotic pictures. She used to like me to read to her and she would buy erotic books, such as Emmanuelle, come over to my room and play with herself while I read to her. She would then get me to finish myself off for her, while she watched intently.

It was Kinsey's studies in the nineteen forties which showed that more people were masturbating than had previously been thought but the first effective reaction against nearly two hundred years of demonisation came from Henry Havelock Ellis in his 1897 work Studies in the Psychology of Sex. He questioned Tissot's premises and then set out to disprove each of the claimed diseases of which masturbation was supposedly the cause. He concluded "that in the case of moderate masturbation in healthy, well-born individuals, no seriously pernicious results necessarily follow." Hardly any members of the public read his work (unlike Masters and Johnson sixty years later) but he influenced other professionals who gradually contributed to changing attitudes. Sadly, Havelock Ellis' own sex life was a disaster and it was only in his sixties that he discovered the secret to curing his impotence - watching women urinate.

Gustave Klimt

So why, nearly a hundred and twenty years after Havelock Ellis, is masturbation still so taboo? Although female writers these days talk about 'learning about their bodies' and 'relaxation' there is still a strong general feeling in society that sexuality is best expressed through, well, sex with another person. So masturbation is, as someone (an Italian man!) once described to me "the loser's option". You masturbate, he believed, because you cannot get or keep a partner. It is an inferior product, if you will. There was a pop song in the UK in 1979 called You need wheels, by the Mod/New wave group the Merton Parkas, about how a young man had to own a car to impress women (rather like in the Eddie Cochran song Something Else). "A man's not a man with a ticket in his hand", ran the lyrics. Likewise a man is not a man with his cock in his hand, perhaps, which is why it might be more difficult to get men to talk about this seriously than women. Masturbation is an indication of a perceived lack of masculinity.

The UK's second National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles in Britain, conducted between 1999 and 2001, found, also, that men masturbated more when they weren't in a relationship while women masturbated more when they were in a relationship (increasing from 33% for those not having sex to 47% for those having regular sex). So, there could be some evidence for saying that masturbation is a substitute for sex for men while for women it is part of a wider suite of sexual fulfillment, supplementing sex with a partner rather than as a substitute for it. It has been suggested by some writers (Baumeister in particular) that women's sex drives are more malleable than men's;the more sex a woman has the higher her sex drive, while men's stay at pretty much the same level whether they are having sex or not.

Certainly, one of my girlfriends once told me that she had never masturbated until she had started sleeping with me and then she did it a lot. This is also backed up by the findings that the majority of men masturbate to visual images or thoughts of famous women while women focus on their partners or other people they know. Kinsey, however, suggested that women in relationships masturbate more because, unlike men, they are not achieving as many orgasms through intercourse.

Auguste Rodin

Apart from the enhanced sexuality due to a relationship argument, some do it just to help them relax. I knew one girl who could only masturbate to climax standing up, as she had first done it in front of a full length mirror as a teenager and just got used to it. She used to do it last thing at night to help her sleep, which is one of the key reasons for masturbating given to researchers in a 1994 Chicago study, along with relieving sexual tension, obtaining physical pleasure, or relaxing.

Michel Fingesten

On the Vintage Erotica Forums, a few years ago, someone asked if the members (no sniggering at the back) masturbated. This might seem an odd question for a site made up entirely of pictures of naked women but some people got quite old fashioned about it: "Why do you feel the need to reveal something which in essence is a private thing on a public forum? I wouldn't reveal something like that," said someone, huffily. There were other similar replies and a lot of jokey ones trying to trivialise the subject. So even on a site devoted to (mainly) men looking at pictures of naked women the number of sensible, replies were few and far between.

This, despite the fact that nearly all men masturbate. University College London produced a paper on masturbation in the UK a few years ago, using the large amount of data (over 11,000 responses) from the UK's second National Survey of Sexual Attitudes. This found that 95% of men admitted to masturbating at least once in their lives compared with only 71% of women. This discrepancy reflects almost every other study on the subject. This isn't just a recent phenomenon. Interestingly, one survey of women conducted in the US found that 60% of unmarried women had masturbated (and 33% of married women) and this survey was conducted in 1929!

Michel Fingesten

I have no idea why a higher proportion of women don't seem to masturbate but I have had relationships with several women who have never done so. Reasons given were 'it's dirty' (relating to her genitals -'men's things are less icky' she said) to 'what's the point, it's like tickling yourself, It doesn't work'. I had one girlfriend who would masturbate but only by pulling fabric backwards and forwards between her legs: usually her knickers but sometimes other soft fabric too. She wouldn't touch herself with her fingers (she was a Catholic so worried about it a lot). I have heard the 'it's too much me' argument a number of times from women about using their hands on themselves.

Maybe this is why sex aids are so popular with women (there is a sex shop chain aimed at women, Ann Summers, selling vibrators and dildos on every British High Street) and internet sales in the UK are huge: the UK's biggest online sex aid retailer, Lovehoney, sells over 200,000 vibrators and dildos a year. Dildo use is not, as we have seen, a new thing.  Back in the nineteenth century self-appointed moral crusader Anthony Comstock created the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice and got himself appointed in a role as United States Postal Inspector, so was able to police his own Comstock Law, the introduction of which he had organised..  This was passed in 1874 and made the delivery by mail (or any other means) of 'obscene, lewd or lascivious material' illegal.  Apart from books (and anything relating to contraception or abortion) he organised the confiscation of 'immoral rubber goods'; dildos; thousands of them.  Technically selling dildos is still illegal in Texas, for example, although a US District judge in 2008 held that the part of the Texas Penal Code relating to 'obscene devices' was "unconstitutional and unenforceable throughout the State of Texas'.  That said people in Texas have been prosecuted this century and the law in question only dates to 1973. The law also makes it illegal to own more than six dildos (my friend S would be really in trouble!)

So where are we now? Recently we have seen something of a return to the great panics about masturbation seen in the nineteenth century, with the great threat coming from, of course, internet porn. The biggest concern being to protect children of course. This, despite the fact that many children, even less sexually mature ones, enjoy the odd rub (especially girls), often from a much earlier age than their parents think. But rather than let them enjoy this, it is all about protecting their 'innocence'. Protecting children from evil predators is one thing, stopping them enjoying their own bodies is quite a different thing.

Going back to the Shunga pictures of Japan, masturbation is most likely to be depicted when someone catches a couple in full flow and watches them. These voyeuristic figures are quite often depicted as youngsters, (the lack of pubic hair being the give away) suggesting that masturbation was acceptable for those who weren't deemed as adults (fourteen in Japanese society at the time). Some even feature children (and not just young adults) watching adults having sex and not just making amusing comments (Shunga picture captions contain quite a lot of humour - the Japanese approach to sex was commendably amiable) but masturbating too.

 Japanese ideas of what children might acceptably see were different from what we (or the Japanese today - there has recently been pressure on Manga and Hentai producers to be careful over the depiction of young teenagers in sexual situations) might find acceptable now. It must be borne in mind, however, that Japanese people lived in paper walled houses with unlockable sliding doors, so the family sex life would have been less private. 

Intriguingly, in his book, Kellogg puts part of the the blame for the spread of masturbation down to "wicked" children's nurses, thus acknowledging that children react to sexual stimulation. "In those cases in which the habit is acquired at a very early age, the work of evil is usually wrought by the nurse, perhaps through ignorance of the effects of the habit. Incredible as it seems, it is proved by numerous instances that it is not an uncommon habit for nurses to quiet small children by handling or titillating their genital organs. They find this a speedy means of quieting them, and resort to it regardless or ignorant of the consequences."

There is a danger that the witch hunt against pornography will transmute into a witch hunt against masturbation, as religious puritans seek to demonise all sexual pleasure. Masturbation will be driven back into the shadowy world of shame and guilt. We will be back to the days of sex for procreation only, if we don't fight back against it.

So, three hundred years after the publication of Onania, or the Heinous Sin of self-Pollution, many people still can't talk openly about this tricky subject. I would argue that women now find it easier than they did in the past to discuss this, given the open treatment it gets in women's magazines, primarily, but for men it is still largely a taboo subject as they do not have the same access to serious discussions and material on sexuality as modern women do through the more intelligent women's magazines..

Egon Schiele (1918)

Women are now encouraged to explore their own bodies but men, who can't keep their hands off their sex organs (after all, unlike women, we touch them many times a day when we urinate), have no real equivalent suggestion; perhaps because male masturbation is rather straightforward whereas women have rather more options. Discussing masturbation for women. these days. is all about empowerment, self confidence and sensual pleasure. For men it is still a rather embarrassing and demeaning joke subject. Even half way through writing this I had a failure of nerve about publishing it and needed a phone conversation with S in Canada to get reassurance!

Finally, for those that have got this far, one of the key reasons that I produce my various blogs is to incite sexual arousal, as I think it is a force for positivity in life (if not quite in the Star Wars The Force or even the William Reich orgone sense).

I once attended a dinner party with a former model who had posed for a number of men's magazines when she was younger. "Don't you feel disgusted at the thought of what men do looking at your pictures?" asked another woman there. "Not at all!" she replied. "I love the idea of all those erect penises spurting sperm as I made them aroused and happy!" Exactly.

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Masturbating Venuses by Gustav Klimt

Sitting in an armchair (1913)

It is Masturbation Month, once more and so I am celebrating by re-posting some of my lost posts featuring frigging females.  What better place to start than with the splendidly abandoned drawings of Austrian artist Gustav Klimt (1862-1918).  Since I first posted these two years ago I have located a number of extra pictures.

Seated woman with legs spread (1916)

Klimt was born in Baungarten, near Vienna, and early in his artistic career focussed on painting architectural decoration.  His initial treatment of figures was very classical and tight (almost photographic) and he only evolved his distinctive linear with bold blocks of colour approach to painting in the mid eighteen nineties.   This new style, as an influential member of the Wiener Sezession movement, brought him fame and wealth, in contrast to his poverty stricken student days.

By 1904 Klimt had conceived the idea of keeping a number of models (some of whom became his mistresses) on hand in his studio for whenever inspiration struck him.  Described as being like a harem, they inhabited a waiting room connected to his studio until, like a a sultan summoning a favourite concubine, they were invited into the studio itself.

Recumbent semi-nude from the right (1914)

Shortly after Klimt's death the art critic Franz Servaes wrote, rather breathlessly, about Klimt's studio. "He was surrounded by mysteriously naked female creatures, who, while he stood silently in front of his easel, promenaded up and down his studio, lolled and lazed around and bloomed throughout the day - always ready for the master's signal to remain obediently stiff as soon as he had glimpsed a pose or a movement that tantalised his sense enough to fleetingly capture it in a quick drawing."

The use of the word 'lolled' by Servaes is interesting as it is exactly the same term used by a journalist in the sixties when describing the abandoned poses of the girls in the early days of Penthouse, compared with Playboy.  Klimt's women loll with thighs spread and fingers delicately probing at their vulvae, just as Bob Guccione had them in the pages of his magazine seventy years later.  Like the Penthouse Pets, Klimt's girls are lost in their own self-absorbed reverie.  Abandoned, reflective, disinterested but assertively feminine.

Reclining semi-nude facing right(1914)

We know nothing about these models, really, other than the fact that some, at least, were prostitutes, as Klimt didn't keep diaries and all his papers were destroyed by a lover after his death.  But the freshness and spontaneity of Klimt's line shows us that these were real women, not a created fantasy, exposing themselves and masturbating for the artist.  

Klimt produced around five or six thousand sheets of drawings during his lifetime and women were overwhelmingly his favourite subject.  Some were undoubtedly done as studies for his paintings but these erotic pictures were done for himself and were not, of course, exhibited during his lifetime.

Many of Klimt's figure drawings of women demonstrate similar approaches.  Klimt often used. extreme foreshortening in his erotic figures figures so as to focus attention on his models' genitals,   Legs are spread and pussies are thrust at the viewer tin away that makes them the unavoidable centre of the composition.

Another aspect that adds to their erotic charge is the use of partial nudity.  The models in his masturbation pictures are never depicted nude; they are all wearing clothes which have been pulled up or aside to reveal themselves.  There is really only one part of the body Klimt is interested in here.

These were not created for 'gentlemen collectors' (as were Boucher's explicit nudes and some of Courbet's paintings, for example) or as pornography; they were part of Klimt's obsession with documenting the essence of life of the human being, including its sexuality. Female sexuality, which was being acknowledged openly for the first time, having previously been denied, ignored or even feared, being a subject of great fascination to Viennese artists during this period.

Seated woman with hat (1910)

Equally, these women are not the idealised ones of his earlier works but are everyday women, dressed or undressed.  His use of line is not employed to create an image of improved beauty but to record the women as they were at that point in time. legs apart in his studio, frigging unconcernedly as if the artist wasn't there in the room with them, watching their movement and inhaling their musky scent.  Like Guccione's later photographs, it is the art of the voyeur and, as we will see in a future post, very different to his contemporary, Egon Schiele's, approach.

Klimt had a number of run-ins with the public and critics over his frank depiction of women's bodies in his paintings but these pictures were not, of course, made public at the time.  Although Vienna was becoming a hotbed of sensual exploration during this period these would have been considered obscene and even as recently as 1966 an Italian judge branded them as just that.

From Dialogue of the Courtesans (1907)

In 1907, however, Klimt was asked to illustrate a new German translation of Lucian of Samosata's Dialogue of the Courtesans by Franz Blei.  He went back to the drawings he had done in his studio and fifteen of them were published in the book: the only occasion his erotic drawings saw the light of day during his lifetime. The drawings included single girls, a copulating man and woman and a lesbian threesome (Lucian's book, published in 43 AD, was, perhaps, the first to discuss lesbianism).  Two out of the fifteen drawings featured masturbating women

From Dialogue of the Courtesans (1907)

At the time it was published, the writer Felix Salten said about Klimt's illustrations: "You poor fools who do not hear the nameless power of this sacred invocation of carnality.  Here is the only artist whore bourgeois prudishness does not obscure nature in all its glory."

Masturbating girl 1917