Masturbation is soothing the pain of someone who doesn’t exist

My starting point is that eroticism is a solitary activity. At the least it is a matter difficult to discuss. For not only conventional reasons, eroticism is defined by secrecy. It cannot be public. I might instant some exceptions but somehow eroticism is outside ordinary life. In our experience taken as a whole it is cut off from the normal communication of emotions. There is a taboo in force. Nothing is absolutely forbidden, for there are always transgressions. [George Bataille, Eroticism. p.252]

Male public masturbation is a thing. You see it on porn sites and ask the question what is the excitement? I’m guessing its less to do with the idea that you’re wanking and getting away with it and more to do with the specifics of being out in the open…the attempt to be out in the open…the attempt to both offer oneself and to hide oneself from view; to say “this thing here, this sad meat between my legs, this is the truth of me which I meekly offer and instantly withdraw”. There is a distinction to be made between flashing/exhibitionism and the desire to be caught, the desire to be seen, the desire to be noticed; or, maybe, it is the desire to not been seen, to get as close as possible to the margins of perceptibility and to remain there, visible but unseen. Is it the same to masturbate in a porno theatre as it is to masturbate in Walmart as it is to masturbate in a forest clearing? Is there something sad about Walmart wankers compared to nature loving primitivist onanism? At any rate it seems like the thing in common to this paraphilia is the seeking out of a public space in which to not be seen. It is a kind of ritual of disappearance.

There is also something in the gendering of public masturbation that might speak to the general economy of eroticism today: female public masturbation is still seen as sexually exciting rather than pathological even if it is also met with taboo, exclusion and legal action. To speak in psychoanalytic terms our culture is one where kink and transgressive sexuality is de rigueur  but essentially toothless; it is everywhere present in 50 Shades of Grey’s weird cocktail of misogynistic rape culture and benign titillation…although even this pseudotransgression can be an accelerant of latent violent transgressivity. 50 Shades was even capable of the catalysis of specifically misandrist violence in my local cinema, and this might even be happily received news from devotees of erotic rituals like CFMN, male humilation or cock&ball torture.

Is this a game of becoming-imperceptible or a desperate bid to be seen? In a surveillance society has sexual desire been subsumed by it’s amateur webcam porno-modelisation? Is this just the latest psychopathological expression of “Pharmacopornographic Era“? It might be some heady combination of these but it might also be something else for which each they are only the methodological expressions or theory-fictional aestheticism. Baudrillard once talked about the hyperreality of reality TV in terms of its boring per-formative function reveling in the ecstasies of the limit of a dramaturgical inauthenticity. He wrote that in the illusory space of reality TV we show and consume the ‘delirious exhibition of one’s own nullity’ (quoted in Against Banality). It is less a case of hyperreality and more a case of a hypersexuality in which the generalised post-traumatic condition of derealization/depersonalization of traumatic dissociative psycho-survivalism deis “overcome” by impulsive sexuality.

To be less verbose: people who feel unreal or otherwise detached can re-attach to their sense of embodied selfhood. In fact the risk of being caught or even the actual being shamed may individuate to such a degree that it returns a detached personlessness to the the sense of being a person. The extremity and blatant nature of some of the descriptions in the article linked to in the image above may be a function of a broader sexual desensitization that is concomitant with its hyper-visibility. In the video below- a so-called “experiment in social psychology”- we see the majority of reactions are to ignore and/or giggle at the simulated masturbation. Indeed at least one case study into hypersexual exhibitionism indicates that ‘it was not clear that the patient experienced [compulsive acts of public masturbation] as sexually gratifying” and found instead that “the exhibitionistic behaviour has a ritualistic element”.

The same paper that this case study is reported in hypersexuality is in fact a phenomena of disinhibition rather than increased libidinous need and this marks it as distinctly pathological from a medico-normative perspective of neural functional ideals- and indeed from a behavioural perspective. The distinctive neural profile of this disinhibition is unsurprisingly found to be constituted by lesions to the frontal lobe implicated in addictions, “personality disorders”, manic psychoses, strokes and tumors, and stiatial damage implicated in Parkinson’s and Huntington’s diseases. Functional changes in the “temporolimbic system” [a discredit hypostatisation of plastic and complex neural architecture] are also reported as causing disinhibition with a transformation of the object of sexual desire: lesions actually sculpt a new sexual appetite and erotic style.

This all suggests that “hypersexuality” is a misnomer and that in reality there is a loss of the capacity neurobiological infrastructural self-regulation responsible for inhibiting the sexual urge, and this is likely accompanied (in some cases) by a cognitive reordering of the schemas attributed to sexuality and eroticism; in other words, the brain can’t hold back the sexual urge and this generates cognitive rationalizations that are expressed in terms of a personal philosophy of perversion. This may have the phenomenological taste of distress or delight. Packed into all this neuropsychiatric encoding of “hypersexuality” then is a remarkable underside of excess and waste that suggests a Bataillian science of the brain. We should keep in mind Bataille’s own relationship to syphilis and how this might have informed his subsequent philosophical speculations.

As a more recent paper speculating on the taxonomic considerations of  “Hypersexual Disorders” points out there is no reason hypersexuality has to be codified as paraphilic as one could have excessive sex [?] that was entirely biologically reproductive in a way that queer theorists might consider heteronormative and antinatalists would consider as itself constitutive of pathology, with both agreeing that the horror of sex comes from its orientation to reproductive futurism or reproduction as such.

Such nymphomania (for an antinatalist it’s all nymphomania, no matter how nice it is) is also observed in the exceedingly rare Klüver-Bucy Syndrome in which temporal lobe dysfunction results in a range of extreme behavioural disturbances including the almost total absence of the capacity to regulate sexual appetites. KBS was first observed in monkey’s who had their temporal lobes removed, then in a human in 1955 following a bilateral temporal lobotomy, and again in a dramatic study of pre-adolescent children who had recovered from herpes related encephalitis. In the last of these studies the conclusion reached was that as the children were as young as four their sexualized behaviour could not be explained by any appeal to environmental sexualization.

Some latent force within them was released even as it lacked socialization, a semiology, an object, a sense of teleology or completion, in short what we call in our folk-psychologies a desire. The dark motive forces of the evolutionary compulsion to fuck is there before language when our children are all sweet and innocent. Under the right circumstances, a head injury, an inherited neurodevelopmental disorder, a manic condition, the cultural niceties ensured by neuronal inhibition systems get dropped in favor of a lunatic primordial blind compulsion. I want to be clear: in these cases it ain’t the kids or the adults that are lunatics….it’s the liberated urge. In these cases we can’t deny Schopenhauer’s insight

The will, considered purely in itself, is devoid of knowledge, and is only a blind, irresistible urge, as we see it appear in inorganic and vegetable nature…and as what the will wills is always life, just because this is nothing but the presentation of that willing for the representation, it is immaterial and a mere pleonasm if, instead of simply saying “the will,” we say “the will-to-life (Schopenhauer, W&R vol. 1. p.429) [If references to “immaterial” will is off putting we could replace it with the term “pattern”,  as in: ‘From the metaphysical point of view, what exist are just real patterns’ (Ladyman and Ross, Everything must go. p.121).

If there is an impersonal post-traumatic condition that might be identifiable as our new ‘norm’ then we might expect that the male public masturbators are in the grips of a disinhibition of the same cultural niceties even if they not to same extreme as dementia or KBS patients. As is noted by  Schwartz and Galperin the intoxicating delirious phases of lust in the experience we talk about as “falling in love” involved a neuro-endochrino-biological surge of hypersexual arousal. In their paper, chiming with neurodevelopmental readings of attachment, stress regulation and neglect and abuse (cf. Kolk 2003, a must-read overview of the literature), as well as the traumagenic neurodevelopmental model (Reid 2014), Schwartz and Galperin suggest that traumatic exposure determines the mode of awareness of and coping with vulnerability. Considered as biophysical survivalist units our bodies are susceptible to early lessons in physiological “self-soothing” that in cases of abuse and neglect can result in poor patterns of coping: we become bad survivalists, dysfunctional in our relationships to others, lacking in our own “self-functions” (“a boundary defining capacity which arises from an individual’s sense of self-perception, self-esteem, self-agency, self-efficacy” p5). These “metacognitive” illusions are related to the early neurotoxic environmental shocks and lessons in the neurodevelopmental schema.

For the post-traumatic there are all these problems: derealization, depersonalization, a sense of incompetence, of guilt, of unworthiness, being a broken thing, a “useless passion”, something fit only for punishment and a self-hating solipsism. Not all post-traumatism will appear in this way or with all these symptoms or at the extremity of the public masturbator. However what is clear is the resultant painful first-person fiction that the post-traumatic is caught within:

Such individuals are prone to self-sabotaging behaviour as if to unconsciously recreate the early reflections of self received in primary relationships. Sexual desire in such cases can be largely anxiety driven, as the desire to conquer the other, or multiple others. In order to continually feel accepted  the individual is compulsively driven to seek affirmation of their acceptibility…hypersexual individuals starving for attention, affection, touch, validation…achieve a tenuous, fleeting sense of reassurance and pseudo-intimacy.

How else to make sense of the apparent “epidemic” of public masturbation alleged to be taking place in the entirely traumagenic environment of New York City? Incidentally- let’s quit with the fucking references to everything being an infective contagion.

Still…if what van der Kolk, an expert in the psychobiology and treatment of trauma,says is true then dissociation is the primary symptomology of post-traumatism: ‘the individual appears numb and disconnected from self and others, using orgasm as an escape from emptiness”. We move from the exhibition of nullity, to pathological neurobiological urges, to dissociation and the attempt to fuck/fight/wank/plug/drug/cut/whatever ourselves back into a sense that no, hey, fuck you, I am a real person with real hopes and desires and dreams and… orgasm and it’s obliteration of subjectivity becomes the very means by which subjectivity is supposed to be secured. We end up looking for a means of providing ourselves with substantiality that can only ever deliver yet more confirmation of our obsessive-compulsive inadequacies, our emptiness. The public masturbator isn’t sick, or if he is perhaps he is sick in a way that all human beings are sick; but if this is sickness then health is constituted, as we know it to be, by a tissue of metacognitive illusions, affective biases, functional delusional that secure a persistent psychosomatic identity.

The public masturbator knows something. He is coping with something. He seeks pleasure but gets no thrill. We meets only the confirmation of his own emptiness. He revels in it. Ritualises it. Aestheticizes it. He works on his trauma. He survives in his own horrific emptiness. And we who laugh, shake our heads, look away, and think of the children… we don’t notice that we’re doing the same. The eroticism of trauma is defined by publicity, excess, and too much visibility. The will to live goes insane with overexposure and we get dragged along for the ride.

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1 Comment

  1. I greatly appreciate your blogging. There are days when I can scarcely believe humans make it through a day, let alone a lifetime. Thank you for your willingness to speak about such things.

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