On October 2nd 2018, I will be facilitating my first ever Masturbate-a-thon.
What compelled me to create such an event? Am I am exhibitionist? Do I love touching myself with other people watching?
Well, no. Not really. But, sometimes, we gotta do things that scare us.
The idea of masturbating in public is scary, and more than a little uncomfortable. But truth be told, the alternative is worse.
I do not want to live in a world where I feel shame around self-pleasure. Where masturbation is something to be hidden, and ashamed of.
A few months ago I was planning the Come Inside Sex & Culture Theater Festival, curating the line-up, selecting the marketing images that I thought would represent the diverse performances. In fact, I held a contest on 99Designs. I wrote a description of what the festival represents (a celebration of sexual expression) and invited artists to create a poster imagine with that in mind.
The image I selected, from over 200 entries, was an artistic rendering of a woman’s hand down her panties. To me this represented the importance of pleasure, of self-care, and the power of the imagination. We don’t see anything explicit, but we are reminded of what is possible when left to our own devices.
I selected this image because it is provocative, yes, but provocative because we are so uncomfortable as a culture with giving ourselves pleasure. Even though on some level we know it’s “normal and healthy” we keep it strictly private.
Which is why the email I received in late July was alarming. “We’ve placed malware on your computer, and have been recording you as you visit porn sites. We have also infiltrated your contacts, and unless you send us $7000 in bitcoin, we will send everyone you know the videos of you masturbating.”
They put my computer password in the subject line.
Reading that email, I felt a flash of true fear. What sites had I visited? What kind of footage did they have? How embarrassing is my orgasm face?
But almost immediately, my fear changed to indignation. Those fuckers. How dare they shame me for my masturbation?? How dare they try and make me feel dirty and wrong for bringing myself pleasure?
Because of who I am and what I do, I was able to resist the intimidation (after all, I have ‘masturbated’ onstage as part of a number of shows I’ve done). I wrote back and said “Thanks for doing my marketing for me.”
But I was pissed for the people who don’t have that luxury. Sure enough, a few weeks later I saw a post from an old friend “coming out” on facebook, apologizing for his weakness, and admitting that he was being blackmailed for masturbating to porn, threatened with exposure, and rather than let the criminals have control, he was revealing his sins in advance.
(and yes, I know that some people will say “hmmm, what was he looking at? Was it a sin?” but I don’t think that matters. If it was illegal, that’s a different story, but I got the sense that wasn’t the case).
I think a lot of people just have deep, societal shame about giving themselves pleasure.
What is the antidote to shame? Empathy. Solidarity. Shining a light on the darkness.
Which is how the Masturbate-a-thon came to be born.
I contacted Sanctuary, a local adult nightclub, and I asked if they would be willing to donate space. The proceeds, I promised, would all go to Planned Parenthood.
Why Planned Parenthood?
Because PP has been enormously influential in my becoming who I am, and my attitude towards sexuality.
When I was 14 I was cast in a production called Teens and Company that was sponsored by PP. We spent a summer getting educated about issues around sexuality (pregnancy preventions and STDs, yes, but also communication skills and empowerment). We wrote a show about teen sexuality, and we toured it all that year to local high schools.
I became the go-to person for my friends with questions about sex. I matured enormously in my sense of my own body, my pleasure, my boundaries. That year taught me so much about sexuality, but also the importance of TALKING about it. Sharing stories. Teaching each other.
I create theater about sexuality to continue that tradition. To creatively explore what has been shamed, shunned, shut out of the human experience. To offer permission to those who have been told they are dirty or wrong, “too much” or “not enough.” To reclaim our sexuality as a powerful part of who we are as human beings, and revel in the pleasure, connection and inspiration is has to offer.
So I dedicate this Masturbate-a-thon to Planned Parenthood, and the role they play in the health and wellbeing for so many, but also for what they taught me about the importance of self-pleasure and knowing your body likes to be touched.
I am hoping to raise $7000 (bitcoin or otherwise. ; )
I'll keep you posted how it goes!
(And if you want to know more about the logistics and signing up, go here).