Masturbation Fantasy Paradox:
Originally published in in Journal of Unsolved Questions 3(1), 2013, pp. 9-12
Reproduced here with permission of the author.
Ob ich irgendwann aufhöre, blöde Fragen zu stellen?
Fragen wie: [...] «An wen denkst du beim Onanieren?»
Masturbation is often accompanied by fantasizing. Anecdotal evidence suggests that at least some people cannot fantasize about the person they are in love with while they masturbate. This putative phenomenon, the Masturbation Fantasy Paradox (MFP), may be a particular case of a more general principle put forward by Sigmund Freud in 1912.
masturbation, fantasy, paradox, Madonna-whore complex, psychoanalysis
Common sense has it that human imagination is the realm where the individual is absolute master. This optimistic idea was epitomized in a famous poem by Emily Brönte:
thou, and I, and Liberty,
Counterintuitively though, it appears that some things cannot be imagined. This was succinctly expressed by Samuel Butler:
"Imagination will do any bloody thing almost."
Usually this is not a problem as most people never try to imagine the impossible: they do not know what they do not miss what they do not know.
The physical act of masturbation is typically accompanied by reading ('ces livres qu'on ne lit que d'une main'), visual stimuli (photos or videos), or the mental process of fantasizing.
Some authors have expressed doubts about the desirability and indeed the possibility of fantasizing about the person they are 'in love with' while masturbating.
In this equation the variable 'in love with' is, of course, imprecise. It can equally be argued that the masturbator 'loves', 'has a crush on', 'adores', 'is romantically infatuated with', 'has a pash on', 'worships', 'takes a fancy to' the significant other or 'the loved-one'. However, in order not to nip the argument in the bud, we should adopt the 'principle of limited sloppiness' in this matter. Let us, therefore, use 'in love with' and 'the loved-one' as the blanket terms of choice.
A simple abduction will suffice: 'The surprising fact, C, is observed; But if A were true, C would be a matter of course, Hence, there is reason to suspect that A is true.' Provisional evidence of the existence of the hypothetical phenomenon (A) we may find in direct (C1) and indirect observations (C2) in autobiographical, literary, and popular scientific works.
There are people who, even if they want to, are not able to fantasize about a particular person while masturbating if they are 'in love with' this person. This hypothetical phenomenon may be called the Masturbation Fantasy Paradox (MFP).
DIRECT OBSERVATIONS (C1)
Stephen Fry, exempla gratia, confessed in his autobiographical Moab is My Washpot:
Although I was to develop, like every male, into an enthusiastic, ardent and committed masturbator, he was never once, nor ever has been, the subject of a masturbatory fantasy. Many times I tried to cast him in some scene I was directing for the erotic XXXX cinema in my head, but it always happened that some part of me banished him from the set, or else the very sight of him on screen in the coarse porn flick running in my mind had the effect of a gallon of cold water. Sex was to enter our lives, but he was never wank fodder, never.
Clearly, Fry's is the most explicit of my testimonials. He is also the one who expresses surprise about his inability to incorporate the 'loved-one' in his masturbation fantasies. Paraphrasing another tragic lover, this position could be summarized thus:
Beauty too rich for abuse, as wank fodder too dear!
In 1930, André Breton, while discussing sexuality in the loosely formed group of surrealists, remarked comparably:
What do you think about when you masturbate?
André Breton : It is accompanied by a series of fleeting images of different women (dream women I knew or know but never a woman I have loved.
Dermod Moore wrote in Diary of a Man about his experience as a Boy Scout:
I have no racy stories about shady events after lights-out in the tent. In fact, having recently discovered masturbation, I found camp frustrating for the lack of opportunity for relief. The fly-infested latrines were the only possible venues, but, unaccountably, self-abuse lost its allure there. However, I was in love with a boy in my patrol. I never really thought about sex with him, but we would roll around on the damp grass in mock combat, laughing and shouting "Help! Homo! Rape!" loudly enough, supposedly, to disguise our covert desire from the others. And from each other.
And, finally, slightly more indirectly, the novelist John Hole lets Norman Ranburn, the protagonist of his novel The Ultimate Aphrodisiac, muse :
It didn't matter that he might be in love with her. Love meant nothing at his age. Except, he discovered with some fascination, that he didn't want to besmirch and overlay his vision of her with a dirty wanker's fantasy..
INDIRECT OBSERVATIONS (C2)
Surprisingly few scientific studies have been done on sexual fantasies. On masturbation fantasies, a sub-class of sexual fantasy, even less empirical data exist.
Starting in 1973, Nancy Friday published a series of books on sexual fantasies; first on female fantasies and later also on male fantasies. Friday sollicited written response by advertising for people to report to her their sexual fantasies. This methodology was criticized as being prone to sampling bias. Nonetheless, Friday's reports were the first more or less systematic studies on sexual (masturbation) fantasies.
In the first chapter of My Secret Garden Friday still expressed the optimistic believe that the sexual fantasist is omnipotent:
They [the fantasies] present the astonished self with the incredible, the opportunity to entertain the impossible.
Friday did, however, mention another phenomenon concerning the relationship between sexual fantasies and secrecy that might inspire doubt about the absolute power of sexual fantasies:
One thing I've learned about fantasies: they're fun to share, but once shared, half their magic, their ineluctable power, is gone.
Friday did not explicitly mention the putative phenomenon of MFP. Sometimes, though, she comes close. For example in the statement by respondent 'Beth Anne':
The funny thing is, when I'm dating someone I really care for, I never fantasize about them. [...] Usually my thoughts center around a man I find fantastically attractive and very nice, i.e., a customer, a stranger on the street, someone I don't know too well.
Friday generalized this experience as follows, giving it a particularly positive twist:
One of the ironies of fantasy is that the hero of our erotic reveries is rarely the man we love. Perhaps it is the very fulfillment and satisfaction we get from him that leaves nothing to the imagination, and so we need these strangers in the night to people our imaginary sexual worlds. They bring us the excitement of the unknown.
In some men, too, Friday found implicit MFP. For example respondent 'Don' stated:
By age twenty, still a virgin, I had had a succession of enchanting teen-age affairs—but since nice girls didn't have sexual organs and certainly didn't fuck, I didn't even attempt to fondle a breast or introduce "French" kissing. I didn't even feel free to fantasize my latest love for masturbation purposes, usually resorting to her sister or one of her less attractive girl friends instead. One's love had to be kept on a special pedestal.
In 2007 Brett Kahr published a monography based on a comprehensive study: the British Sexual Fantasy Research Project. This investigation consisted of (a) an Internet survey (n = 13,553) and (b) 'intensive qualitative, face-to-face, clinical psychodiagnostic interviews' (n = 122). In the published results Kahr did not explicitly report MFP. He did, however, write:
Many of the people whom I interviewed told me that they did not want to fantasize about the partner with whom they had had a row only hours before, the same partner who had spent all their money and had bored them with endless stories about their tedious work colleagues.
So, if Kahr stated that and explained why many masturbators do not fantasize about their regular partners (possibility of negative choice), he did not mention the putative phenomenon of not being able to think about the person one is 'in love with' while masturbating (impossibility of positive choice ).
Thus, Kahr did not include 'Possibility – Impossibility' in 'The Ten Key Dimensions of Sexual Fantasy'. This dimension may have been so elementary that he overlooked it.
Both Nancy Friday and Brett Kahr use a more (Kahr) or less (Friday) classical psychoanalytic framework to interpret masturbation fantasies. Needless to say that we do not have to accept their frameworks of interpretation in order to appreciate some of the cases they presented.