Massa-bation in the Colbert Nation

By Bill Taverner

Last night on The Colbert Report, comedian Stephen Colbert provided some much needed comic relief to the endless news coverage of the story of U.S. Representative Eric Massa (NY) and his inappropriate…um…“tickling” behavior. Colbert reported on the tongue-lashing U.S. Representative Patrick Kennedy (RI) gave the media for its preoccupation with the story, while important legislation about Afghanistan can’t get a moment’s notice on the news.

During his mocking monologue, Colbert referenced a Talking Points Memo report that describes Massa observing a bunkmate masturbating while he was serving in the Navy during Desert Storm. According to the report, Massa said to his bunkmate, “You need any help with that, you let me know,” to which Colbert quipped, “Technically when someone else helps, it’s no longer masturbation.” See the video clip here.

Technically, Colbert was wrong. In his Dictionary of Sexology, Robert T. Francoeur described mutual masturbation as “sexual activity in which the partners handle each other’s genitalia and bring each other to orgasm.” And in The Big Book of Masturbation, Martha Cornog said that shared masturbation “involves masturbating as part of a sexual encounter with someone else, who may also be masturbating.”

Don’t get me wrong, Colbert’s joke was still funny, and the humor derives from the public’s continued treatment of the subject of masturbation as taboo. Sixteen years after former U.S. Surgeon General, Joycelyn Elders, lost her job at the White House for suggesting that education about masturbation might be a good idea, we continue to giggle about masturbation.

In the teaching manual Sue Montfort and I co-authored, Making Sense of Abstinence, we included a lesson called “Masturbation: A Touchy Subject,” in which students learn about myths surrounding this common behavior, from going blind to hairy palms. The lesson also discusses some of the historical “remedies” for masturbation, such as corn flakes and Graham crackers, advocated respectively by 19th century nutritionist John Harvey Kellogg and Reverend Sylvester Graham.

Below is a simple quiz included in the lesson, and you’d be surprised at how many statements young people continue to get wrong – evidence that masturbation myths and misinformation are alive and well! Only four of the statements are false – guess which ones! (Answers will be posted later this week.)

1. Many infants and young children discover that touching their genitals feels good.

2. Many boys and girls report masturbating during puberty.

3. Masturbation can help people learn about their own bodies.

4. For most females, masturbation involves deep vaginal penetration.

5. Masturbation always leads to orgasm.

6. Masturbation can make males run out of sperm.

7. Married people sometimes masturbate.

8. Masturbation is a behavior that occurs in societies throughout the world.

9. Some families and religions oppose masturbation.

10. In the United States education about masturbation can be controversial.

11. Masturbation is an example of safe sex.

12. Too much masturbation can cause health problems.

One Response to “Massa-bation in the Colbert Nation”

  1. David Hall

    Great story — especially when compared with writing about slang in another CFLE post. One my teachers had creative strategies for getting high school seniors to talk about masturbation. One time, she finished an entire lesson about masturbation in which everyone was engaged. At the end of class, a student came up to the teacher and quietly asked: “What’s masturbation?” The student knew all the slang words — but using clinical language left the student lost.