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    Ditching My Vibrator for Bataille

    The Greatest Hits Issue
    Eyegh

    Image by Suehiro Maruo

    Ditching My Vibrator for Bataille

    Sometimes masturbating means to read an erotic novella at your desk in a sterile office, senses on edge as grey passersby drone on about regulations and billing codes.

    I sometimes find masturbation to be unpleasant, like digging endlessly for a treasure I’ll never find. When I masturbate on my bed, in my little room with the thin purple walls, I feel alone. Everything around me is just me. Neither memory nor imagination feel sufficient. Each image is destined to appear only for a moment before disappearing again on the baggage carousel of fantasies.

    I repeat a good fuck over and over again, from different angles, with different outcomes, tapping into unperformed possibilities. It feels so nice to think of being eaten that way and so I dig harder and harder until it hurts. Not just in my cunt, but all over – in my stomach, in my hands, in my heart, in my brain. It’s that same awful drop of the stomach I get when I am dumped out of an excellent dream and into a reality that does not contain the same arrangement. 

    “Get a vibrator,” my friend Al tells me. 

    “Yeah, yeah...” I used to have one. But I’m not interested in an efficient orgasm. I’m not interested in physically replicating what sex feels like at all really. Imitation falls flat. I want masturbation to be an independent pleasure, incomparable to other sexual acts. Not because it’s necessarily “better,” but because it’s a way of acting out my sexuality that has no standard or comparison, a way of speaking that no one can understand but me.  

    I’m starting to suspect that my insecurities about all of this are rooted in the promise that masturbation should bring me satisfaction, power, and control beyond anything I’ve ever managed to achieve. Two cultural references come to mind that put this idea in my head. The first is Hélène Cixous and “The Laugh of the Medusa,” that weird essay you’ve probably read in an undergraduate women’s studies class. There are beautiful things in this essay: the call for bravery, the appeal to women and to anyone labeled as “other” to embrace difference and to channel it as a source of strength and creativity and power. Cixous says masturbation can represent this, too, because it liberates pleasure from the need for an other. Autoerotics affirm agency. 



    Then there is Sex and the City, the episode where Charlotte replaces actual sex with a vibrator – “the rabbit.” Her storyline in this episode is a comic one: she becomes addicted to the rabbit because of how easily it makes her come. She loses interest in going out and meeting potential real-life partners, choosing instead to stay in with her new toy, which spoils her with its reliability. The episode concludes with Charlotte renouncing the rabbit, so that she can return to her normal life. The moral of the story is that silicone is a false prophet; it plays on the relative difficulty of women to achieve orgasm, and it removes them from the precarious arena of trying to get laid or engaging in any potentially disappointing or damaging (or any of the negative adjectives you can think of, really) sexual encounter.

    Deferring to authorities when it comes to navigating my sexual liberation might be counter-intuitive, now that I think about it. I’ve tried to break free from conventional forms and discover new worlds of desire for myself with my own hand, but the results are less spectacular than I would’ve hoped. At the same time, I don’t want to believe that I’m incapable of creating a satisfying erotic space that’s all my own. Perhaps masturbation isn’t just about going from A to B or even about attenuating the longing to be touched. You’re satisfying something that needs to be fed, something elusive and frustratingly unique; a hunger for something that only you can taste. 

    I remember having a premature fascination with smutty manga. For me, raunchy anime was the bridge from an understanding of romantic love to fucking. At first, I read in private, scared of the moral wrath of my mother, but mostly keen to the fact that what I was doing was a private affair. A peepshow between myself and the book. 

    Eventually I ventured to read my naughty little books around others, even my unsuspecting mother. I supposed she did not question the content of mere cartoons, much less the intentions of a small girl with an interest in reading. And so I read – in the backseat of the van, at my brother’s soccer games, or trailing behind my mother as she shopped. I read in half daze as the radio sounds blared and the half time whistles blew, as the aisles of canned goods and frozen produce formed pretty impressionist borders around each new page. I liked the feeling that I was hiding in the open, like the image of Raphael, present and yet obscured in painting The School of Athens. There was something liberating about parading my dirty indulgences around people that were so consumed by their idea of who and what I was – and what it is I should be doing – that they were blind to the inconsistencies. Like pulling off a big con, I wanted the good-girl head pats, the trust that the average kid bookworm enjoys from their approving parents while doing exactly the opposite. I loved losing myself to the pearly naked images with rounded lusty eyes, their half-open lips frozen in mid-pleasure, while knowing that I was still so young and pink and ripe. I don’t remember feeling the urge to touch myself. Rather the challenge of appearing perfectly at ease when I’d unconsciously hold my breath, or when my toes would curl uneasily in my shoes. I craved the friction between surrender and restraint, the clashing of two opposing feelings transformed into pleasure. 

    Even today, reading smut on the train home – wedged between strangers, on a bench out on the Georgetown waterfront around tourists and businessmen in full suits – brings me a satisfaction unattainable by masturbation proper. 

    Several months ago I read Georges Bataille’s The Story of Eye per the recommendation of another uniquely perverted soul. “It’s small, but it’ll take longer to read than you expect,” they said. “You’ll need to take a walk.”

    It was Monday and there I sat at my office job, wrapped up in a pencil skirt and propped up by black pumps doing absolutely nothing, yet confined to my private desktop corner. People would walk by me, but only every so often. I simply googled The Story of Eye and it popped up as one of the first results, in full PDF splendor. I was hopeful that my senses would be on edge, rigid and sharp enough to capture any approaching sounds. Or maybe the drama of discovery aroused me enough to playfully misgauge the likelihood. I didn’t expect anyone to look closely enough to be able to make out the words on the screen. Hunched over my keyboard, I began to read:
     

    “Milk is for the pussy, isn’t it?” said Simone. “Do you dare me to sit in the saucer?”
    ...[she] planted herself before me, and with her eyes fixed on me, she sat down without me being able to see her burning buttocks under the skirt, dipping into the cool milk.”

     
    I read about two lovers so fully turned on by the world that things like family, propriety, and law fell over like pins into the background, mere sex toys that the two could occasionally bring into bed with them. Desire was rampant, something that consumed and sucked things in like a vacuum, which spit out and multiplied new bits upon climax. Pissing into each other. Filling their holes with parts of each other and then some. Drawing blood. Playing with corpses. In a fucked up way, I couldn’t help but admire the two lovers. Few people are exciting enough to look at a puddle of mud and decide to “smear [themselves] wildly” in it, “jerking off with the earth and coming violently.” There is a bravery to putting your pleasure on display with no concern as to where it is, much less who saw it, a courage in declaring unflinchingly that the world feels good. 
     
    I admit the idea of taking a golden shower doesn’t strike a chord for me, but there is something sexy about the mere act of reading about such boundless desire, the different terrible and brilliant forms desire can take, the different vessels it can rush into and animate. 
     
    Desire makes things speak. With the short story, Bataille seems to ask why we try to sanitize those rich and tasty things in the world by confining them to the sexual safe space of the bedroom or, worse, our own heads. As the narrator of the story says, “To others, the universe seems decent because people have gelded eyes. That is why they fear lewdness. They are never frightened by the crowing of a rooster or when strolling under a starry heaven. In general, people savor the ‘pleasure of the flesh’ only on condition that they be insipid.” It’s as if Bataille wanted to say: There are so many shiny new things in the world floating around, waiting to be hoarded into your collection of dreams, so many dazzling objects and sights and sounds that you should feel aroused by. When you find them you’ll realize you can stretch farther than you think and there is more to touch even if you can already reach your toes. Instead, people seem bent on neutering the world, on making pleasure “insipid,” i.e. boring. “Silly” Bataille might say, “Why deny yourself the right to moan?”

    Sexuality doesn’t have to involve sex to be sexy or sexual, although maybe we are all too willing to accept meaning so long as it is consistent, so long as it is tucked into its proper bed. Inappropriate. Uncalled for. Deviant. I feel I have been told all my life it is best to have a sensitive gag reflex, to keep things in the spaces they belong. If Cixous is right when she says masturbation is a way to explore new ways of feeling, then masturbation has to mean more than what my hand or my battery-powered penis can offer. I find that the act of reading is intoxicating and physical. To me it's better than a dildo because I’m not the one inventing the fantasy, rather the fantasy is acting on me. It’s like having dirty things whispered in my ear, things that I can’t imagine myself. And it’s not like watching porn, which is practically forbidden outside of the four walls of your bedroom. When I masturbate like this, I feel I am just attenuating my desire, maintaining it as if it’s some untamed thing to be kept. Reading Bataille against the backdrop buzz of a sterile office, as grey passersby drone on about regulations and clients and billing codes, on the other hand, feels gratifying. There’s a whole new scene being played out as I read and grow hot. Agitation blossoms in the pit of my stomach as a co-worker interrupts me to say goodbye. I begin to feel the slickness between my thighs at the same time as I get a call from reception. 

    Maybe when I put my fingers to work I am consciously trying to replace sex, but I don’t want masturbation to serve just that purpose. I want it to be something that’s mine, a canvas smeared in my palette, my way of filling the holes that no one can see. 

    Originally published in the “Carnal” issue on May 17, 2017

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