Mark Simpson gets to grips with a man’s favourite bad habit
A bastard blue van has just cut me up, pulling out suddenly from a side-street right in front of me, forcing me to brake. Hard. So I respond in the customary English way: winding down the window, leaning out and calling him, at the top of my voice, an Onanist.
Tasting his oil-seasoned exhaust while rolling the window back up I feel a warm sense of satisfaction.
After all, calling someone a wanker is a great pleasure. A full-bodied Anglo Saxon word, ‘wanker’ can be relished in its pronunciation. Especially if you deliver it – as most people south of Watford seem do nowadays – with an Estuarian twang: as in, ‘WAN-KAH!’.
Even better, it’s possible to drive this insult home visually, by making that cute jacking gesture with your half-closed fist. Though admittedly, when I do this to other men I sometimes get a bit confused whether I’m offering an insult or an invitation.
The best thing about calling someone a player of pocket pool though is that it’s a crime you’re just as guilty of. As the jigging fist does rather hint, the man accusing another man of being a hand galloper is no stranger to Mrs Palm and her five daughters himself.
Unlike, say, ‘motherfucker’ (unless you happen to actually live in Thebes), using ‘wanker’ as a term of abuse is a tad self-incriminating. It’s a bit like calling someone a ‘nose-picker’. Everyone does it. You might as well be calling someone ‘HUMAN!’.
For males ‘wanking’ is the normal form of sexual behaviour and intercourse is the deviation. Most men, even those in long-term relationships, have orgasmed alone rather more times than they have with others – after all we peak sexually long before anyone will go out with us.
And if God hadn’t wanted us to wank, would He have put our hands at crotch level? Unless he just wanted to make things really difficult for us? As any anthropologist will tell you, when Homo erectus stood up, the first thing he reached for was his tool. (The original Obelisk scene in Kubrick’s 2001, in which an apelike man grabs his ‘bone’ for the first time was cut by the 1970s censors and had to be re-shot in its current, symbolic form).
Once upon a time having a Jodrell Bank was somewhat shameful. Not any more. Nowadays, there’s a whole TV channel devoted to it: it’s called Channel Five.
Wanking has finally come out of the cubicle - with some tissue stuck to its shoe. George Michael might have been arrested for it, but then he did turn it into a hit pop single celebrating it.
In the good old days, masturbation was regarded as a sin and a sickness, an enervation of the nation’s manhood, and a waste of its precious jism. Boys were solemnly told that it would make them go blind/deaf/grow hair on their palms – which of course was all true, they just forgot to mention that it would take about fifty years.
All these warnings and threats may have made lads a bit anxious, but you can bet it made the slightly sad business of auto-eroticism — or ‘self-abuse’ — much more fun because it made it naughty and dangerous.
These days however, masturbation is as rebellious as a side parting. On their eleventh birthday boys are given videos by their mothers called ‘How To Pull Your Pud Properly’ featuring Toyah Wilcox in surgical gloves. Not masturbating is now considered pathological. (The NHS now recommends that men masturbate at least twice a week to avoid prostate cancer.)
Public schools in the Nineteenth Century were as obsessed with preventing their boys from jerking their gherkin as we are today with encouraging them. They developed a whole way of life which we called ‘Britishness’, designed to stamp out ‘self-abuse’. Cold showers, thin blankets, bad food, soccer and rugby football were all deployed to ward it off. This approach may not have been terribly successful, but we did at least get an Empire out of it.
Crackdowns on monkey spankings were not however exclusive to Britain. One reason why American men are circumcised is because it was thought that circumcision would discourage masturbation by removing that naughty, oh-so-slidey bit of skin. A notion that was for some inexplicable reason promoted most enthusiastically by the Crisco vegetable oil company.
But neither cold showers nor genital mutilation can stop boys playing with themselves. Male adolescence is just too irresistible a force. When you’re fourteen, everything gives you a hard on: sitting on a bus, fizzy drinks, strong breezes, the smell of pencil shavings (oh, was that just me?). And almost anything can bring you off.
I shagged pillows, mounted my mattress, and even managed to turn the cold showers so beloved of my boarding school into a masturbatory device by allowing water from the shower head to drip onto the end of my dick, in a pervy variation on Chinese Water Torture. Each large drop of water brought me tantalisingly closer to the edge. The only problem was that by the time I came, I’d usually caught a cold.
It goes without saying that this method of self abuse wouldn’t work for me today. Now I’m in my thirties and the hormonal frenzy has long-since receded, it would take a water cannon to bring me off. If boyhood was a time when you masturbated four times a day, despite your best efforts to curb your habit, adulthood is when you masturbate only once a fortnight, despite your best efforts to do it more often.
Understandably, one of the reasons why masturbation used to be so heavily discouraged was because it was rather too close for comfort to homosexuality. After all, at its minimum, ‘homosexuality’ is no more than a wank shared with a friend. All men, however straight they might consider themselves know what it is to feel a hard cock in their hands and how to please it.
Come to think of it, at its maximum, homosexuality is no more than a shared wank.…
Not so long ago, adult men with girlfriends or wives would rarely admit to having a Barclays, unless they were separated from their missus by war or the Law. The whole point of being an adult — being a man — was that you didn’t have to play with your pee-pee any more: you now had a woman to do that for you.
Or else you were too busy and too grown up for such things. Hence the insult ‘wanker’. It means: ‘useless’, ‘worthless’, ‘contemptible’. But these days hen-pecked, feminist-badgered men want to advertise, or at least pretend to, their independence from women, and also their immaturity. Wanking is now aspirational.
So all those seedy top-shelf wank-mags I remember from my youth which were full of fantasies about women giving them hand shandies on buses, have been replaced by big-circulation middle-shelf men’s glossies like FHM and Maxim full of pieces by men bragging about giving themselves hand-shandies. It’s not just cheating on the girlfriend, you see – it’s cheating on the whole female sex.
The much-touted next evolutionary leap for humanity, the Interweb, is of course all about wanking too. Though it has been described as a fulfillment of the Protestant vision of each man at home alone with his God, I think the Net is more a case of each man at home alone with his cock. Which of course amounts to much the same thing.
And yes, people in sex chat-rooms do actually use the word ‘wanker’ as an insult – even when they have to type it with one hand.
a nd i sho uld knw .
(This essay is collected in Sex Terror: Erotic Misadventures in Pop Culture)