Volume XXXVI, Issue 2, November 1, 2013
Sex is a pretty touchy issue for Amherst students these days (pun intended). With all of the tribulations we have gone through as a community since Angie’s article, it’s something that is hard to talk about without stirring up strong emotions. However, many Amherst students still have sexual desires (!) and should not feel ashamed about it. Perhaps stating my premises seems a bit obvious for some of you, but I do want to make myself clear: SOME STUDENTS ARE HORNY.
It strikes me as strange that I need to defend that statement. I’ve noticed a recurring sentiment that pining for sex is somehow beneath many of my peers, that an express desire on any given night for physical intimacy is in some way ignoble. I understand that we are educated and spiritually elevated by virtue of our profound elite college experience, but I refuse to believe such qualities include a complete mastery over our sexual urges. If the campus atmosphere is such that people feel stifled to be open about their sexual desires, that is a problem.
I’m an economics major. (Trust me, this is going somewhere.) I like to think of sexual frustrations largely in terms of market failures. There are many people on this campus of all genders and sexualities who desire to have sex, other physical intimacy, and of course, actual relationships. In an ideal world, we’d all pair off perfectly according to mutual attraction, interests, blah blah blah. We all know that that doesn’t happen, otherwise we wouldn’t need OKCupid, blind dates, and the very shallowest of last resorts: Tinder. This isn’t a bad thing though. It’s hard to organize people into successful and happy pairings without some outside help. Hell, that’s half the reason we go to parties. Parties are the resume collections of the dating world. Potential suitors signal their interest, demonstrate skills of courtship and/or attractiveness, and are evaluated by the interested parties. This is not a perfectly efficient system. Signaling interest to a prospective mate is muddled with ambiguity, and asymmetric information complicates these sexual exchanges. In other words, there are many sexual encounters that could occur between two consenting people, both of whom would be pleased, yet the flawed market doesn’t pair them together.
The issue with this analogy, if you haven’t figured it out yet, is that there are not discrete suppliers and demanders of this good. I’m a modern man and a feminist. Women certainly do not “supply” sex to the demanding male hoards. Rather, both parties are willing to supply their sexual organs, and in turn, they demand consensual physical and romantic intimacy. This has serious implications. As discussed earlier, there’s already some degree of aversion to signaling a desire for physical intimacy. On top of that, without the organizing structure of actual markets, sexual negotiations are simply hard to arrange. This is why we have the intricate dance of flirting, drinking, and awkward advances: our distorted marketplace.
I’m not suggesting some bizarre form of sexual transactions. In fact, I want to engage a different question entirely: how does masturbation play into this “market”? Masturbation is, essentially, an inferior substitute for sex. It fulfills many of the same functions, albeit to a lesser degree, but also with far fewer costs (e.g., minimal time input, limited emotional attachment). If sexually active students could engage in risk-free and commitment-free sex every time they were aroused, most would probably choose to do so. Of course, this is unfeasible, so we opt for the omnipresent substitute.
I masturbate a lot. Typically three or four times a day. Sometimes I’m particularly aroused, but most of the time I just have nothing better to do. I usually masturbate to porn, but when I don’t, I imagine people that I know. I’m not sentimental about it; I don’t light candles or eat chocolates or anything (though I usually do listen to jazz). I’m a utilitarian masturbator. It serves many functions in my life: de-stressing, entertainment, procrastinating (procrasturbation), and most importantly as a substitute for sex.
People don’t typically like talking about masturbation. It’s either something private, something embarrassing, or just something kind of icky. I live by a strict “no secrets” mantra, but I particularly make a point of being open about my masturbatory habits. It’s a part of who I am. I’m rarely stressed, I’m rarely bored, and I don’t mind being alone from time to time. Autoeroticism has historically been stigmatized, and I worry that there is still an element of shame surrounding many masturbators, even amongst We The Enlightened Amherst Students.
What I’m suggesting is that our distaste for discussing masturbation is largely a symptom of its connection to our actual sex lives. As long as we are unable to be open about our innate sexual urges, it will remain difficult to accept masturbation for what it is: the next best thing. Courtship is an imperfect art, and I think it’s perfectly valid to conceive of masturbation as a partial solution to the fundamental market failure at play.
Amherst students are all gifted in one manner or another. We feel like we should be able to get what we want. We all got into Amherst, after all. Why is it so hard for us to admit what it is that we actually crave? Every time I write for The Indicator, I feel obligated to cover my bases and explain that yes, I am writing from one perspective, and I don’t presume to speak for all Amherst students. As always, I am writing from a cisgender, heterosexual male point of view. That being said, if you’ve ever felt sexually or romantically frustrated, you don’t need to feel guilty for feeling that way. We Amherst students have conquered a lot to get where we are. But unfortunately, romance is not an issue that is conquerable. You will never vanquish your sexual urges, you will never master the art of courtship, and you will probably never corner the romantic market. Accept it. If you’ve ever read the features section of The Indicator, then you know my mantra: Lock the door. Turn off the lights. Keep masturbating.