Unlike most politicians, who fear taking on the enormous interest group of people with hands, Christine O'Donnell has come out against masturbation. "The Bible says that lust in your heart is committing adultery. So you can't masturbate without lust," she said in 1996. "If he already knows what pleases him and he can please himself, then why am I in the picture?" O'Donnell, now the Republican nominee for senator in Delaware, has no idea how difficult it is for men to masturbate without pictures.
She made these philosophical statements as founder of the Christian lobbying group Savior's Alliance for Lifting the Truth, which sprung out of her earlier work for the anti-porn group Enough Is Enough, whose president, Donna Rice Hughes, found her calling after her extramarital affair with former Sen. Gary Hart. O'Donnell found her truth after going to college in New Jersey and having sexual relationships with men she wasn't dating, which I thought was pretty much covered by "going to college in New Jersey." In college she also says she "dabbled into witchcraft," which may have so disgusted her that it led to her anti-onanistic beliefs, since witches masturbate more than any group except sirens, wood nymphs, succubae, and every member of every male species.
Though O'Donnell has been ridiculed for her prudishness, I actually think she's right. Masturbation is bad for marriage. Our pornified, DIY sex culture leads to husbands who would rather go to their man-cave for an hour than attempt to negotiate intimacy with their wives—especially because many of those wives aren't Asian. Just like we'd be closer to our spouses if we could only eat in their presence, so we would be really eager to see our wives if we didn't masturbate. Also, we'd be much more efficient. Imagine if we used our computers only for work. The industrial revolution would have never happened if, when you pulled the factory lever one way you made a Model T, and if you moved it the other way, you saw hot girl-on-girl action.
My wife, who isn't completely wrong to worry that porn images have ruined my ability to connect in a natural way, thinks it's healthy if I masturbate to fantasies about her. This is incredibly naïve. If she had any idea of what was being done to her in those fantasies, those would be the ones she would be trying to get rid of first.
Being anti-masturbation was not an insane opinion a few decades ago. The masturbation episode of Seinfeld was shocking in 1992, and Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders had to resign in 1994 because she suggested that self-love be taught as part of sexual education. Which would have been a great idea, since then there would have been at least one subject in which boys got better grades than girls.
To see if I could cut down on my addiction, I called Craig Gross, * the founder of the Christian porn-addiction site xxxchurch.com. He was strongly anti-masturbation, saying he'd rather his kids slipped up and had sex before marriage than started a lifelong pattern of self-pleasure that they couldn't break even after finding a spouse. "Laurence Fishburne's daughter goes into porn and it's, 'Poor Laurence Fishburne.' But then Christine O'Donnell makes this statement and we jump down her throat for that," he said. "No one wants to lump it all into the same camp: the porn, the masturbation, the unfaithful spouses, and Tiger Woods' mistresses in People magazine." Gross also said a lot of specific stuff about how much women get paid to do different sexual acts in porn, which must have been weird for him since I could hear his children in the back of his car as he drove them to a Jonas Brothers concert. They may be the only children in America who will need more therapy than my son.
After giving it a lot of thought, I don't think I'm going to stop masturbating. I mean, I will while I'm typing this column, but that's about it. And I don't think Christine O'Donnell should be a senator even of a completely made-up state like Delaware. But she and the rest of the far-right movement do play an important role in my life. If we listen to them instead of reflexively mocking them—which is very difficult to do, especially when they dabble in witchcraft—they can force us to consider the downside of progress. By which I mean lots and lots of porn.
But there is another kind of progress: It's undeniably better for kids not to grow up ashamed of their bodies and sexual desires, which led some of them to suicide, self-flagellation, and the priesthood. Conservatives like O'Donnell argue that social norms formed by millions of people over thousands of years have a wisdom that must be weighed against progress. All improvements have downsides, and we might want to make sure our virtual sex lives don't consume our real ones. Even if they are much, much, much better. I've got to go.
Correction, Sept. 22, 2010: This article originally misspelled the name of the Web site's founder. He is Craig Gross, not Gregg Gross. (Return to the corrected sentence.)