Masturbating for Health

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f you call the offices of NuGyn, in Spring Lake Park, Minnesota, there is a good chance you will get Curt Olson on the phone. Olson is not a receptionist. He is the coin­ventor of the Eros Clitoral Therapy Device. He answers the phone because it’s a small company and because he enjoys chatting with folks. While Curt was chatting with me, he told me stories about some of the odder phone calls he’s gotten. At the end of each story, he’d pause, and then he’d say, Tn’ that something?” Every now and then, he said, women call to ask where their clitoris is.* “They’re pump­ing on something else. It’s like, holy smokes, people!” ^Research suggests that these women are rare. In a study of genital self­assessment, fifty women were asked to estimate the size of their clitoris. One of the options was “I cannot locate my clitoris.” Happily, no one checked that box.

I asked Curt a question that, surprisingly, he had not been asked before: What made him think that a female penis pump was something the world needed?

“Well,” said Curt. “One day my boss and I were mak­ing a list of what we could do for our next product.” Uro – Metrics—which owns NuGyn—makes diagnostic devices for male erectile dysfunction. The Eros is their first excur­sion into female sexual dysfunction, and it appeared at first blush that they were not fully appreciating the difference. “We just saw the void: The penis pump was for the men and there wasn’t anything for the women.”

“But Curt,” I said, “women don’t need erections to have sex. So why would they need this?”

Curt replied that it wasn’t about erections. “It’s increased blood flow that brings about the orgasm, so what better to do than pump it? Increase that blood flow.” So was this something you’d use to prime yourself before intercourse, much as you might use a vibrator? Or was this something whose regular use would somehow alter your physiology and render you permanently more primed—something that would make it easier for you to become aroused even when the Eros was tucked away in its little satin pouch? In other words, a cure for FSAD. Presumably, that is what they’re shooting for.

Curt said that yes, they were after “more of a physical change rather than just a stimulation.” He suggested that routinely pulling more blood to the area might help clear up fibrosis in the erectile tissue, which does contribute to erectile dysfunction in men. Jennifer Berman, a Los Ange­les urologist and TV sex expert who was involved in some of the Eros clinical trials, also had the impression that it was functioning more as a long-term therapy. “It’s something you’d use independent of sex,” she said. “Like doing your push-ups and your jumping jacks, you would use your Eros device as well.”

I asked Curt if I could borrow an Eros to see what it does. “You want to borrow one?” He seemed unenchanted. “How about if we don’t want it back? How about if you just keep it.”

The directions tell you to use the Eros for one min­ute, rest for a minute, and then use it for another minute. And to repeat this cycle three to five times. The Eros is a big, fat tease. I am here to tell you that anyone who makes it through one or two start-stop cycles very quickly loses interest in watching the secondhand and keeping track of which cycle she’s on and when to rest. The Eros will turn you into a masturbatory layabout. But does it improve the sex you have with parties other than your Eros device?

In a 2002 paper, women’s scores on the Female Sexual Function Index improved significantly after three months of Eros therapy. This was true for women with FSD and for controls with no sexual complaints. However, the Female Sexual Function Index includes a lot of ques­tions along the lines of: Over the past four weeks, how often did you feel sexually aroused during sexual activ­ity or intercourse? How often did you become lubricated during sexual activity or intercourse? When you had sex­ual stimulation or intercourse, how often did you reach orgasm? Well, if the woman includes her Eros encounters as part of that sexual activity, and she’s using the thing four times a week, as the therapy calls for, of course her score is going to be higher.

Despite the shortcomings of the studies, given that there are no side effects, that the “therapy” amounts to near-daily doses of self-pleasure, it is hard to make a case against giving it a try.

Though there’s that pesky $400 price tag. Why do women need to spend $400 for suction?

“Curt?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Подпись: тагу roach“Could you just use a small vacuum cleaner?” Curt sur­mised that that would likely cause some bruising. Possibly, it would cause more than that. For the Florida man who was found slumped on his dining room table after neigh­bors reported hearing “a vacuum cleaner running contin­uously for a long time,” it caused a fatal heart attack and thermal burns on “areas in direct contact with the beater bar.” The American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology case report[69] “Vacuum Cleaner Use in Autoerotic Death” includes a photograph of the deceased slumped over his vacuum, a seventies-era upright, with one arm encircling the canister in the manner of a lover’s embrace. (It was not their first encounter. The man’s wife “had surprised him masturbating with a vacuum cleaner” once before, though surely not as much as he had surprised her.)

Any kind of arousal will draw more blood to the area. What if sexually dysfunctional women were to use a garden – variety vibrator four times a week? Or how about just their finger? Are we sitting on (whee!) a cheap, simple, safe, uni­versally available, highly pleasurable treatment for female
sexual dysfunction? I called Jennifer Berman. “Hm,” she said. “I mean, technically I guess you could say that. Whether the Eros device is any better than masturbating, that I can’t answer.”

I emailed Arno Mundt, a University of Chicago pro­fessor of gynecologic oncology whose name is on a dif­ferent Eros therapy study. “Dear Dr. Mundt,” I wrote. “If bringing blood to the clitoris/vulva more often (with the Eros) helps with arousal, lubrication, orgasm, etc., then would simply masturbating, with a vibrator or manually, four times a week also help?” (In retrospect, a line or two of introductory chitchat was in order.)

“Good question,” came the reply. “I will defer this to Maryann.”

Maryann Schroder, a licensed sexologist at the Univer­sity of Chicago Hospitals, is the principal investigator on the study.

“You have posed a very interesting question,” she said. “It hasn’t been studied, if you can believe.” She reminded me of what happened to the last person who got involved with masturbation as a beneficial activity: Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders. Former President Bill Clinton dismissed Elders after she suggested, in a World AIDS Day speech, that masturbation was something that “should perhaps be taught.”

“Can you imagine if I tried to get funding for a study that had masturbation in the title?” And then, quite uninten­tionally, Dr. Schroder delivered the ultimate masturbation – research sound bite. “Masturbation,” she said, “is a touchy area.”

Not everyone who deals with masturbation on a pro­fessional level has to concern themselves with what the government thinks. Not everyone gets their funding from research grants. Some masturbation professionals get their funding from the sales of Vibrating Port-A-Pussies and Mr. Fred Jelly Dongs. I have made an appointment to visit Marty Tucker, chairman and founder of the world’s sec­ond-largest sex-toy manufacturer. I came across Marty’s name on U. S. Patent 5,693,002: Sexual Appliance Having a Suction Device Which Provides Stimulation. Maybe Marty can answer my question about the medical benefits of reg­ular self-stimulation, suction-based or otherwise.

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here are images that stay with you your whole life, whether you want them to or not. Here is one that I imagine will make the cut. A man in a blue smock and a hairnet walks across a factory floor with an armload of enormous chocolate-brown dildos. He is loaded down to the point of absurdity. He is Audrey Hepburn leaving Bergdorf’s in some 1960s romantic comedy, her arms piled so high with packages that she can barely see over the top. I want to trip him, not out of meanness, but just to see the penises fly through the air and rain down around us.

Marty Tucker is showing me around the Topco manu­facturing floor. It is the size of a football field and as loud as a Super Bowl. Marty is yelling over the noise.

“THESE ARE VAGINAS.” He makes a sweeping motion with one arm, drawing my gaze to a long, narrow surface heaped with objects that do not suggest any facet of human anatomy.

“VAGINAS?”

“IT’S A VAGINAL PRODUCT. A MASTURBA­TION TOY.” He picks one up. “THIS IS A TUBE THAT YOU WOULD ENTER FROM THIS SIDE AND YOU WOULD BE INSIDE OF THIS HERE.” He is using “you” in the sense of your penis, were you the sort of person who (a) had a penis and (b) shopped at places like Topco. “THERE’S A