The Atlantic has just given me a couple of extra grey hairs today by reminding everyone that “The Contest” episode of Seinfeld is 20 years old.
20 fucking years old! Sheesh. There is NO way that’s even possible because it would mean that I’m not 19 anymore and… well, then I’d have to be, like 39 or something and there’s no way I’m THAT old. I still feel like 1990 was just a couple of years ago.
In any case, I thought I’d do a blog post on this because I’ve actually been thinking about that episode lately anyway, in the context of “masturbation history”. In case you haven’t seen it, “The Contest” involves the four friends making a bet to see who can abstain from masturbating the longest. It was such a cultural milestone and did a huge amount to open up the conversation about masturbation – even if it didn’t once mention the “M” word during the whole episode.
“I figured, No. They’re gonna shut it down. … You cannot base an entire episode on masturbation,” Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who played Elaine on the series, remembered later. “Not only just masturbation, but everybody masturbating. The idea of broaching the subject of a woman masturbating?! My God!”
“The Contest” was actually the very first episode of Seinfeld that I ever saw. I’d previously seen the hype about it but it hadn’t really appealed to me. And then, just by chance, I decided to sit down and give it a try on the very night they showed the one about masturbation. What delightful luck. I remember watching it thinking: No way! They can’t seriously be doing a show on that??? And it completely won me over because suddenly I felt part of a naughty conspiracy and I wanted to support a show that was willing to break a boundary like that. Not to mention that that episode is just brilliantly clever and funny. The minute that Kramer dashes back in, slams down his money and yells “I’m out!” is a shining beacon of beautiful comedy and I always smile to think of it.
So… here’s a few other important moments in masturbation history from the 90s:
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* In 1990 Madonna simulated masturbation on stage while performing “Like A Virgin”
This performance was considered so shocking that the Pope asked Catholics not to attend Madonna’s concerts. She went on to break more boundaries with the release of her book SEX and the Erotica album, both of which also embraced masturbation.
* In 1991 The Divinyls reached No 1 in Australia, No 4 in the US and No 10 in the UK with “I Touch Myself” – an ode to female masturbation.
(Note: This song isn’t the first song about female masturbation – there’s actually lots of them including Cyndi Lauper’s She Bop from 1984. I wrote an article about it here. The Divinyls’ song is perhaps the most obvious example.)
* In 1993 TV show Roseanne featured dad Dan having to have a talk with son DJ over the time he’s spending locked in the bathroom
Watch this vid to see Dan’s uncomfortable and amusing discussion with DJ about masturbation. Interestingly, the show’s writers considered having Roseanne and Dan find magazines under DJ’s bed that suggested he might be gay. They opted instead for a fashion and a motorcycle babe magazine (source.)
* In 1994 US Surgeon General Dr Jocelyn Elders was sacked by the US government for daring to suggest that teens be taught about masturbation
* In 1998 the media had a field day with the story that Monica Lewinsky had masturbated with a cigar for President Bill Clinton
This interview doesn’t mention the masturbation but it does have a few good saucy details.
* In 1998 Sex and the City introduced thousands of women to the “Rabbit” vibrator
* In 1999 Rachel Maines released her book “The Technology of Orgasm” that revealed the history of the vibrator.
Phew! What a fun and, frankly, arousing, trip down memory lane that was. I could have included a lot more but I think I’ll just stick to the 90s because it really wasn’t very long ago. Not at all. Nope.