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There's an old joke about a man carrying an armload of bulky packages out of a department store. Obviously burdened, he nevertheless courteously holds the door for a wise guy entering the store. The wise guy takes his time and then pauses on the threshold. He turns to the man straining with his armload of packages, slowly pulls out a cigarette and asks, "Hey, buddy, got a match?"
"Yeah," says the man with the packages. "Your face and my ass."
In Wit and Its Relation to the Unconscious, Freud observed that all humor is at bottom a revelation, and this joke—with its play on the word "match"—reveals something Chinese doctors have known for 4,000 years: the ass does indeed match the face, or pretty nearly matches it, anyhow, and the similarity between top and bottom can answer once and for all this question: Does masturbation make you smarter? That is the subject of much college debate, and if you have missed the debate, it is perhaps because you don't masturbate enough.
To answer the question, we have to go back four millennia to the Chinese, who discovered fractals—not those wonderfully bizarre, yet somehow familiar, computer-generated shapes that look the same at both 1,000X and 0.001X magnifications. The Chinese saw instead that the human body is a collection of systems that endlessly repeat themselves in ever-shrinking (or ever-expanding) replications within the body.
How is this relevant to the connection between masturbation and intelligence? Simply: the Chinese observed that the ass (or, more generally, the crotch) is a reflection, or fractal, of the face.
To understand how, remove the limbs and imagine dividing the body into three parts: the head (containing the brain and major sense organs, also known as the thinking pole); the chest (containing the heart and lungs, also known as the rhythmic/circulatory/ feeling pole); and the abdomen (containing the digestive and filtering organs, also known as the nutritive/ digestive/willing pole).Now go to the head. There we have the three poles repeated—as fractals—on the face itself: the eyes represent the head (they are connected directly to the brain); the nose represents the chest (it is connected directly to the heart and lungs); and the mouth is the opening to the abdominal organs.
Where else in the body do we see this fractal repeated? Oddly enough, in an area completely removed from the first and often overlooked: the crotch or, as it is anatomically known, the pelvic floor.
There, between the legs, is an exact duplicate of the tripolar relationship as it is mapped out on the face. It is more perfectly duplicated in the female than in the male, for the woman has all three poles reflected in her pelvic organs: her clitoris corresponds to the head, the anus corresponds to the abdominal organs, and the vagina corresponds to the chest.
The clitoris's connection to the thinking pole is obvious, both experientially and anatomically. In no other part of the body save the brain are so many nerve endings packed into a space so small. Not even the penis comes close.
The anus's connection to the digestive pole is equally obvious, and its proper role (despite what conservative Christians think of sodomy) as an ancillary sexual organ is anatomically evident: it shares its innervation via the third sacral nerve root with the clitoris and vagina in the woman and the penis in the man.
Less obvious is the relationship between the pelvic organs—the vagina, uterus and ovaries—and the chest. The two systems, however, mirror each other not only in structure (what is the whole uterine complex but an inverted image of the heart and lung system?) but also in function.4 Indeed, much can be understood about the roles women have played (and have had imposed on them within patriarchies) if we see the womb as the "second heart." From the sacred prostitutes of ancient Greece and Rome, through the cult of Courtly Love in the early Middle Ages, up to the modern image of the woman as "protector of the hearth and moral compass of the family," women have been seen as the gateway to enlightenment, providing the spiritual dimension to an earthly life. It is not a role they have always cherished.5
But this is changing. We are seeing the life of women evolve and in ways that are reflected sexually—from the feeling pole to the thinking pole: as women attain prominence in the business and academic worlds equal to that of men, the rhythmic/ circulatory/heart pole is fading in influence, drowned out by increasing reliance upon intellectual labor.
This evolution is suggested by the gradual transition at the turn of the last century from vaginal/uterine sexual expression to that of clitoral expression. Ancient civilizations provide countless pieces of evidence that female pleasure focused on the vagina; dildos are common enough in museums of ancient civilizations, but ancient literature and paintings are without references to clitoral stimulation.6 Indeed, the first scientific documentation of clitoral masturbation didn't come until the early 20th century. In the 1970s, Shere Hite, in her exhaustive The Hite Report, did not even document the existence of the vaginal/uterine orgasm. Indeed, the 20th century may more reasonably be called the "Clitoral" than the "American" Century.
The move from vaginal pleasure to clitoral stimulation was not taken in a single step. In his groundbreaking Psychology of Sex, Havelock Ellis documents that in the late 19th century, urethral masturbation among middle- and upper-class European women became so widespread that a French physician invented a tool to remove hairpins and other such instruments from women's urethras when their self-pleasuring efforts went awry.7
An important concept in physiology suggests that "overuse causes hypertrophy, [and] disuse causes atrophy." As the thinking pole becomes more predominant in the life of women, the sexual life will echo that, producing a more clitoral orientation, which in turn will reinforce the thinking orientation.
Which brings us back to our original question—not "Do you have a match?" but "Does masturbation make you smarter?"
Not smarter, but perhaps more thoughtful—but even that word is unreliable. Thinking is not to be confused with intelligence or, worse, with wisdom. It is merely an activity, and it is possible to think too much for your own good. Indeed, a study done more than a decade ago by a UCLA sociologist found that women in socioeconomic populations with little or no access to higher education or management in business actually masturbate less during "love droughts" than their more educated and "successful" sisters, instead preferring to go without until they find a new partner with whom they can have regular intercourse. They felt clitoral masturbation was demeaning, unsatisfying and "unwomanly."8
So, does masturbation make you smarter? No. When done in moderation, it can certainly ripen the thinking pole, awakening the mind.9 But when done to excess, masturbation can hypertrophy the thinking pole, thereby robbing the other two poles, feeling and willing, of the necessary resources for healthy functioning. Perhaps the Victorians weren't that far wrong in believing that masturbation makes you crazy.
1. If you're not following the argument at this point, please clip out the article, masturbate daily for one year, and then read again.
2. The limbs and their functions are also a flowering of the willing pole but for our purposes will not be considered here.
3. Note that it is the sense of smell that is regarded as having the greatest emotional impact when stimulated.
4. A few examples: They share an intimate relationship with the blood—circulation and nutrition followed by expulsion of the metabolic "wastes" in both respiration and menstruation. Both the heart during normal sinus rhythm and the uterus during orgasm contract at a rate of one beat every 0.8 of a second, and there is evidence emerging that the uterus contracts, or "beats", on a regular basis, regardless of what it is doing. They are both centers of the emotional life, as any love-struck man or PMS-struck woman will tell you (thus the origin of the word "hysteria," from the Greek word for uterus). Their absence empties life of joy and meaning. Witness the severe apathy and depression experienced by those few who received mechanical hearts—is that why the procedure is not being done anymore? Similarly, many women suffer serious, long-lasting emotional trauma following a hysterectomy. Many cultures besides the Chinese regard the heart as the "Sun" of the body (the solar plexus is located just below the heart) and the menstrual cycle echoes the 28-day lunar cycle, clarifying the microcosmic connection between heart and womb. And they both are incubators for new life, the uterus for physical life and the heart for spiritual life.
5. Could this be the true reason behind the barbaric practice of "clitoral circumcision" practiced in Africa and the Middle East? A crude, misguided attempt at de-emphasizing the genital thinking pole so that the woman's natural connection with the Divine through her upper and lower rhythmic/heart pole is not compromised?
6. It's possible, of course, that given its perfect accessibility, clitoral self-pleasuring required no tools and was so obvious a fact of life that it required no literary reference.
7. Noting, of course, that the urethral opening is midway between the vagina and clitoris. Why do we no longer hear of this form of autoeroticism? That is the subject of this investigation.
8. It was the same thing that my partner and I saw in our practice that led us to investigate this whole question. The patients complaining most of sexual difficulties often were those who had achieved the most in terms of learning and business, while those whose life went down humbler paths consistently reported a satisfying sexual life. Merely anecdotal evidence, but still worth investigating.
9. Is this why, to this day, males masturbate more than females—because the man's way of working in the world is so often through thinking? Or do men think because they masturbate?
Dr. Sutherland is a visiting researcher in the OC Weekly DataLab and a doctor of naturopathic medicine. He would like to thank Dr. R. Steiner and the Yellow Emperor.
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