(This column was published in DNA edition dated October 16, 2010.)
A US comedian once famously jested that American presidents do to the country what they ought to be doing to their wives. In recent times, however, a streak of moral conservatism on matters sexual appears to have crept into the American political landscape, and if an upstart politician named Christine O’Donnell had her way, US presidents wouldn’t even be able to do unto themselves what they do to the country.
That’s because O’Donnell, who draws inspiration from a puritanical Christian movement, has in the past waxed evangelical that sexual self-gratification – that is, masturbation – is a sin. That self-denying, abstemious message has evidently found resonance with her sexually conservative constituents, seeing that she’s won her party’s nomination for a Senate election race.
In the comedic film Annie Hall, film-maker Woody Allen fends off criticism of his masturbation, saying that it was “sex with someone I love.” Writer Truman Capote too notes wryly that the good thing about ‘giving oneself a treat’ was that one didn’t have to dress up and go to town, as one was required to do with a sexual partner. Yet, down the ages, political and religious moralists have tended to take the high ground against those who yield to the basic instinct to ‘get in touch with’ oneself.
Perhaps it’s a tribute to our libertarian spirits, but it’s fair to say that in India, no politician would stand a chance of being elected – and would probably be dismissed as a wanker – if s/he were to peep into so private a zone. For all its social conservatism, Indian civil society tends to take a hands-off – and even borderline licentious – attitude towards one-person orgies, as exemplified by the numerous sculputural depictions of auto-erotic practices at Khajuraho and Konark.
And last year, for instance, a manual prepared for Indian cricketers encouraged them to have sex before matches or, in the absence of a partner, to at least “go solo”. Evidently, the advice was motivated by the belief that heightened levels of testosterone led to enhanced competitiveness, and the Indian cricket team’s excellent record since then probably shows they’ve taken the advice seriously and have had their hands full…
Similarly, last year, the local government of a Spanish region launched a costly campaign to teach young people the fine art of “sexual self-exploration and the discovery of self-pleasure.” The campaign, with the slogan ‘Pleasure is in your own hands’, came in for criticism on the grounds that it was financially profligate, but proved enormously popular that even neighbouring provinces adopted it.
Which just goes to show that when it comes to keeping the juices flowing through the economy in these down-and-out times, perhaps self-help may be the best help. And for all of O’Donnell’s political projection of her puritanical outlook on self-indulgence, there are clearly different strokes for different folks…