Some Art Is Better Than Sex

My name is Alexander Cheves. My nickname is Beastly. I write about sex.

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Hi there,

I’m a teenage guy just out there exploring my body. The work you’re doing is inspiring and it’s great to see how people out there get to talk about sex and wanking more openly.

I love experimenting with my dick – whenever it comes to the location, techniques when it comes to hand movements, and just chatting with people.

Would you say that teenagers should look out for something when exploring their bodies? Or rather, what should one embrace and what things should one avoid to do (if there are any). What experiences did you have while growing up when it comes to jacking off?

Thanks again, and have a good one.

Hi sport,

You should embrace change, which is hard to do as a teenager. The concept of “self” is an elusive, shifting idea for you right now. You are more influenced by porn, parents, school, and pop culture now than you ever will be again, which is why the world’s biggest companies are spending billions of dollars to get (and keep) your attention. Everything you think about yourself — including your sexuality — is in flux. Most of it will change over the next few years, and that change will often be uncomfortable. Try to embrace it instead of fighting it. You will be a completely different person in a few years.

Avoid people who shame your sexuality. Avoid myths that a certain amount of sex is “too much” or “too little.” If you’re unsure where and how to get tested for HIV and other STIs, you should find out, which means you have to locate the nearest free, confidential sexual health clinic. Until you do that, you should do what you can to avoid STIs (use condoms and practice other forms of safe sex). Avoid doing anything to someone else without their consent, including masturbating in front of them. Avoid methamphetamine, heroin, and other hard drugs. Nothing about them is cool.

That’s about it. There’s not much you have to avoid on your sexual journey, and I encourage you to maintain an outlook of curiosity, not avoidance.

I may not be the best person to ask about masturbation since it’s never been very important to me. Some people put a lot of effort into their masturbation — they light candles, use toys, buy special lube, play music, watch porn, watch themselves, and so on. I rarely do any of that. My masturbation is a rushed activity at the end of the day. It happens in the shower or over the toilet or in bed. My ritual hasn’t varied much since I was your age.

While working on this answer, I asked my closest gay friends how frequently they masturbate. They all do it once or twice a day — some more than that — which means I must masturbate less than the average gay man. I can go three days without even thinking about it. There are, I believe, two reasons for this: One, I prefer erotic encounters with the world over time with myself, and two, I sometimes physically struggle to jack off.

I take antidepressants, which are known to inhibit erections, and like many gay men, I’ve struggled with certain mind-altering substances which, without going into specifics, can make masturbation difficult. So I don’t actually cultivate a rich inner fantasy life. For me, an erotic experience requires something outside myself: people, art, places, things, and situations. My fantasies exist in the world, not in my head.

I don’t want you to think that I’m shaming or judging masturbation or that my way is the “right” way. There’s no “right” way to experience pleasure and no “right” way to masturbate (except, obviously, you should never do it in front of someone without their consent). Jacking off is not a “lesser” form of sex — on the contrary, self-pleasure is very important.

I encourage you to continue exploring and enjoying your body. But I’ll explain my erotic beliefs a bit more. If nothing else, they’ll show you that jacking off is just one way to experience pleasure, and there are many more.

I said I prefer erotic encounters with the world over time with myself. An “erotic encounter” can be anything — browsing the underwear aisle in a department store, meeting the eyes of a sexy man on the sidewalk, stripping next to someone in a gym locker room, seeing a man’s bulge in public. These are complete erotic experiences — and for me, they’re better than masturbation. A non-penetrative, non-physical encounter with the erotic can even be better than sex.

Most people silo “sexuality” into two experiences: “sex with other people” and “masturbation,” with the former involving penetration and the latter involving self-touching. I think these are only two items on an endless buffet of erotic experiences a person can have. The reason why we don’t normally count powerful encounters with art, film, or spaces — or non-tactile exchanges with people — as “sex” is because, linguistically, we’re stunted in our ability to convey the range of human eroticism.

If someone on a TV show said they had a sexual experience by reading a book or engaging with art, most audiences would raise their eyebrows — but I believe this is sex. If you’ve ever read really powerful sex poetry or erotica or engaged with arresting, transfixing erotic art, you know how this feels. I believe eroticism happens when you interact with the world. So instead of masturbation, let’s say “erotic experience.” I don’t masturbate often, but I can have multiple erotic experiences a day. I value bringing the erotic into my daily life — into walking through New York, washing the dishes, eating, and writing (I often get turned on working on this blog).

I like this approach, in part, because it’s non-ableist. Some people can’t physically participate in what most people call “masturbation” — there are numerous medications, illnesses, disabilities, and personal reasons why someone might struggle to jack off. My approach counters that ableist view by asserting that, as an experiencing animal, you are a sexual being — period.

Sex is generally presented as a hierarchy where pregnancy and childbirth sit at the top, penetration, and orgasm are below that, kissing and foreplay under that, flirtation and arousal under that, masturbation next, then, probably, sexual fantasies on the bottom. I bet many people see these as sequential: masturbation leads to flirtation which leads to foreplay which leads to penetration which leads to pregnancy. My approach scraps this toxic hierarchy and views all sexuality as a fluid experience — one that doesn’t require hands, genitals, or even touching in order to happen.

I once studied an erotic photograph by Nobuyoshi Araki in a museum for 15 minutes. Sometimes I linger in the smell of a man’s cologne on the subway or delight in the simple experience of having a little crush on someone (a crush on someone can be way more intense than sex with that person). This multitude of tiny sparks constitutes my erotic life and many of them are better than jacking off over the toilet.

This might have been a more esoteric answer than you wanted, but I hope it makes sense. Use it as you will. Enjoy masturbation, but try to also see the world as an erotic feast of the senses in which masturbation is just one side dish.

Eat, drink, and be merry.

Love, Beastly


  1. I must be a very rare gay man, then, because masturbation has never really been all that important to me. I’m in my 40’s now, and generally masturbate twice a month or so. It does happen more often, but not regularly. I don’t feel like I’m missing anything, nor do I wish that I jerked off more often. I guess that’s just how I’m wired. *shrug emoji*


  2. Thanks so much for this perspective — I had never thought about sex this way before (and I’m also in my *cough* late 40s *cough*. 🙂

    I guess I’ve never had a mental framework for understanding this distinction between sex and erotica, but I had a wonderful experience today that beautifully illustrates your point: I was chatting with an electrician at work today, and our conversation, and the way he talked and looked at me, was one of the most erotic experiences of my life. There is no question that he was NOT cruising me; but there was a kind of erotic, sexual energy to him that I had no way of properly understanding until I read this article. Thank you!


  3. This! You hit the mark. I’m going to be 30 this year and I’m still a virgin. Due to a somewhat religious upbringing, I have had to make do with other ways of satisfying my desires. Art can be insanely erotic. As can some books. (On a side note, I recommend books published by Lethe Press.) Even the way some people might look at you can be amazing.

    Anyway, great post.


  4. I’m a queer, bisexual female (70:30 prefer men to women), and I never thought I’d have my weird preferences echoed in a post. As a kid I often got quite excited at art exhibits or by architecture, some Motherwell paintings and stuff, or even as I got older, other things that weren’t always directly connected to sex. I also like or am interested in bondage, fisting, pissing, or rough sex or some things I’d find weird or surprising. I took a long time to lose my virginity due to I guess I gained weight in school and then lost most of it and east coast dudes are superficial.. and I identified with that film the Piano Teacher.

    I was going to write you with a question about how I’ve never orgasmed alone or with another.
    I don’t masturbate very often unless going without sex for months to a year and extremely sexually frustrated. I don’t like touching myself without a barrier like through underwear. I got close a few times and usually wouldnt know how to bring it to the end and would cry when very close and think of some unexpected things. With another, it didn’t bring me closer to them, just made me think of the present like when I meditate. I’m sort of broken with sex. In my family, masturbation and some forms of sex, like gay sex, were seen as ‘yucky’ and I guess it contributes to a complex. Probably this is sex therapist stuff. But, I would like to have good sex someday I guess, during doggy style I can’t even find my own hole sometimes or don’t know what to do on too and don’t want to be a starfish even if I’ve been creative generally in other ways, I don’t want to get rusty (it’s been a year other than some unsatisfying sex with an older man who lost his boner and made me and my mid 30s body feel even more gross and wrong.)


  5. *on top

    Sorry if I put this in the comments, I didn’t have the bravery to ask it directly and trying to do this (and having the same result) today made me think. Also how intimidated I am about a younger man who seems into me (it’s not mutual) and his mom having a boob lift cause she wanted to improve her ‘milf’ status, made me ashamed of my own big sagging mammaries and blame them for my current sex problems. I guess age contributes to crusted over sex and ego issues.


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