Anti-war activists protest the latest US incursion into Iraq at a demonstration in front of the White House. Photo via Flickr user Stephen Melkisethian
“I plan to masturbate furiously and frequently,” writes Deven, who identifies only as a New Jersey resident. “I shall masturbate with an alacrity and creativity heretofore thought impossible. With God’s help, I plan to masturbate while bathing, attending classes, preparing food, and yes, even while playing catch with puppies. My ejaculate shall shine under blacklights as a beacon of peace and self-love. I shall proudly go forth into the world, with scented candles, lubricants, Barry White CDs, and an insatiable appetite for the five-knuckle-shuffle.”
Presumably, Deven didn’t write that for all the internet to see because he was an exhibitionist or a troll. He wrote it as a pledge. During the early-to-mid-2000s, Deven was one of many people from across the world who built up an online peace protest movement—purportedly started by a sex toy purveyor at the dawn of the Iraq War—known as Masturbate for Peace. The last time it reported stats, the site had gathered 17,000 signed petitions from citizens of over 90 countries (mostly Americans, but with a shocking representation from Spain and Scandinavia) promising to, while jacking or jilling off, focus their energies on world peace and the cessation of human strife and suffering. In addition to pledges, members wrote over 500 bumper sticker slogans, took pictures of breasts decked out in peace signs, mocked up World War II-style propaganda posters for the cause, and authored about 70 poems and songs—an insane number of which were Christmas-themed, including “The 10 Days of Wanking,” “Jingle Balls,” and “Wankin’ in a Winter Wonderland.” They even had an anthem, “I Cum in Peace,” and a cheer worked out for them by the San Diego Radical Cheerleaders, which ran:
“Support our troops, bring ‘em home to play / bisexual, straight or gay! / masturbate to stop this war / ‘cuz we don’t want no killin’ no more!”
The site itself doesn’t appear to have been updated in some time, and despite admittedly cursory efforts, its operators couldn’t be reached. But it’s not some relic of a past cultural age, like a Space Jam website for your early-teen humor. It’s a living resource, a sporadic and diffuse meme that pops up from time to time across the internet. It shows up anywhere from tantric social media to adult dating profiles to ethical porn reference guides (probably for their boob shots, hentai section, and masturbation, sex toy, and couples play advice sections). Most recently, as of 2011, a Facebook page of the same name sprang up and still sporadically posts to this day, posting guides, gifs, and messages of sticky serenity in line with the National Lampoon humor and honest, good natured ethos of the original site. As one Reddit user put it, when the site made one of its annual revival rounds across the Front Page of the Internet earlier this year, “you are telling me that there are people who still don’t know about this site?”
Still, much of the content on the site is dated. In an interview on Nerve.com, the site’s anonymous founder and masturbation accessory salesperson Mr. O claimed that he launched the thing in September 2002 specifically as a reaction to saber-rattling leading up to the Iraq War. Accordingly, the site is full of George W. Bush puns and references to weapons of mass destruction, bunker busters, and Iraqi cities. But the site always defined itself in open terms, promoting a general sense of peace. Mr. O claimed he decided to give meaning to what had before been an entirely selfish act. Of course, he wasn’t the first to imbue masturbation with social meaning. The San Francisco sex shop Good Vibrations had, in 1995, already declared May to be National Masturbation month, and in 1998 promoted a Masturbation-a-thon to raise awareness and discussion on sexual health. But for Mr. O and others, the site was a means of not just giving their self-pleasure meaning, but bridging it beyond the personal and sensual world.
Or at least, that’s what the site claims to be. Its flip humor have led many to question whether it’s just a mockery of peace movements. Some of the questions asked on the site, like whether sex for peace counts (answer: in its own way, but you can masturbate for two as well), whether it’s possible to masturbate too much for peace (answer: probably), or whether it can really affect anything (answer: who knows, but it can’t hurt) do sound a little like they should have been delivered by Christopher Walken on Saturday Night Live circa 2000. “Seems like you are making the ironic statement that there’s nothing we can do to stop the warmongers from killing and maiming innocents, that working for peace is completely futile, and we’d do just as well sitting home [sic] and jack off [sic],” wrote one visitor to the site. To which Mr. O responded, “That’s a very pessimistic view. Think positive.”
There’s at least one attempt on the site to signpost just how one should take its content. In the FAQ section, the first and foremost question is, “Is this for real?” To which Mr. O answers: “Yes.” And there’s something to be said for the site’s credibility when you consider that, despite putting up links to information on vibrators, astroglide, cock rings, and butt plugs, the site never lists a priced item and never links out to a for-pay site. There are no dirty talk ads and no pop-ups. It’s just clean, pure sexiness. Possibly explaining his flippancy, Mr. O stated in an interview, “The largest demographic in the world, you see, is masturbating people. So we’re trying to reach the largest demographic.” Approach people on their own terms, the message seems to be, and with humor and fun, and maybe it’ll mean something. Or, hey, at least it won’t hurt.
Most of the slogans and pledges the site has generated are just plain goofy, suggesting that at its peak this was all just a decent PR stunt for folks of a certain humor. Among the best of the evergreen bumper stickers are: War is shit, rub your clit. You can’t beat off with nuclear arms. And bust nuts, not skulls. And among the pledges, there’s just a good deal of egregious silliness, like: With a butternut squash. My violation of the fruit will signify the violation of the world by war. Or My hands alone can control the fate of millions. My sperm will act as martyrs of this cause. Or one of the many, many Australian pledges promoting public masturbation and circle jerks, I will stand naked on a cliff face and masturbate out in to [sic] the ocean and sky, drawing us all a little closer to peace as I climax in joy.
But buried deep within the troves of testimony are a few comments that suggest some people really got into the idea of releasing sexual energy as an esoteric, mystical means of influencing the world. I will use my Tantric techniques so that I divert my negative energy within, converting it into pure orgasm, writes one British pledge-maker. If everyone knew how to do this then there would be no war. Another commenter took a far too chemical view of all of this, writing, using the bathwater, letting the love of this peace water flow back through the sewer system to all in my community. And one possibly Satanic magician even brought up the early 20th century Thelema cult of ceremonial mage Aleister Crowley, writing, if you’ve studied Crowleyan Magick, you know that nothing speeds a spell on its way like a good thumping orgasm. I shall batter my beaver not only for peace but for understanding between the sexes, the survival of the ecosphere and the cancellation of The Jerry Springer Show. George and Saddam will not know what kind of etheric bolt hit their brains when I fire up the old Hitachi.
Clearly, when the site was in its prime, it had mass appeal, from amateur comedians to true believers in sexual magicks. But it transferred across conflicts and cultures as well, far beyond the original Iraq War inspirations of Mr. O. A Chinese user pledged to masturbate to free Tibet, a Sri Lankan user to end the war in his or her country, and a Puerto Rican user to abuse a banana native to his or her island to protest US naval practices in the area. An Alabama user even pledged to masturbate while driving to end road rage.
Masturbate for Peace is funny and absurd. But it can also be heartfelt and honest. It’s a place for people to miss and love those gone off to war, and to innocently and easily poke fun at the absurdities of conflict. It’s a simple idea that apparently translates between conflicts and survives beyond its original base, floating through the ether and resurfacing from time to time. It’s a mandala—an empty but potent tool that can be filled with whatever meaning we need to ascribe to it. And maybe, as the world slides deeper and deeper into more and more intractable conflicts like those in Syria and (again) in Iraq, we ought to use that tool and rub some life into it, so that the Masturbate for Peace movement might cum back again, in peace.
Follow Mark Hay on Twitter.