Part of what makes public masturbation so insidious is the ambiguity. In a scene from the first season of Master of None, a public masturbator gets caught and claims without provocation that he's just zipping his jacket. Fortunately, his accusers have video evidence, and they stage a citizens' arrest.
According to news reports, police keep asking alleged masturbators what they were doing and why. These questions are tough to answer if you really aren't masturbating. We all place our hands in troubling proximity to our genitals from time to time, but we would still sound weirdly defensive trying to explain that to a cop. Then, when people really are masturbating, they tend not to answer truthfully. Do we really expect anyone to say, "I am forcing strangers to watch me masturbate, officer, because it makes me feel powerful"?
Anyway, in the recent past, when people have been called out for what looks like public masturbation, here's what they've said, sorted by category:
I'm wiggling my hand near my penis area for a perfectly normal, non-masturbatory reason.
In December 2010, Steven Hartsel, city manager of Hudson, Michigan, was busted for allegedly staring at a woman and masturbating while behind the wheel of a city-owned van. Hartsel later told a jury, according to the Daily Telegram, that he "had an Arby's sandwich in his lap when he stopped at the intersection and was pulling red onions from the bun, explaining the stroking movements the woman described." Hartsel was acquitted.
Similarly, in 2012 in Treasure Coast, Florida, an unnamed 34-year-old man who was approached by cops for public masturbation said he was just scratching his balls because of a severe rash. TCPalm.com wrote that the man "'presented' his testicles to an officer, who verified the rash," and was then allowed to go free.
Still up in the air, however, are some cases like this from last year. A guy in Nebraska claimed he was just mixing a protein shake (LOL, aren't we all?), and another guy who was pulled off a plane in New York said he was just giving his smelly junk a thorough cleaning with a moist towelette.
No idea, but I'm definitely not masturbating.
In 1991, Paul Reubens, the actor who played Pee-Wee Herman, was arrested for allegedly masturbating in a Florida porn theater, and then pled no contest to the charges. As far as I can tell, Reubens didn't offer an explanation until 19 years later. It was a weird one: "I'm right-handed, and the police report said I was jerking off with my left hand. That would have been the end of the case right there, proof it couldn't have been me." Um, OK, dude.
Then, in 2012, your lovable comedian grandpa, Fred Willard, got caught up in a very similar kind of porn-theater sting operation. At the time, the prevailing public reaction seemed to be "Aw, he's old and doesn't know there's porn on the internet." That made it all the more cringeworthy when he went on Fallon to explain himself and just rambled and rambled half jokingly but also seriously about how he didn't know the building—which had a tiki theme—was a porn theater. "Maybe there's hula dancers in there. Maybe there's Mai Tais!" he told Fallon. Alright, bud.
I was just peeing.
This has to be the single most common excuse in the world for alleged public masturbation, even though using it is a terrible idea. After all, public urination is also against the law, and in some jurisdictions, confessing to public urination can mean you're permanently branding yourself as a sex offender.
Probably the most edifying example of pulling the yellow card was the case of arch anti-gay Louisiana pastor Grant Storms—a guy who had previously preached against the evils of masturbation. Storms, who was masturbating in a busy park, first claimed he was peeing into a bottle, but later admitted he'd been masturbating, adding that it was his third time that week in that same park.
On a related note, in 1973, police accused Reverend Jim Jones—whose People's Temple later turned into a suicide cult—of public masturbation in front of a cop in a movie-theater bathroom in Los Angeles. Jones's excuse came from a doctor, who told police Jones had been "jumping and jogging in place," while holding his penis in order to alleviate a problem with his bladder. The charges were dropped.
A rare variation of the standard "I'm just peeing" is "I was just getting in the shower," an excuse that was used in 2016 by an alleged California masturbator who was accused of standing at an open window brazenly masturbating in full view of a child.
(Changes the subject)
An entirely different way to answer the question is by not addressing the perceived masturbation at all. For example, in 2010, when a 29-year-old Florida man was arrested for jerking off to the pictures in a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition while wandering the Walmart toy section, he explained that he was looking for a toy for his daughter. Others have claimed they were shaving, or looking for crimes to stop. This is probably not meant as an excuse, and seems to be more like a dodge.
In 2014, New York Jets tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. was spotted appearing to masturbate in his car outside a Target in East Hanover, New Jersey. Winslow initially claimed, to tremendous internet laughter, that he was just looking for a Boston Market and got lost. Later, the story got a lot weirder, leading to charges related to drugs, rather than masturbation.
OK, I was masturbating, but hear me out.
In 2014, a 21-year-old in Florida was arrested for walking around naked and masturbating. But don't take it the wrong way—he explained that his mom wouldn't let him watch porn in the house.
In 2016, a guy on a Megabus in Iowa was arrested for engaging in a three-hour masturbation marathon in full view of a horrified female passenger. Police said he did it "because he thought the victim was enjoying it."
Also in 2016, a French political party official named Robert Rochefort got caught masturbating in a hardware store near children and later explained that he "need[ed] to masturbate" because he was "under stress."
Then last week, a guy in Portland admitted to masturbating in public, but said he wanted to go to jail. His reason, he said: "I fucking hate Portland."
Anyway, the moral of this article is, you can tell how much masturbating in public sucks from the weird lies people tell to try and get away with it. But also, it makes people suspicious of the world's truly innocent ball scratchers and urinators. So while I don't want to tell you how to live you life, masturbating in public is generally shitty, and you shouldn't do it, no matter how good your excuse is.
Note: This article was originally titled "A Complete History of Weird Excuses Given by Accused Public Masturbators." No one thought calling such a list "complete" was funny except the author, so the title has been changed to ease confusion.
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