This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England, this knob that needs a little extra 'ow's yer father. Let's take a trip to a "personal development" camp in these cherished isles. Let's put a little more jack in the Union Jack. Am I being too coy? Fine, let's go on a weekend retreat to learn how to masturbate better.

Because the United Kingdom has thought of everything, it apparently has such blessed places—to be fair, in Scotland, not England proper. So explains Jack Flanagan of Kernel magazine, who took a quickie jaunt north to Edinburgh find himself, and then to fondle himself: "I was headed for a three-day exploration into self-pleasure I had dubbed 'wank school' but which the organisers described in more florid language as 'tending the fire in your belly'":

I reviewed my notes. I'd made a list of three things I wanted to get out of the weekend: to understand a hobby better; to see if masturbation can be better than it is now, and to connect with other men about male sexuality…

My, my! This sounds tasty! We Gawkerers are known to defend self-love against its crude detractors from time to time. What new tricks can we learn? And how does one find such seminars? Are any offered at the 92nd Street Y? Sadly, Flanagan leaves these questions largely unanswered: We aren't getting self-service service journalism here; we're getting taken for a wild ride:


I had with me a list of things I'd been told to bring: an object "for the altar", a drawing of my genitals, ear plugs and wet weather clothes.

Rdfavfsvasf. "Altar"? "Genital drawings"?! Who's coming to this thing, anyway? [Spoiler: Six men, the youngest of whom is 44, excepting Flanagan.] Will there be much nudity? [Spoiler: Oh, yes, so so much. With blindfolds and oils.] Flanagan, to his credit, isn't scared yet, though he does allow himself a minute's dread after dropping his bags in the home of Peter, the middle-aged organizer, upon realizing what this retreat is, and what it isn't:


A few minutes later, he wandered back into his living room, a little sheepish but stern. "Just so you know, at no point will we be having sex. I want you to feel safe with me." He left to pick up another man... I was shocked, and realised I'd have to accept the implication: we would be in a situation that could possibly lead to sex. This was not a man's retreat, and it certainly looked less and less like a heterosexual man's retreat.

But hey, make the best of an awkward situation:

Two things happened next: I felt a wave of anxiety and, then, 10 minutes later: an orgasm. I'd started early.

Study hard, like a champ, Jack. Because you have gained entry to the pantheon of putz-futzing, the nobility of knob-hobbing. You are a treasured guest at Wankton Abbey!

We were shown to our rooms: tidy, and decorated in typically barren Scottish fashion. Two rams' horns on the window-sill. A heavy brown throw on the bed. My roommate, Lachlan, hadn't arrived yet. I was called for dinner and went downstairs: 5 men, the youngest 44, greeted me as I entered. I had the mixed sensation of pleasure – meeting new, interesting people in my home country, and a distant fear of what I might be expected to participate in over the weekend.

After some personal chit-chat with the gang, it's time for the, um, lessons. Under "rock out with your cock out," see this:

Peter had just one other experience for us before bed. It was a trust exercise. We had to be blind-folded and disrobed by the other men in the group...

It was difficult was to get my trousers off. They had collected around my feet and the men struggled to remove them. Managing that after some painfully awkward seconds, they took off my boxers. I was aware of heavy breathing in the few moments between becoming completely naked and Peter removing my blindfold.

When everyone had been undressed, we stood around each other, naked, holding hands and repeating a "sacred mantra".

Mantras, huh? Here's a zen riddle for you: Doesn't presenting masturbation as a shared experience sort of defeat the purpose of masturbation? It's a nice heaven-sent pleasure bonus for the lonely, alone, or anti-social (which, hey, describes all of us at some point). It all seems a bit topsy-turvy to make a social activity of it. I mean, not that that's weird or anything.

We then split into groups: two for massage, two to go upstairs and masturbate...

After that walk we re-entered the shrine to watch a short film. A man masturbated vigorously on-screen, completely oiled from his feet to his chest. The 15 minute video featured "moves" known collectively as "evolutionary masturbation", which seeks to combine the heart and the genitals…

The short film went on a loop, was intensely pornographic, and beside me I could hear Colin's hands squelch over the lubricant he had lathered over himself.

Okay, that might be weird. In the context of a masturbation camp, at least. It feels as if we've headed over into ritual orgy territory, which is awesome, if you're into that sort of thing. Especially as it comes with mostly nude "sex-dancing" with five other men in a mood-lit living room as the Lacrimosa from Mozart's Requiem transitions into Shakira's Hips Don't Lie. Also, these massages, how do they roll?

He wasn't unconscious of Lachlan's penis. His hands were busying fiddling with it, or running in an almost cruel distraction away from him, down the inside of his legs, and back up again. I questioned in my mind whether or not that broke the "rules" of erotic touch. I watched Colin become more vigorous, more focused in his actions: he began to toy with other parts of his body.

Yeah, that technically isn't masturbation.

It was sex.

Yep, got it.

I was revolted, but only looked away to see if Peter had awakened to the gasps and forced breaths of the other two...

I looked down and saw that, in the midst of my voyeurism, I had become erect.

Oh, my. How to make sense of this intense weekend, of these men and their sometimes sacred, sometimes profane blurring of the lines between self and other?

All of these men talked about personal development, about reconnection. They are confused about their past, which affects the people they live with now. The soft and intimate spirituality of the commune, dancing naked, casual but not anonymous sex, must feel very healing to them.

Healing is important. But is it completely fair to suggest these men are all broken, merely because their wanking gets crazy communal?

That's not to say I enjoyed it.

Neither did we, Jack. Neither did we. Pass us a Kleenex?

[Photo credits: lolostock/anteromite/Shutterstock; Photoillustration by Adam Weinstein]