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Fear and Self-Loving Masturbation in Tee

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Fear and SelfLoving
In as sex-obsessed a culture as America in teen film,
where sexual conquest is a rite of passage for pubescent boys before graduating high school and a mustdo activity on prom night, what is surprising is the
fetishistic manner in which we view masturbation.
Once considered a topic to be shunned, with promises
of mental illness and hairy palms for its practitioners,
I will examine the mechanisms and treatment of the
topic and how film-makers over a 30-year trajectory have kept self-pleasure a central cultural force
through a series of humorous and comedic embarrassments and mishaps. Yes, we have come a long
way (pun intended) from Judge Reinhold’s voyeuristic pool scene in Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)
(Phoebe Cates was blazing hot in the 1980s), but current representations suggest a very prudish acceptance of masturbation in recent teen films.
‘That’s right! I was choking the bishop, chafing the
carrot, you know, saying “hi” to my monster! […] Well,
guess what, I’ve changed, and the new me whacks off
when he feels horny cause you’re obviously not going
to help me out in that department.’ Thus defends Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) when his wife finds him
masturbating in their bed in the new classic American Beauty (1999). While far from being a love-starved
teenager, Lester decides to take his sexual destiny
in his own hands (literally) instead of attempting to
make an appeal to his wife (played by Annette Bening). In this article I concern myself with the representations of masturbation in films within the teen
genre, and Lester’s getting caught reveals the prudish
treatment of the subject evident in films in this genre.
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Masturbation in teen movie comedies
Below American Pie (1999)
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Articles Fear and Self-Loving
By Brian C. Johnson
Keywords masturbation, teen film, Fast
Times at Ridgemont High, American Pie, sexuality,
Not Another Teen Movie, USA, Onan
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Articles Fear and Self-Loving
The fear of displeasing God permeated social thought and inhibited
scores of people from self-pleasure…
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Since the 1950s, American viewership has shown
interest in the lives of American teens. We now have
names like James Dean, Frankie Avalon and Annette
Funicello in the pantheon of American superstardom because of this phenomenon. But long gone
are the days of carefree hip-shaking on the sand like
in 1965’s Beach Blanket Bingo. This genre was borne
out of a desire for youth independence and autonomy. Early films promoted rebellion from parents
and other authority figures. Sexuality was virtually
non-existent, except for a few rebellious teens who
sought out semi-private places like ‘Lover’s Lane’ or
‘Make Out Point’ or as Grease (1978) fans would recognize, the drive-in movie theatre.
Teenage rebellion against parents is par for the
course in films of this genre (Wood 2002). Take John
Hughes’s hit film The Breakfast Club (1985) as a model.
The students in detention expressed problems with
their parents as the primary excuse for their having
acted out in school to require a Saturday detention.
Many characters in this genre use sexual behaviour
as rebellion. They flaunted their sexuality as a tool
to anger or embarrass their parental figures (Tolman
2009; Shary 2005).
But how did we go from barely a mention of sexual activity – from where it was ‘lots of flesh but no
sex’, and ‘[n]o hearts are broken and virginity prevails’ (Lisanti 2012: 13), and teen boys are virtually
eunuchs out to tip mailboxes – to a father–son conversation like this exchange in American Pie (1999)
between Jim (Jason Biggs) and his dad (played by
funny-man Eugene Levy):
Scenes like this one where masturbation is openly
discussed had not appeared in teen film (Wood 2002).
One would not expect that moments later a naked
young lady named Nadia (Shannon Elizabeth) would
be pleasuring herself via webcam (unbeknownst to
herself that Jim had set up this peep show for his
friends).
Mr Levenstein’s ‘conversation’ was prompted
by an earlier incident when he and his wife had
walked in on Jim’s session of self-love. When the film
opened, Jim is in his bedroom, underwear and other
clothing on the floor. Jim is trying to watch porn on
his television on scrambled channels. He celebrates
when he is able to decipher the image of a female
breast. To his mother, Jim explains that he is watching a nature programme and the channel is messed
up because of ‘bad reception’, but that excuse is
foiled when the young woman begins moaning. She,
however, believes him and attempts to clean Jim’s
room. When his mother had walked in, Jim frantically covered his penis with a pillow. Soon, Mr Levenstein walks in; he sees the scrambled channel and
continues Jim’s lie about the reception; that is, until
the porn lead male actor in the skin flick instructs
his female counterpart to ‘spank my hairy ass’. Mr
Levenstein pulls Jim’s pillow which uncovers his
erection sheathed inside a tube sock. Needless to say,
Jim was mortified to experience this embarrassment.
This response to a masturbating person caught ‘redhanded’ has been around a while.
6
Teen film
MR LEVENSTEIN: Jim, I was just looking
at the old family portrait here. That was a
fun day, wasn’t it? Jim, I want to talk about
masturbation. Now, I just want you to know
that it’s, it’s a perfectly normal thing. And,
I have to admit, you know, I did a fair bit of
masturbating when I was a little younger.
I… I used to call it ‘stroking the salami.’ You
know, ‘pounding the ol’ pud.’ I never did it
with baked goods. But you know your Uncle
Mort? He pinched the ‘one-eyed snake’ five,
six times a day. See it’s like practice for the
big game. You see? It’s… it’s like banging a
tennis ball against a brick wall… which can
be fun. It can be fun, but it’s not a game.
Historical attitudes
Hollywood’s disdain for masturbation has its roots
in an oft-misinterpreted biblical story in the Book
of Genesis. While society now recognizes masturbation as a regular part of healthy sexual development (Coleman 2002), the movies’ treatment of the
subject borders on the prudish and parochial. The
biblical story of Onan has tripped up some for years
about how the Bible treats masturbation. Onan was
the son of Judah. Judah’s other son, Er, died, and per
custom (God’s law), Onan was required to impregnate Tamar, his brother’s wife, in order to keep his
lineage intact. Instead of depositing his seed properly, Onan would ‘spill his seed on the ground’ as he
knew a child would not be technically his. The scriptures declared God’s displeasure upon Onan, and the
‘sin of Onan’ story was passed down through generations and many believed and taught that masturbawww.filmint.nu | 61
Below Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)
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Articles Fear and Self-Loving
The watershed fall from grace appeared in 1982 in Amy Heckerling’s
classic sex romp Fast Times at Ridgemont High.
tion was considered biblically wrong. It’s important
to note that Onan did not masturbate, but pulled out
during the act of sex; this failure to consummate
would render his semen useless nonetheless. That
puritanical belief supported eons of teaching on the
consequences of self-love. Sigmund Freud’s theories
deemed the act a narcissistic perversion in that
[the masturbator] experiences sexual pleasure in gazing at, caressing and fondling his
body, till complete gratification ensues upon
these activities. Developed to this degree, narcissism has the significance of a perversion,
which has absorbed the whole sexual life of
the subject; consequently, in dealing with it
we may expect to meet with phenomena similar to those for which we look in the study
of all perversions. (Freud 1937 [1914]: 73)
The fear of displeasing God permeated social
thought and inhibited scores of people from selfpleasure (Stengers and Van Neck 2001); this attitude
promulgated medical theories that those who practised would suffer personal harm including madness
(Neuman 1975). S. J. Schneider acknowledges the
‘paradox of masturbation’ where the ability to masturbate signifies entrance into manhood, but to continually practise is a ‘symbol of spiritual and social
immaturity’ (2005: 381). Masturbation, therefore,
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has been interpreted as a fall from grace, and the
young men in teen film are often victims of the fall.
The 1922 manual for the Boy Scouts of America, the
Handbook for Boys (promoted the fear that masturbation would ‘sap your health and brain just at the
critical time when you would otherwise be gaining
the height of manly health”, (Baden-Powell & BadenPowell, B. (1964, p. 105-106). Shary (2005) identified
these type of films as ‘teen sexploitation’ as the main
storylines focused on the loss of virginity.
The watershed fall from grace appeared in 1982
in Amy Heckerling’s classic sex romp Fast Times at
Ridgemont High (Stern and Brown 2008; Ford 1999).
Taking the fall is Brad Hamilton (Judge Reinhold).
Throughout the film, Brad is pictured as someone
who has it all together. In the early stages of the film,
the audience learns that Brad is a stellar employee at
the burger joint he is employed at as assistant manager and has been chosen as employee of the month.
He is in college, and is an example to his younger sister, Stacy (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and her friend, Linda
(Phoebe Cates). Brad begins to experience some hard
times including getting fired from his job. He gets
rehired at a seafood fast-food place – a job he considers beneath him – especially when asked to wear
a pirate’s costume.
One afternoon, Stacy is entertaining friends at
their home swimming pool. Brad is unhappy at the
presence of the guests. He barely grunts at the group
and roll, chips, dips, chain, and whips’, a line now
famous from Weird Science (1985). The genre morphed
and instead of fluffy unrated films, the norm was
now to feature teen life as Rated ‘R’ for ‘adult theme,
violence, language, nudity, sex, and drug use’ (Longacre et al. 2009: 218). It was at this point that
researchers became concerned about the summative behavioural ties between teen alcohol and drug
use correlated to media representations (Yanovitzky
and Stryker 2001; Stern and Brown 2008).
Sex romps became standard fare for youth in these
movies (Pearce 2006). It is interesting to note the frequency of mature themes targeting a teen audience,
especially given the fact that the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) rating system forbids
youth under 17 from watching R-rated films without
an accompanying parent or adult (Tickle, Beach and
Dalton 2009). Stern and Brown (2008) suggest that
the MPAA ratings system replaced the former Motion
Picture Code (in use since the 1930s), thus permitting
more liberal representations of teen sexuality.
Male teens are the primary target-audience for
this genre (Lewis 2013). The frequency with which
young male masturbators in film are presented with
the cultural message of shame prompted researchers to examine how males interpret film as a source
of sex education. In focus groups with teens, Watson
and McKee found male teens had internalized messages that ‘masturbation is taboo and the cause of
embarrassment’ (2013: 454). Masturbation formally
has become the purview of men and boys (Burchard
2002). What’s more is that masturbation among
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before entering the house, although he extends personal greetings to Linda. When we next see Brad, he
is secretly watching Linda from inside the bathroom.
Linda, in a red bikini, dives into the pool to begin
Brad’s fantasy. Linda exits the pool and approaches a
suit-clad Brad. She opens her bikini top to show her
golden globes (pun intended).
This scene solidified Heckerling’s place as a serious director and perhaps Cates’s position in teenspank mythology (Speed 2002). Soon thereafter,
real-life Linda needs a Q-tip to get the water out of
her ear. Stacy tells her to check inside the house. She
walks in on Brand enjoying himself. She apologizes,
but the look of disgust on her face reveals an attitude that Brad was doing something beneath his
position, an act to be frowned upon. In embarrassment, Brad utters the classic movie phrase, ‘Doesn’t
anybody fucking knock anymore?’
Fast Times marked a significant change in the marketplace for films featuring high school students and
young adults. Up to this point, images like these were
impossible because the practice was to utilize actual
teens to play teen characters due to the stringent
laws at work regarding what child actors were permitted to do on-screen (Russnow 2011). Film-makers
began to use younger-looking adult actors above the
age of 18 to play these sexualized roles.
Similarly, we saw a paradigmatic shift in the tone
of the films out of this era – gone were the films
about exploring new frontiers, about looking forward
to marriage, about summer camp exploits; teen life
was revealed only as the quest for ‘sex, drugs, rock
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Joey’s father imitates Joey’s masturbatory activity. He
confirms his place as a father. ‘I don’t want you to
be embarrassed,’ he stipulates in their conversation.
JOEY: Can we not talk about this?
DAD: As your father, I have certain responsibilities. One of them is helping
you to acquire the habits of a functional
adult. This means some grooming techniques (referencing Joey’s genital region)
done daily like brushing your teeth.
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boys in film is ‘sometimes viewed as compensating
for a failure to obtain a mature sexual relationship’
(Madanikia, Bartholomew and Cytrynbaum 2013:
108). Madanikia, Bartholomew and Cytrynbaum
‘also considered personal characteristics of characters portrayed as masturbating’ and ‘speculated that
characters who engaged in masturbation might be
presented as somewhat unattractive, immature, and
emotionally vulnerable, factors which could make it
difficult to establish and maintain a satisfying sexual relationship’ (2013: 108).
In the opening scene of American Virgins (2012; also
distributed as Gettin’ In), teenager Joey (Joe Perry)
writhes impatiently in the morning as his parents
listen in via baby monitor. Joey tosses and turns
while fantasizing about a scantily-clad young lady in
lingerie. Viewers can see his growing erection. Soon,
Joey constructs a makeshift body out of blankets and
begins a solo hump session. As he groans, his listening parents come to investigate as the baby is asleep
in the room. His dad opens the door in time for a
near-naked Joey to spank his own bottom. Surprised
by his dad’s interruption, Joey dives underneath his
covers. His dad attempts an explanation, ‘It’s natural
to experiment sometimes with random objects, OK?
More natural with women, though. Have you noticed
the bond your stepmother and I have formed?’ Joey
ejects his father from the room. Later, at breakfast,
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JOEY: I don’t want to talk about it!
DAD: How else do I say this? If you don’t keep
the private grass well-mowed, no girl’s ever
gonna wanna rub her face on your lawn.
JOEY: Dad, this is not breakfast conversation.
Dad mimics the act of oral sex to explain what he is
referencing. He argues how this manscaping is an act
of respect towards women. He shows Joey his shaved
genitals, screaming at him to ‘Wax that shit, Joe!’
In their content analysis of the treatment of masturbation in North American films, Bartholomew
and Cytrynbaum described six consequences befall-
Articles Fear and Self-Loving
For young men, masturbation means weakness and perversion. When a
young woman masturbates, it is commonly construed as the triumph of a
young woman taking control of her sexual destiny…
6
necessary to call emergency reinforcements. On
the phone with Poison Control, Jim admits to having ‘super glued myself to myself’. Soon, Jim is on
the roof of the house trying to get to the garage
because he remembered that paint thinner removes
super glue. A leering neighbour calls the police;
when the officer arrives, he yells to Jim to show both
hands. While trying to explain his inability to raise
his hands, his pants fall down showing the viewer
his bare buttocks. In a later scene, Jim’s dad tries to
explain to Jim that he believes ‘any adhesive product
would have a warning on the tube’. Jim admits his
mistaken use of the product he thought was lube. ‘I
was trying to use lubricant,’ he confesses.
The Levensteins are in the emergency room. Jim’s
porno tape, titled Pussy Palace, shows in his hand.
Another patient enquires, ‘Son, couldn’t you have
left that disgusting thing at home? That kind of
thing is offensive to me.’ Mr Levenstein sarcastically
defends,
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ing those who masturbate in film: ‘being interrupted
(but not caught); being caught; experiencing relief or
pleasure; experiencing negative thoughts/images/
frustration/mess; other; or not shown’ (2013: 109).
They describe an overall negative outlook on the
portrayal of male masturbation as compared to the
treatment of female self-love.
American Pie’s Jim Levenstein seems to be the
poster child of failed attempts at self-satisfaction. In
the second instalment, Jim and friends have rented a
beach house for the summer. Both Jim and his friend
Oz have botched attempts. Oz began dating Heather
(Mena Suvari) in the first movie but she has not
arrived at the beach house yet. Oz and Heather want
to try phone sex; Oz begins hesitantly until Heather
suggests, ‘Oz, if we can’t physically be with each
other, then we have to learn how to be more vocal,
right?’ Oz proceeds to slowly begin stroking himself
while narrating his actions to Heather – that is until
a telemarketer calls the other line.
Oz quickly tries to dispatch the caller by telling him, ‘Look man, I got my hand on my dick right
now, and I’m trying to have sex with my girlfriend
over the phone.’ The caller congratulates him and
Oz returns to his previous action with Heather who
whispers a directive to Oz asking him to describe his
desires. Just then, their friend Steve Stifler (Seann
William Scott) interrupts having been listening on
the extension, ‘Oh, Heather, baby, why don’t you tell
me my dick is as big as Stifler’s?’ Oz yells for Steve to
‘get off’ (the line) but Stifler continues, ‘I am getting
off just listening to the two of you guys. Keep going!’
Heather suggests they try again at another time and
ends the conversation.
Later, Jim is in his room alone and decides to take
advantage of his privacy. Earlier in the film, he is
given lubricating jelly to improve sexual relations.
Jim puts in some porn on a VCR tape and soon begins
his fapping session. He reaches for what he perceives
is lube, but quickly learns it is a tube of super glue.
The audience hears a ripping sound as Jim attempts
to remove his hand from his genitals. Jim screams
out in pain; a voice calls out to him asking if everything is all right. Jim pleads that the person not enter
the room.
With one hand glued to his private parts, Jim
removes the tape from the VCR with his free hand.
The tape becomes glued to that hand. Jim unsuccessfully tries to free himself but soon it becomes
Well, we’re sorry, but you see, my son
couldn’t leave it at home because he’s having a little bit of a medical emergency!
Your opinion of his taste in video rentals, I’m afraid, is not a priority, lady! It’s
at the bottom of the totem pole, OK?
He stands and continues to argue loudly with the
surrounding patients, ‘My son is sitting here right
now with his hand glued to his penis, but that doesn’t
mean anything to you because you don’t have a
penis or maybe you do!’ The wheelchair-bound
woman backs away. Jim’s dad sits down and explains
himself to Jim, ‘You know, it just bugs me when people speak before they think.’ When the medical curtain is pulled back, a bandaged Jim glumly bemoans
the doctor’s pronouncement that the swelling will
subside in about a week. He sadly admits that their
summer’s-end party is in a week and he is expecting Nadia to attend. When Mr Levenstein tries to
explain Jim’s predicament to the doctor, the doctor instructs: ‘I’d tell your son to keep his pants on
during that party.’ The doctor hands Mr Levenstein
some cream that would potentially reduce his healing time. Would that all young men would have such
an understanding father.
Jim’s father seems to accept the notion that ‘boys
will be boys’ when it comes to the subject of masturwww.filmint.nu | 65
Below Not Another Teen Movie (2001)
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Articles Fear and Self-Loving
Female self-pleasure in these films appears to be simply for the pleasure
of the heterosexual male audience who consume these films.
bation, but we wonder what his response would have
been if he had a daughter?
AMBER: Loser. Seriously, you wanna pop
that cherry before you get to college.
Flicking the bean
BRANDY: Before? Why?
Since, in many connotations, the act of masturbation is the desperate act of a weak-willed person, women are very rarely imagined as sexually
frustrated (Kaestle and Allen 2011). Teen boys are
characteristically more sexually needy – hence the
persistent worry of contracting blue balls (Hartley
1959; Muehlenhard and Cook 1988). In a recent film,
a young lady referred to herself as a ‘sex camel’, referencing her ability to go for long periods of time
without sexual activity.
For young men, masturbation means weakness
and perversion. When a young woman masturbates,
it is commonly construed as the triumph of a young
woman taking control of her sexual destiny, as with
Brandy Clark in the 2013 movie The To Do List. As is
common in teen film, the sexually inexperienced are
socially inept nerds and Brandy is no different. The
valedictorian of her graduating class, Brandy cannot
imagine going off to college as a virgin. At her sister’s insistence, Brandy crafts a list of sexual activities that she’s never done and pledges to check some
things off her list before orientation.
AMBER: Freshman year is like one big sexual
pop quiz. You need to do your
homework.
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Amber then describes a sexual encounter she had
with her female resident assistant during her freshman year. Following that conversation, Brandy pulls
out her Trapper Keeper (the film is set in 1993) to
draft her sexual to-do list which includes items like
French kissing, necking, tea-bagging and phone sex
(having used Wite-Out to change it from anal sex).
Her list becomes a veritable shopping list revealing
her sexual ineptness.
BRANDY: (Orally reciting as she writes)
Hand job, blowjob, rim job. Why so many
jobs? What’s a rim job anyway?
The list culminates with ‘sexual intercourse with
Rusty Waters’ (her crush).
Later, Brandy and friends discuss her recent hookup with Cameron, who is also inexperienced, (she
describes his technique as ‘Kind of like an itch you
Articles Fear and Self-Loving
accept the belief that ‘everybody does it’ (Rosewarne
2014). In a scene in Basketball Diaries (1995), an autobiographical tale by Jim Carroll, Jim (Leonardo DiCaprio)
is visiting a friend in the hospital. He brags to Bobby
(Michael Imperioli) about his whacking exploits:
6
JIM: Oh, I beat your record.
BOBBY: How many times you choke it?
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can’t scratch’). As they casually flip through several magazines, they come across an instructional
article titled ‘How to Find Your G-Spot’. Brandy
snatches the magazine and skims the article. Afterwards, she questions if her friends, Wendy and Fiona,
ever masturbate. Fiona cries out ‘No, that’s gross’.
Incredulous, Brandy continues, ‘Really? You’ve never
touched yourself down there?’ Fiona adds, ‘Well,
maybe I straddled the couch,’ while Wendy answers,
‘Only when I can’t sleep.’ Continuing to read, Brandy
says, ‘It says here that women should “flick the bean”
as much as the guys do.’
Quoting the article, Brandy reads, ‘Forty percent of
women never climax during sex because the guy can’t
find her G-spot. (Pausing) This is a travesty. Ladies, we
must take charge of our own sexual gratification.’
Pulling out her notebook, Brandy proclaims ‘I have to
put masturbate on the list now.’ The next scene opens
with Brandy in her bedroom laying prostrate in her
underwear and ‘Pro-Choice, Pro-Clinton’ T-shirt with
her hand down her panties frantically rubbing herself
and chanting ‘I am not a quitter. I am not a quitter’,
as fantasies of Rusty fill her mind and Kenny G tracks
play on the stereo. True to genre, as Brandy nears climax, her sister opens the bedroom door to tell her
there is a phone call for her. Amber questions, ‘Were
you humping a pillow?’ Brandy quickly retorts, ‘None
of your business.’ Amber calls her a ‘loser’ and walks
away. Embarrassed, Brandy picks up the phone.
Unlike females in film, male masturbators rarely
achieve orgasm, despite desperate attempts. A once
private phenomenon, boys will now talk about their
solo activities with their friends, perhaps they readily
Below American Pie (1999)
JIM: Seven times.
BOBBY: Bullshit.
JIM: Seven times. My mom thinks I
have a cold year-round because of
all the tissues around the house.
Bobby laments having leukemia, ‘They’re pumping so much junk into me, I can’t even get a decent
chubby.’
Though they typically do not occur in real life,
boys in film openly discuss their masturbatory practices (Watson and McKee, 2013). In American Virgins,
Joey and his friends openly discuss going into a local
convenience store to look at the ‘tug mags’ (pornographic magazines). As Jim reveals in The Basketball
Diaries, discarded tissues are the evidence of selflove. Typically, when a boy ‘does the deed’, it results
in some sort of embarrassing discovery. Later, Jim
scales a fire escape to the roof of his apartment
building to enjoy some alone time. He narrates:
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toy. Sneaking it beneath the blankets, Janey begins to
gyrate and moan with gratification.
Shortly after she begins pleasuring herself, her
father (played by Randy Quaid) bursts through her
bedroom door to wish her a happy birthday. Her
little brother, Mitch (Cody McMains), follows (adding further embarrassment). In an homage to the
1980s classic film Sixteen Candles (1984) (Chyler looks
very much like a younger Molly Ringwald), Janey’s
grandparents join the fray. The vibrating continues
underneath the blankets. Her dog jumps on the bed
and appears to be nosing around between Janey’s
legs which only increases Janey’s pleasure. A parish priest brings several young children to visit Janey
as the dog rips off her blanket as she nears climax.
The dildo is revealed and it flies into the sky landing atop the birthday cake her grandmother is holding. When the toy lands on the cake icing flies in
the faces of the onlookers (mimicking male ejaculation) as is common in films of this genre (Tuck 2003).
The scene ends as the vibrator dances and the title
screen appears.
Female self-pleasure in these films appears to be
simply for the pleasure of the heterosexual male
audience who consume these films (Jenkins 2005;
Clover 1987). Supporting hegemonic male dominance, female masturbation in teen film is more
about titillating men than it is about the sexual
gratification of women (despite what Brandy Clark
opines) (Riordan 2001; Pearce 2006). These images
mark a new pseudo-feminism, where young men
can voyeuristically assume continued power over
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JIM: I love it this way, my feet against the
tar which is soft from the spring heat, the
slight breeze that runs across your entire
body, especially your crotch. You feel an
incredible power being naked under a dome
of stars while a giant city is dressed, dodging cars all around you five flights down. I
don’t think of anything while I’m doing the
actual tugging, least of all the heavy sex
fantasies I have to resort to indoors. Just
my own naked self and the stars breathing down, and it’s beautiful. Time sure
flies when you’re young and jerking off.
Below Not Another Teen Movie (2001)
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Articles Fear and Self-Loving
Embarrassment for the masturbator is a standard
theme in teen film (Schneider 2005). Perhaps that
is in testament to the idea of masturbation as character flaw. The self-lover is punished for being personally intimate. Such is the case for Janey Briggs
(Chyler Leigh) in the opening sequence of the satirical spoof Not Another Teen Movie. The 2001 film opens
with young Janey propped up on pillows in her bed
as she strains to watch a movie on a scrambled
channel. She notes, ‘It’s Freddy. He’s wearing a tux.’
Just then, she reaches under her covers and pulls
out an object inside a long tube sock (reminding
the audience that males masturbate into socks as a
sort of makeshift vagina) (Maddison 2012). The sock
conjures definite phallic imagery. She unsheaths a
large pink dildo with ‘My Lil Vibrator’ painted onto
the shaft. Janey’s raised eyebrow gives the indication that she is planning something special with her
68 | film international issue 74
Articles Fear and Self-Loving
It appears that in the teen-film world there are no desperate black virgins
on the quest to be deflowered.
6
available for romantic relationships. They are not
likely either to experience self-love. This may be
connected to the perception that black teens are less
likely than whites to masturbate (Belcastro 1985)
because of the religious or social stigma. Or perhaps,
as Wilson postulates, ‘sexual behaviors other than
intercourse were largely disapproved of by blacks’
(1986: 34).
Still another reason for their absence may be
attributed to the belief in the socio-economic status and prowess of whites (Johnson 2015). Most of
these films are set in affluent suburban areas while
blacks in film are often relegated to impoverished,
inner-city ghettos. It is no surprise, then, that the
‘one black friend’ (like Malik) does not make much
of an appearance.
Given this invisibility, it is uncommon to see black
characters in a position for self-loving activities.
There is a brief scene in the Wayans brothers farce
Don’t Be a Menace to Society While Drinking Your Juice in
the Hood (1996) where young Ashtray (Shawn Wayans) is reading a bedtime story to his father. Ashtray
reads to him from a pornographic magazine. His dad
begins masturbating beneath the covers while Ashtray excitedly reads. Dad’s climax occurs at the same
time as the character in the story. Dad falls asleep at
the same time as Dick in the story.
Perhaps this habitual absence makes sense given
that black males, in particular, report higher levels
of sexual activity (Gilmore, Delamater and Wagstaff
1996) and are not as hard-up as white males. Maybe,
just maybe, the invisibility is meant as a compliment?
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female sexuality, undermining female sexual desire
(Jackson 2005). Burchard (2002: 41) makes the case
that ‘The voyeurism theme is a little more difficult,
the main question being, “for whose pleasure is the
masturbating being done?”’ Shulman and Horne
contend, ‘women have not traditionally had ownership over their own sexuality’ (2003: 262). They add,
‘Indeed, within the dominant discourse on women’s
sexuality, if women’s sexuality is purposeful only
insofar as it relates to men’s sexual pleasure or
reproduction, women’s deriving sexual pleasure via
masturbation is valueless’ (262).
Nowhere is this more true than in Nadia’s pivotal
scene in American Pie. In an act of pseudo-feminism,
Nadia is unembarrassed by being caught masturbating; she turns the tables on Jim and commands that
he strip for her. Jim acquiesces and begins a very
awkward striptease. A feminist reading of the film
draws particular attention to the idea that Nadia
masturbates in full view of the watching online public, but Jim momentarily covers the webcam to shield
any onlooker from seeing his goods (Schneider 2005).
However the case, conspicuously absent from the
teen comedy is the presence of young black characters. This is particularly true of the sex romp. It
appears that in the teen-film world there are no desperate black virgins on the quest to be deflowered.
The pattern of invisibility for blacks in this genre is
made glowingly apparent in 2001’s spoof Not Another
Teen Movie. In a scene early in the film, Malik (Dion
Richmond), the only black character with a speaking
role, explains his ‘place’ and purpose in the film.
The lead character Jake (Chris Evans), the star
athlete, is having a conversation with his football
teammate, Reggie Ray (Ron Lester; reprising his role
from Varsity Blues [1999]), about being cleared to play
football after a blood clot the size of a grapefruit
was found in Reggie Ray’s brain as a result of multiple concussions. Soon, Austin (Eric Christian Olsen)
interrupts by taunting Jake’s loss of first-string status. Austin opens his locker and hits Reggie Ray in
the face. Malik stands quietly in the background.
Reggie Ray, a bit wobbly and looking like he is going
to faint, asks Malik to hold his books for a moment.
Malik answers, ‘Sure, why not? I am the token black
guy. I’m just supposed to smile, stay out of the conversation, and say things like “Damn”, “Shit”, and
“That is whack!”’ The scene ends when Reggie Ray
falls to the floor.
In the suburban frontier that is white teen Hollywood, black teens are ubiquitously absent, let alone
Concluding thoughts
Perhaps the final message underlying the representation of self-sex is reflected in the hit 1980s song,
‘Relax’. If the perennial response to masturbation
activities results in self-harm rather than self-pleasure, then perhaps film as a source of sex education has done its job. The associated stigma towards
virginity that has left so many characters chasing
dreams and making sex pacts may be promoting an
attitude towards sexual liberality and independence,
at the same time as showing teens that sexual
behaviour is often bigger (more important) in virginal minds (Stern and Brown 2008) and masturbation as a practice can be a healthy outlet for sexual
development. The cultural shifts may bother parents
www.filmint.nu | 69
Articles Fear and Self-Loving
Hartley, R. E. (1959), ‘Sex-Role Pressures and the
Socialization of the Male Child’, Psychological Reports, 5:
h, 457–68.
Jackson, S. (2005). ‘“I’m 15 and Desperate for Sex”:
“Doing” and “Undoing” Desire in
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Contributor’s details
Gilmore, S., Delamater, J. and Wagstaff, D. (1996),
‘Sexual Decision Making by Inner City Black
Adolescent Males: A Focus Group Study’, Journal of Sex
Research, 33: 4, pp. 363–71.
6
and guardians, but may also have opened opportunities for dialogue between parents and their children à la the Mr Levenstein example. If parents and
caregivers lessen the weirdness of the conversation,
might the teen be more comfortable with open, honest conversation about sexual matters?
Brian C. Johnson is director of the Frederick Douglass
Institute for Academic Excellence at Bloomsbury
University. He holds a Bachelor’s degree and a Master’s
degree in English from California University of
Pennsylvania and is a doctoral candidate in
communications media and instructional technology
at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
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