The word “onanism” has its genesis in Genesis itself, from the story of Onan, a man killed by God for “spill[ing his seed] on the ground” rather than impregnating his widowed sister-in-law according to the laws of his tribe. Originally interpreted as a warning against the practice of coitus interruptus, the story’s cautions were repurposed in the early 1700s, when the publication of an anonymous text—Onania: or the Heinous Sin of Self Pollution, and all its Frightful Consequences, in Both Sexes Considered—forged Onan’s enduring lexical link with another precipitant of non-procreative seed-spilling. Onania elucidated, in painstakingly gratuitous detail, the moral turpitude and reputed physical decay engendered by masturbation; the tract’s wildfire-like spread from England to Europe and beyond through the emerging commercialways of print publishing indubitably owed as much to its titillating prose as to the popular appeal of its exhortations contra self-titillation.
Onania marks the beginning of the strenuously anti-mastubation sentiment that pervaded Enlightenment culture (vestiges of which still remain today) and led to the invention of chastity belts and other genital-constraining devices that to the modern eye appear far more depraved than the supposedly abominable act they were aiming to curtail. In Solitary Sex: A Cultural History of Masturbation, historian Thomas W. Laqueur elucidates the sudden inflammation of popular horror regarding onanistic engagement thusly:
“Beginning in the eighteenth century, solitary sex came to represent the relationship between the individual and the social world, a sort of crossroads where men and women, boys and girls could go terribly wrong, where they might, if not carefully watched and taught otherwise, choose the wrong kind of solitude, the wrong kind of pleasure, the wrong kind of imagination, the wrong kind of engagement with their inner selves.”
Yet despite the long and valiantly-waged campaign against self-stimulation, in the tug-o’-war between social order and autarkic gratification, it’s clear by now that the wankers have won. We live in a society more socially diffuse and civically disengaged than perhaps any other—just ask Robert Putnam—while vibrator manufacturers rake in billions of dollars every year and any schmo with $6500 can bring home a life-sized custom-designed silicone “love doll” with realistic features and anatomically-correct orifices. However, even those of us weaned on Internet porn and Sex for One could start to wonder whether the end is finally nigh after a glimpse of the soon-to-be-released RealTouch, a next-generation sexbot that resembles a giant polymer peanut.
From the outside, the RealTouch doesn’t look to be a mankind-killer. It’s a cumbersome-seeming gizmo, about two hands long and the same around, and its housing is velcro-sneaker sporty–white plastic with gray trim and a slightly contoured waist (presumably for easy gripping). The only entry point, a stern slit in a piece of too-pale, too-rubbery fake skin, isn’t particularly inviting. But as the old chestnut goes, it’s what’s inside that counts.
The device, purportedly designed and tested by a former NASA engineer, includes a slew of revolutionary features: a dynamic orifice that “tightens and squeezes”; dual belt drives covered in textured, flesh-esque silicone; a heating element that keeps the simulflesh warmed to 98.6°F; and an interior lube reservoir that “generates natural levels of wetness.” This volley of precision stimuli, all working in tandem to create a verisimilar sexual experience, is only backstory, though. The real hook is that the RealTouch links to a computer via USB cable and works its erotic magic in sync with specially-coded video content, such that whatever’s happening on screen is also happening in the user’s lap, perfectly matched in speed, intensity, and even “throbs” (and yes, the on-screen action is available in two flavors—gay and straight).
After a demo at the Adult Entertainment Expo in January, Gawker Media’s sci-fi arm, io9.com, heralded the RealTouch’s promise as “the most exciting sex toy ever invented for men.” The racier (and definitely NOT WORK SAFE) fleshbot.com summed up the sensation of its lifelike grip with the statement “[h]oly shit, they’ve finally made a robopussy,” while one Fleshbot commenter opined, “[i]f someone puts this inside a RealDoll, Nerds will be extinct in one generation.” Flippant or not, Fleshbot’s commentary inadvertently strikes at the secret heart of those Enlightenment-era fear-mongers’ consternation (although from a masturbatory frontier they could never have imagined), namely that social order would disintegrate if desire could be slaked without the saddle of conjugality, and moreover, that the unfettered thrills of fantasy sex could lead to a lack of interest in real, i.e. procreative, intercourse. What’s amazing (or frightening, depending upon your vantage point) about the RealTouch in this regard is that it bridges for the first time the gap between Onan’s original act and the act now synonymous with his name; that is, in addition to addressing the fantasy aspect of autoerotic desire—the video content promises to address all manner of inventive scenarios—it can also replicate the unexpected variations in speed and friction that have, until now, set the experience of partner sex apart from all other forms of self-satisfaction. According to RealTouch spokesman Jim McAnally, testers have indicated that the “experience is unquestionably ‘real’” and can even be “better than their experience with the real thing.”
The implications here are enormous with respect to men who, for whatever reason, would prefer not to engage in partner sex, but do so at least occasionally in the name of physical fulfillment. Even still, it seems absurd on its face to believe that unchecked masturbation has the power to blow out humanity’s brief candle once and for all. McAnally, for one, “[doesn't] believe that RealTouch will have any significant impact on the global population.” “Seeking sex partners and finding them is a time-honored pursuit,” he said. ”[W]e expect that most men will still want to augment RealTouch with real partners now and then.” But if conservative commentators like Stanley Kurtz are to be believed, the only-recently-trounced admonishments handed down from the Enlightenment were, in fact, enlightened. In his essay “Demographics and the Culture War,” echoes of Onania can be heard in Kurtz’s claim that current “cultural trends” of “secularism, individualism, and feminism” have put human population “on course to shrink ever more swiftly.” If he’s right, then maybe this is the way the world ends—not with a bang, but with a moist, heated, belt-driven answer to connubial bliss.
-Maria Robinson is a writer based in Northampton, MA.
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Joseph Hammond
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Emma Elliott Freire