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Photograph by George Sakkestad

The Money Shot

Intrepid reporter devotes self to feel-good charity

By Will Harper

'AS SOME OF YOU MAY know," I began my earnest May 2 email to 20 male and female friends and acquaintances, "May is National Masturbation Month.

"As this is a subject with which I am intimately familiar," I continued, "I am taking the opportunity to use this knowledge for the betterment of humanity.

"All I ask is that you sponsor my important mission. All you have to do is pledge a penny, a nickel, a dime, a quarter or one dollar for each time I wax the dolphin, flog the bishop, shine the helmet, cuff the carrot, jerk the gherkin--whatever phrase you prefer.

"For those of you light on cash," I cautioned in my concluding sentence, "I suggest you pledge no more than a nickel-per because I plan to do a lot of 'volunteer work.'"

Believe it or not, I was not joking. May has been declared National Masturbation Month by the self-loving folks at Good Vibrations, the Bay Area sex store. The idea is to get people to talk more openly about masturbation and demystify what organizers describe as "the national pastime."

For the past three years Good Vibrations has sponsored something called the Masturbate-A-Thon, where people literally double-click the mouse or choke the chicken to raise money for charities like the Larkin Street Youth HIV Program, SMAAC Youth Services, Asian and Pacific Islander Wellness Center and the Intersex Society of North America.

The Masturbate-A-Thon raised $8,500 in its first year, according to Good Vibes' website. One woman alone raised $2,000 one year, says Carol Queen, a sexologist affiliated with Good Vibrations--an impressive figure even for someone with rich friends.

Obviously all fundraising is conducted on the honor system.

I actually customized the pledge drive to only charge per wack instead of per minute, as the organizers suggest. I figured that since this funding-drive would last a couple of weeks, some of my friends wouldn't be able to make their rent if I charged by the minute, though I'd certainly break the $2,000 fundraising record. I later discovered that the Masturbate-A-Thon traditionally only takes place for one day--this year it was on May 6.

Fortunately, Good Vibes' spokesperson, Andrea Burnett, assured me it was perfectly OK to do it my way. At least, so long as I sent in a check by the May 25 deadline.

That was quite a relief because I'd already managed a couple of private money shots and didn't use a stopwatch.

Queen credited me for being nervy enough to send out a mass email. Perhaps she really meant "dumb enough." Most people, she says, approach friends somewhat discreetly, on a one-to-one basis, to sponsor them.

I figured my friends could see the humor in my request and not get too grossed out.

But I miscalculated with some of them.

One political pal wrote back, "How about I send you 10 bucks to never raise the topic of your masturbation habits to me again?"

Anything for charity, I replied.

Another queasy soul with an eye for the ladies winced, "Thanks, Harper. My day is ruined. So much for lunch."

A delicate female pal only exclaimed, "Will!"

Others were more willing to play along.

"What a stroke of genius," a clever solicitee punned. "I have scheduled the event in my Palm, but I'm not sure I'll be able to come."

A skirt-wearing co-worker even challenged me to a contest (the opposite of the classic Seinfeld contest, where the members of the cast tried to outlast each other in abstaining from masturbation).

So far, I have enlisted 10 sponsors who have agreed to back my cause as long as they don't have to shake my hand afterward.

Or ever again, in some cases.

My buddy Peter, who pledged to give me a dime for each session, asked me how I plan to prove the number of wanks I perform during the fundraiser. This, I admit, is a sticky problem. Since I do at least have enough shame not to videotape these private moments, my sponsors will simply have to take my word that I have kept an accurate log.

If you think about it, there's not a lot in it for me to inflate the numbers. Would anyone ever want to admit to 100 or so dishonorable discharges in a three-week period unless they were doing it for charity?

I probably won't break the $2,000 fundraising record. But maybe, with a little help from this self-serving article, I can join Howard Stern, Jamie Lee Curtis, Madonna, Dennis Rodman and former Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders in putting aside petty modesty and bringing this perfectly healthy subject to light. Not to mention giving my all for a good cause.

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From the May 10-16, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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