Just starting off the new year with a little administrative notice...Rather than posting 2-3 times a week, I'm going to chill out a bit and start posting 1-2 times a week. I still have a lot to say, but I don't want to burn myself out! My "homies" list has been growing, and I don't think anyone is going to suffer from a lack of asexual reading material. Everyone is giving their opinions on the past decade (or remarking that it hasn't been a decade really), but since New Year's has always been my least favorite holiday, it seems appropriate to not go that route, but instead, to continue last year's train of thought, now delving into portrayals of masturbation in film. The following theories are all pretty casual, more of a "hey, does anyone else notice _____?" than something I've spent a ton of time examining. That said...
We all know that sex in movies used to be portrayed as dirty and illicit. In the past, censorship was a lot stronger, and it wasn't uncommon to see characters who'd had sex get "what they deserved" by being killed in the end (sometimes, this still happens). Today, masturbation is often censored out of films when explicit sex is allowed to stay. Contemporary sex educators (when they're allowed to) are forever telling us how good and healthy masturbation is. However, if you look at film portrayals of masturbation, it's seen as the dirty, illicit act sex used to be. In film, what generally seems to be the case is that well-adjusted characters have sex, and the more depraved characters masturbate. Masturbation is often used to illustrate that a person or situation is growing truly desperate. What effect these portrayals may or may not have on how everyday folks view masturbation, I really don't know.
I was expecting a trove of serious articles about these film portrayals, but a web seach turned up very little. The closest I got was this list from The Onion called "14 Tragic Movie Masturbation Scenes". Out of the films covered, I've only seen 3: American Beauty, The Squid and the Whale (a great film that more people should have seen), and Little Children. I could have sworn that I've also seen Mulholland Drive, but I can't remember anything about the plot. Kevin Spacey's now-iconic scene in American Beauty pretty much sums up the trope I'm talking about. The article says: "Masturbation sums up the death-like routine of his suburban life." A more current example is in the movie Precious. There, a character who is an abusive mother is shown masturbating, an activity we see her engaging in when she should be caring for her daughter. That we see this deranged character masturbating instead of, say, out cruising for sex, is supposed to show us how low she's fallen and how self-absorbed she is.
It seems as though in movies, sex is used to advance the plot (or to titillate viewers) and make some statement about the relationship between characters. However, masturbation is a solitary activity (unless you count the "Caught With Your Pants Down" trope). For that reason, it seems to only be used as a vehicle for a laugh or a means of showing what a loser a character is. I think that when you start to analyze movies in-depth, it really becomes apparent how dissimilar they are to real life situations. We all know movies are full of sex-- is this because everyone's really obsessed with sex, or because sex is a good shorthand for a filmmaker? And then, to what degree does life imitate art? All questions worth thinking about, perhaps, on your next movie night.