“I don’t understand the concept of bad masturbation,” is how Rob Hunter responded to me pitching this list, and he’s right. No one should understand that concept unless they have the tragic disease known as Sandpaper Hands.

However, there is a certain challenge in filming someone masturbating that separates the men from the boys, and the women from the girls. Thus, while bad masturbation may be unfathomable, a bad masturbation scene is easy to imagine.

“It is not enough to be abstinent with other people, you also have to be be abstinent alone. The Bible says that lust in your heart is committing adultery, so you can’t masturbate without lust,” is how Senate-seat-seeker Christine O’Donnell responded to an interviewer discussing pro-abstinence groups and their mission not going far enough.

These cultural phenomena are colliding in an explosive way. So, in honor of Ms. O’Donnell, we’d like to share the lust in our hearts and a few great masturbation scenes on film.

10. High Tension

Even though it’s the severed-head fellatio scene that really gets the horror part of the film going, the disgusting nature of that moment parallels another crucial moment in the character development. Marie (Cecile de France) watches her friend Alexia (MaiwennLe Besco) shower in the remote country home where they’ve come to spend the holidays. She promptly finishes up her voyeurism by heading to her bed, turning on some music, and sliding her hand down south of her stomach. It’s a crucial moment that describes both the relationship the friends have, and the relationship Marie wishes they had. Then, as with most real masturbation sessions, a serial killer bursts into the house and begins attacking the family.

9. Being There

Showing the lighter, comical side of the act, the absolutely-brilliant Hal Ashby film features Peter Sellers as the simple-minded Chance the Gardner. In one of the best scenes of the movie, Eve (Shirley MacLaine) is throwing herself at an oblivious Chance who exclaims “I like to watch.” While he means television, Eve takes it to mean that he wants to see her pleasure herself. She does so, and he gets to enjoy what seems like an incredibly helpful program about fitness on TV.

8. But I’m a Cheerleader

This movie is harrowing enough – outlining the struggles of gay young men and women in front of a technicolor backdrop of 50s morality made real by set dressing. Megan (Natasha Lyonne) has been sent to a camp that will fix her homosexuality, but it causes her to embrace it fully. She also embraces herself fully up against a wall in her bedroom in a scene that originally earned the film an NC-17 rating despite being not nearly as graphic as other R-rated films.

7. Mulholland Drive

It’s a brief moment, but in that brief moment, David Lynch sums up the entirety of Betty Elms’s (Naomi Watts) existence in Hollywood by showing her crying on the couch, mascara clinging to her cheeks. She is shaking, sobbing, and as the camera slowly pans down, we see that she’s also furiously rubbing herself. The depression, loneliness and sexual frustration are the most telling moment the character has in a movie packed with meaning.

6. Ginger Snaps 2

If there ever was a better metaphor for puberty than a young girl’s powerlessness to avoid changing into a werewolf, it’s never been put on film. Brigitte (Emily Perkins) finds herself in a detention center without the wolfsbane that’s keeping her change at bay. During a group relaxation session, she hallucinates the instructor guiding the girls in the room through a round of self-gratification, watches the other girls masturbating, and finds herself doing it as well. At the climax, she rips her hand from her pants to find it’s been transformed into the hairy palms of a werewolf. Symbolism achieved.

5. The Exorcist

The movie that might prove O’Donnell right about the evils of solo sex, The Exorcist boasts a scene where Reagan (Linda Blair) is compelled by Satan to violently masturbate with a crucifix while shouting all sorts of things that will send you to the confessional booth. The film is an outright masterpiece, and this scene is just one of many that challenge the viewer and the faith necessary to take on great evil.

4. American Beauty

It might be the shortest scene on the list, but nothing sums up how miserable and pathetic a middle aged man is quite like claiming that the high point of his day is masturbating in the shower. Lester (Kevin Spacey) gives us a quick peek at his high point, but his loser status is instantly cemented.

3. American Pie

With another all-American movie (it’s right there in the title), the celebration of teenage sexuality and baked goods finally meet in the strangest venn diagram possible. Jim (Jason Biggs) is a virgin who’s told that manually stimulating a girl is a lot like warm apple pie. Thus, he logically concludes that sticking his member inside of whatever is cooling on the windowsill should get him to where he needs to go. Somehow, Biggs plays the scene as if it’s 9 1/2 Weeks without Kim Basinger in the room. It’s followed up by another scene fans might remember featuring Shannon Elizabeth.

2. Pleasantville

After two teens gets sucked into the 1950s-style television show world of black and white, the rebellious Jennifer (Reese Witherspoon) informs her pure, naive new mother (Joan Allen) about the pleasures of sex. The irony of a teenager having The Talk with the parental unit gives way to the fact that, since her husband would never do anything like that (since TV kids are delivered by the stork), mom can do it all by herself. As dad (William H. Macy) gets clinically into bed, mom draws a bath, slips in, and feels something she’s never felt before. In a slow build, she begins to see color (as does the audience), and the climax comes as a tree in the front yard bursts into flames. An engrossingly beautiful sequence that’s satisfying on every level.

1. Fast Times at Ridgemont High

This earns the top spot because it’s the scene people think of instantly whenever masturbation and movies are mentioned. It’s iconic beyond the rest – maybe because of a red bikini, a pirate hat, or because it ends exactly how it has to. Brad (Judge Reinhold) is watching his sister’s friend Linda (Phoebe Cates) swim in the pool and begins fantasizing about her emerging from the water, taking off her bikini top and confessing her desire to him. Sadly, Brad and the audience experience Sequence Interruptus when he gets caught, and the delightful, life-scarring embarrassment ensues.

What scenes would you add to the list?


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