Groups representing closet masturbators have welcomed Britney Spears’ inclusion of an ode to masturbation – ‘Touch of My Hand’ – on her latest album, and are calling for other celebrities to go public with their private solitary vices. “I’m so glad that she has finally come out of the closet – we need more celebrities of Britney’s calibre endorsing this type of sexual activity in order to foster positive attitudes toward it,” says Pete Popper, author of the bestselling history of onanism, The Loneliest Art, and President of the Solo Artists’ Alliance, a group dedicated to popularising self-manipulation as a legitimate sexual pastime. “I think her description of masturbation as being both ‘a healthy thing’ and ‘a positive thing’ will go a long way to removing the stigma attached to masturbation. Hopefully young people will start to realise that it is nothing to be ashamed of – masturbation is perfectly natural and everyone, even superstar celebrities, do it!”

Nevertheless, despite Britney’s endorsement of the two-fingered shuffle, the do-it-yourself lobby’s attempts to bring their solitary past-time out into the open suffered a major setback when the BBC’s annual Children in Need telethon refused to endorse a fund-raising event organised by the Solo Artist’s Alliance – Mass-Turbation 2003 – on grounds of taste and decency. “We’re devastated, the centrepiece of the event was the largest-ever simultaneous masturbation session ever recorded. Over ten thousand participants in the UK alone were going to relay live footage of themselves in action to our website via their webcams. The money raised from their sponsors would have run into thousands of pounds,” laments a crestfallen Popper. “There were also going to be various side events, including participants being sponsored to see how long they could masturbate for and how far they could ejaculate! We were even hoping to organise a celebrity ‘Wankathon’ where the likes of Jonathon Ross, Jamie Oliver and Darren Day would vie for the title of ‘Britain’s Top Tosser’ live on TV! This is outrageous discrimination – the BBC would never have dared do this if we were a group representing homosexuals!”

Indeed, aficionados of the ‘old one-two’ have long complained that they are discriminated against, with their favoured form of sexual activity being characterised as unwholesome, perverted and even evil, and argue that they are entitled to the same recognition as other sexual groups. “In recent years we’ve seen the gradual acceptance by society, and recognition by the law, of homosexuals, bisexuals and transsexuals, yet we masturbators are still discriminated against,” declares Popper, who finds the popular treatment of masturbation particularly ironic in view of the fact that those practising it undoubtedly far outnumber other sexual minorities. “Trust me, there are far more wankers than gays out there! I think that part of the problem is image – masturbation is still seen as a furtive and dirty activity whereas homosexuality is now see as glamourous and fashionable. I mean, just look at all the celebrity gay designers and actors – Jean Paul Gautier, Rupert Everett and the like. The best we can muster is Pee Wee Herman spanking his donkey in the privacy of a porno cinema! That is why it is vital for more stars to come out and admit that they are tossers!”

According to Popper, centuries of misinformation, perpetrated by authority figures such as teachers, doctors and the clergy, have contributed significantly to masturbation’s poor public image. “Our practice is still referred to as ‘self abuse’, and is blamed for everything from blindness to curvature of the spine, despite the complete lack of medical evidence that it causes any harm at all,” he complains. “Even worse, many of the popular terms used to describe us are also used as perjoratives – ‘wanker’ and ‘tosser’, for instance. If you were to use ‘gay’, ‘homo’ or ‘queer’, as a term of abuse nowadays you could, quite rightly, find yourself labelled homophobic and possibly even charged with sex discrimination!”

The Solo Artist’s Alliance has found support in the medical profession, with controversial sex therapist Dr Tom Reltney endorsing their view that masturbation is a perfectly natural process. “It is as natural as, say, breast-feeding,” he recently wrote in The Lancet. “Just as we are no longer perturbed by the sight of a woman exposing her breast in a public place to feed her child, so we shouldn’t be offended by a man getting his penis out and giving it some hard labour on the top deck of a bus, for instance. Or even a woman indulging in a kit kat shuffle whilst queuing for a taxi.” Reltney also advocates turning masturbation from a solitary to a communal activity in order to help remove its social stigma, with men and women gathering together in specially designated areas to indulge in number three in unison. Moreover, he believes that masturbation provides a vital release of sexual energies and argues that its wider social acceptance could lead to a dramatic reduction in sex-related crimes: “In my experience, those sad men who expose themselves to women or spy on them as they undress, have usually had their natural masturbation activity suppressed in childhood by an authority figure who characterises it as dirty and evil. They therefore indulge in this deviancy as a masturbation substitute when confronted with unfulfillable laviscious thoughts! Jerking off without shame would, in fact, be a solution far less harmful either to the individual or society.”

Perhaps surprisingly, the Alliance’s campaign has also secured some clerical endorsement, with Brendan O’ Fugh, Catholic Bishop of Skibbereen writing in the Catholic Herald: “I know all the arguments that masturbation is a terrible sin, killing all those potential babies in the name of thirty seconds of furtive pleasure. But I can’t help but feel that if we encouraged more priests to whack off in the vestry over a jazz mag, then there’d be less buggering of choirboys going on.” However, despite this apparent progress, the Alliance could be facing a schism, with claims from within its own ranks that it is blatantly sexist. “The whole organisation is male dominated and clearly biased toward blokes whipping out their plonkers and buggering their own hands,” complains long-term member Kitty Beaver, who is threatening to set up a breakaway group to cater specifically for women’s masturbatory concerns. “As usual, the woman’s needs are being completely ignored!”