China Boat

Chapter 8

" … Remy de Gourmant, for instance, considers that masturbation is natural because it is the method by which fish procreate: 'All things considered, it must be accepted that masturbation is part of the doings of Nature. A different conclusion might be agreeable, but in every ocean, and under the reeds of every river, myriads of beings would protest.' Tillier remarks that since masturbation appears to be universal among the higher animals we are not entitled to regard it as a vice; it has only been so considered because studied exclusively by physicians under abnormal conditions … "


" … In this masturbation of early adolescence lies, according to Venturi, the germ of what will later be love: a pleasure of the body and of the spirit, following the relief of a satisfied need. 'As the youth develops, onanism becomes a sexual act comparable to coitus as a dream is comparable to reality, imagery forming in correspondence with desires. In its fully developed form in adolescence,' Venturi continues, 'masturbation has an almost hallucinatory character; onanism at the period psychically approximates to the true sexual act, and passes insensibly into it … '"

-Havelock Ellis, 'Studies in the Psychology of Sex', Volume 1
(Third Edition, Revised and Enlarged)

F. A. Davis Company, Publishers

* * *

Monday, April 12th, 1937
3:09 p.m.
S.S. President Hoover
at sea

" … ahhh, that feels good," I sighed, as I slipped off my right sock. I rubbed my foot for a moment; then I untied my left shoe.

Actually, I felt good all over; warm, sweaty — in spite of the breeze, on the deck — and, just, satisfied, in the way one feels, after a good run; glowing, tired, and happy.

"Yeah," from Tom, at my side; his shoe, as he took it off, hit the floor with a heavier 'thunk', than mine had.

We were in the Hoover's tiny little shower-room, that adjoined the gym; a bench, five lockers, and three shower-heads jutting out from the green-tiled wall, opposite. As in so many other places on board ship, a raised coaming — this one, of tile — separated the shower decking from the dressing-area, to keep the ship's movements from sloshing water across the floor. A stack of large, and fluffy-looking white towels, stood invitingly on a small stand, to one side.

I slipped off my left sock, and massaged my foot, for a delicious moment; then I stretched my arms up above my head, leaning back; then I peeled off my wet running jersey.

"I've arranged with my cabin steward, to have my running-clothes cleaned, each time I use them," I said, glancing sideways at Tom. "If you want, you can just leave your gear with me; I'll see it's all washed, at the same time — ?"

"That would be great," he said; he was looking down, and his voice sounded a little muffled.


I should have known, then; but I was completely without a clue.


I stood up, and slid off my shorts and athletic supporter in one motion, leaving them on the bench, on top of my shirt; and I stepped over the coaming, and reached for the water knobs.

It was a fresh-water shower, thank goodness; all our cabins had bathtub-faucets which gave off heated, filtered sea-water, as a luxury; and shower faucets, which ran fresh water. Personally, I strongly preferred washing in fresh water … 

"Aaaahh … " I sighed, again, as the warm water hit my skin; then, "Oops; I forgot the soap." I stepped outside the shower-decking for a moment, with one foot, picking up a bar from a bowl beside the towels; then I had to peel the paper wrapping from it, with wet fingers. Finally, I was back under the spray, rubbing my face with soapy hands.

"That was a fun run," I called out, after my face emerged from the spray. I began washing my arms. "But, between the deck moving, and all those turns — I was getting just a little dizzy, towards the end … Maybe next time, we can run clockwise, instead of counter-clockwise — ?"

"That's a good idea," from Tom; beside me. I heard and felt the spray of his shower, starting up.

"It wasn't an easy run," I went on, starting in on my chest. "With all those corners — I felt it, in my ankles … Oh! That reminds me; how are your feet — ?" I peered down, closely, at his feet, pale and smaller, in the shower-spray, next to mine — 

"They're okay," he said, a little shortly; and as I watched, the feet maneuvered, to face a little away from me.

"Are you sure — ? Well; you should probably let me look at them, after we get out; it's important to find hot spots, before they turn into blisters." Running cross-country had taught me more about blisters, than I ever necessarily wanted to know.

A pause, for a second; then, "Okay … " Then; "Thanks."


As I said — I really should have guessed, by then; but really, how could I — ? I'd been living with, and showering and bathing with, other boys for more than half of my life; since I was seven, far too young to feel shy about such things … 


I scrubbed down my legs, paying special attention to my own feet — it had been a challenging run, with all those tight turns — and, I'd gone on, chattering. Jack says I always talk more, after running, or rowing — 

"On the way out, we should test the pool! They have the nets down; if they've been heating it since yesterday, it should be getting warm enough to swim in, soon. After all, we're getting closer to Hawaii."

A noise from Tom, that might have been agreement.

"Of course," I went on, thinking out loud; "I'll have to buy a bathing suit from the ship's store; my own is packed away with the rest of my luggage, down in the hold. I wonder if they'll have one to fit me?" I turned around, to rinse off my back; and I made a face. "It will probably be some horrible, heavy wool thing; I just know it." I sighed. "Swimming at school is so much better … "

"What do you wear at school?"

His voice sounded — odd.

"Why, nothing at all, of course; it's an all-boys school. It's very comfortable … " I sighed, again. "But, the best times of all, are when we go swimming in the lake, on free afternoons; swimming, and letting the sun dry you off, on the shore, with no wet swimsuit; feeling the breeze, all over your body — " I felt a little twinge of — well, dreamy homesickness, actually; although I knew it was foolish, April is cold, at our school, there'd be no outdoor swimming for a month, at least — 

A noise, from Tom; and then, all of a sudden, his shower was turned off, even though he was still soapy; and then, he was making for the towel-stand, in a rush — 

And then he tripped on the raised coaming; and, fighting to recover, he spilled the stacked-up towels and the bars of soap all over the floor, with a huge racket from the metal bowl, and wound up sprawled-out on his side, facing me — 

"Ow!" he cried; then, "Ow! I'm sorry, I'm sorry — !" His face was scrunched up; he seemed close to tears.

"Are you all right — ?!" I started towards him, horrified — 

"I'm sorry — !" he went, again, pathetically — 

And I saw, as he lay there, that he was trying to get up with one hand … while holding his other hand over his groin. Trying, unsuccessfully, to conceal an erection.

"You're not hurt — ?" I asked, sharply; still frightened.

"No … " He started to scramble to his feet; I helped, by hauling up on his free arm, and he gasped. "I'm sorry!" He was brick-red with embarrassment, and now he really was just beginning to cry; although his erection showed no sign of diminishing, I noticed.

"There's nothing to be sorry about. It's a perfectly natural thing, it happens to all of us." I gave his arm a little squeeze, of reassurance, before releasing him — 

It was as though he hadn't heard me.

"I try so hard, I really do, but it keeps happening, all the time — ! I try thinking good thoughts, I try to think about how wicked it is, but it keeps happening, more and more — !" There was honest anguish, in his face.


Oh, no.


"Tom … it's all right; I promise." I said it, as one would say to a person who didn't speak one's language; for the sake of the soothing tone. I took him by the shoulder. "Come here; sit down for a minute, with me. Please — ?" I steered him to the bench and sat him down, soap-suds and all; then, I scooped up a towel from the floor and handed it to him. It went over his crotch, immediately. "Are you sure you're not hurt — ?"

Nothing from him, for a second; then — "I'm all right," followed by a sniffle.

His eyes stayed down.

I paused, for a stretch of seconds; then I sighed, to myself. I couldn't just let it go … I went to turn off the water, and then I sat down, beside him.

"Tom," I began. Another pause, as he half-looked my way, not meeting my eyes. "Do you ever … ?", and I made the universal hand-gesture; closed fist, going up and down, over my lap.

His eyes snapped up to meet mine; his expression was a portrait of guilt, and misery.

"I try not to! I really do! But sometimes … "

"It's all right," I said again; soothingly. "It's all right … " I took a breath. "It's perfectly normal, and healthy; it's called masturbation, or jacking off, or a few dozen other things … and it's perfectly normal. I do it, myself, all the time; and so do all of my friends. So do all of the boys I know, at school. Every single one of them." I said it, firmly.

No words, from him; just a look of wonder, that bloomed all over his face.

"It's actually impossible not to do it; if you don't satisfy yourself while you're awake, you'll do it in your sleep, and you'll wake up with a mess in your sheets … "

His eyes went big; the acknowledgement was painted all over his face. It would have been laughable, if it weren't so very painful to see.

"So," I went on, after a few seconds; continuing to probe into the wound. "Why, exactly, do you try so hard … not to … ?" And I made the hand-motion, again.

"Our pastor, at home," he started; and his head went back down. "He gave us these little books … " His voice trailed off.

I suppressed another sigh.

I'd seen similar things, before; pamphlets, cheaply-bound on cheap paper, which had circulated in my boarding-school in Switzerland. Repeating old lies; how onanism, 'self-abuse', led to nearsightedness, physical deformities, and — in at least one pamphlet I'd seen — syphilis. Syphilis — ! The irony of the charge, had apparently escaped the author.

"And then," he went on, "our pastor gave a talk, to the boys in our Catechism class … About, about, thoughts, and sin … " His voice grew muffled, and died out.

Damn his pastor.

No, no, I thought, quickly; that wasn't right either, and it solved nothing … instead, I took a breath.

"Tom … look at me, for a moment — ?"

He looked up; and I smiled at him, a little crookedly.

"I've seen pamphlets, like the book your pastor gave you … and if your book was anything like I think, it's full of old Victorian myths; bunk, really. Lies."

I paused, for a second, to let that sink in; then I went on.

"In my own case — I do not have hair growing on my palms; I'm told I have very good posture, and my eyesight is perfect, twenty-twenty. I can run a mile in close to five minutes, though in cross-country we usually run far more than a mile at a time. And," I went on, a little wryly — "I may not be very big … but I'm told I take after my mother, that way. But I've jacked off with the best athletes in our school; boys who are far larger and stronger than I am. Doing it — masturbation — hasn't affected their growth, I guarantee it." Another pause. "Does that cover most of the book — ?"

I'd meant the harangue to be at least partially light-hearted; but his eyes were wide, and serious.

"Yeah … yeah," he breathed. Then he blushed, deeply; and he looked down, at the towel covering his crotch. "But … isn't it … unnatural?" A longer pause, as he swallowed. "Isn't it — wrong?"

Another stifled sigh, from me. It is impossible to really win a theological argument; but I could at least provide encouragement, and perhaps some comfort.

"As far as being unnatural … how can it be, if almost all boys do it — ? And not just in my own school, or in our own country — modern researchers have found it to be very common, in cultures and peoples around the world. In some indigenous peoples, masturbation for boys, between boys, can be part of a formal ceremony."

Wide eyes at that, again.

I had to be a little careful, here. I had spent time in libraries, reading what books I could get access to, on alternate sexualities — specifically, homosexuality — for my own very good reasons. But Tom didn't need to know that.

"And as for being wrong … well." I hesitated. It was an intimate question. "I don't know what church you belong to — ?"

"We're Presbyterians," from Tom; in a whisper.

I shrugged. "Then it might not matter to you … but my school is Episcopalian; and we have a Chaplain, who is an ordained minister, and we have morning Chapel, and full services on Sunday."

I paused, for just a moment.

"Our Chaplain is also our head coach; his first name is Thomas, coincidentally enough; we call him Father Tom. And in addition to sports, he is responsible for teaching us Health, and Hygiene."

I glanced sideways at him; I had his attention.

"In Health and Hygiene classes … we are taught about our own bodies. Things that we should know, as boys, as young men … " A longer pause. "About erections, among many other topics. How erections are normal, they are part of growing up, they are involuntary, and nothing to be ashamed of."

"Really — ?!" from Tom, in another whisper.

"Really," I affirmed.

Father Tom's quiet, and rather sub-rosa talks on — intimate subjects — are always somewhat embarrassing, for all parties concerned; and sometimes rather unintentionally hilarious. But they are very valuable, to very many boys, particularly the younger ones; and I've always thought him a true Christian, in the best sense of the word, for taking on the thankless task … 

"And," I began; and I paused, to glance at him, again. "He gives us good advice — about masturbation — too."

Something like a gasp, from Tom; and a face kept still, with an effort, on my part. It was extremely awkward to be talking about such things, so openly; it made me appreciate Father Tom, all the more.

"When it comes to pleasuring ourselves … he neither praises it, not condemns it. All he says is, that it happens … and, that he recommends moderation. The Greek ideal, of 'Nothing Too Much'. And, I think he's right … most of us think, he's right."

"Yeah — ?" from Tom; wonderingly.

"Um-hmm," I nodded.

And, I held my breath. I'd left out so much, about our lives at school; bed-visiting, for one. Boys pleasuring one another, in the showers, rather than just themselves … These were also things he didn't necessarily need to know.

A long pause; the ship moving a little, beneath us.

"How often do you … do it — ?" he whispered; his face blushing, bright red.

I smiled at him, sideways.

"Once a day, at a minimum. Twice a day, when we — I — can get the opportunity. But, each boy has to find what's best for him; not so little, that you can think of nothing else, and are always needy; not so often, that it becomes obsessive, routine, or unexciting." I paused, again. "Nothing too much. In either direction."

Another silence; the longest one, yet.

"He's really a priest — ? And he says that — ?" So softly, I could barely hear.


I'd known, the reference to Father Tom, to adult authority, would carry the issue; bless Father Tom.

"And he doesn't say … it's sinful — ?"

"No. He doesn't."

I thought, that like me, Father Tom would think it far more sinful and wicked to teach a group of young boys to be ashamed of their bodies, ashamed of their very natural urges. To even be ashamed of having an erection — !

Another long pause … and all at once, I missed Jack, acutely; painfully. Jack is a natural leader; he would know exactly what to do next to put Tom at his ease, to do what was right, by him … I could only try, what I thought best.

I took a breath.

"At my school, " I started, a little hesitantly, "we … tend to jack-off, together … usually in the showers, in the mornings."

I let the words hang, for a moment; our surroundings speaking for me.

"Would you like to keep me company, now — ?" I asked it, very gently.

His brown eyes were huge. "Can we — ?" he whispered.

I got up from my place on the bench, and went to the door, and listened for a moment; there were no sounds from the gym, as I'd expected.

The door had an inside-bolt, a steel rod meeting steel receiving bands on the door-jamb; presumably for excessively shy bathers … I engaged it; then I came back to sit next to Tom.

I'd seldom felt less like Doing It; Tom's distress was real, and disturbing … But. It was the right thing to do, just now.

But, a moment later, I had to admit — the sight of Tom's bare midsection, his full erection, with the discarded towel by his side … helped put me back into the proper mood … 


In the end, I surprised myself.

Well, I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised. The surroundings were familiar; a shower-room, with wet tile, and wet skin … with another boy's bare body beside me, for company. My self-explorations of the past few days had been solitary, and forlorn, and actually somewhat miserable in mood, truth to tell.

The experience now was actually rather intense.

Much of the intensity was due to Tom; of course.

For me, masturbating with a friend was an everyday occurrence; for Tom, it was unexplored territory, enormously exciting — and probably more than a little scary.

In the beginning, sitting next to me, he went at it, at a furious rate; I had to restrain him.

"Tom," I managed to say, without gasping — and I reached over with my free hand, across my body, and touched his wrist; which made him gasp — and he stopped, for a moment.

"Slow down," I went on, softly; looking over at him. "Slow down; it's not a race … it's all about exploring your feelings, your emotions, and satisfying yourself that way, too … Dream about what appeals to you — ? Take the time to enjoy yourself … ?"


From that point on, I was acutely aware of his eyes on me, as we stroked ourselves, together.

He was, I could tell, timing his stroking, to my own … But at the same time, I could feel his intent gaze, traveling up and down my bare body, as we pleasured ourselves. As was only natural, of course; it was an entirely new experience, for him. I wasn't even sure, that this wasn't his first experience, seeing another person, unclothed — 

I appreciated his body, in glimpses, in return. He was well-formed, in a slender boy's way; long legs that he had yet to quite grow into; a flat, taut belly, and skin just a little more darkly-complected that mine … His hair was straight, and soft-looking; his features were fine. He was very attractive, for his young age.

Of course, under his gaze, I was self-conscious.

I tried to set a good example.

I took it slowly; stroking myself evenly, rhythmically, luxuriously … taking care to stretch my legs out in front of me, as I leaned back against the steel locker-front … I made real sighs of appreciation, as I rubbed my free hand over my chest, down my front, inside my thighs, my fingertips finally finding my scrotum … 

Tom made a noise, then. I glanced over at him, and smiled, warmly; then I settled my head back against the cool metal, and I closed my eyes — 

And I summoned up Jack; up from my memory, up from my soul.

Jack is, of course, the central figure in my own erotic life, my own erotic day-dreams; and what I recalled now was less a specific time-and-place experience, than a sense-memory; I recalled the feeling of his bare skin against mine, the feeling of his bare body on mine, lying, pleasingly-heavy, on top of me … 

More than anything else, I called up the feeling of his presence; the awareness of him, as a living, breathing person, of his consciousness, as if he were next to me, touching me, on the other side of me from Tom … We are so close, that I can do so; I don't know how else to express it, or explain it — 

Heavier breathing, from Tom; and then, the barest hint of a kind of shuddering moan, more an exhalation, and the metal locker-doors behind me, shook a little, and I smiled to myself … 

And my own erotic day-dream took a clearer form, and substance; I was in bed with Jack, both of us nude … but, not bed-visiting, at school; rather, we were at my grandparents' place in Newport, last summer, of a morning. The window was open, the morning breeze was cool; the sheets and pillows and coverlets were ridiculously soft, his body was warm and real against mine, and the door was locked — 

It had really happened. It was one of my favorite memories.

We'd both been in a mood, which is easy enough when you're both fifteen … I remember, my skin had felt so sensitive, and when Jack had stroked my chest with his fingertips, I'd shivered, and he'd laughed, under his breath, and I'd felt the slight puff of it against my cheek, and then he'd stroked my chest again … 

And then, miraculously, sometime later; we'd twisted and turned around in bed, and his head was pillowed on my inner thigh, and I was so close, and his head went down, his beautiful, blond head, and the breeze played on our skin, and I felt his tongue, lapping on my scrotum, my testicles, slowly, deliciously, relentlessly — 


It was a powerful one.


I believe I made some noise; I was dimly aware of the echo of it, from the tiled, shower-room walls.

After I'd recovered for a moment, panting, I looked down; I'd produced quite a volume of fluid, too, in spite of having already gone off, that morning. I was spattered, all the way up to my neck.

"Gosh," from Tom, after a long moment; very softly.

This roused me.

The moments after climaxing are — delicate — for some boys; for the boys who are inclined towards guilt, for the younger, new boys at school … It was important to be reassuring, and supporting. The prefects do not tolerate teasing, at such times, and rightly so.

I looked over at him; and saw that I was not the only one, who was spattered.

I smiled at him, still catching my breath, feeling my heart rate gradually coming down; and I held out my hand.

"That was great," I said, simply. Then; "Thank you."

His eyes were still big, and still fixed on me, as he took my hand, and squeezed, and I squeezed his back — neither of us had bothered wiping our hands, first — 

"Thanks," he said, in a near-whisper.

I closed my eyes again, and leaned back for just a few seconds; then, I sighed.

"I suppose we should get cleaned up; we're both a little messy … " Keeping my voice light. I was aware of the bolted door, and the possible repercussions, if someone tried to enter, just now — 

Nothing from Tom, for a moment; then — 

"Can we do it again — ?" he asked, in a small, and hesitant voice … "Sometime — ?"

I looked over at him, quickly; his face was a mask of hope.

So much for worrying about his feeling some punishing guilt, I thought; and I had to turn my incipient laugh into a warm smile, a smile that I felt in my heart.

"Of course!" I said, encouragingly. "Maybe after tomorrow's run — ?" I heaved myself upright, slowly, carefully, trying not to drip on the floor. Then, as the thought occurred to me — "Oh. And you should still let me have a look at your feet … "

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