The book offers an intimate look at people getting themselves off, and asks why, in a society so seemingly overly sexualised, do we still shy away from conversations about self-pleasure?
Wanking, flicking the bean, bashing the bishop, tossing yourself off, beating the meat, digging for clams, creaming an oyster, charming a snake – those are only a few colourful ephemisms at the opening of The London Vagabond‘s latest book exploring masturbation within today’s sexual culture. The poetic-sounding Cream an Oyster, Charm a Snake has become the book’s title – exposing the many taboos and code words surrounding our acts of self-pleasure. It asks the question: why, in our seemingly overly-sexualised society, do we still shy away from being open and honest about masturbation?
The London Vagabond are two London-based artists and romantic partners by the name of Gold and Cummings. With individual backgrounds in art, together they’re notorious for their documentation of kink, BDSM, and fetish communities, and their endearing quest to capture the most earnest, authentic and raw expressions of desire, power exchange, and riotous pleasure. Working with Polaroids, film photography, and video, they put out their work mostly in the book format – the best way to avoid online censorship and celebrate their devolution to analogue media. Cream an Oyster, Charm a Snake is their first book which explores a particular theme rather than one that stems from their own artistic practice and sexualities. The reason being: the past few years have been a pretty special time for wanking.
The idea of the book emerged in 2021, when Gold had a conversation with an old friend Poppy Scarletta pleasure educator who runs sex toy boutique Self & More. The conversation quickly turned to the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact numerous lockdowns had on our sexuality: deprived of human contact, many of us found a new solace, self-discovery, and a cure for boredom in masturbation. Together, Gold and Scarlett put out a call for people who would like to be photographed while they were at it.
“Our mission was to explore masturbation in as much depth as our contributors were comfortable with. We wanted to understand what was on people’s mind when they touched themselves, we were interested in their relationship with self-pleasure and how that had evolved over years or during the pandemic,” Gold explains. “There are so many different ways one pleases themself and so many places to stage a solo show; with toys, fingers, in a public toilet, in bed, watching porn, after reading erotic literature, in a car, in a church, while sexting a loved one.”
The pair were open to all circumstances, as long as those involved were safe and anything happening was completely consensual. “We wanted a raw and real representation of masturbation: shower wanks, using toys, people that dress up, all body types, inclusive of disabled bodies and people of colour, wanks that didn’t reach climaxes, quick ones, long ones, fancy ones,” Gold adds.
“One of the reasons I was so excited to contribute to this piece of work was to help document wanking as a horny activity,” Poppy says. “The reality of this period of time during the pandemic was that lots of us were driven to distraction by our sex-starved bodies, spending hours sexting lovers and strangers from dating apps, adding relentlessly to the hidden folder on our iPhones and obsessing over what the next object to be inserted into our holes would be. I think this is an especially real part of the masturbation narrative and one I’m endlessly happy to champion.”
“We wanted a raw and real representation of masturbation: shower wanks, using toys, people that dress up, all body types, inclusive of disabled bodies and people of colour, wanks that didn’t reach climaxes, quick ones, long ones, fancy ones” – The London Vagabond
The result is a beautiful, wild, and unabashedly honest ride. Comprising written submissions and photography, it’s a truly intimate insight into what a pivotal role self-pleasure plays in our sexuality. Moreover, seeing the facial expressions, the bodies, and the positions also makes one realise that perhaps there is not enough authentic representation of masturbation out there. Perhaps we remain constricted by patriarchal mainstream visual culture and outdated sex ed – and it’s time to swap it for something more empathetic and celebratory.
“The beauty of self love is that there’s no one to impress and no one else’s pleasure to think about but your own. It’s selfish. It’s all consuming. There’s no presumption that you will cum and no pressure to fake orgasm, no expectancy for it to last forever or be over quickly. It’s all yours,” Gold says. “This series has been hugely insightful, not only through the images we’ve taken but through the writing that’s been submitted to the publication. I’d never thought about masturbation as a type of ‘self-care’, I’d never thought about myself as ‘my own lover’. These expressions may not apply to me, but they’ve evoked a thought process about what masturbation could mean.”
The book is special from the artistic point of view, but also as a documentation of sexuality in the current era – enhanced by the vulnerability and openness of everyone who contributed by being photographed or through writing submissions. Who knew that such solitary activity could offer such a warm feeling of sharing something with other people?
“The average person doesn’t often get the opportunity to witness how other people wank. The positions they do it in, the toys they use, the way they handle their junk, the look on their face as they climax,” Scarlett adds. “I’m so excited about this project because of the raw sexual expression that the subjects offered to The London Vagabond. It feels special to see such variety and vulnerability generously offered up by the participants”.
Cream an Oyster, Charm a Snake is out now. Get your copy here.