How and Why I Wrote Bang!: A Masturbation Sex-Ed Book for Everyone

I grew up in a household where I never learned the Chinese word for sex. During family movie nights, we averted our eyes when animated characters kissed on screen. At the time, it just felt like how things were.

High school sex-ed prepared me for college with two lasting images: One, my sex-ed teacher squeezing a banana into a condom until it burst into the lubricated latex, and two, a medical photo gallery of STI’s that included a particularly severe case of chlamydia captioned as “cauliflower-like growths.” Neither of these memories were particularly helpful for navigating the messy emotional complexities of sex.

Every night, in isolated rooms across my college campus, there were only two young people, sometimes drunk, armed with only the personas we had been trained to cling to, the language we had inherited from our past, and heaps of bravado and insecurity. Alone and in the dark, we were tasked with using these meager materials to cobble together a pleasurable, consensual sexual experience that wouldn’t traumatize either party. We were set up to fail.

My senior year, I sat in a row of uncomfortable, gray-maroon conference chairs lining a hallway of the student health center, waiting for a nurse to call my name. The wall in front of me was tiled with a billboard of 50 plastic brochure holders. Each shiny pocket cheerily presented pamphlets for handling all of life’s sexual challenges. 90s WordArt proclaimed “So you have syphilis…” and “You’re gay! How do you tell your parents?”, and of course, a pamphlet simply titled “Sexual Assault and Rape.”

I made Bang! Masturbation for People of All Genders and Abilities because it profoundly made sense to me, because there was a gaping hole in that plastic wall where there should have been some acknowledgement of pleasure, consent, or the emotions of sex. Bang! was designed to fill this gap with emotionally-aware, positive sex-ed. While we had been taught about the vas deferens and fallopian tubes, we had never been taught how to even talk about sex with a partner. I made Bang! because I thought it needed to exist.

It was only years later that I realized I was also furious. I was angry in a way that was incomprehensible within the polite university language that wrapped around me. Inside of those stone walls, it was socially acceptable, even tacitly expected, for people to have their consent violated. Pleasure during sex had never been guaranteed.

I recognize now that within the profound logic of Bang! was a bullet train of cold rage, pain, and indignation that coursed unceasingly through my veins when I learned that you cannot trust the systems that be to take care of you or those you love. I made Bang because of my unmovable conviction that we all deserve love and care, especially when we are naked and alone.

Before Bang! became a book, it began as a zine about masturbation for everyone, no matter your gender or body. It was designed to accompany people as they explore their bodies, beginning in a safe space with just themselves. The words and illustrations were made to support people emotionally in all the private, intimate corners of who they are. People shouldn’t feel alone in their moments of vulnerability, shame, and self-doubt. They should have the tools and support that I didn’t have when I began my own journey.

I realized I had never learned about how this journey feels if you are trans or disabled. For that matter, I had never learned much about the textured details of cis man sexuality either. I pulled in many people, including Rebecca Bedell, Lafayette Matthews, A. Andrews, and Andrew Gurza to encapsulate the intimate experiences of masturbation with different bodies or genders than mine. It struck me then, and still strikes me today, how deeply the similarities in our sexual journeys resonate across bodies.

When I started designing and editing Bang!, conversations that began with “What are you working on?” became an uncomfortable exploration of the facets of sexual stigma still within the people I knew. When I asked a design colleague for his thoughts on a draft of Bang!, his sole feedback was “Don’t most people know how to masturbate already?” There were many acquaintances that reacted to mentions of the book with strained cheeriness and gratuitous innuendos. Years after our conversation on sexual consent and masturbation empowerment, my friend said, “I thought your point was to get guys to masturbate more so they would rape less people on campus.”

Those hours of small talk made it clear that the stigma of sex extended far beyond college dorms and followed us into our adult lives. The stigma rotted away our ability to acknowledge or inhabit the connection between our bodies and our lives. Stigma organized our lives into boxes, and anything that fit into the box labeled MASTURBATION was to be hidden under the bed, perhaps referenced in jokes, but never engaged intellectually or emotionally. We were still trapped.

I hadn’t prepared myself for how my rigid parents would evolve in reaction to Bang!. While we still avert our eyes from movie sex scenes, my 56-year-old Chinese finance professor of a father bought 10 copies, donated to the “Socially Distanced Orgy” tier of our Kickstarter campaign, and emailed his university’s student health center about the importance of masturbation sex-ed. My mother, who once anxiously whispered to me in a Target aisle that tampons were for married women, now floods our family text conversations with applause and party emojis to celebrate Bang!’s milestones. I couldn’t be prouder.

Bang! is part of a conversation to examine and rebuild our learned attitudes toward our sexual bodies. This conversation is shaped by writers and thinkers like Audre Lorde, adrienne maree brown, and Sonya Renee Taylor; sex workers and educators working around the censorship walls of social media; and independent publishers and bookstores carrying sex-ed books that mainstream publishers are scared to. The movement centers on our ability to build a new and different relationship with our bodies, a relationship built on radical love, acceptance, knowledge, and joy rather than shame or fear.

The makers of Bang! are people of color, white, trans, cis, nonbinary, disabled, non-disabled, straight, queer, men, and women. In Bang!, words like penis, clitoris, vulva, nipple, and pleasure feel easy to say. All 128 pages of full color illustrations are designed to be irreverent, loving, and stubbornly full of radical, bodily joy. And every page is written and designed with love and support for the moments when you feel the most vulnerable and alone. My only regret is not having more Black and Brown voices.

There is so much power in illustrating the sexuality and joy of marginalized bodies. There is power in the celebration of all of our bodies together. It is the declaration that no matter who you are or what your body is like, you deserve to feel good in it. We are all messy, difficult, and different, and we all share an inherent capacity for pleasure. It is our right and imperative to discover it—and we don’t have to do it alone.

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Vic Liu believes that people would be happier and safer if they weren’t embarrassed about their genitals. Her book Bang! Masturbation for People of All Genders and Abilities is out now. You can follow @bangforall on Instagram to continue the conversation.

Vic has written 1 article for us.

4 Comments

  1. I realized while I read this that even as I was nodding along (and also I had the same sex ed experience, apparently it was better than abstinence only but didn’t do much for preventing shame and awkward embarrassment) I also felt deeply uncomfortable. Even though I normally feel perfectly comfortable reading/listening to people talk about partnered sex, frank discussion of masturbation in this context still feels weird! So think I need to check out this book, is what I’m saying

    (Also your parents’ reactions made me so happy)

  2. As someone who has struggled for many, many years with feeling even “okay” about masturbating, this really resonated. Thank you for sharing this work with the world! Looking forward to getting the book, peeling back the layers of connecting with my body;; and continuing the hard work of trying things without putting pressure on myself.

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