"I once did a cam session in the disabled toilets, with a girl watching me wank," says Harry, who works in the City in human resources. Harry, who went through a phase of masturbating at work, explains that on this occasion, "it was quite late and no one else was around." However, that wasn't always the case.
"It started when I was feeling very horny in the office. So I went into the toilet. After that, I went through a stage where I wanked in the toilet every day for two weeks."
"There's something kinky about wanking at work"
Harry enjoyed his fortnight of fun: "There's something kinky and naughty about wanking in work," he tells me. However, he decided to bring this chapter to a close. "It's not hugely fun knowing someone’s taking a dump in the next cubicle."
Harry still occasionally masturbates at work, and apparently he's not the only one. According to research by sex toy manufacturer Hot Octopuss 40% of us are getting ourselves off in the workplace. While the cynics among us might imagine this is a heavily-embellished figure designed to promote their products, their findings are echoed by other studies. Women's mag Glamour found that 31% of men masturbate at work, Time Out New York found 39% of people rub one off in work time, and in a Metro feature that asks: "Should we be taking masturbation breaks at work?" 43% of people to date have picked the answer: "I already do."
So why are so many of us getting handsy with ourselves just a few feet from our desks? London can be a stressful place. Research shows that city-living has been linked to anxiety and Londoners are apparently the most stressed people in England. Scratch that - Londoners are the most stressed people in Europe.
While there’s no shortage of companies cashing in on this stress epidemic — with Gymbox rolling out Anger Management exercise classes in three London locations, and Pop & Rest launching pods in Shoreditch for power napping and meditation to give the stressed and sleep-deprived a place to unwind — some Londoners are taking matters into their own hands.
"I only went for a wee"
Tom, who masturbates at work two or three times a day, tells me: "I work in a stressful job and I need some distraction from time to time. It's something I've always done — I guess I have a high sex drive." As a CIO, Tom never worries about anyone guessing what he's up to, explaining: "I'm in quite a senior position and my time is my time. I'm often away from my desk in meetings or talking to people, so it doesn't feel like I'm away for long if I sneak off for five minutes of me time."
For some, it can be a way of relieving the tension of unfinished business. Ralph decided to masturbate at work after spending the night with a woman he was dating. He explains, "in the morning she got me really revved up, then cut me off and said I'd get the rest later if I saw her that evening. I knew I had to do something to get it out of my system."
Ralph was working for a financial trading company in Canary Wharf, and initially felt nervous, stopping when someone else came into the toilets. "They went into a cubicle too. I waited five minutes then couldn't be arsed to wait anymore, and just cracked on," says Ralph, who has no doubt that this was the best course of action. He explains: "I had a big meeting where I had to stand up and do a presentation, so I was just relieved I didn’t have to do it with a boner!"
It's not just the deskbound knocking one out at work. Paul was working at a supermarket in Camden while saving up to do a plumbing course. "The first time it happened, I didn't actually mean to have one," he explains, "I only went for a wee, and then while I was drying myself off I was like, "oh, that feels good." After that, I did it whenever I was on a late shift. I had a 15 minute break at 8pm and I'd usually do it then because it was quiet — although sometimes I'd get called off my break before I finished."
"I had my vibrator in my bag"
It's not only men bringing themselves off. Sarah slipped to the loo for an orgasm when she was unable to concentrate. "I'd had sex that morning, and my period was due the next day, so I was turned on and uncomfortable — I think it was a build-up of hormones," she tells me. Having spent the night at her boyfriend's, Sarah had her vibrator in her bag. "It’s a tiny one, so I put it in my pocket, and went to the loo. It only took 20 seconds, which was way quicker than usual, and it was a massive relief, because I could get back to work and crack on with my day."
Sarah, who hasn't done it since, says: "I felt weird as soon as I did it. I felt bad, like I was some sort of predator, but it wasn't something I wanted to do — it was a necessity. I knew I couldn't concentrate unless I did it."
Sexual health expert Samantha Evans confirms that orgasms really do relieve menstrual cramps. The medical professional turned sex toy supplier says she recommends masturbation to women with period pains. "I did that myself when I had periods — it really helps," she says. But can it really relieve stress? "Yes, because when we think about sex our brains release dopamine, that feeling of pleasure and well-being, so if you're stressed, it relaxes you." Could it make us get on better with our colleagues? "Yes, definitely! Dopamine makes us feel happier, so if you're in a grumpy mood, then you orgasm, you might be nicer, and stop getting stressed out and snapping at people."
It turns out that these aren’t the only benefits of masturbation. Evans says it can boost immunity, help you sleep, and reduce men's risk of prostate cancer. “It's also completely safe because there's no risk of getting pregnant or catching an STI, it gets you in touch with your body, and it's free!" says Evans, adding, "I work with lots of healthcare professionals who recommend it to their patients. Masturbating is so beneficial — we always tell people they should be doing it more!"
"Work just isn't a suitable environment for that"
But should we be doing it at work? "It depends on your work environment — having worked in many hospitals, I wouldn't have wanted to masturbate in the toilets," says Evans. However, she explains that it could be a good idea. "Research found that when people masturbated at work, they came back reinvigorated, and filled with creative ideas!"
It sounds like a wank at work might cure all ills — could it become a workplace wellness trend? Ruby Dinsmore, an employment lawyer at Slater and Gordon, has her reservations. "I think I'd have difficulty saying that's going to be introduced on a wellbeing basis to help employees. I just don't see that happening." OK but what if a woman has period pains? "If the employee wants to defend that it's for medical purposes, or mental health purposes or anything like that, obviously that's something that may need to be considered. Would it be a full defence? I would have my doubts."
Hmmm… What if you are on your break though? Do employers have a right to dictate what employees do on their breaks? Plenty of people take cigarette breaks, and smoking's bad for you, whereas masturbating has health benefits. Dinsmore doesn't think this is a good analogy though. "It's very unlikely that a circumstance would arise in which an employer would allow that activity to commence at work, in any circumstances, I believe, because there's too much risk in terms of public exposure, for the criminal element of it." she says, "But also potential offence to other employees. It just wouldn’t be a suitable environment for that."
OK, so say you're silently masturbating in the privacy of a toilet cubicle. You don't leave any evidence behind, and no one would even know, but somehow the subject comes up and you say, "yes, I was, so what?" Is that alright? That comes down to the policies the employer has, and what, if anything, they've got written in regard to these types of circumstances, says Dinsmore. "It's a conduct issue that would require an investigation in the normal way any conduct issue would. And each circumstance would have to be considered as to whether or not it would be judged to be gross misconduct, or misconduct, or if there's any other mitigating circumstances that may lead the employer to take a more lenient approach."
Samantha Rea can be found tweeting here.