Blogs & Comment

Workplace accommodation of masturbation

An unusual workplace request touches on issues of discrimination and gender bias.

(Photo: Vincent Besnault/Getty)

Here’s an odd story, to say the least. A woman in Brazil has apparently won the legal right to masturbate at work—frequently— nd to watch porn on her work computer as part of that activity.

Here’s the story, from David Moye blogging for the Huffington Post, via the Employer Handbook blog:

In a decision that can only be described as touchy, a Brazilian judge has reportedly ruled that a 36-year-old female accountant can legally masturbate at work and watch porn on her work computer.

Ana Catarian Bezerra successfully argued that she suffers from a chemical imbalance that triggers severe anxiety and hypersexuality, according to a viral news story….

It’s a story sure to engender plenty of giggles, but it’s also another example of a bizarre little story that serves as a pretty decent starting point for consideration of more serious issues.

A couple of quick points:

1) It’s worth considering the gender issue, here. People’s reactions to this story clearly have a lot to do with the fact that the individual involved is a woman. I wonder, if the employee with the habit of excessive on-the-job masturbation had been male, would people’s reaction change from giggles to disgust? I suspect so. I suspect a male with this proclivity would garner far, far less sympathy. Now in making this observation (or, I should say, this educated guess), I am emphatically not claiming reverse discrimination. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with the fact that many of us would judge a man more harshly in this situation. In fact, that makes a good deal of sense to me. Men account for the vast majority of sexual predators and are the more frequent perpetrators of sexual harassment in the workplace. So it’s not surprising if our primary reaction to a male with a masturbation-at-work habit would be critical, rather than supportive. That’s not to say that a man wouldn’t deserve the same workplace consideration that the judge in this case mandated; it’s just to say that a man might have a harder time getting sympathy. I’m not sure what to do with that distinction, but it’s worth noting.

2) The woman in this case is basically arguing that she has a kind of disability, one that the workplace ought to accommodate. All obvious jokes aside, it’s an issue that ought to be considered seriously—as the court in this case clearly did. Now, the woman in question claims a chemical imbalance that triggers her odd behaviour. And of all the odd behaviours that take place in the workplace, something of a private and sexual nature certainly isn’t the oddest or most disruptive. But refusal to accommodate this particular disability wouldn’t need to be based in a repressive Victorian view of human sexuality. The very fact that humans—and I’m thinking in particular of co-workers here—have the reactions they do to the thought of other humans pleasuring themselves means that such behaviour, especially when publicized is bound to be disruptive, even if it happens out of sight. But then again, our society is still crawling slowly towards truly embracing the notion, enunciated most forcefully by John Stuart Mill, that we shouldn’t have rules against behaviour that doesn’t harm anyone, and that, hence, what goes on between consenting adults behind closed doors is nobody else’s business. But it’s not clear just how that rule of thumb applies when the ‘business’ in question is actually someone’s business, and when the closed door involved is an office door.