Social distancing protocols have made actions such as exposing oneself to horrified observers more difficult, if not impossible. But if nothing else, the pandemic is testament to the indefatigability of the human spirit, and when there is a will, there is a way. Famed legal analyst, The Run of His Life author, and New Yorker staff writer Jeffrey Toobin is proof of this, per reporting from Vice. 

Details about what was referred to by Vice as the “Zoom Dick Incident” are few, but continue to emerge. Initially, the article reported simply that Toobin exposed himself during a Zoom call with the staff of the New Yorker and WNYC Radio. A few hours later, however, they updated to include some juicy new details: first, that the call had been an election simulation featuring some of the New Yorker’s most prominent names, including Editor in Chief David Remnick, Mascha Gessen, and Jane Mayer. More importantly, two sources claimed Toobin had been seen masturbating on the call.

In a statement to Vice about the initial allegations, Toobin claimed showing his penis to his coworkers was in error: “I believed I was not visible on Zoom. I thought no one on the Zoom call could see me. I thought I had muted the Zoom video,” he said in what is perhaps the most boomer summation of video-conferencing technology ever uttered. A New Yorker spokesperson also told Vice that Toobin has been “suspended while we investigate the matter” (which, because it is the New Yorker, will hopefully involve the famed publication’s HR department reviewing the footage while wearing a little monocle).

If we take Toobin at his word and accept that the exposure was unintentional, then in a way he has actually done us a great public service. For he has drawn attention to a uniquely 2020 phenomenon: people beating off while working from home. Even prior to the pandemic, a sizable percentage of American workers were well-acquainted with the midday wank. According to a 2016 Time Out survey (which later prompted the construction of a pop-up “masturbation booth” for a sex-toy brand’s publicity stunt), nearly 40 percent of New Yorkers had admitted to masturbating while on the job; while the survey didn’t specify how many of those respondents were remote workers versus office workers, a subsequent, pandemic-era survey from the Australian online retailer Yellow Octopus found that approximately 35 percent of men and 17 percent of women had admitted to masturbating while working from home.

Some pseudo-scientific interpretations of these findings hinted that there may be some salutary health effects to this practice, such as stress relief or endorphin release or some other things a certain type of ponytailed life coach would cite, but as Toobin’s Zoom malfunction indicates, the risks far outweigh any potential benefit. So if you feel compelled by the urge to beat off in the confines of your own home, don’t do it during an election simulation in the virtual presence of your colleagues, or at the very least invest in a roll of duct tape to cover up your webcam.

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