Submarines sometimes stay underwater, in very cramped quarters, for months at a time. This got me wondering: When do sailors on submarines masturbate? Y'all have an intern? This research would be a great résumé builder! —Richard W.
Those of us who recall the Clinton era, Richard, try not to give any instructions to interns involving the word "masturbate."
That said, I'm sure virtually everyone who has toured OMSI's decommissioned Barbel-class submarine, the USS Blueback, has spent that experience haunted by one looming question: Where could I rub one out on this tub?
In the case of the Blueback, persons of great fortitude or deep religious conviction could probably butch it out till journey's end, since, as the Navy's last diesel-powered submarine, it had to refuel fairly often.
Modern nuclear submarines essentially never have to refuel, and—as you note—can theoretically stay at sea for months on end. In practice, however, there are generally port calls every few weeks or so.
Still, to many a 19-year-old seaman (shut up), to whom even the hourly eruptions of Old Faithful might seem a model of forbearance, four weeks might as well be four years.
As it turns out, the solution to this problem is neither complicated nor obscure. In fact, in my survey of accounts of military life, it was rare to find a source that didn't have at least a short section on how to handle the awkwardness of close-quarters bishop-flogging.
Basically, you just deal with it.
It's like anything else. For example, most people will, under ordinary circumstances, go to great lengths to avoid coming in contact with human feces. But when you have a baby, you have to get pretty casual about it.
Similarly, on the sub, everybody is doing what they're doing (mostly under the blanket in their bunk), everybody else can pretty much tell when it's happening, and everyone politely ignores it as long as it's not too loud.
The primary concern, frankly, isn't modesty but hygiene. Subs use the "hot rack" system—as soon as you get out of a bunk, someone else gets in. This makes proper secondary sock usage an essential social grace (while also making laundry detail an even less desirable assignment than we civilians might suppose).