“Some of you sitting there with your cock in your hand
Don’t get you nowhere,
don’t make you a man…”

– John Lennon, “I Found Out”

I’m at a red light in Los Angeles on Melrose and Gower. A Honda Civic pulls up beside me and I unwillingly cringe. The rest is ritual: The light changes and I casually let my vehicle lag a bit behind. Then, I gingerly crane my neck to cop a semi-aerial shot. Cool, the driver’s left hand is steering. But what I desperately wanted to know is which stick he’s clutching onto with his right.

For years I was paranoid I’d catch a driver jerking off, his hopes of running into some slow-moving road prey answered by the unlucky likes of me. I mean, it has happened eleven times over the course of my life. Yes, I’ve caught that many men whacking off behind the wheel in several cities across North America, including Montreal, Vancouver, Toronto and L.A.

Because so many male masturbating motorists have stroked their way into my life, I used to instinctively scope out crotches. Fortunately, professionals believe my reaction is to be expected.

“Sometimes when a person has been traumatized, they pay more attention to their surroundings, scanning for things that have scared them in the past,” says Dr. Dean Haddock, a licensed clinical psychologist and marriage, family and child counselor, as well as an expert on sexually violent predators.

The first handful of random occurrences were highly disturbing — the site of an, alas, always yucky-looking man beating his boner whether I liked it or not.

Take jerk-off number one for instance, who stained my mind with lucid clarity back in 1986 — a year when banana clips were in, Bon Jovi’s “You Give Love a Bad Name” was topping the charts, and I was but a mere chubby, nerdy thirteen-year-old.

There I was, trundling to the neighborhood tennis courts in my hometown of Montreal to meet my best friend for a game when a rusty tuna-can of a car — an ’84 red Civic — huffed by slowly. Before I could classify him a weirdo, there he was again, conspicuously close to the curb, seemingly having turned around the block in record time.

I naturally peered into the vehicle only to find him frantically tugging between his legs. I’d never seen a real-life phallus before, only in my father’s smut magazines stored in his bedroom closet. When horror spread across my cheeks he conveniently located the gas pedal. For weeks that indelible image flashed before my eyes, always followed by an eerie jolt, much like the sensation of being startled out of sleep by a nightmare.

“You were the perfect victim,” says Dr. Renee Sorrentino, a forensic psychiatrist, director of the Institute for Sexual Wellness, and an expert in the evaluation and treatment of individuals with problematic sexual behaviors. She adds that girls between ten and fourteen are the most common victims of inappropriate behavior. “Not only were you by yourself, you were a kid, so vulnerability was increased and detection less likely.”

As a more mature young adult, I would have yelled, kicked, called 911 or at the very least taken down his license plate number. But none of that happened then. Instead, this perv revolted me, violated me, and used me as some sort of live ammunition in order to unload. And so did the second and the third and the fourth — the guy in the cruising Cadillac who glared at me while I was rollerblading, the one who creeped around the Vanier College campus in Montreal when I was a college student there, and another driving near the theater where I was going to see “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.”

By jerk-off number nine my paranoia had climaxed into a morbid fascination. I was 25 and working as a researcher for a British production company called September Films, which was developing a series about the seedy side of Los Angeles. Our office was ensconced on the second story of a building in Studio City.

One day, I was sipping coffee when I turned my head to look out the window, only to catch yet another motorist trying to beat more than the traffic over the course of his morning commute.

What the hell was it, after all, that compelled a man to whip it out on Ventura and Vineland — and at that time of day no less? Moreover, why was I coming across all these mobile monkey-spankers?

* * *

To fully come to grips with the phenomenon at hand, I decided to conduct an informal poll by posting an ad on Craigslist, calling out to men to share why they might engage in such auto-erotic behavior of the most literal kind. I mostly heard from distraught women instead. Accounts came streaming in from San Francisco all the way to Seville, Spain, proving that male masturbating motorists are indeed an international bunch.

I did get some responses from men though, chronicling their most carnal of indiscretions. Slowly, I began noticing the subtle variations in the stories and in the perpetrators themselves.

Dr. Sorrentino, who has more than 10 years experience working with sex offenders and has served as an expert witness in numerous trials,

agrees that there are different psychological categories of public masturbators. She believes some of the men I encountered may suffer from a “hypersexual disorder,” which manifests in the form of compulsive masturbation. For instance, I did catch a man in a phone booth and not a car, leering at me while frantically servicing himself. There definitely was an air of desperation.

“So in lay terms, a hypersexual is someone whose sexual appetite is higher … compared to others that fall under that same sex, gender, and age bracket,” Sorrentino says. “They are thinking about sex and engaging in sexual behavior a whole lot more than their peers.” This obsession gets in the way of relationships, careers, and normal everyday functions. “I am also impressed by how guys can drive and masturbate at the same time,” Sorrentino adds. “But that’s a side note.”

These men are not getting an erection due to the presence of a female target. Sorrentino says “they just need to be masturbating, and it so happens that they are in the car and that [a woman has] seen them.”

From the emails and my experience, I recognized a second group of masturbating motorists who are self-righteous and embody an air of entitlement. They don’t necessarily thrive on getting caught.

Take the marketing executive from Jersey who emailed me, claiming to be worthy of a doctorate in masturbation “if it were an academic field of study.” He readily admitted to keeping a towel — crusty, no doubt — in his backseat for convenience and cleanliness. According to him, being caught is irrelevant. To drive himself over the edge, all he needs is to masturbate to the thought of being surrounded by thousands of unsuspecting commuters.

Another man who wrote to me from London could slide into this category as well. He argued that whoever catches him stroking and steering is just asking for it. “Everyone in their car expects a reasonable amount of privacy,” he wrote. “People eat, put on make-up, and get dressed in their vehicles. What I do there is my business. Whether or not you choose to look is yours.”

The most hazardous offenders are the guys who get off by startling strange women. Be assured that by the time they’re gripping the wheel with sticky hands, they’ve already flashed their swollen cocks and mischievous smiles to dozens of others. These guys are class act exhibitionists.

“In [the exhibitionist’s] fantasies he believes that people and/or women want to see his penis,” says Dr. Haddock, who began his 40-year career at Atascadero State Hospital working with sex offenders suffering from mental disorders. “The effect on women who see this is unique to each person’s psyche, experience and age.”

Exhibitionism is the most highly reported paraphilia — an act that involves sexual arousal and gratification tied to a behavior that is extreme or atypical — and is considered a mental disorder. It is characterized by “sexually arousing fantasies or behaviors resulting from exposing one’s genitals to an unsuspecting individual,” according to Sorrentino.

“What surprises me still is that many of these men are professionals,” Haddock adds about exhibitionists. “They are intelligent and know better, but the thrill of shocking other people is just too much for them to control.”

Sorrentino suggests that, perhaps as a young boy, the eventual exhibitionist innocently took out his penis and his mother scolded him, generating some excitement for the boy, thus creating a sexual imprint.

While exhibitionists don’t always masturbate in cars, Sorrentino says that a large percentage choose the vehicle as a favorite place to expose and unload. There they can take refuge, while covering more terrain and eluding prospective pursuit. “They think they may not be seen as easily,” she adds. “I can’t tell you how many guys give this sob story to the police, saying that they were looking at their cell phone or going for a cigarette. It’s easier to come up with an alternative behavior.”

These guys, of all the masturbator varieties I encountered over the years, just rubbed me the wrong way. I couldn’t comprehend what was so arousing about surprising and shocking a stranger on the street.

I had, after all, found myself engaging in the female equivalent behavior of freeway fingering before, years ago, as I cruised that long, manure-fragranced stretch of asphalt they call Interstate 5 between San Francisco to L.A.

The radio was broken. I had no A.C. I was bored as hell. And I wanted to see if I would get turned on by flashing someone.

Little billowy clouds hung low in the sky and my pine freshener swayed gently in the warm sultry breeze as I hiked up my skirt past my hips and placed my left leg on the dash. By the time I reached the L.A. County limits, I’d orgasmed four times. But the motorists didn’t help any. Frustration was the only thing they added. I stopped each time a trucker crawled by. I didn’t want or need to involve their looks of surprise to get off. I had a stockpile of my own titillating fantasies to sift through. I concluded that knowing someone was looking at me — rather than imagining they were — was a turn off for me and not a turn on.

* * *

I hoped to reach some understanding that would help me forgive and work through the trauma of being violated. It seemed to me that these motorists got a thrill out of being a tad malevolent. Ultimately, I wanted to take my power back. I decided to confront the next jerk-off that pulled up into my life. Were they all wicked, demented fiends?

I ran into the blessed bastard in a freezing underground parking lot in Toronto while visiting my father for the holidays. I was 33. I walked right by his vehicle and, ten feet later, stopped in my tracks. Something felt odd. My internal honing device — my masturbadar, if you will — beckoned me to turn around and investigate a white Honda Civic.

Sure enough, the silhouette’s hand was bobbing up and down.

I couldn’t back down now.

For precautionary reasons, I approached some clueless lad having a smoke outside of the adjacent Sears.

“Hey, dude, you’re going to be my witness, okay?” I said to him, sternly. “This is the eleventh time I’ve seen some guy masturbating and I am about to face my demons.”

“What? What do you mean? With the same guy,” he asked, mortified. “Fuck, do you want me to call the police or something? What kind of neighborhood do you live in, anyway?”

Clearly, Marlboro man was not into carburetor sex.

“No, sorry. Different guys,” I said, trying hard to explain my outlandish experiences, adding, “It’s happened to me in different cities. Anyway, this is a big moment for me and I just had to share it with someone.”

Meanwhile, behind the wheel, masturbating motorist number eleven clumsily fumbled for his zipper as I approached to knock on the window. There was a Burger King wrapper on the floor and a box of Kleenex perched atop the parking brake. He resembled Anthony Michael Hall’s character in “The Breakfast Club.”

His window was barely rolled down when I suddenly snarled, “Hey buddy, are you whacking off in your car?”

There was no time for beating around the bush.

“Yeah. Why? Do you wanna join me?” he drawled.

“No I don’t want to join you!” I gasped, disgusted. “There are just a few things I need to get off my chest. I want you to know that you can severely disturb a young girl, it’s very invasive, and it pisses some women off — like me. And I am not even against masturbation.”

My words seemed to freeze and linger in the air as I watched him slowly wither away.

“Besides, what the hell do you use to get off? I mean I just don’t get it; everyone is bundled up in heavy coats and it’s the dead of winter. Don’t you have any better place to jerk-off than in front of a cheap department store?”

“I just like looking at beautiful faces,” he answered solemnly, his gaze affixed on some pile of snow in the distance, his hands firmly gripping the steering wheel.

Feeling sorry for him, all I could reply was a quick “okay then.” I spun my heels in the icy snow and quickly strutted away, ignoring my accosted witness.

In retrospect I was actually lucky since, according to Dr. Haddock, I could have encouraged him.

“The more the woman reacts the more exciting it is for the masturbator. If at all possible it is better to ignore him, as it not reinforcing his bad behavior,” he says.

There is a chance that jerkoff number eleven fell into a fourth category Sorrentino describes: people who have personality or cognition issues, mentally disabled people, impulsive disorder sufferers, or those who simply don’t know how to manage their impulses. “Not a lot of folks fall into this category,” she says.

Perhaps he was simply young and horny.

Nonetheless, the encounter was highly cathartic. Not only did it eliminate any lingering terror, it helped me put a face to the motion — and maybe plant a seed in his head. In that moment, I realized that I was never as helpless as I’d thought. So for all you dicks out there about to hit the road, remember, every move you make, every fap you take, I will be watching you.

* * *

Maryam Henein is a journalist, filmmaker and entrepreneur. She directed the documentary “Vanishing of the Bees,” narrated by Oscar-nominated actress Ellen Page, and is founder of the health and wellness magazine and marketplace HoneyColony. Follow her on Twitter @maryamhenein or Instagram @maryamhenein.

Leslie Agan is a freelance illustrator and CSULB graduate based in Southern California. If she had to choose between a wild party or movie night with Gwenzy her cat, she’d probably choose the latter. Follow her on Instagram @leslieagan.