“Of all the kinds of sex people can have, masturbation is the most universal and important, yet few people talk about it freely — worse, many people still feel it is ‘second best‘ or problematic in some way. Masturbation Month lets us emphasize how great it is: it‘s natural, common and fun!” ~ Good Vibrations
When I first contemplated writing about masturbation, I must admit I was a little conflicted. Not because I think there’s anything wrong with it (insert Seinfeld reference here), but because I’m well aware that there’s still a lot of confusion around the subject.
As with so many of the different faces of sexuality, for some people masturbation is still shrouded in guilt, shame, embarrassment and emotional pain. In a time when sexual dysfunction and estrangement from genuine intimacy are bigger problems than ever, it’s hard to ignore the concerns of the social context in which our sexuality exists. After all, if masturbation makes a person feel worse about him or herself (as it can, for instance, for people dealing with the effects of porn addiction) then it necessitates a new perspective.
Masturbation Month was started in response to the fact that (at least in the United States) masturbation is still so taboo, so frowned upon that, in 1994, the US Surgeon General was fired after simply agreeing that perhaps it’s a subject that ought to be incorporated into sex ed. As explained by one of its creators Carol Queen,
“Ordinary people who do it think there‘s something wrong with them, and it‘s painted as a pathetic third choice if you can‘t get someone to have sex with you. In fact, if you can shake off this bad rap, masturbation is amazing. It can provide extraordinary pleasure, or just help you get to sleep, teach you about your body and sexual responses, and help keep the blood flowing in the nethers…“
Indeed, advocates claim that it offers a myriad of health benefits, including the reduction of stress and anxiety, improved sleep, and the relief of menstrual cramps, headaches and muscle tension. Not only that, but masturbation may also improve the immune system and contribute to overall physical health, as well as strengthening muscle tone in the pelvic and anal areas, building resistance to yeast infections, preventing the development of prostate cancer, and even helping to ease the symptoms of Restless Leg Syndrome.
Perhaps at least some of these beneficial effects are linked to the release of endorphins, neurotransmitters that can improve mood and relieve depression, as well as the production of oxytocin, a natural pain reliever.
Healthy (shame-free) masturbation can also help to enhance our relationships by creating a sense of well-being, helping us bond with our partners both physically and emotionally, increasing the ability to have orgasms, and thereby raising self-esteem and improving body image.
Betty Dodson is dubbed the Godmother (or, to some, The High Priestess) of Masturbation because, amongst other things, she wrote the book on it in the early seventies. She is an 85-year-old sex educator who offers masturbation classes. Yep, that’s right. Starting in the early seventies, Dodson spent 15 years offering “bodysex” classes to small groups of women. Now she’s bringing them back, for the benefit of a new generation perhaps more in need than any of Dodson’s lessons in self-love:
“Most of them haven‘t even seen their genitals in a mirror. You show ‘em and they go ‘eek!‘ Or ‘ugh!‘“
As stated on her website, Dodson believes that the prohibition of childhood masturbation forms the roots of our sexual repression as adults, and that self-pleasuring is a way we can learn to love our genitals, discover our sexual responses, and build sexual self-esteem.
Educators such as Dodson and her team are joined by many other advocates who view self-pleasure as a healthy physical, emotional, and even spiritual practice. As the High Priestess of Masturbation herself explains:
“I believe sex energy is not only the life force, but also the source of all creativity. Each orgasm is a precious moment of joy. Sex quiets the mind, deep breathing brings oxygen into the bloodstream, the heart is exercised as it pumps blood through the veins, hormones and endorphins are released, the skin sweats, muscular tension is heightened and then drained, followed by deep relaxation and a sense of well-being with feelings of contentment through an intimate connection with ourselves or another person. As we awaken our bodies through the senses, we awaken our minds to the knowledge that all living things are connected – on Earth and throughout the vast universe.“
This sexual health op-ed is written by an anonymous contributor.