If you have been following my Instagram this month, then you have probably noticed an increase in posts relating to masturbation. Why do I do this? Because during the month of May every year Sexual Health Educators celebrate Masturbation Month. I’ve written about masturbation a few times in the past, here and here, and recently here.
So, why do we do this?
Quite simply, to educate. Masturbation can be talked about, and people should learn that it is a common and natural behavior, so we can stop casting shame and guilt onto others, including passing our own shame and embarrassment onto our kids. We can learn about it because it doesn’t have to be scary or shocking or shameful.
What is masturbation?
Masturbation is touching or rubbing one’s genitals, typically with the hands, but sometimes incorporating other objects for stimulation. Most people think masturbation has to lead to orgasm. This happens often for some people, but not everyone has a goal of orgasm.
Masturbation is also a simple, straight-forward method of self-knowledge – you get to figure out what feels pleasant for you. I’ll talk more about this part later. Here’s a fun fact: even babies touch themselves in utero. Masturbation feels good, and as a result, it’s a tough behavior to regulate. Many things have been tried in order to control masturbation in the past.
Let’s see what you know already. Did you know:
- Kellogg’s founder John Harvey Kellogg developed the cornflake to help prevent masturbation because he thought bland food dampened sexual desire)?
- in the 1800’s, a physician named Tissot thought semen was made up of blood and concluded ejaculation was harmful to one’s health? He didn’t know much about the subject, but he wrote about it anyway, and his writings influenced social and medical views for generations.
- to keep kids (and adults) from masturbating in the early 1900’s, authorities did lots of barbaric practices to control masturbation? Anything like male circumcision, clitoridectomies, applying carbolic acid to clitorises, tying their hands at bedtime, and fitting them with restrictive anti-masturbation devices that look like chastity belts.
- doctors used to masturbate their female patients to orgasm to treat the medical condition Hysteria? It’s true, and they made an interesting movie about it. This is, as the story goes, why vibrators were invented. The doctors got tired of doing this manually. What were the symptoms of hysteria? Anxiety, sleeplessness, irritability, nervousness, erotic fantasies, feelings of heaviness in the lower abdomen, and wetness between the legs.
- a woman was pushed to resign her job for merely suggesting kids learn about masturbation in sex ed? Yep, Dr. Joycelyn Elders was the Surgeon General under President Clinton, and an audience member asked about the prospects that masturbation could be more openly discussed and promoted as a means of keeping young people from riskier sexual activity. This was her response:
This caused many people to flip out and as a result, Dr. Elders was forced to resign her position.
What are some other terms people use to refer to it?
There are a bajillion (accurate scientific figure) slang terms people use to refer to masturbation and I cannot name them all, but here’s one resource with a decent list. You probably have some names that aren’t even on that list (if so, tell me in the comments section). Some sound violent, some sound silly; whack a mole, polishing the knob, self-love, jacking/jerking off, petting the kitty are just a few. There are differences between what penises owners and vulva owners call it.
How common is masturbation?
A question I get from my college students is “How common is masturbation?” First off, masturbation is very common. Here is a link to The Kinsey Institute where you can find some stats. A more typical question might be “How acceptable is masturbation?” The answer to this depends on who you ask. Many religions shun the behavior, especially since masturbation does not lead to baby making (for many religions procreation is the only legitimate way to be sexual, and in their teachings, sex must be done only in a heterosexual marriage).
What is the purpose?
There are several health benefits to masturbation, contrary to what Tissot and others wanted us to think centuries ago. Some of the advantages are as follows: it relieves stress, relieves menstrual cramps, enhances immune function, helps one gain confidence in themselves, there’s no risk of STI’s, and it can help you to know what feels good to you so you could teach a future partner how you like to be touched (instead of relying on them to figure it out and possibly feeling disappointed if they don’t know what they’re doing).
What can parents say to their kids?
There is a difference between teaching children “to” masturbate versus teaching kids “about” masturbation. I’m advocating to teach about masturbation because this is one sexual behavior that kids will figure out on their own (if they haven’t already). Teaching them to be hygienic, safe, and private is important. You can share the goal of keeping hands clean before and after. That prevents the spread of germs and is just a good habit. You can tell them to be careful if they start playing with objects; this can be where you talk about the importance of flared bases for kids who also play with their anus. Giving them permission to do this in a private place like their bedroom or the bathroom teaches them that it’s ok to have time for themselves. It also teaches children to respect other people (like relatives) who have their own reasons and don’t agree that this behavior is okay (for example, if grandma or some other relative who doesn’t approve is in town).
I mentioned earlier using masturbation to figure out what feels pleasant for you. Teen Vogue has been KILLING it lately with their on-point articles. One came out just recently called “Why You Should Masturbate Whether You’ve Had Sex Or Not.” I’m not gonna steal its thunder, but if you’re a parent, you should check it out as this is the message teens can be getting from you as well.
Look, I get it. Parents (lots of times moms in particular) don’t want to talk about masturbation with their kids; it’s awkward. Again, remember you do not need to give them the actual How-Tos. The attitude you have about this topic and how you address it with your kids is crucial. Think scientific. Be matter of fact. You don’t need to encourage masturbation, just acknowledge that it is a common and normal behavior. One funny (if not a tad extreme) approach is this one from the TV show “Weeds”:
I say a tad extreme because most parents wouldn’t be this graphic, but I do like this example. Uncle Andy uses Jack Annon’s PLISSIT model to talk about masturbation – Permission, Limited Information, and Specific Suggestions (there’s no need for the IT-Intensive Therapy part). This is the same model I use when working with clients as well.
The topic is tough, especially if you grew up with shame or embarrassment with the topic. I know I sure did. Try talking about how your parents handled it with you, and if it is a tough topic for you, explain why that is. Lots of kids like to hear stories of their parents growing up. The key is to face our own guilt or risk passing it on. I’m sure lots of our issues with masturbation aren’t even our own – they came from our parents or loved ones or someone else altogether. Check out what sex educator Charlie Glickman has to say about this:
An important note** Some people don’t feel a need to masturbate at all and that’s okay too. There is no need to push people -women or men, adults or children. Like I said, merely acknowledging it is a start.
Masturbation is a topic that stirs up a lot of emotions. Telling someone “You will grow hair on your palms”, “You’ll go blind”, or any other lies to get them to NOT masturbate may not have the end result you desire. Consider how much effort has been put forth in trying to convince us that masturbation is wrong and then consider how much one learns about themselves in figuring out how their own body works. This is not a bad thing.
I want to share a big THANK YOU to the sex toy company #TENGA. They have given me some products to giveaway in recognition of #MasturbationMay. I’ve created a contest here: TENGA GIVEAWAY. Thanks again, TENGA.
So, next May, take a moment to thank a sex educator for making masturbation mentionable with (hopefully) less shame.
I’d love to hear your thoughts, so if it’s comfortable for you, feel free to comment in the section below.
If you’re looking for more information, I have lots of resources for you to check out, or you could schedule an exploratory call. I’m pleased to talk about most any topic; let’s talk. I get so much joy out of witnessing the growth and enjoyment that my clients experience.
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