I have been thinking about self love lately, and not just the emotional kind.
I just recently learned that the month of May was recently named National Masturbation month. Certainly it is a topic that could do with a little airing out, if based only on its checkered history alone.
It wasn’t all that long ago that boys were tortured with all kinds of strange contraptions to stop them from experiencing the terrible act of masturbation that was sure to make them blind or insane. It’s hard to believe, but the most educated people around perpetrated these myths in the form of medicine for years. It has been ugly indeed, and the church damning anyone who ever thought of self-pleasure to eternal hell didn’t help.
Cultural myths die hard and the history of abuse that has long been attached to the practice of physical self love still carries a heavy doses of guilt, shame and anxiety with it for many people. Even without much religiosity in your life, the act of self pleasuring carries an enormous silence.
As I have been studying the topic, I can tell you it only takes saying the word out loud to silence a crowd.
Feeling isolated and alone with our sexuality is standard in this country.
The little sex education that is provided through adolescence, is an exercise in naming body parts at best and in some institutions is a drawn out diatribe of abstinence theory and the sinfulness of sexuality in general. Historians have suggested, that “the forbidden fruit” that is referenced from Adam and Eve is the experience of orgasm, so it is not surprising that this first gate of knowing and loving ourselves through masturbation has been continuously affirmed in most religions as sinful.
Yet, this is not the state we are born into—if you have ever watched a small child explore their own body and the look of happy surprise when they discover the highly enervated erogenous zones that have no other meaning than pleasurable sensation, it is clear that the shame and discomfort that replaces this healthy curiosity is part of our collective education, to which we are all subjected, even as it ranges in severity depending on your own family’s reaction to sexuality in general.
Anna Freud famously wrote that “sex is something you do, sexuality is something you are.”
Imagine the dinner time discussions in her home. This distillation of her father’s lifelong inquiry into sexuality is meaningful in this conversation about masturbation because it recognizes the essential truth, that we are all sexual beings.
The degree to which we are driven by this part of our nature is as variable as is the way each of us interprets and acts on this part of our human nature. But between the recent scandals in the church between priests and kids, and the damaging sexual relationships that so many people live victim to, I think it is fair to say that we have come to the point where we might rethink and embrace the idea and practice of healthy self pleasuring.
Indeed, there are many sexual educators and therapists that consider the ability to self pleasure as the cornerstone of sexual health. It’s not really a stretch to consider that a large percentage of the sexual dysfunction that so many people suffer from might easily has begun with the shame and anxiety about touching oneself. There is a clear correlation between the degree of guilt that early physical curiosity met and the ability to experience sexual pleasure in adult life.
Finding comfort with our sexual selves is one of the most genuine, intimate and life affirming ways we can know ourselves. It is the first gate of understanding for both the raw experience of pleasure and the root of our primary sexual identity which is so basic as to be prerequisite to a fulfilling sexual relationship with others.
It is not just for lonely people either. Survey research shows that people of all ages masturbate both in and out of relationships. Kinsey’s survey found that almost 40 percent of men and 30 percent of women in relationships masturbated. A study of Playboy readers found that 72 percent of married men masturbated, and a study of Redbook readers found that 68 percent of married women masturbated. Even given those statistics, many people feel they have to hide this behavior from their partner.
One of the best reasons to let go of all the judgment and history surrounding this normal sexual behavior is because having access to your own pleasure and orgasm teaches a profound inner lesson, which is that your orgasm is your own.
No one else gives it to you or has power over you having it. Having the knowledge and confidence to know what feels good to you allows you the space and courage to share that most intimate information about yourself with someone else. Accepting the full responsibility of our own sexual nature, needs and preferences is the gift you bring to a healthy sexual relationship with someone else.
So take the time this month to love yourself, feel your body and be grateful for all the sensations that you experience.
Just for this one month, see what it feels like to call this part of yourself normal and welcome in the comfort of being a sexual human being. Go here to learn more about this topic. Another great resource which outlines the origin of vibrators and women’s orgasm is a video we sell called Passion and Power, an amazing chapter in the history of women’s sexuality and search for a relationship to their own right to pleasure.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Mark Sebastian/Flickr