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July 2, 2020

The Difference between Self-Pleasure & Masturbation.


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“You sound like a whore!”

My first boyfriend once taped our lovemaking. When he played it back to me, the throaty animalistic sounds I heard were not something I could easily recognize as coming from me.

It was obviously a raw expression of pleasure and self-abandon—a side of myself that I have not known before. My boyfriend, who was obviously in love with me, was still so taken aback by that sound of the unleashed, raw power of a woman enjoying herself in sex and felt it necessary to comment in a tone of voice that felt judgmental.

“Please don’t tell anyone!”

Was how my best friend in High School warned me when I decided to tell her some details of love-making I was exploring with my boyfriend for the first time.

I remember saying, “It’s so much fun!” until I noticed the mounting discomfort of my friend. She added that people were already commenting about my “glow.” From her nervous demeanor, I understood that the glow she referred to was not a compliment.

“Stop dancing like that! People think you are on drugs!”

Hissed a friend during a party in High School when she came to pull me off a stage where some of us were dancing while a live band was playing.

I remember being really surprised because I did not drink nor did drugs and did not really know what that felt like. But I always loved music and dancing and did feel a kind of a “natural high” when I’d let my body move to music unrestricted, flowing in sensuality, often with my eyes closed, lost in my own world.

“How can your father let you out of the house wearing shorts like that?!”

I was working as a camp counselor one summer while in High School. I remember the shorts were red and I suppose this man—one of the few adult men on campgrounds—found them inappropriate. I do not remember what it was about these shorts or if anything else was said. I do remember an intense sense of shame and, by then, a familiar feeling that there was something intrinsically wrong with me.

Of course, this man’s outburst was not about my shorts. It was about his own discomfort with his primal nature. He must have been ashamed of a natural reaction to seeing a 16-year-old girl running around in red shorts, playing sports in the summer, sweaty, flushed from the heat and movement.

Rather than owning his nature and processing the resulting feeling to regulate the emotional charge, he instead discharged his discomfort on me (and my father), holding us responsible for something that was happening in his own body.

Of course, male desire for an underage girl has been demonized in our culture, and men are taught to suppress and to fear their natural urges. This repression of feelings, rather than informing self-regulation, is actually what leads to eventual violence. This inability to feel and process what arises in our bodies is what causes us to project our feelings on others and blame them for our physical and emotional state.

For centuries women were held responsible for men’s arousal and behavior. And women further perpetuate the unhealthy dynamic by policing other women to stay within the straight and narrow line of “acceptable” behavior.

These are just some of the many messages about pleasure and my body that I have received growing up.

We are conditioned to experience our sexuality as something to fear, suppress, and not discuss. Most of us—men and women—have grown up shamed for our enjoyment of pleasure. Many more than care to speak out have suffered abuse and violation. Being shamed for something that is an intrinsic part of our nature or having our bodies violated results in us feeling unsafe in our bodies.

Any experience that has made us feel unsafe—physically or emotionally—is trauma.

It is not so much trauma itself that is harmful: the trauma is over once we’ve survived it. The damage is the resulting disconnect from our own bodies, the disruption of our knowing our bodies as sacred, sovereign, and safe. This is what must be repaired: that broken connection between ourselves and our bodies.

The adaptations that our body created to keep us safe post-trauma are what causes dissociation from our bodies, our senses, our pleasures, our desires. This disconnect is what then prevents us from pursuing lives according to our own desires, lives where we feel fulfilled and happy. Instead, many of us make choices and create lives out of subconscious coping mechanisms, which tend to keep us under radar, small, and mute.

Fear of abandonment, fear of being not enough or too much, fear of rejection, and not belonging is what blocks our full self-expression. We are unable to embody what we cannot access: parts of ourselves that we have rejected and locked up as a coping mechanism.

We can repair this connection to our bodies through a regular self-pleasure practice.

I am starting to introduce this to my clients as an alternative to traditional meditation—a healing modality of becoming a witness to our processes.

There is some resistance. Cultural taboos against touching ourselves are old and deep. Yet relegating self-touch to a taboo reinforces the idea that “my body is not my own,” but exists solely for someone else’s pleasure. This belief has many women feel like failures when they have to “do it” on their own, instead of being touched by a partner.

The difference between self-pleasure and masturbation is that there is no goal in mind, nothing to achieve, no arousal, or orgasm to focus on. There is no right or wrong way to do it besides learning what feels good to our bodies and what areas need our attention.

To heal is to expand our capacity to process emotions, most of which live in our subconscious, in our bodies, in our nervous systems. Every time we can unlock, face, and process the repressed parts of ourselves we return to our wholeness.

When instead of repressing we focus on the sensations that arise, we are able to process them through breath, touch, sound, and movement. It is a self-exploration—the journey to reclaim authentic parts of who we are. It is also an important tool in learning to self-regulate.

The practice of self-pleasure helps us connect us to our feelings free of guilt and shame. Dropping into the body to feel what is there builds intimacy with our physicality. Once we regain a sense of safety and ease within our own skin, we can work on building an intimate connection with someone else.

Pleasure is not a dirty word. It is not shameful. It is our birthright.

We were born into physical bodies and blessed with access to our senses and their resulting pleasure. Our bodies are wired throughout with nerve endings that produce sensations. We have numerous erogenous zones where we can feel powerful feelings of pleasure from the lightest of touches.

Do you know what else gives us pleasure? Eating food, especially when we are hungry. Walking barefoot on new spring grass. Looking up to the perfectly blue sky while lying on a park bench with your shoes off. Kissing. Smiling at a stranger, just because. Hugging—a tree or a person. Listening to birds sing as you wake up on a spring morning. Washing dishes in warm soapy water. Wrapping yourself in a cozy blanket. And a million other things.

Our body is our sacred vessel. It is our home from day one and through the rest of our days. It deserves nothing short of our total reverence and love. Shedding shame-loaded judgments about it and opting instead to be guided by self-compassion and self-love offers healing and transformation to a world that has for too long been deprived of it.

Contact me for a free introductory session to start reclaiming the fullness and safety of who you are.

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