May Is National Masturbation Month!
Here in Wisconsin, most people think that the month of May brings daffodils, the end of the school year at UWM and Marquette, and (finally) some warm weather. For the past 14 years, it's also been time to celebrate a little self-loving. Good Vibrations, one of the first woman-owned sex toy stores in the country, first declared that May was National Masturbation Month in 1995 in response to the firing of then-Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders by President Bill Clinton. What had Elders done that merited her dismissal? She said that "masturbation is something that is part of human sexuality, and is part of something that perhaps should be taught" to help curb the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (she was speaking in response to a question about masturbation that was posed to her at the United Nations World AIDS Day Conference).
As Elders wrote later, "Masturbation: It's not a four-letter word, but the president fired me for saying it. … It remains a sexual taboo of monumental proportions to discuss the safe and universal practice of self-pleasure." Read more of Elders' statement here: http://www.nerve.com/Dispatches/Elders/mword/ The goal of National Masturbation Month is to reduce that taboo, encourage discussion about masturbation and promote the idea that masturbation is both safe sex and hot sex.
Many of the old myths about masturbation-that those who masturbate will go blind or grow hair on their palms, for example-have fallen by the wayside. However, there are still a lot of misconceptions about masturbation that are quite common. As a sexuality educator, the ones I hear most often are that 1) masturbation is an inferior form of sexual activity that one only engages in if a sexual partner can't be found, and 2) people who are in relationships only masturbate if their sex life with their partner is somehow inadequate.
I bumped into some of these myths in April, when I participated in a panel discussion where attendees could ask questions anonymously and get answers from panelists with a wide variety of views about sexuality. In response to a question about masturbation, one panelist, who provides marriage counseling to Catholic couples, stated that sexuality is a special gift that should be shared only with a partner you love, and that any self-loving outside of that context should be avoided. I could not disagree more. If you really want to do right by your future and current partners, I strongly encourage you to jack- or jill-off as much as possible. Good sexual partners are comfortable with their bodies and know what feels good to them. They feel in control of their sexual pleasure and are not dependent on others to give them orgasms (and thus resentful when their partners can't provide them). Masturbation encourages all of this: self-knowledge, comfort and the ability to communicate with partners about what feels good to you.
Masturbation within relationships can also be helpful in relieving conflicts about sex. It's common for sexual partners of any gender combination to have different levels of sexual desire. Instead of pressuring a partner to have sex when they might not want to, masturbate! If you crave intimacy with a partner, ask them to hold you while you masturbate or help stimulate different parts of your body. There might also be times when someone prefers masturbating to having sex with a partner, perhaps because it feels different, it's quicker, the person wants some private time, or what have you. This is perfectly healthy, as long as masturbation isn't replacing sex with a partner.
Let's not forget that masturbation is the safest form of sex-no risk of pregnancy or infection as long as you aren't coming into contact with someone else's body fluids. Celebrate May by beating your meat, polishing your pearl, getting acquainted with Rosy Palm and Her Five Sisters, or [insert euphemism of your choice here]. It's the most fun you'll have during any national awareness campaign.
In photo: My hero, former US Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders
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Laura Anne Stuart has a master's degree in public health and has worked as a sexuality educator for more than a decade. She owns theTool Shed, an erotic boutique on Milwaukee's East Side.