Masturbation Month - Meet the Woman that Started it All

Masturbation Month - Meet the Woman that Started it All

Masturbation Month begins today. Last September, I was able to meet the inspiration behind this month-long celebration of self-love, Dr Joycelyn Elders.

Elders is one of my personal heroes. She came from a poor family in Arkansas and went on to become the first board-certified pediatric endocrinologist in that state, the first African American Surgeon General of the United States and only the second woman to ever hold that post. Those acheivements are impressive enough, but that’s not why she’s my hero. I love her because she fights hard for what she knows is right and doesn’t back down when she gets bullied by people in power.

Elders was a controversial choice for Surgeon General. She was an outspoken advocate of the legalization of marijuana and an avid promoter of comprehensive sexual-health education and access to free birth control. Both democrats and republicans were critical of Bill Clinton’s decision to appoint her, but he defended her. She had served as head of the department of health in Arkansas where she had helped to institute a K-12 curriculum that included sex education, substance-abuse prevention and programs to promote self-esteem. In that post, she also nearly doubled childhood immunizations, expanded the state’s prenatal-care program, and increased home-care options for the chronically or terminally ill. This is a woman who gets things done.

However, as Clinton’s administration had predicted, as Surgeon General her controversial opinions stirred up a lot of trouble for the democrats. Strangley enough, it wasn’t marijuana or condoms that became the final straw, it was masturbation. Elders delivered a speech to the UN on World AIDS Day 1994.

“Someone at the conference asked me about masturbation,” Elders told the audience at CatalystCon in September, “and so I said that I felt that masturbation is certainly something that we should talk about and that we should educate our young people about.”

Several days later, after her comments hit the media, the Secretary of State asked her to resign. Elders refused until the president asked her directly. Later that day, he did. She has never backed down. “If I was asked that same question today in that same set of circumstances, I would do it the same way,” she said. “I feel I gave the right answer the first time.”

In reaction to this incident, the sex-toy shop Good Vibrations declared May National Masturbation Month. Since its inception in 1994, it has been adopted by other stores and organizations all over North America and even internationally. Yet Elders herself did not know about Masturbation Month until her keynote speech at CatalystCon when the moderator thanked her for inspiring such a movement. She was thrilled.

Elders is 80-years-old now and still working hard. She has spent the past few years putting together a chair of sexual-health education at the University of Minnesota Medical School. It will be the first of its kind in North America and it will bear her name. 

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