Why We Need International Masturbation Month - My Masturbation Journey
Over the years of owning and running the Tickle Trunk, Masturbation Month has become my favourite time of year. I mean, I own a sex shop so of course I talk about masturbation all the time. But the shop covers all aspects of sexuality - masturbation is only one part of it. During May, I get a chance to really focus on solo sex.
Over the past 20 years, as I've worked in the field of sexual health, I've come to understand how devastating sexual shame can be - the far-reaching effects it has, not just on individuals, but on our society as a whole. Masturbation is one of the sexual acts our culture shames the most. For me, Masturbation Month gives me a chance to talk about why this is such a problem and to do my small part to try to help turn the tide of sexual shaming right where it often starts, with solo sex.
I've written a LOT about masturbation but in this post, I'm going to do something I've never done before - I'm going to write about my own history with masturbation. I've certainly told some of this story to some people and even in some of my public presentations, but I've never put it all out there on the net like this. But I think that my story is probably similar to a lot of others and it illustrates why it's so important to talk about masturbation. So in the interest of banishing shame and liberating self-love, it's about to get way TMI in here.
I learned how to masturbate when I was pretty young. For me, like I imagine it does for a lot of young girls, it happened by lovely accident. I discovered that if I crossed my legs and pressed my thighs together, it felt good. And if I kept going, this wonderful thing happened that felt all melty and lovely and nice. I don't remember how old I was when I first figured this out, maybe 8? The thing was, I had no idea at all that this had anything to do with sex. I didn't know what masturbation was. I didn't know what an orgasm was. I knew what sex was but that was for making babies - this was not that.
Somehow, as I got older and started hearing all those words and knowing more about sex was, I still didn't get the connection. I guess because I wasn't actually touching myself, I just never clued into exactly why that felt so good. But then when I was about 12, something happened.
I'm going to backtrack for a minute here so you get where I'm coming from. If you're a lot younger than me, it may be hard to imagine that at 12, I knew that little about sex. I knew what sex was, and by 12 I knew it was supposed to feel good, that it wasn't just for making babies. I had just a shred of sex info from my grade 7 'dimensions for living' class and my grade 5 period talk. But none of this talked about actual sexual pleasure. You see, there was no internet back then so unless you knew where to look for info, or you had someone older in your life who was going to fill you in, or you were a much more social kid than I was and you were into experimenting with other kids, there was a lot of stuff you just didn't get to know.
I was also raised in a Christian home. For the most part, that was a very good thing. My Church was great and I have a lot of respect for my parents faith. But we just never talked about sex. Outside of my Church, I was associated with other Christian media, groups, and friends that made it really clear to me that sex was only for when you are married and it's something you just do not do and you don't talk about it.
So back to the thing that happened and what Christianity had to do with it. When I was around 12 years old, I got introduced to this contemporary Christian author that eveyrone I knew was reading. Her books were mostly autobiographical. I loved them - found them very inspiring and relatable. Her books were not about sex at all but there was this one, very very small passage in one of them where she mentions that she used to 'self-pleasure' and that she had to ask God to forgive her and help her to stop. That word - 'self-pleasure' was just enough for me to put two and two together. The thing that I had been doing with my was doing with my thighs was pleasurable and I was doing it to myself! And obviously, according to this person that I really looked up to, this was a sin. Up until that moment, I was totally cool with it - it felt nice, why not? But reading that changed everything. Then I felt very bad about it and was incredibly guilty about all of this sinning I had been doing without really even knowing it. I know it may sound silly but to the mind of a young girl who knows next to nothing about sex and really loves her God, this was a big deal.
Now I just want to note here that I think we are all entitled to our own values. If you truly believe that masturbation is not okay for you, and that is your own value, that is up to you. The problem for me was that I was taking on other people's values. I allowed what someone else thought to make me feel terrible about something that was previously a rather happy thing for me.
I did not stop masturbating. I think I did it less, but I still did it. This is a natural urge. Once you know how to do it, you're probably going to keep doing it. The difference was that now I felt bad every time. I felt dirty and shameful - like I needed to be forgiven. And even more dirty and shameful that I couldn't seem to stop myself from doing it.
Everything I learned from that point on showed me that masturbation is sad and shameful, that people only do it because they can't control themselves or because they are too pathetic to find someone to have real sex with. I kept doing it but I never really enjoyed it because it was always quickly followed by shame and self-recrimination.
I did not start having sexual experiences with other people until I was in my early 20's. I was very shy and socially awkward and just never had the confidence to try to date until I was older. The first person I dated and became sexual with was also, wouldn't you know it, also full of sexual shame. This sounds like a recipe for disaster but it was actually helped me a lot. It both broke my heart and frustrated me immensely that this lovely person that I had started doing some lovely things with, felt so very very bad about all of it - so bad that he couldn't really enjoy it (he once had me pray with him for forgiveness after). I couldn't see it in myself, but I could see it in him - how this shame was destroying his self-esteem and ruining his ability to enjoy sex, to enjoy me, and to have an honest open relationship with me. That made me start to really question everything I had believed about sex up to that point. I didn't want to be like that, I wanted to enjoy the things I was doing and feel confident and happy about the choices I was making.
So I started really working on learning about sexuality and challenging what I believed. I came to truly believe that my body was mine and what I wanted to do with it was totally okay - even and especially something that felt so damn good.
But here's the thing that I think is so important about my story. Even after I had made that shift in my brain, it took a long time for my heart to catch up. I knew that masturbation was okay for me. I honestly believed that. But I STILL felt guilty about it. I would tell myself it was fine but a little part of me kept telling me that it was wrong and sad and pathetic. It was about another 5 to 6 years after I had truly changed my mind before that guilt went away.
Now I am pleased to say that I masturbate when I bloody well want to. I do it how I want and I do it because I like it. And I don't feel the tiniest bit guilty about it and I don't think I'm pathetic. But it took me a long, long, long time to get there.
I know that my story is not at all unique. A lot of us grew up thinking there was something deeply shameful about touching our own bodies. And many of us have not had the opportunity that I did to challenge that idea and decide for ourselves if it's right for us.
I wasted a lot of time feeling bad about myself, time that I could have spent enjoying my own body, and learning and appreciating my own sexuality. My first sexual experiences were awkward and fraught with confusion and doubt because I was too ashamed to talk openly, to ask questions, and to ask for what I needed. I was one of the lucky ones though. For many, the cost is much higher - depression, STI's and other health problems, bad relationships, abuse, substance use, self-harm and even suicide. All because we think we are terrible people just for being sexual.
So ya, masturbation month might seem silly and trivial to some, but to me it's a big deal. It's a chance to say 'hey, it's okay to touch yourself. It's okay to think about the things you're thinking about. It's okay to be a sexual human person'. I hope that being so open about this will help other people who are still suffering with some that same guilt that I had, realize that there is nothing to feel guilty about. This is just who we are. And who we are is pretty amazing.