Way back in 1994, then-Surgeon General of the United States Dr. Jocelyn Elders was invited to speak at a United Nations conference on AIDS. Asked whether masturbation would be appropriate to promote to young people as an alternative to riskier sexual activity, she replied, “I think that it is part of human sexuality, and perhaps it should be taught.”
Sensible? Yes — but it was too much for the Clinton administration to handle, and she was fired. In response, the following year the Good Vibrations sex toy store in San Francisco dubbed May National Masturbation Month.
As Good Vibrations notes in an a blog post from earlier this week, it’s now International Masturbation Month, thank you very much. In the last 20 years, a lot has changed in American culture — some things for the better, some not (I’m looking at states implementing drastic regulations and waiting periods on abortion, for example). Masturbation is still not a family-dinner-conversation topic for most people, but then again, how many families actually manage to gather around the dinner table anymore?
The topic of self-pleasure is, I think, far less taboo than it once was. For all the ways the Internet is messing with how we connect and communicate — and even how we think — it has also made information and discourse about masturbation available to virtually anyone who can get online.
Yes, technology is having a questionable impact on the ability of younger generations to engage in truly intimate relationships, and a lot of the porn out there does not model “healthy” or “realistic” sex. But there’s a ton of masturbation to be seen out there, numerous legit resources for those with questions, and a lot more people talking about it like it’s the normal, pleasurable, healthy, non-shameful thing it is.
After all, once upon a time in 1970, Betty Dodson (Planet Waves’ sexual godmother) found out that while drawings of nude couples having sex might be a hit on Madison Avenue, a gallery show of female nudes masturbating was a non-starter. In fact, it got her dumped from the NYC art world. As Betty describes here, the ensuing realization that masturbation was the bottom line of sexual repression set her off on her legendary, and revolutionary, career of educating women and empowering them to take ownership of their orgasms.
Not everyone is on board; oppressive forces continue to work in powerfully insidious (and astonishingly obvious) ways. Plenty of people are still working their way out from under heartbreaking and still all-too-common burdens of guilt and shame about their bodies and desires. If you’re on that path — or just appreciate a good pro-masturbation pep-talk every once in a while, here’s Eric’s article titled How to Be Your Own Lover from (I believe) May of 2000.
As he writes in the epigram, “There’s more to a healthy relationship to yourself than great sex — but it helps. A lot.”
With that, I wish you a very merry month of May.