Learning about our bodies is learning to love ourselves.

As a child, I had a tooth pillow. A small, baby blue pillow with white lace trim and a pocket on it with the word “tooth” carefully embroidered on it. It was meant to make it easier for the tooth fairy to find my teeth as I lost them and leave me a prize. It wasn’t long until I discovered a better purpose for it. I had been using my regular pillow to masturbate with. I would wait until my mother said good night and left my room and then I would slip it under my body and gyrate on it until I had an orgasm. Then I would easily fall asleep. The problem was, I was so relaxed that I didn’t want to have to move my pillow back up under my head when I done. I also didn't want to be found with it between my legs in the morning. Not that I’d ever been told it was wrong, but I’d also never been told it was right ... and something told me it was better to keep it a secret.

Now, tooth pillow solved that dilemma. I could keep my big pillow under my head and the little blue tooth pillow was just the right size to tense my muscles around bring me pleasure. I could drift off to sleep afterwards without having to leave my comfortable blissful state.

I can recall one time I got myself very worked up masturbating, and got quite sweaty and red-faced in the process. I felt so sweaty and uncomfortable afterwards that I went downstairs to ask for a drink. My father was in the kitchen talking with a neighbor friend. They took one look at me and thought I must be sick. My temperature was taken; I was soothed and put back to bed. I knew I wasn’t sick, but I didn’t argue. I enjoyed the extra attention.

Discovering My Vagina

I have a vague memory of discovering my vagina as a child. I realized that I could actually put my finger inside of myself. It happened sort of accidentally one time when I was playing with myself. It didn’t give me pleasure. I had already discovered how much pleasure I could get from frottage. So I just went back to my same old routine of humping the bed.

At first, I didn’t associate my behavior with anything sexual. I was simply doing what felt good and natural in my body. As I got a little older, I began to make a connection between those good feelings and fantasies of feeling sexy and desired.

This is when I discovered other creative ways to reach orgasm. I’ve had fantasies since I was a little girl of having my wrists tied together and being suspended over a fiery pit of snakes or quicksand, wearing nothing but a torn dress that revealed the outline of my womanly body, my long wavy hair all mussed up, my lips ruby red, my eyes alive with excitement and fear.

I must have developed this fantasy from images I saw in old movies and I couldn’t think of anything more exciting, more sensual. I played it out by hanging from a low branch on the fringe tree in our back yard. It was just high enough that my feet couldn’t touch the ground. With my body stretched fully like that, I felt the excitement of being helpless, of being displayed, of being desired. What could be more beautiful? Sometimes I was inside the house hanging from the banister on the stairway, clenching my thighs together, feeling the warm tingly feeling move from my genitals up through my body to flood my brain.

Self Exploration and Pleasure Are Natural

I may have been slightly precocious in this manner, but it is not unusual or unhealthy for children to want to touch their genitals and enjoy the pleasurable sensations it can bring them.

Have you ever wondered why babies suck their toes? Because it feels good. They touch their genitals for the same reason. Simply because it feels good. It is normal for infants to explore their bodies and repeat what gives them pleasure. Not all infants will do this, but many, given the opportunity, will. Toddlers are also curious humans and are learning about the world around them through exploration. With toilet training, there can be lots of focus on the genitals. It’s normal for a child to want to touch themselves. As kids get older, you can talk to them about privacy and when it is appropriate (or inappropriate) to masturbate.

Talking About Masturbation With Children

If the word masturbation feels uncomfortable to you when talking about children, genital touch, self-touch, self-pleasuring, or simply playing with your penis or playing with your clitoris are some other options. As adults, we associate masturbation with sexual feelings and thoughts. Depending on the age and maturity level of the child, there may or may not be sexual thoughts involved.

My son is nine years old. Since we started the conversation about masturbation being something that we do when we are alone in a private space (the bathtub or in one’s bedroom), we began referring to it as private time. He also knows the term masturbate, but if he goes in his room and closes the door and informs us that he is having private time, we know what he means.

He also knows that he has not started puberty yet, but that someday masturbation may include an ejaculation that contains sperm. This is part of teaching him the story about how babies are made. It makes sense to talk to our kids about their changing bodies before the change happens. Helping get them mentally prepared for the physical changes they will experience is a key part of preparing them for life.

Allowing children to do what feels natural to them in an appropriate context and environment, we teach the importance of self-love and self-respect. So if you have a child you are helping to raise, no matter what age they are, consider communicating with them in a healthy and affirming way about how special our bodies are and how it’s healthy to enjoy the good feelings our bodies can give us. Self-pleasure is natural and normal both for adults and children. After all, you probably did it too.