There are a lot of days and months set aside for awareness and observance. Some of these public awareness campaigns are weird, some are obscure ... but some are actually really important. We count Masturbation Month among the latter and around here, it's kind of like Christmas. Not only is masturbation fun in a personal sense, but it matters in broader, more political sense as well.
Why does masturbation matter? And why does it merit a whole month-long campaign? And why do we insist on celebrating each and every year? OK. Here's why.
The Story Behind Masturbation Month
Back in 1994, U.S. Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders suggested at a United Nations conference on AIDS that masturbation might be a way for young people to avoid riskier forms of sexual activity and that the subject should be a part of sex education.
She didn't recommend that kids be given masturbation lessons or that teachers provide live demonstrations. When specifically asked about masturbation as a means of preventing young people from engaging in riskier forms of sexual activity, she merely said, "I think that it is part of human sexuality, and perhaps it should be taught."
Even so, major controversy ensured. So much controversy that President Bill Clinton forced her to resign.
However, while Elders' comment may have cost her her job, it also ignited a bit of a movement, one that sought to protest Elders' termination - and celebrate what many saw as a normal, healthy party of sexuality. In 1995, sex toy retailer Good Vibrationskicked off what became a movement by declaring May 7th to be "National Masturbation Day."
Over the years, one day was deemed insufficient, and the celebration was expanded to include the entire month of May.
Things just kind of expanded from there. Good Vibrations led the charge, coming up with new events each and every year. There were Masturbate-a-Thons and TV segments and public relations campaigns. There was a Masturbation Hall of Fame. And they all stemmed from a desire to bust the idea that the very mention of masturbation was so shameful it couldn't be mentioned.
In fact, Good Vibrations sex educator, Carol Queen, has referred to Masturbation Month as a "PR initiative for masturbation."
Now that's a campaign we can get on board with!
Why Masturbation Month Matters
If virtually everyone masturbates, why does the practice need PR? Good question. That's kind of the thing with sex, isn't it? It's a normal, natural part of being human, and yet many people react to the subject with mortification and shame. There may sex be everywhere you look, but for many people, sexuality is still (still!) tied in with a whole lot of shame. It might be religious, it might have to do with body image or it might just be a very broad and misdirected feeling that touching ourselves and getting pleasure from it is somehow wrong.
Unfortunately, that shame can lead to all kinds of unpleasant feelings - and serious problems. It often prevents people from exploring their bodies - or even causes them to attach sexual pleasure with feelings of contempt and self-reproach. Pleasure and opprobrium. Excitement and guilt. They all get tied up together in a pretty fucked up package.
Shame around sex prevents people from talking openly and honestly with their partners, taking care of their sexual health and treating their sex lives like they matter. Which, of course, they do.
Because masturbation is often people's first sexual experience, it can color the way people feel about their sexualities, their bodies and their sex lives over the course of their whole lives.
Yes, Masturbation Month is a celebration, but this shit is deep too, guys. Our culture is bent on telling us that we just can't have that cake and eat it too. That enjoying our bodies just isn't OK. That pleasure comes at a cost.
In reality, many studies have shown that masturbation improves sexual function, reduces stress, boosts the immune system and helps us sleep. It's also the best (and often first) way we explore our bodies. Without the shame, that pleasure is not only healthy, but empowering.
Why You Should Join in the Fun
We have so much respect for those who started Masturbation Month - and those who are carrying on the tradition. And, guys, while there definitely still is stigma around self-pleasure, things are getting so much better. Kinkly's only been around since 2013, and even in that short time we've seen greater awareness, openness and discussion around sexuality and sexual health - masturbation included.
And you know what? That's something worth celebrating.