In 1995 the sex shop Good Vibrations in San Francisco did us all a favour by declaring May as the Month of Masturbation.

Although technically an unregistered national holiday of the US, there is no reason the rest of us across the globe can’t partake in this celebration as well. Fear not, giving masturbation its own month is not to say that it cannot be enjoyed at any other time of the year, but instead we can spend this month discussing the benefits of, and relieving the stigma around, masturbation, to make for a more enjoyable experience all year round.

Similar to other sex acts, masturbation is often considered something that should take place behind closed doors and not an appropriate dinner-time conversation, or anytime-conversation really. With the rise of sex positive attitudes, shifts in opinions about masturbation are occurring, however, arguably not at the same rate as sex with others. Due to its, often, solo nature masturbation is considered a lesser alternative to partnered or group sex, as if it is an indication of someone’s loneliness or inability to find someone else to have sex with. While this can be the case, portraying masturbation in such a light can serve to make it an embarrassing act. Even if someone masturbating would rather be with a partner, internalising these social values is likely to only lower their self-esteem. Furthermore, people may also masturbate by choice, preferring it to partnered or group sex. Just like any activity that can be done alone or with others, neither option is worse than the other but simply different, with different benefits and limitations.

Girls and women should feel just as entitled to taking control of their sexual pleasure as men and boys.

It is no secret that a lot of the stigma around masturbation is gendered. Even growing up in a pretty liberal environment, I distinctly remember being told by one of my peers aged 13 that masturbation was okay for boys but not for girls. Quite the persistent person, I didn’t really let this dissuade me but in a world that continues to shun, and in many cases actively discourage, female sexual pleasure it is no surprise that women are far less likely to masturbate than men, and if they do start, it is usually much later in life. This is one of the many reasons that having an entire month to promote the benefits of masturbation is a wonderful and necessary thing. Girls and women should feel just as entitled to taking control of their sexual pleasure as men and boys.

Beyond the obvious physical pleasure that results from masturbating, research has shown numerous other health benefits that make it an act to be celebrated. For one, the release of hormones following an orgasm has shown to relieve stress and why Tabitha Rayne, an erotica author, sex toy inventor, and sex-blogger, promoted masturbating every day of the month this April as part of Mental Health awareness. For those with periods, the contractions of an orgasm can also alleviate menstrual cramps, as well as providing pain relief for other ailments. Furthermore, regular ejaculation improves the overall health of sperm by removing the older sperm cells, a clear benefit for those trying to conceive. Multiple other health benefits have been proven including helping with sleeplessness, proving that masturbation definitely does good rather than harm. Not to mention that it is 100% safe from pregnancy and STIs*.

Masturbation is entirely about you, so you can try whatever you like (safety providing) for however long you like

Masturbation is also brilliant, and arguably the best way to get to know your own body and figure out what it likes. If you feel shame touching yourself, it is likely this shame will transfer to some degree when someone else touches you sexually. Therefore, taking time to make yourself feel good can help you gain the confidence to be physical with other people, if that is what you want. Masturbation is entirely about you, so you can try whatever you like (safety providing) for however long you like. That being said, masturbation can also be a cause of body dysmorphia for some, especially for those whose gender may not match their genitals, masturbation can be distressing. This a necessary conversation that needs to be had and already sex toys have been developed to begin addressing this issue. A sex toy for transgender men with vulvas that makes it possible for them to masturbate as if they had a penis has recently been invented and is a great start in promoting a healthy and enjoyable masturbation experience regardless of gender and sex.

The purpose of Masturbation Month is not to force or shame those who do not want to masturbate into doing it, but rather to allow those who already do or want to start, to do so with abandon. Of course, it goes without saying that, as with any sex act, masturbation should be consensual, so this is by no means an endorsement of public masturbation unless all those watching are voyeurs by choice.

don’t be the Masturbation Grinch and take away someone else’s joy

Just like any other national holiday as well as any other sex act, the way you choose to engage with it is entirely your choice. Whether that be to go all in (possibly, literally) and embrace the festive season, or to entirely ignore it, it’s completely up to you. Treat it like Christmas; not everyone wants to hear every detail of what you cooked for Christmas dinner and how stuffed you felt after, but at the same time, don’t be the Masturbation Grinch and take away someone else’s joy in celebrating a holiday that you may not agree with. Positive attitudes towards masturbation is an essential part of sex positivity more generally and I look forward to when ‘Happy Masturbation Month’ greeting cards become available.

*If you have a cold sore make sure to wash your hands thoroughly before touching your genitals as transfer of the HSV-1 virus is possible.

Image: Gustav Klimt, Masturbation – full uncensored image

Marlena is a History and Environmental Studies student currently on an exchange year at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. She is strongly interested in social and environmental issues, including sustainability, gender equality and promoting sex positivity. Most of her free time is spent Swing dancing and travelling to different dance events.

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