You may have seen the plucky memes in the past week announcing May as National Masturbation Month. They're fun, clever, and even silly. And while they may evoke a chuckle from you, as they did me, you might just mentally move on without considering the actual value of the message. I mean, after all, it's MASTURBATION. An easy target for trivializing humor in movies and television shows.
What are the benefits of publicly stating that May is dedicated to the national celebration of self-pleasuring (besides the undoubted visceral discomfort it creates for the likes of VP Mike Pence)? I think the benefits fall into three categories: 1) The opportunity to learn about or be reminded of the mental and physical benefits of masturbation; 2) A normalizing of a societally taboo and shamed subject; and 3) An overall encouragement of approaching sexual topics with an open mind and fun attitude. This is what I mean by each of these categories:
1) There are a host of mental and physical benefits of masturbation. These include stress reduction, clearing one's head, help in falling asleep, assistance in treating sexual concerns, providing self-nurturing time, relieving menstrual cramps for women, and improving prostate health for men. Additionally, one benefit that seems particularly important for many women, is learning what pleasure for pleasure's sake feels like, and how to achieve that pleasure. For women who grew up feeling disconnected from their pleasure or body, masturbation, especially a more meditative and mindful approach to self-pleasure, can be incredibly insightful and empowering.
2) Speaking of the necessity of empowerment through masturbation, there are a ton of messages -- through religion, government, school, family, and personal interactions -- that masturbation is bad and shameful. But year after year (the first National Masturbation Day was declared by Good Vibrations in 1995) there has been a growing May reminder that this topic is something we need to be talking about more. Masturbation is something to enjoy and be proud of, and to discuss with others. OK, should you really be "proud" of masturbation?* I don't know, maybe I'm taking it too far. But you most definitely shouldn't feel shame for engaging in and enjoying a perfectly natural and normal sexual activity.
3) As much as sexual imagery is plastered in all of our media, we are still pretty terrible as a society when it comes to honest, real conversations about the nuances of sexual experiences. Our collective embarrassment around masturbation is indicative of this. So declaring a whole month dedicated to choking the chicken (I just really wanted to work that phrase into this article) is a bold stand for our still oddly puritanical society.
One last thought about May as National Masturbation Month. In some accounts of history, May was named after Maia, the Greek and Roman goddess. In Roman mythology she represented the concept of growth. Growth. I think this is a perfect concept for reclaiming the shame and stigma around this healthy sexual process. So go forth, and audition your finger puppets, beat the bishop, diddle Miss Daisy, give yourself a lube job, and blow your own horn. You should celebrate it.
*Do some people masturbate "too much" and experience compulsive behavior that gets in the way of their other priorities in life? Sure. That's not what I'm talking about here.
~Dr. Jenn Gunsaullus, San Diego Sexologist, Sociologist, & Sexuality Speaker