The zoo was packed.
One of those days where every school near Richmond had the same good idea. Blue sky, not too warm. Almost lunchtime. A dozen 6th graders pressing their noses to the glass watching a lemur sunning himself spreadeagled on the grass beyond. Waiting for one last group of classmates to return.
Then a shriek erupted to a shrill chorus of horrified and nervous kid laughter—
Sure enough the lemur had sat up against a log with his legs splayed, both little hands tugging greedily for all he was worth.
The faces of the parent chaperones ran the gamut from concealed amusement to mortified disgust as they hustled the kids away from the grisly scene.
One of them, a tense young professional with pious frown lines and hair drawn back to a meaningful bun stalked off taut as a bowstring to find a zookeeper to harangue.
Masturbation is a tricky subject. But why?
According to a recent survey, 91% of US men and 78% of US women reported masturbating at some point—with 60% of people who masturbate doing so at least weekly.
So why do a third of Americans feel totally uncomfortable talking about masturbation, even with romantic partners?
It goes way back to the rise of the information age, as the printing press opened the pages of independent thought for distribution to anyone who could read. Suddenly information was widespread...ideas came from multiple sources...meaning the seat of power no longer held its monopoly on knowledge.
Suddenly private life became a political concern.
Masturbation became a symbol of private liberty, a totem of uncensored self conference. That kind of uninhibited self exploration represented a major threat to civic control.
But how to solve the problem? Couldn’t keep eyes on everyone all the time...
Onanism and the perversion of sin
Around that time a grifter named John Marten wrote an anonymous book linking the Biblical sin of Onan to masturbation (though it’s clear from the scripture that Onan’s sin was pulling out, instead of impregnating his brother’s widow)—and when the book became a bestseller, the lucky con man was ready with all sorts of snake-oil products to remedy the common problem of masturbatory urges.
But Pandora’s box once open is a slippery slope—and the era’s mouthpiece of power (religion) quickly rebranded masturbation as corruption of the flesh, self-abuse, the Devil’s idle plaything.
Self pleasure became a sin. Dangerous to your immortal soul. Suppress at all costs.
As such things tend to do, the beliefs snowballed through the decades and drove social, industrial, and medical forces down paths leading to suppression of millions of people’s natural sexual urges...condemning masturbation as a leading cause of malady.
Doctors in the 19th century linked masturbation to:
In the sweetest of ironies, those same doctors also prescribed manual genital stimulation as a cure for female “hysteria” which included depression and anxiety. Performed by a doctor, of course...clinical and detached. Suppress and control.
Mental health experts of the time also linked masturbation to so-called “perversions” like:
Fetishes and kinks
People were kept in their place, heads down grinding through life. No other recourse than work and pay taxes. Suppression of sexuality suppresses the spirit. Vilify masturbation—the best free source of dopamine—and the populace must rely on its institutions to supply the cure.
Suppressive attitudes about masturbation festered unchecked until the 1960s, after sex researchers like Alfred Kinsey and Masters & Johnson opened the doors on a new field of objective study in human sexuality—including the diverse masturbatory behaviors of various demographics.
Extensive studies redefined “normal” as a spectrum and “healthy” as highly subjective to the individual. It turned out different people had different sexual needs—with self and others.
Those and later breakthroughs powered a sexual revolution that enlivened the latter half of the 20th century...and launched a multibillion-dollar industry to support our increasing liberty in self-pleasure and sexuality. We still have a ways to go—but progress is undeniable.
And the benefits of liberated and educated sexuality are enormous and well documented.
Self love enriches every other corner of our lives. For some people masturbation is a cornerstone of self love...for stress relief, releasing tension, and beyond. In fact almost three quarters of Americans use masturbation as a form of self care.
Masturbation has plenty of proven physical and mental health benefits including:
Pleasure and positivity
Safe outlet for fantasy
Endorphin and dopamine from orgasm
Clearing the pipes – physical and mental
Stronger groin muscles
Masturbation practice can even help some women become orgasmic who were incapable before. And for some men who have trouble lasting during intercourse, a quick self-release ahead of time can release some of the tension, anticipation, and pressure...though it can also have the opposite effect.
Masturbation and the addiction trap
Like any activity that activates a reward center, masturbation can become an addictive habit.
Self pleasure can turn into self-medicating—which might mean it’s time to speak with a mental health professional. People with a dopamine deficit sometimes abuse masturbation as a source of the hormone. Others escape into it as a coping mechanism for loneliness.
Even those of us who simply procrasturbate...it can become a problem.
Unaddressed, compulsive masturbation can interfere with normal functioning. It can lead to self-harm, disrupt relationships, diminish self-esteem, and worse. It can also cause performance anxiety, resulting in sexual dysfunction in any type of genitalia. It can replace real connections with real people—a fundamental human need.
Now is the time to engage mindfulness. Compulsive sexual behavior is easy to slip into. But it’s never too late to address it.
You, me, us...masturbation in relationships
An otherwise healthy masturbation habit can be problematic if it’s perceived by a romantic partner as infidelity—all the more because of our cultural unwillingness to discuss the topic.
Even though we’ve come a long way since the era of chastity belts and hairy palms, plenty of sexual taboos persist—and it’s important to understand people have been brought up with deeply held feelings about masturbation.
Communication is key.
Heard this one before...? Unspoken expectations are premeditated resentments.
We can’t expect someone not to masturbate—but we also can’t expect everyone to share our enthusiasm. All we can ask from someone is an open and nonjudgmental conversation about personal experience and what’s important.
Again for the couple in back: communication is key. Talk to each other with empathy and without judgment about masturbation. Chances are you’ll find plenty in common. How exciting!
Seeing a sex therapist about masturbation
If masturbation is a negative force in your life—whether personally, in a relationship, for productivity, financially, romantically, or any other reason—it may be helpful to speak with a sex therapist.
A sex therapist’s job is to offer education and tools for self-discovery (not those kind of tools) to help you progress toward your goals.
Sex therapy methods you might use:
Healthy habit building
Sex therapy isn’t just for people with problems—it’s for anyone who wants to understand their sexuality better, with help from an expert. Sexuality is a complex tapestry to unravel. Healthy or otherwise. It’s a sum of many many parts. Sex therapy is a process of patience, critical reflection, empathy, open-mindedness, and communication.
Wondering how “normal” your masturbation habits are? How about a 15-minute confidential phone consultation with a sex therapist in Richmond to see if sex therapy is right for you?
You have nothing to lose—it’s FREE!
Email me today to schedule your call
Wordwork by Quillpower