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What is Masturbation May?

By Maya Khamala

It seems there are special designations coinciding with nearly every month of the year: February is Black History Month, October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and November is AIDS Awareness Month—to name a few. But chances are you’ve never heard of International Masturbation Month (and if you have, hats off). Wedged firmly between International Amateur Radio Month and Men’s Health Month is Masturbation May—a veritable celebration of shameless self-love.

Masturbation May, in case you haven’t guessed, is all about protecting and celebrating humanity’s goddess-given right to masturbate. May 7, 1995 was declared the first-ever Masturbation Day by the Good Vibrations sex shop in San Francisco as a protest again the firing of Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders. Elders was canned by President Clinton in 1994 for suggesting masturbation be included in the sex ed school curriculum. Because one can’t have too much of a masturbation revelation, Masturbation Day has since been expanded to include the entire month of May.

A history of stigma, shame…and liberation

In spite of recent wide-ass strides in sexual freedom, masturbation trails a long-ass history of stigma, shame and miseducation behind it.

In Solitary Sex: A Cultural History of Masturbation, Thomas W. Laqueur explores how an understanding of masturbation as a “disease” requiring medical treatment dominated quite unsettlingly in the early 18th century. Those of us who are total strangers to religion and some of its shadier associations may be surprised to learn that masturbation was believed to trigger blindness, madness, and a slew of other disorders. By the mid-19th century one could purchase erection alarms, penis cases, sleeping mitts, and hobbles to prevent women from spreading their legs. The sad news is that these devices were not created with kinky intent.

In the 20th century, the associations people made with masturbation slowly began to change. Notably, in the 1960s and 70s, the women’s movement embraced masturbation as an integral element of female sexuality. Feminists challenged Freud’s theory that masturbation (and clitoral orgasms in general) were infantile. Women wrote books, headed workshops, and began selling vibrators, ultimately turning the ‘anti-masturbation’ tide upside down.

“For the first time in history,” Laqueur writes, “masturbation was embraced as a mode of liberation, a claim to autonomy, to pleasure for its own sake, an escape from the socially prescribed path toward normal adulthood. It went from being the deviant sexuality of the wrong kind of social order to being the foundational sexuality of new sorts of imagined communities.”

Masturbation May, then is the inevitable modern manifestation of all efforts—past and present—to give masturbation the credit and the glory it so deserves. After all, the work ain’t over: for one thing, women are still less comfortable with masturbation than men are.

Masturbation and gender: the facts

With the knowledge that studies are very limited in the sense that any number of factors (age, class, race, culture) might influence whether or not a given group is more/less willing to discuss their masturbation habits, here are a few stats nonetheless:

1. According to Indiana University's National Survey Of Sexual Health And Behavior, among people 25-29, 5% of women masturbate more than 4x a week, compared with 20.1% of men. For those who masturbate 'multiple times a month,’ the gap is less stark: 21.5% of women versus 25.4% of men. But the gap typically remains as we age too, with women clocking in at least 10-15 percentage points behind men in each category. Also noteworthy: the older we get, men and women alike are more likely to report not masturbating at all.

2. When asked if they had ever masturbated before, 15% of the women surveyed as part of a Swedish study released in 2016 said no, compared to just 1% of men.

3. Women are more likely to use sex toys. When asked whether they use “objects” when masturbating, 43% of women surveyed said, “sometimes,” compared to 13% of men, while men were twice as likely as women to say they fantasized every time they masturbated.

Reasons to masturbate (if you need any)

There are oh-so-many many reasons to masturbate (or indeed, to orgasm in any way at all). Let’s count just a few for good measure, shall we?

1. It’s fun. Mmhm.

2. It feels good. Mmmmhmmmmm.

3. It can release happy hormones dopamine, oxytocin, endorphins, and serotonin, helping to boost your mood, regulate stress, and help you sleep better.

4. One study linked men 40-49 who were frequent masturbators (21+ times a month) with a better body mass index and lower risk of prostate cancer.

5. Among women, masturbation has been shown to relieve menstrual cramps.

6. It’s probably the safest sex you’ll ever have.

7. It’s one of the best ways to learn about your body and figure out what turns you on.

8. Because knowing thyself is a great way to boost your sexual confidence as well as your openness to exploring new things with a partner, masturbating can ultimately enrich your romantic/sexual relationships. 

Bottom line: self-love is hot AF, which is all the more reason to celebrate Masturbation May. For the love of pleasure, and the love of self. You deserve it.

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