A revolution is born in many ways, including the most private space of all—your own bedroom. Masturbation may not be thought of as an act of protest, but the history behind Masturbation Month, happening in May, proves otherwise.
In 1994, the United Nations held a conference on the AIDS pandemic, and the US Surgeon-General at the time commented that masturbation was “a part of human sexuality, and it's a part of something that perhaps should be taught.” Dr. Joycelyn Elders, who worked as Surgeon-General during the Bill Clinton administration, was simply offering her thoughts when asked about masturbation advocacy that might help alleviate the spread of AIDS.
Masturbation Month is a celebration of self-pleasure, but it was born out of protest, a pushback against a culture that relegated sex and sex education to the shadows.
The White House, however, found her words controversial and inappropriate, and Dr. Elders was forced to resign—a kind way of saying she was fired for her pro-masturbation comment. At the time, the U.S. had the highest rates of teen pregnancy and STIs in the developed world, symptoms of a broken sex education system, and the sex-positive community was outraged. In response, they created Masturbation Month.
There was a collaboration with Dan Savage, telling readers stories about masturbation, community members tracked their orgasms, created a Masturbation Museum, and generally created conversation designed to make masturbation less taboo.
May 28th is designated as Masturbation Day because of a high-profile effort to destigmatize self-pleasure that happened in 1998. According to the author of “The Sex & Pleasure Book: Good Vibrations Guide to Great Sex for Everyone,” Carol Queen, PhD, said in an article for Bustle that she was working with a marketing team for a sex toy company and hatched the idea to do a Masturbate-a-thon.
“The Masturbate-a-thon was intended to be a fundraiser for nonprofits, but the main point was getting people to get pledges — normalizing masturbation in this cheeky way by treating it like a walk-a-thon, only private,” Dr. Queen said. “As I used to say, 'except your feet don't hurt when you're done, unless you masturbate in a very unusual way'.”
People collected pledges for how many orgasms they had or how long they lasted. "We collaborated with Come As You Are in Toronto and other sex shops and organizations to get people to participate," Dr. Queen says. "It was a huge hit, with lots of press — and that meant, of course, lots of discussion about masturbation."
Masturbate-a-thons popped up all over the world, raising money for charities. Some were private, some were held via webcast, and some were even themed parties. Over time, masturbation’s taboo nature began to relax just a little, and although many still find it uncomfortable to talk about, and some religious organizations even say it’s a sin, progress is being made.
Masturbation Month is a celebration of self-pleasure, but it was born out of protest, a pushback against a culture that relegated sex and sex education to the shadows. By celebrating, each of us contributes to our own sexual empowerment and a healthier, more equitable culture.
Masturbation! It’s What’s For Dinner
Masturbation deserves celebration because it’s fantastic for our bodies and our minds. While it can be embarrassing or difficult to talk about publicly, or even privately with friends, it’s worth the vulnerability. Celebration may look different to everyone, but it begins in a place we have access to almost all the time: behind our own bedroom doors.
Physical Benefits of Masturbation
Studies show orgasms are great for well-being. They reduce stress, boost immunity and improve mood. Masturbating brings us those benefits without requiring input from a partner, so it’s great for overall health. During the COVID-19 pandemic, prioritizing our health is critical. Orgasms and masturbation are a great way to support wellness efforts and stay healthy!
Self-pleasure also teaches us about our own bodies, allowing us to reclaim our power. Sexual empowerment is about knowing ourselves intimately and allowing that knowledge to guide pleasure and intimacy. It’s about communication, both with ourselves and our partners. Sexual empowerment gives us the ability to say “no” when we’re not enjoying a position, partner, or situation, and it encourages us to speak up and ask for what we want. Sexual empowerment is a key component of enjoyable pleasure, especially with partners, and leads to compounded masturbation benefits when we are intimate with others.
As we learn more about our bodies and learn how to communicate what we want, sex with partners is better than ever. Masturbation allows us to learn what kinds of stimulation we crave, how we achieve orgasm and which experiences, positions and sensations we enjoy most. Masturbation can be enjoyed in and of itself, but it’s also great practice for partner play and makes us more confident in bed with others.
Emotional Benefits Of Masturbation
The benefits of masturbation fall into multiple categories, like stress reduction and increased wellness. Others are particularly good for our mental health, like increased confidence and body image. Getting between the sheets with yourself is a great way to be reminded you’re beautiful, powerful, and sexy. It’s like having the most attentive, enthralled lover to appreciate all the curves and parts of your body—but you’re both giving and receiving.
Masturbation can also help us sleep better by providing emotional benefits and stress reduction before we hit the hay, and studies show it can boost concentration and mood. There’s no shortage of reasons you should be masturbating, and not just throughout May!
Whenever you're feeling disconnected with yourself, or like you need a boost of serotonin, just know there's a simple activity that’s always available: self-pleasure. Whether you simply ask hard questions about why sex and masturbation is still taboo, or practice every day—multiple times per day—make a little time to celebrate Masturbation Month. Your body and brain will thank you!