“The only thing about masturbation to be ashamed of is doing it badly.” –Sigmund Freud
If ever there were a place in life to allow our curiosity free reign, it would be in the realm of our sexual exploration. Becoming curious is a powerful antidote to both the fear and the shame that has long shadowed both the desire and experience of pleasure. Indeed, there are many sexual educators and therapists that consider the ability to self- pleasure as the cornerstone of sexual health. It’s not a stretch to consider that a large percentage of the sexual dysfunction that so many people suffer from might easily have begun with the shame and anxiety about touching oneself early in life. In fact, there is a clear correlation between the degree of guilt that early physical curiosity met and the ability to experience sexual pleasure in adult life.
Feeling isolated and alone with our sexuality is standard in this country. The little sex education that is provided through adolescence is an exercise in naming body parts at best, and in some institutions, is merely a drawn out diatribe of abstinence theory and the sinfulness of sexuality in general. Historians have suggested that “the forbidden fruit” referenced from Adam and Eve is the experience of orgasm, so it is not surprising that this first gate of knowing and loving ourselves through masturbation has been continuously affirmed in most religions as sinful.
Yet, this is not the state we are born into. If you have ever watched a small child explore their own body and the look of pleasant surprise when they discover their highly enervated erogenous zones, it is clear that the shame and discomfort that replaces this healthy curiosity is part of our collective education, to which we are all subjected, even as it ranges in severity depending on your own family’s reaction to sexuality in general.
Just for the record, masturbation is the most common sexual practice on the planet. It is not just for lonely people either. Survey research shows that people of all ages masturbate both in and out of relationships. Kinsey’s survey found that almost 40% of men and 30% of women in relationships masturbated. A study of Playboy readers found that 72% of married men masturbated, and a study of Redbook readers found that 68% of married women masturbated. Even given those statistics, many people feel they have to hide this behavior from their partner. Overcoming these cultural barriers by tapping into the seeds of curiosity and wonder that we are all born with carries many physical and emotional benefits for both the individual and the couple.
A 2007 study in Sexual and Relationship Therapy found a variety of benefits of masturbation for both men and women. For example, male masturbation may also improve immune system functioning and the health of the prostate. Masturbation can also aid men with premature ejaculation as it has the ability to familiarize them with the sensations of climax and master their sense of control. For women, masturbation builds pelvic floor muscles and sensitivity and has been associated with less back pain and cramping around menses, as it increases blood flow and stimulates relaxation of the area after orgasm.
Masturbation is the primary teacher for both men and women about their own sexual response and is critical in being able to explain to their partners what feels good and doesn’t. Learning how to touch oneself in ways that are pleasurable is foundational to sharing that experience with a partner. Also, solo sexual play can be a great balancer for couples who may have a disparity in sex drive frequency, not to mention a great stress reliever and sleep aid.
Perhaps the most important reason to go with your curiosity and let go of all the judgment and history surrounding this normal sexual behavior is because having access to your own pleasure and orgasm teaches a profound inner lesson, which is that your orgasm is your own. No one else gives it to you or has power over you having it. Having the knowledge and confidence to know what feels good allows you the space and courage to share that most intimate information about yourself with someone else. Accepting the full responsibility of our own sexual nature, needs and preferences is the gift you bring to a healthy sexual relationship with someone else. All you have to do is let yourself wonder about it…