Masturbation is one of the biggest unspoken rites of humanity. Most of us do it, yet very few of us talk about it, and even fewer discuss it with our children. Like eating or breathing, sexual urges are a natural part of our biology, and by withholding that information from our children, we set them up for a lifetime of sexual shame.
If there’s anything to feel guilty about, it’s that we as parents aren’t doing a better job of lifting this unnecessary stigma for our children.
I remember the first time I discovered masturbation. I was only 9 years old and had a sudden desire to see what the bathtub water from the faucet would feel like on my vagina. Out of curiosity, I moved closer and had a pleasant surprise. Suddenly, I went from the girl who avoided showers to the girl who couldn’t wait to take a bath each night.
I also became paranoid that I was doing something “bad.” Somehow, in my young mind, I correlated masturbation with dirtiness and spent years carrying a burden of shame because of it.
Somewhere in human history, a moral clause was added to masturbation that made people associate it with being sinful and disgusting. Some of us learn it at church or through our parents, while others learn it on our own through social encounters and mainstream media. No matter how it is taught, it has a long-lasting psychologically damaging effect that teaches children to be ashamed of their desire and their bodies, which can lead to sexual impairment, deviation and dysfunction.
I see masturbation as a totally normal, natural human expression, and so by the time I became a mother, I was firmly in the pro-masturbation camp. I taught my kids that it was totally normal to touch their private parts, but to be polite; we wouldn’t touch our private parts in public. I also covered the basics about consent and inappropriate touch (more than once).
It was difficult to gauge the right time to discuss masturbation with our boys. We waited until our sons hit puberty, and by then my husband and I agreed it was a good time to talk to them about all aspects of sex, including the solo variety. I asked my husband to explain ejaculation and wet dreams to them so that they wouldn’t be embarrassed or scared if and when that normal nocturnal emission happened (which it did, many times).
I never once told my sons that masturbating was wrong. In fact, when they got older, I encouraged them to masturbate because ding-ding-ding — they can’t give themselves an STD and they won’t accidentally get themselves pregnant.
Even animals, which aren’t bound by societal norms, enjoy the pleasure of self-stimulation.
I remember watching our family cockatiel saddle up on the big toe of anyone wearing black socks (completely true story) and rub one out. His little black eyes would close at the moment of climax and his crest (those feathers on the top of his head) would stand up like a Mohawk.
I even had a dog who would dry-hump and grind her lady parts when she was in heat and wasn’t shy about using your leg if it suited her needs. My pets were completely unabashed about enjoying themselves, and while it made everyone watching laugh, it also brought up an important question.
If animals are capable of masturbating without shame — why can’t we? I’m not saying we should start pleasuring ourselves in public (although there is a specific audience for that and hey, if that’s your thing, you do you, boo), but we can also enjoy solo-sexual pleasure without feeling like we are perverted.
As to be expected, the talk left our children slightly embarrassed. As it turns out, they had already discovered self-stimulation and, like most of us, were uncertain as to whether what they were doing was normal. There was visible relief on each of their faces when they learned that pretty much everyone in the world masturbates and that as long as it was something enjoyed privately and didn’t take over their entire lives, it was safe and natural.
Then, of course, came the incessant masturbation jokes enjoyed by preteen boys who have just been given a license to (as they like to call it) “dry dog” when the mood strikes. Those jerk-off jokes may be the only truly horrible thing about destigmatizing masturbation in our home.
Although I didn’t realize it when I first talked to my sons about self-stimulation, there are many health benefits enjoyed by those who regularly masturbate. Men have a decreased risk of prostate cancer and, somehow, touching ourselves also lowers both men and women’s risk of developing type-2 diabetes, among things like boosting our mood (thanks, endorphins) and relaxing us so we fall asleep easier.
Now that my sons are older, I’m happy that although I’m sure I’ve screwed them up in many ways, I haven’t given them any weird, psychological hang-ups about sex, to include masturbation. They are healthy, functioning young men who have managed to stave off blindness, broken genitalia and (hopefully) infertility, which, if you didn’t already know, are commonly associated “risk-factors” for masturbation.
As parents, we have a choice. We can keep spreading ignorant myths about masturbation that only serve to shame our children into believing that touching themselves in private (which they’re totally going to do anyway) is wrong, or we can teach them that everyone does it and it’s perfectly natural.
It’s not a matter of life and death, people. It’s just orgasms.