This year, the entire month of May is dedicated to appreciating nurses through National Nurses Month, but did you know that May is also National Masturbation Month? This lesser-known awareness campaign comes with its own interesting history. It originated in 1994 when former U.S. surgeon general Dr. Jocelyn Elders, speaking to a United Nations conference on AIDS, suggested that information about masturbation should be included in sex education courses. This statement sparked controversy and Dr. Elders was forced to resign from her position. In response, a San Francisco based sex store launched Masturbation Month in 1995 to promote their sex toys and to provide opportunities to engage in conversations about the benefits of masturbation. Since then, this campaign has evolved to further address the stigma that is still associated with masturbation.

Whether we realize it or not, the topic of masturbation has been featured in popular media for decades. We might have watched movie scenes or listened to songs that allude to it (let’s not forget about the Nicki Minaj and Beyoncé hit “Feeling Myself”). Yet despite our exposure to the topic, it can be difficult to have an honest conversation about masturbation with a partner or a trusted adult. A 2019 study revealed that 55% of Americans never talk about masturbation. This is partly due to the long history of shame and stigma surrounding masturbation.

Youth serving adults have the opportunity to address that stigma. Before talking to youth about masturbation, it might be helpful to think about how masturbation can be defined in a way that is inclusive, appropriate, and non-judgmental. We define masturbation as touching yourself for sexual pleasure and include that it is a normal and healthy way to learn about your sexuality. It is also very common. The same 2019 survey revealed that 84% of Americans choose to masturbate. There are various reasons why someone might choose to masturbate including relaxation, relieving sexual tension, and getting to know their body. An equally important benefit is that it carries no risk of pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections. Since every body is unique, each person gets to decide what works for them. There is no single “right” way to masturbate, some people use sex toys and others do not. People with or without sexual partners can masturbate, and it can be helpful to communicate with their partner what they like and do not like. It is important to convey to young people that everyone is different and comfortable with different things. Some people may choose to masturbate, and some people may not. Whatever someone chooses is what is right for them.

The great news is learning about self-pleasure is now timelier than ever! Masturbation is a safe way to have sex while practicing physical distancing that is recommended during the COVID-19 pandemic. It can also help with stress and anxiety. Ultimately, whether someone chooses to masturbate is up to them! There is a range of beliefs, feelings, and values about masturbating, and that is okay. If someone does decide to masturbate, it is important that they are doing this in a private place, and they wash their hands and sex toys with soap and water for 20 seconds before and after.

For more information about masturbation, check out these resources!

https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/sex-pleasure-and-sexual-dysfunction/masturbation

https://amaze.org/video/masturbation-totally-normal/

Survey source: TENGA 2019 Self-Pleasure Report, http://www.feelmore.global/