So many people feel shame around the topic of masturbation. Lots of us grew up in environments where masturbation was never talked about. Maybe you were told that it was something “dirty” that you shouldn’t do. These early lessons really get their hooks in, and continue clinging to us well after we’ve grown up.
I feel a great sense of sadness when I think about people feeling ashamed or guilty about masturbation. There’s a quote that says “97% of people masturbate and 3% of people lie about it”. I’m not sure how accurate this is (because I’m sure that there are some folks who don’t masturbate) but certainly the majority of people will masturbate at some point in their lives. I feel sad that something so common has so much stigma attached to it, that something that can be so joyful and affirming can also bring with it lashings of guilt and shame. It’s taken me years to work through most of the shame I feel around masturbation, and even now there are moments where I feel hesitant about sharing my own preferences on this blog. I want to offer a few of the things I did which helped me to feel more comfortable and confident about masturbating, to let go of some of that shame.
See it as an act of self-love
Often, people feel ashamed about masturbation because they believe that it’s pathetic, something you do if you can’t find a partner to have sex with. Others think that masturbation is fine for teenagers, but that once you’re an adult you should “grow out” of that urge. I challenge both of these beliefs. Firstly, our sexuality continues to grow and change throughout our lives, it doesn’t remain fixed at the end of adolescence. Secondly, I see masturbation as it’s own sex act, not a stand-in for partnered sex. It’s a way to show yourself love and pleasure, to explore and celebrate your own body and meet your own needs. If you’re feeling ashamed about masturbation because you “should be” having sex with a partner instead, maybe you could try looking at masturbation as a radical act of self-love, as a way to build your relationship with yourself. Masturbation isn’t inferior to partnered sex, it’s something else altogether.
Talk it out
Sometimes we feel ashamed of things that we feel are private or hidden. A lot of us learned very early that masturbation is Something You Don’t Talk About. There’s a big difference between a topic that’s private, and a topic that’s taboo. If you don’t talk about it in public or with strangers, then it’s private. If you’re not allowed to talk about it at all, it’s taboo. If the topic of masturbation has been kept in the dark for you, it can help to bring it out into the light. Talk to your partner or a trusted friend about masturbation. You can be as specific or as vague as you’re both comfortable with, but just having a chat about it can make the topic seem less scary. Talking to someone you’re close to can also make you feel like you’re not alone, and can start to normalize masturbation as something that most people do.
Consume sex-positive media
A lot of the movies and TV shows that I grew up with treated masturbation as something shameful. Often, if a character was shown masturbating it was the butt of a joke, or preceded something terrible or embarrassing happening to them. Masturbation was also often used as a shorthand way to show that a character was unattractive, for example making reference to a geeky character jerking off a lot because nobody will go out with them. If you’re consuming media that connects masturbation with ridicule and shame, this reinforces the idea that masturbation is bad.
Why not try switching it up with some sex-positive media? Read blogs that talk about masturbation, listen to sex positive podcasts, seek out television shows and movies that show masturbation in a positive light. You might even like to check out porn which shows people pleasuring themselves (Crashpad has a wonderful series of solo scenes. Beautiful Agony is also a great place to look). Marinate your brain in images of people enjoying self-pleasure without shame or guilt and start changing the way you think about masturbation.
Research the benefits of masturbation
There are a lot of myths about how masturbation is bad for us. Many of us believe that it will cause sexual dysfunction, reduce sensation, lower sperm count and impact fertility. And none of these are true. Still, if you’re holding onto these ideas and worrying that touching yourself is going to cause harm, it might be helpful to learn about some of the health benefits of masturbation. Self-pleasure can reduce stress, improve sleep quality, increase concentration, alleviate pain and even improve the quality of partnered sex. Retrain your brain to see masturbation as something positive, something that is really good for you, rather than a bad habit.
Get professional help
If you have very deeply-rooted shame, it might be difficult to shift this on your own. While the above suggestions might be useful for you, they might not be enough to really help you to release your shame around masturbation. Talking to a professional counsellor or therapist can be helpful if you’re struggling with sexual shame or don’t know where to start. They can provide a safe, confidential environment for you to explore your feelings and work on identifying any unhelpful thought patterns.
It’s very common to feel a degree of guilt or shame about masturbation but it’s definitely possible to begin moving past those feelings to embrace self-pleasure. It can be so empowering to work through those limiting beliefs and step into a place where you feel less shame and guilt about your sexuality.