A Month In Honour of Solo Sex: The History of Masturbation May, and Some Personal Reflections

Content warning: This blog post will talk about adult content and include frank discussion on sex and sexuality. If that’s not your cup of tea, best not read further.

Masturbation May: A Brief History

Recently, I’ve been seeing some posts by Hannah Witton, a sex educator I follow, who has been mentioning Masturbation May. I was curious as to what that referred to and finally did a quick Google search. Up popped this Wikipedia article with a helpful history: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Masturbation_Day

According to this article, National Masturbation Day was first declared on May 7, 1995. It was in response to the 1994 firing of Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders by President Bill Clinton. The reason for the firing? Elders suggested masturbation be part of the sex education curriculum in the USA for students.

Sometime after that, National Masturbation Day expanded into the entire month of May becoming International Masturbation Month, though why that is and when that switch occurred, I was unable to discover.

Some Thoughts

I can’t remember when I first heard about masturbation being a thing–possibly late elementary school, certainly by high school. Yet for me personally it remained a practice shrouded in mystery. While common popular wisdom will tell you that every young boy stumbles onto masturbation due to the external nature of the male genitalia, I was an exception to that rule.

There are a few factors to this. Firstly, I lived in a small house and shared a room with my younger brother–that blocked off the bedroom as an option, and it never even occurred to me to give it a go in the shower. By high school, I had also developed a somewhat complicated relationship with my body, and certainly my sexuality, viewing it as crude, animalistic, and in many respects, an enemy. I prided myself on my ability to exercise “mind-over-matter”, and overcome my baser nature. I had also absorbed enough teachings from folks in my life that, all in all, masturbation was seen as a largely negative thing at worst, and immature at best. Thus, I steered well clear of it.

Upon entering university, I finally had a room to myself; I was also realizing that my dreams of finding love and becoming sexually active were going to take longer to reach achievement than I had initially though. So it was that in university, I finally began experimenting with solo sex.

I’ll spare you any too specific details but let’s just stay I’ve learned what not to do while also learning what to do as the years have gone by. I’ve also delved a lot more into the politics of gender, sex, and sexuality, the field of sexology as a whole, and the theological perspectives on sex, gender, and sexuality. Through the years I’ve learned some lessons I’ll share below. Take ’em or leave ’em, but I’ll share in honour of this month.

Lessons

Language Choice

Masturbation is a term that has been around for a while but a lot of folks have started pushing back against it. It’s a word that isn’t all that pleasing to the ear, and the etymology raises some eyebrows every now and then. Self-stimulation is one option gaining wider acceptance, but solo sex is also a strong option. Solo sex is particularly helpful for its recognition of sex as not limited to two people, penis in vagina, which has plagued us as a narrow version of “proper sex” for too long.

Theology

One of the oft-quoted arguments against solo sex from Christians revolves around the story of Onan. Onan “spills his seed upon the ground” (aka. uses the pullout method) when having sex with his brother’s widow–this angers God who kills Onan. Here’s the thing though–this story has nothing to do with masturbation, and everything to do with socioeconomic jusice. When Onan’s brother died, he married his widow in accordance with Levriate law. His filial responsibility was to marry and sire a child (or children) with her, so that she would be able to secure an inheritance, and have children to care for her in her old age. By pulling out, he was dodging his responsibility, leaving her socioeconomically vulnerable. That was why he was punished, not because his semen wasn’t reaching her vagina.

Aside from that, there’s some mentions of nocturnal emissions (ie. wet dreams) in what Christians call the Old Testament, but those are mostly dealt with via some ritual cleaning. And that’s the extent of any discussion of solo sex in the Bible. Of course, that didn’t stop Christians from drawing conclusions in the centuries following–but a lot of those conclusions were built on NeoPlatonic ideals and a growing divide between the mind and the body in the theology of churches that was, in many ways, counter to what was in the Bible itself.

More recently, many Christian authors have been reclaiming sexuality, and embracing solo sex as a way to explore sexuality while limiting (or actively excluding) other sexual partners before or outside of marriage.

The Porn Question

One of the biggest ongoing discussions and areas of disagreement among those who advocate for solo sex is where porn use fits in. Some argue porn should never be used; some argue that ethical porn only should be used. Some go even further and argue that visualizing anybody else should be avoided, and some advocated for a complete mindfulness based approach.

For myself, I tend to agree with those who argue against a “one-size-fits-all” approach. There are some very legitimate concerns around what type of sex porn portrays, what it leads folks to assume about “proper” sex, whether consent is even possible in such an industry, and several other questions. Yet at the same time, there are some findings which suggest that the brain is actually quite good at telling apart fantasy and reality, that the best antidote to assumptions brought on by porn is comprehensive sex ed, and that some folks do indeed think porn in particular, and sex work in general, are the careers that work best for them.

In the end, porn usage is one of things we must all decide for ourselves, and the medical/psychological consensus at present is that, if it’s not proving a detriment to other areas of life, then it’s not something to intervene on. As for visualizations the case there is somewhat simpler: we don’t police people’s minds. It’s probably a good idea not to visualize someone without their consent, and you certainly can’t let visualizing them during solo sex sessions make you feel entitled to their consent in partnered sex–but it is your mind, and as long as you keep distinctions between fantasy and reality and aren’t shouting it from the rooftops, you’re not going to get in too much trouble for it either.

Solo Sex As Therapy/Self-Care

This is perhaps one of the most needlessly thorny areas of contention around solo sex. There seems to be a strong underlying belief among certain segments of the population that you shouldn’t use solo sex to resolve loneliness, or grief, or fear, or despair–you should only practice solo sex when your content and whole on your own. Quite frankly, it is utter BS.

There are many, many folks who do not have romantic partners; there are certainly romantic partnerships where folks have differing amounts of sexual desire. We are humans–we crave connection, relationship, etc. Those who are not having that need met are bound to feel lonely at least some of the time–solo sex is one way that such folks can, for a time, trigger a release of hormones that will largely abate that loneliness for a time and that will have a number of other health benefits besides.

I’m a 29 year old male on the autism spectrum; while I have many wonderful friends, asking someone out romantically remains one of my biggest fears (despite years of counselling), and my romantic history is understandably negligible as a result. I’ve never been physically intimate with someone else–never even shared a kiss (how many other folks in their late 20s can say that?!). I deeply desire a romantic relationship, and yearn to be a husband and a father. The mismatch between my aspirations and reality is indeed frustrating, and I definitely struggle with loneliness, despair, and doubts about my self-worth as a result. Due to my autism spectrum, my work history isn’t exactly stellar and my socioeconomic reality is that I’m well-below the poverty line; all in all, while I certainly desire a romantic relationship, there are a number of barriers to being in one that are unlikely to abate any time soon. Solo sex then, is a way that I can explore my sexuality, grow confident in myself and my body, and abide my time until I finally am in a romantic relationship and can explore sex with a romantic partner.

Solo sex also does have some very positive effects on mental health especially and is a way for me to be on guard against any potential side-effects to my physical health from various medications, and medical conditions. I will NOT be shamed into stopping solo sex as a way of improving physical and mental health; it is certainly not the ONLY practice I use, but it is also a very effective practice, and one I do intend to continue for the foreseeable future.

Takeaway

There was a slogan coined by the National Health Service in the UK several years ago to promote the health benefits of masturbation: “An orgasm a day, keeps the doctor away”. While that frequency may, in fact, be too much for many, and too little for others, the embrace of masturbation as a healthy practice is a message that remains both true and much needed.

So enjoy the month of May, and enjoy all the solo sex you want and or need!

Published by Devin Hogg

My name is Devin Hogg. I was born and raised in Carnarvon, Ontario, Canada. I moved to Guelph, Ontario, Canada in 2009 for university and lived here ever since. In my free time, I enjoy reading, watching TV and movies, going on long walks, swimming, and practicing Chen style Tai Chi. I love to write poetry and blog regularly about topics such as mental health, sci-fi/fantasy series, faith, sexuality, and politics.

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