Did you know that May is Masturbation Month? This month, aimed at celebrating all things jerking off, started life with the first National Masturbation Day on 7 May, 1995, declared by sex shop Good Vibrations in honour of Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders (who was fired by President Bill Clinton a year earlier for suggesting that masturbation should be part of the sex education curriculum. Yes, really.)
It will not come as a surprise to anyone who reads my writing that I believe masturbation is a wonderful thing. (What else would the woman who owns over 150 sex toys say!?) Unfortunately, it’s still a highly stigmatised and under-discussed topic in society generally. This is particularly true when it comes to the subject of masturbation for women and people with vulvas, though all genders can be and are impacted.
I couldn’t find any reliable statistics on how many people feel shame and guilt after masturbating. However, based on anecdotal evidence, I am willing to bet it’s a significant number. So what can you do if you’re one of them? I don’t have any easy answers, because this stuff is complicated, but I do have a few suggestions for you. As always, take the ones that work for you and leave the ones that don’t.
Figure Out Where the Shame is Coming From
If you feel shame or guilt after masturbating, those feelings have come from somewhere. None of us are born with an inherent sense of shame about our bodies and our sexuality.
Often, it’s religion. Unfortunately, repressive religious teachings about sexuality have a lot to answer for. These teachings tend to be utterly unrealistic (“never have a single sexual feeling until you get married, then have amazing sex with your spouse right out of the gate”, anyone?) They are often laced with all kinds of factual inaccuracies. They’re also wildly hypocrital, because A) as we’ll see, most people masturbate, including those who rail against it, and B) sexually repressive religion is an absolute hotbed of sexual abuse and violence.
I’m a committed atheist and I’m certainly not going to tell you what your relationship with religion or God should look like. But I invite you to consider this: do you really think that, considering *gestures at the entire world being on fire in all of the ways*, God’s biggest concern is whether you enjoy some self-induced orgasms? Religious sexual shame is primarily a mechanism of control, particularly of women and women’s bodies.
Or perhaps your feelings come from a time when someone else shamed you for touching yourself. This shame might have come from parents or other adults in your life when you were young, from peers and friends, from regressive sex education, or even from sexual partners.
It’s also possible that you have had none of these experiences, and have simply internalised some societal messaging about masturbation. That happens to so many of us. It’s also possible that a collection of experiences have led you to where you are now.
Once you understand where your guilt after masturbating stems from, you can start addressing it. Whatever it was, start by hearing this: you’re not alone, and you’re not broken.
Ask yourself what you learned about masturbation when you were growing up, if anything. Where did those messages come from? Chances are they came from a place of stigma and misinformation, not facts. The absolute best way to combat misinformation you’ve been fed is so arm yourself with accurate info instead. That means it’s time to get educated on all things self-pleasure.
Some of the resources I recommend include the classic Sex For One by Betty Dodson, The Ultimate Guide to Solo Sex by Jenny Block, Getting Off: A Woman’s Guide to Masturbation by Jayme Waxman, Bang!: Masturbation for People of All Genders and Abilities by Vic Liu, and V: An Empowering Celebration of the Vulva and Vagina by Florence Schechter (a more general book about vaginas and vulvas that includes a section on masturbation.)
You know what? Let’s get started right now. Here some facts for you:
- The vast majority of people of all genders masturbate at some point in their lives, and many do so frequently.
- There is no “normal” amount to masturbate. Whether you do it multiple times a day, once in a while, or not at all, that’s all healthy and good as long as it is what works for you.
- It is also normal to go through periods of masturbating more or less frequently. Hormones, physical or mental health and illness, age, disability, stress levels, pregnancy and birth, trauma, body image issues, relationships, living situations, medications, and overall happiness or life satisfaction are just a few of the factors that can impact how often a person masturbates… or if they do at all.
- Huge numbers of people feel guilt after masturbating, but this is because of societal stigma, not because there is anything wrong with masturbation itself.
- There is no clinical diagnosis of “masturbation addiction” and it is not recognised as addictive by the American Psychological Association. Some experts believe it can occasionally become “compulsive”, but unless your masturbation habits are seriously impacting other areas of your life, such as work, school, relationships, friends, hobbies, or health, it is highly unlikely that they are in any way problematic.
- Masturbation is not physically harmful in any way. It will not cause you to go blind (do people still believe that one?), cause you to grow more body hair, cause your penis to shrink, or lead to infertility. If you have a vulva, masturbation will not “permanently stretch” your vagina or otherwise damage your genitals.
- Masturbation is also not emotionally harmful in any way. (Though shame around it can be emotionally damaging – but that’s why we’re working on getting rid of that shame, not getting rid of masturbation!)
- In fact, masturbation can have some positive health benefits! It can help you to sleep, boost your mood, relieve stress, relieve pain (especially menstrual cramps), and improve your self-esteem. For people with penises, a 2004 study showed that more frequent ejaculation correlated with a decreased risk of prostate cancer!
- It is still okay, healthy, and perfectly fine to masturbate when you’re in a relationship. Any partner who tells you not to isn’t someone you should be with.
- It is impossible to tell from physical genital appearance whether or not a person masturbates.
Reframe Masturbation in Your Mind
Now that you’ve identified the source of your shame or guilt after masturbating, it’s time to start reframing the act in your mind.
Instead of viewing masturbation as something shameful or dirty, how about seeing it as an expression of self-care and self-love? For many people, it can also be tremendously empowering. Think about it: you’re enjoying your body on your terms, no-one else’s input or participation required, and you can give yourself such incredible pleasure.
You might find your mind drifting back to those thoughts of shame and guilt. That’s totally normal. Reframing your thoughts and feelings takes time! When this happens, try to gently and non-judgementally notice the feelings and consciously guide your mind away from them.
Think about the other things you do to look after and pamper yourself. Perhaps you like to take hot baths, practice yoga, go to the spa, get a massage, eat your favourite foods, or just snuggle under a blanket in your comfiest clothes. Masturbation is no different. It’s a sensual and sensory experience that you do because it makes you feel good.
It can also help to focus on all the positive benefits you get from masturbation. Aside from the obvious – pleasure, perhaps orgasm – it might help you to feel happier and calmer, to be less stressed, or to sleep better.
In other words, this is all about teaching yourself – through repetition, affirmation, and positive reinforcement – that masturbation is normal, good, healthy, and absolutely nothing to feel guilty about.
Touch Yourself in All Kinds of Ways
When we talk about masturbation, we are typically referring to touching your own genitals for the purposes of pleasure and possibly orgasm. While this is wonderful, it can also be pleasurable and healing to touch yourself in all kinds of different ways. Why not try giving some love to your balls, labia, nipples, breasts or chest, or any other erogenous zones you have instead of going straight for your penis, clit, or vagina?
You can also get a lot of pleasure from touching yourself in non-sexual ways. Try stroking your own body, experimenting with different kinds of touch. Do you prefer a lighter or a firmer touch? Do certain areas feel good while other areas feel unpleasant to touch? All of this is such valuable information that you can take forward into both solo or partnered sexual adventures.
You could give yourself a massage (with or without a sexy massage oil), or experiment with solo sensation play toys and techniques such as ice, hot wax, Wartenberg wheels, vampire gloves, clips or clamps, sensory deprivation, or stroking with different textured materials.
Watch Others Masturbate
No, not in a creepy or “peeping Tom” way!
Again: the vast majority of people masturbate. Seeing other people do it, and observing the beauty and sensuality and hotness of it, can help to not only normalise masturbation and shed feelings of shame around it, but also to open up different avenues of pleasure that you may not have thought of.
The easiest way to do this, of course, is porn. If you go down this route, please seek out ethical and consensual content and pay for it. Buying directly from the performers is usually best where possible. Some people suffer from increased guilt after masturbating if they use porn. Please remember, though, that – as long as you are not watching content that is stolen or non-consensual – there’s nothing inherently wrong with it.
If porn isn’t your thing, how about a series of educational videos showcasing real masturbation techniques? I’m really into the content at Climax, particularly the videos about self-pleasure for vulvas. You can subscribe for a monthly fee to get access to the full library of content, or buy and keep the individual programmes you want. OMGYes is another hugely popular resource, though I haven’t tried it myself.
If you live in a location where such things are accessible and legal, you could even attend a hands-on masturbation class such as the world-famous Bodysex series of workshops.
Finally, if you have a partner or partners, you could experiment with masturbating in front of one another. This can be not just extremely hot, but also have that validating and normalising effect I mentioned above.
Visit a Feminist, Pleasure-Positive Sex Shop
If you’ve never visited a sex shop before, take a second to think about your idea of one. Do you envision something seedy, hidden away down a back alley and frequented by creeps? Think again! Many of today’s sex shops are erotic boutiques that are welcoming, inclusive, non-threatening, and pleasure-focused.
Visiting a good sex shop, whether to buy a toy or just to browse, can be a profoundly validating and healing experience if you deal with shame around masturbation. You’ll see a huge variety of toys, apparel, kink gear and more on display, showcasing all the different ways people like to get off and get it on (with themselves and with others.)
Some of my favourite UK-based sex shops are Sh! and Coco de Mer in London and She Said in Brighton. US-based readers have places like Good Vibrations’ nine retail outlets, Portland’s SheBop, and Babeland in Seattle and New York. In Canada, there’s Come As You Are and Good For Her in Toronto, and Venus Envy in Halifax and Ottawa. A quick online search will help you find your nearest feminist sex shop.
Consider Seeing a Sex-Positive Therapist
Shame is an incredibly powerful feeling, and you might be struggling to vanquish it by yourself. If you are struggling to get rid of guilt after masturbating, it’s time to see a sex-positive therapist. You might go down the route of psychosexual therapy (sometimes just called “sex therapy” for short) or seek out a regular psychotherapist who is sex-positive and experienced in supporting clients with issues surrounding sex, masturbation, and sexual shame.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with getting some professional support. These issues are complex and you don’t have to tackle them alone. Be gentle with yourself and don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it.
Have you ever suffered from shame or guilt after masturbating? How did you handle it and do you have any tips or strategies to share that may help others dealing with the same thing?
This post contains affiliate links as well as non-affiliated resource recommendations.