by Dr. Denise Renye, Licensed Clinical Psychologist and Sex Therapist, MEd, MA, PsyD, in San Francisco, CA
The Shame Around Masturbation
Many of us are indoctrinated with shame. It seems to be a readily used societal mechanism to control and dominate when someone or something is perceived to be out of control. A place where that shows up a great deal is with sex, including solo sex, or masturbation. Shame is the instilled belief there’s something bad or wrong with you — fundamentally. It’s not the feeling that you made a mistake, but rather the feeling you are a mistake.
The Status Quo
Mixed Messages About Sex
When it comes to sex, and particularly solo sex, we’re often bombarded with a multitude of messages that can leave us feeling confused. Messages may include: “There’s something wrong with you if you don’t masturbate, something wrong with you if you do. And if you do masturbate, there’s something wrong with your frequency, no matter what it is.” It can feel overwhelming and almost as though you can’t win.
You’ve likely heard the jokes and myths around masturbation: “If you masturbate too much, you’ll go blind!” or “Masturbation can lead to hairy palms/insanity/erectile dysfunction/etc.” (Note: Those are all false.)
There’s also the more overtly religious “God is always watching you” or something similar. This last one boils down to a judgment. And judgment is at the root of shame.
Religions often have numerous messages surrounding sex and pleasure, and sometimes those messages turn into how countries regulate not only sex work, but also sex toys used in masturbation such as vibrators and dildos. About 45% of the world’s countries prohibit the import of sex toys because they fall under the umbrella of pornography.
Self-Ignorance Around Pleasure and the Body
Pleasure is not normalized and learning how to touch our own bodies is not something most people have even considered consciously, particularly if there has been conditioning that masturbation is dirty or sinful. All of this keeps people from knowing themselves, of getting to know their own bodies (if they’re masturbating alone) or someone else’s body (if they’re engaging in mutual masturbation). Fundamentally, shame keeps us from honoring ourselves. One of the greatest gifts you can give yourself and the world is to honor and love yourself more deeply than you may already.
If you notice a lot of shame showing up for you, I encourage you to look at it, gently shine a light onto it. No need to push yourself too much as you enter into this important self-inquiry. Are these messages worth perpetuating, or are they outdated and inherited from someone else?
The Importance of Releasing Shame
My hope in all of my work is to help people to be more fully themselves and releasing shame can help them do that. Also, the thing about shame around masturbation is it has the consequence of you not only feeling bad about yourself, but also being less likely to openly communicate with your partner or partners. If you don’t know what you like, what feels good to you, how can you express what you want or communicate your boundaries to someone else? Furthermore, you may end up having boring or painful sex, which you don’t ever have to settle for. Mediocrity and sex do not go together and neither do shame and sex, whether it’s solo sex (masturbating) or partnered sex.
Getting to Know Your Body
If you take the time and care to attune and learn how your body likes to be touched and pleased, it can be a great contribution to your life in general. If you’re struggling to wrap your head around that, or perhaps you feel shame around being shamed, that’s okay. Even if you can’t take the message in right now, there’s nothing wrong with you. There’s nothing wrong with masturbation; there’s nothing wrong with pleasuring yourself. You can’t masturbate too much unless you’re finding it’s problematically interfering with your life (e.g., your work or relationships are suffering, it’s consuming a lot of your time, etc.).
Human beings are designed to seek pleasure – it’s inherent in our brains and bodies. Masturbation is just one way we experience pleasure.
Trying Out a New Approach
If you’re interested in masturbation, I have an exercise for you. Take yourself on a date. Mentally note you are placing boundaries around this time just for you. Create a sensual space: light some candles, plan out a menu for a special meal, put some pleasing music on. Have the mindset of slowing down and really smelling the candle (and/or add some incense if your body desires that). Also, smell the delicious smells of your meal and taste each bite as it hits your tongue.
After dinner, see if you are in the mood for sensual or sexual touch. Really take your time to see how you like to be touched. Be with yourself without rushing to the goal of an orgasm. Instead, take things slow and sensually, focusing on pleasure itself. How does each touch feel in your body? What do you notice with each touch? What happens as you vary pressure or intensity? Perhaps an orgasm will emerge naturally.
This is a time for self-exploration and self-love. There is no right or wrong way here — instead you’re learning what feels good to you and no one else. Masturbation is a natural, normal behavior to engage in, or not engage in. You’re the one that gets to decide that – no one else.
If you need support around this topic, by all means, reach out to me or another therapist.
© Copyright 2021 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Dr. Denise Renye, Licensed Clinical Psychologist and Sex Therapist, MEd, MA, PsyD in San Francisco, CA