Celebrate National Masturbation Month!

Good Vibrations has declared May “National Masturbation Month.” Practically everything has a national holiday — how could this most basic, universal and inexpensive of pleasures have been overlooked? To do something about that, we’re sponsoring several events throughout May, including visits at both our stores from the one and only Betty Dodson, and I’m hosting a special showing of masturbation video clips at the Roxie Theater, our favorite local theater.

I’m especially glad to be in on the festivities because masturbation changed my life. Growing up, my family’s attitude toward open talk about sex can be summed up by this anecdote: When my mother asked me at the age of 12 if I knew what masturbation was and I said no, she responded, “Good.” (I lied to her, actually; I was pretty sure I did know, but just in case I was wrong, I didn’t want to be embarrassed. I figured by saying no, I’d get her to tell me. No such luck!)

I may have had the general idea, but it took me years to figure out how to do it right. You see, I wasn’t orgasmic, even through masturbation, until I read an article about vibrators in a women’s magazine. Thinking back, it was probably by Betty Dodson. Anyway, this gave me a brainstorm: my dad had a vibrator! It was an old Swedish massager he’d used as a barber to give neck rubs. I promptly snatched it. And (I’m sad to say) neither he nor Mom ever asked for it back.

From then on, whenever I had enough privacy (the thing was as loud as a lawnmower) I’d fire the old thing up and have a great big orgasm. It was my relationship with this gizmo, and not any of my adolescent forays into partner sex, that kept me sexually satisfied throughout my younger years, and whenever I was separated from it for too long I’d get kind of squirrely. Eventually I learned to come with partners, too — and today I have a partner with whom I share my vibrator. I even made a video to show how vibrators work (Carol Queen’s Great Vibrations: An Explicit consumer Tour of Vibrators), and I hope to make one about using them during partner sex.

Vibrators aren’t the be-all and end-all of masturbation, of course. What my first vibe did for me, many others have achieved with their hands, a pillow, a teddy bear, or running water. Other kinds of toys, various fantasies, something to watch or read, a voice talking dirty over the phone: the ways to spice up solo sex are endless, thank goodness. That’s why masturbation deserves a commemorative month of its own — it’s a creative, loving, stress-reducing act that deserves all the respect we can heap on it (and that it so rarely gets).

Just think: through self-pleasuring you can get information about your body and your erotic responses that will help you have more fulfilling partner sex. I remember well the times my youthful first partners asked me what I liked or what I wanted — and I didn’t know what to tell them. I had yet to have an orgasm, and I was as ignorant about how to have one as they were about how to “give” me one. Only through solo play did I gradually learn what to tell my partners.

And what’s this “give me an orgasm,” anyway? That’s a lot of responsibility. Generation after generation, society encourages women to believe that “someday my prince will come, and so will I.” But masturbation lets you take your sexuality in your own hands, quite literally! During partner sex, it means that if other activities aren’t getting you off, you can do it yourself — I know many people wouldn’t dream of masturbating in front of a partner, but why not? It’s erotic, it’s intimate, it’s informational, and it can be hot, sweet fun.

Finally, solo sex is the safest sex you can have. Too many people have let fear of STDs, especially HIV, affect their erotic play with partners; even those of us who aren’t comfortable connecting sexually with other people can still have an orgasmic, fulfilling sex life. The healthful benefits of orgasm can still be available, we’re less likely to “binge and purge” sexually, and, perhaps most importantly, we’re expressing self-love every time we touch ourselves with the goal of bringing pleasure.

So give yourself a hand! Take your time. Put on some nice music and have a date with yourself. Or invite a significant other along and give each other something to watch. Shake off any shame you may still be carrying around about this wonderful source of comfort and pleasure. Jack- and Jill-off proudly. After all, as we say at Good Vibes — if you want something done right, do it yourself!

Dr. Carol Queen

Carol Queen has a PhD in sexology; she calls herself a "cultural sexologist" because her earlier academic degree is in sociology: while she addresses individual issues and couple's sexual concerns, her overarching interest is in cultural issues (gender, shame, access to education, etc.). Queen has worked at Good Vibrations, the woman-founded sexuality company based in San Francisco that turned 35 years old in 2012, since 1990. Her current position is Staff Sexologist and Good Vibrations Historian; her roles include representing the company to the press and the public; overseeing educational programming for staff and others; and scripting/hosting a line of sex education videos, the Pleasure-Ed series, for GV’s sister company Good Releasing. She also curates the company's Antique Vibrator Museum. She is also the founding director of the Center for Sex & Culture, a non-profit sex ed and arts center San Francisco, and is a frequent lecturer at colleges, universities, and community-based organizations. Her dozen books include a Lambda Literary Award winner, PoMoSexuals, and Real Live Nude Girl: Chronicles of Sex-Positive Culture, which are used as texts in some college classes. She blogs at the Good Vibes Magazine and at SFGate's City Brights bloggers page and contributes to the Boston Dig. For more about her at carolqueen.com.

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