It’s International Masturbation Month!

It’s International Masturbation Month! Are you in training yet?

Just kidding—no pressure to masturbate. But if you do, you should know that you are far from alone. There are good and positive reasons to do so regardless of whether you’re in a relationship. Not only that, shame around masturbation is one significant tie-in to sexual dysfunction.

In fact, shame around masturbation is linked to a notorious incident of US political dysfunction—that time Bill Clinton fired Surgeon General Dr. Joycelyn Elders for saying one simple, sensible thing about masturbation. She was asked about teaching that masturbation is a form of safe sex at a UN Conference on HIV/AIDS. She replied that masturbation “is a part of human sexuality, and it’s a part of something that perhaps should be taught” in that context. She wasn’t saying that kids in sex ed class should get masturbation lessons. (That’s sex ed for adults! Betty Dodson has essentially been doing it for four decades; sex surrogates and sexological bodyworkers do it too.) Elders meant that masturbation discussion and info could rightly be part of a comprehensive sex education curriculum: that it could, perhaps should, be taught about.

But a hue and cry ensued, and before you know it President Clinton (who maybe should have masturbated more, d’you know what I mean? Just sayin’) had fired the first African-American female surgeon general. This all happened in December 1994.

That’s the origin, in fact, of Masturbation Month! At Good Vibrations, we were horrified that this had happened. We spent (and still spend) a good part of our work lives advocating for masturbation and observing the effects on people of shame and fear about this so common, so basic erotic act. People may be freaked out about doing it, or so freaked out that they don’t do it, which sometimes means that they have not become orgasmic or learned enough about their own arousal responses to inform a partner about the best way to get them off. (Am I suggesting that some orgasm problems are due to a lack of masturbation? Yes, I am! And many sex therapists must agree—it’s very common for a pre-orgasmic person to be recommended masturbation as a pathway to pleasure and sexual health.)

Good Vibes was a worker-owned co-op back then. A bunch of us sat around our conference table and brainstormed. We were just a sex store, with no power to directly address the federal government. But we could address the public: our customers and their loved ones, and the press. We invented National Masturbation Month there in that conference room as a way to raise the profile of masturbation and develop contexts where it could be discussed. We made no secret of the fact that this was a protest against the Elders firing. But we also knew that something as fraught as this—the dang surgeon general got fired because she said one simple little thing about it!–would benefit from a light touch and a positive message. We wanted a campaign that was charming and reassuring, with a little political outrage on the side. That could be part of the message, but mainly, we needed to make it easier and more fun to talk about masturbation.

So we announced the launch of National Masturbation Month—we chose May, 1995–and added a survey: Send us your favorite masturbation euphemisms! Some cute and cheeky stuff came our way: “tossing the pink salad,” was my fave, and there was monkey-spanking, as you’d expect, and the perhaps unexpected “firing the surgeon general”! (Oh, SNAP.) In subsequent years we compiled a Masturbation Hall of Fame (I am a proud member, and so are a number of other sex educators and activists plus a bunch of celebrities who said positive things about self-love); partnered with Dan Savage to collect amazing masturbation true adventure stories; and finally did the best pro-masturbation PR act of all. In collaboration with a few of our sister stores, including Babeland, we announced the Masturbate-a-Thon.

The Masturbate-a-Thon is like a walk-a-thon, but private (public ones followed, because of course they did, but that wasn’t GV’s idea of the event). A person would get pledges from appropriate friends and lovers. They’d masturbate and keep track of how long they did it, then collect pledges (a dollar a minute, or whatever their pledger could afford) and we would donate 100% to charity. (It’s a bit like our current GiVe program—but with masturbation!) At first we picked one day for the ‘Thon and called it National Masturbation Day, but later on decided people should choose their own day in May to celebrate it.

Over the ensuing 23 years (!!!) I have done hundreds of interviews about masturbation, International Masturbation Month and the Masturbate-a-Thon. I’ve awakened before dawn to talk to shock jocks in the heartland; done long, involved think pieces with highbrow journalists; and helped craft humorous but sex-positive posts for blogs. If you discovered masturbation any time after 1995 without much shame or drama, we’d like to claim at least a little credit for that, because the whole point of all this has been: If the Surgeon General can lose her job over this, it stands to reason that ordinary citizens are getting zero support and likely suffering shame and worry over this, the most foundational of sexual options. And if that’s the case, plenty of people are suffering in their relationships too.

Honestly, we just can’t have that. Masturbation is good for you: calming, pain-relieving, pleasure-inducing, informative, good for circulation, good for the prostate… It’s a good thing, and it strikes at the heart of sexual comfort when we are not comfortable about the simple, basic possibilities of our own bodies. (Well, granted, some people like it when it’s more complicated. But we have toys for that!)

So happy International Masturbation Month. Whether you are going to celebrate the old-fashioned way, or simply say something nice about masturbation (or even refrain from saying anything judgmental about it), let’s all thank Dr. Elders for being an American hero.


Oh, and if you are in the Bay Area and are interested—I’m teaching a class at our Polk Street store, “Maximizing Masturbation,” on May 24th. Here are the deets!

Maximizing Masturbation

Thursday, May 24, 6:30-8:30pm

1620 Polk Street, San Francisco

$25 in advance, $30 at the door as space allows.


People of every gender and orientation can super-charge their sex lives through solo sex! Whether single or partnered, get bigger thrills when you jack or jill off. Celebrate International Masturbation Month with Dr. Carol Queen and learn about prolonging pleasure, new erogenous zones, adding toys and erotica to your repertoire, stronger orgasms, and getting insight about your deepest sexual desires. Plus: understand the patterns you bring from masturbation into your partnered sex life, too.


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

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