Did you know May is national masturbation month? Yup, an entire month dedicated to touching yourself. The month came as a result of the then-Surgeon general, Joycelyn Elders, deciding that masturbation should be a part of sex education in 1994. She was fired by former president Clinton for this act.
A few years ago a Somatic Educator I had hired to run a workshop, asked for volunteers to join a “Masturbation for Science” Group- a Facebook group where we committed to masturbating every day and writing about our experience. I have always been sexually curious and open, and love learning about and connecting with my own sexuality, so obviously, I volunteered as tribute.
I was super eager to learn more about myself, to receive tips on how to masturbate more mindfully, and prioritize my pleasure. I believe I even stated my intention as “approaching the month with a playful curiousity”. Thirty-one days of touching myself for the sake of science, no problem. The rules or suggestions were pretty simple:
She suggested giving yourself 30 minutes, which included five mins of stillness at some point throughout the practice. Genital touch that is different from your go-to, among other suggestions: self-touch that is not genital, movement before or after, attention on your breath, focus on what is happening in your body, etc.
“Simple. No problem,” I thought. Masturbating everyday didn’t seem like a huge stretch by any means. I was excited to learn new things and explore parts of my sexuality, though nervous about sharing my experience in a group (we were to keep a journal and encouraged to share about our experience in the group). While I managed to complete 20 out of the 31 days, what I wasn’t prepared for was not only how difficult it was, but what it brought up for me.
I may not have pet the cat every day, but I did, however, learn a lot about myself (and sex in general). In fact, being in this experiment really helped me do a lot of my own personal work, which in turn allowed me to expand my offerings as an empowerment coach and better help my clients access their own pleasure.
What follows are a few of the lessons that came to light and tips I have learned since that science experiment that improved my sex life and all round relationship with myself.
1. I didn’t prioritize my pleasure
This was for sure one of the most glaring realities of this ‘experiment’ and has had the most profound effect on my life. So often during the challenge I was too tired, too run down, too busy, or too distracted to actually pleasure myself. I realized how much I had internalized the Capitalist belief of pleasure as “unproductive”. I prioritized “getting work done” over doing something enjoyable or beneficial for myself. Unfortunately, this even extended into my sex life. Even sex with myself. It was a really hard realization.
Day 19- I remember feeling really sad because I had the realization of how little pleasure I allow in my life. Not only is making time for pleasure an issue, but when doing pleasurable things, I’m so often rushing through them, trying to get them ‘done’ so I can move on to work.
While this is still a battle, I have worked hard to try to make all types of pleasure a priority in my life. In fact, I started with trying to prioritize non-sexual pleasure as a way to open myself up to pleasure in general, as I believe this is an important step in opening oneself up to more sexual pleasure. So instead of allowing myself a pleasurable activity, like having a bath, going for a walk, dancing, eating something delicious, spending time with loved ones, etc. when the ‘to do’ list was done (it is never done), I started scheduling in pleasure throughout my day like I would a doctor’s appointment or a meeting. I began allowing myself tiny moments of pleasure all day as a way to open myself up to more pleasure. Eventually these moments became just as important (if not more) as the other things in my schedule.
After some time prioritizing general pleasure in my life, I was able to extend this to sexual pleasure; carving out time in my mornings a couple days a week for my own self-pleasure practice, scheduling intimacy with my partner, prioritizing sex at a time when I have energy, instead of as another to-do at the end of a long day.
And it changed me. I can honestly tell you prioritizing pleasure has changed my life. It has opened me up to new kinds of pleasure (both sexual and non), it has given me more energy and vitality, and it has made me a happier person.
2. There Is Room For Play, Even By Yourself
I can say that I don’t have a lot of problems incorporating play into the bedroom with a partner, but I never really considered it when I was solo sessioning.
Play is done for its own sake, not to achieve a goal. It is about exploring, having fun, and being present.
Similarly to pleasure, making time for play in life and in masturbation, will lead to a more fun and a more fulfilling life.
This month of masturbation definitely illuminated the lack of play in my solo sex life. Since then I’ve tried incorporating play more often into my self-pleasure practice, such as setting a timer and trying to beat it and then outlast it, edging, dressing up, and tying myself up, though there is still lots to explore.
Day 11- woke up too early (damn) spent the time playing- stretching, flexing and releasing all my muscles, feeling the sensation of my body heavy on the bed. I grazed my thighs, my stomach, and traced my vulva. Eventually got out a toy I don’t use very often and played with it on my vulva, legs, perineum; teasing myself, trying not to rush myself anywhere.
3. I Learned To Try New Things
This was tough. In the challenge we were not supposed to masturbate in our same old way; our go-to. Which is hard because, generally that is what ‘works’ for us. I have general go-tos like certain vibrators and fantasies, which work ‘beautifully’ for me. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it? Right? And while I think pleasure in any form is great, I knew I was closing myself off to all kinds of new feelings, experiences and sensations and all kinds of great pleasure by doing the same thing over and over.
In trying to touch myself in new ways, in new areas, using different techniques, pressures, positions, toys, I learned a lot more about what I liked (gently grazing my own erogenous zones and incorporating breast play- why had I not done this before?) and what I didn’t like (being on my stomach and playing ‘acoustic’) and experienced all kinds of new sensations and orgasms. And who doesn’t want to experience new kinds of orgasms?
Day 3- I tried moving my hips back and forth and turned over onto my side to try something new. Moved to my stomach, which I never masturbate on and experimented with lifting my hips to different levels and spreading my legs further apart. At first mostly just focused on “gyrating” but then added my hand and eventually a vibrator. It was nice to notice how different a familiar toy felt in a different position.
4. I Focused On Feeling & Taking My Time
This was a big one for me. As someone with chronic pain, I have spent a lot of time ignoring my body because being present in my body generally means being in pain. Turns out, you have to be present in your body to experience pleasure too. This challenge really highlighted how I was shutting out pleasure and was a good exercise in practicing focusing on sensation. Spending time focusing on good sensations in my body (rather than always being in the painful ones) allowed me to remember that my body is a source of pleasure too.
In this experiment (and now in my regular self-pleasure practice), I spent a lot of time focusing on feeling; noticing pressure, temperature, pulsing, expansion, tension, etc. I even sometimes try to give words (soft, hot, fleshing, wet, juicy, smooth, etc) to describe my experience and stay focused and present in my body.
Day 31- last day! Feels like it’s the last day I’ll ever masturbate. Ha. While I know that’s not true, I try to remind myself of what it would mean if I couldn’t. And it feels extra important to be grateful and present. I start with my 5 mins, lying still on my bed. Window is open and there is a lovely gentle breeze coming in. There’s a storm brewing and the energy in the air is charged. I close my eyes and feel it on my skin.
5. The Body Is Full Of Erogenous Zones
Often when we masturbate, we go for the goods right away. But we miss some good stuff. I think a big take- away for me during this challenge was that I can provide (a lot of) the touch I like to have from a partner. My body is full of erogenous zones, just waiting for me to explore them.
Stroking my own thighs, running my fingers over the crux of my elbow, playing with my own hair, grazing my own breasts and pinching my own nipples, running my own tongue along my forearm all brought me a heightened sense of arousal that I previously thought only a partner could provide. I was wrong.
Day 16- Woke up and decided to practice. Spent time touching myself as if I was a partner. Played with my hair, ran my fingers along my face, my neck (if only I could kiss my own neck), my arms and my stomach- pretending to notice these parts of myself for the first time- like a new partner, exploring my body.
6. I’m A Little Dependent On My Toys
This was a tough one at the time. I still used them in the challenge, but not often and not in my ‘go to’ ways. Orgasm without a vibrator??!! That sounds like… work!
But it was nice to get back to my roots, you know, the good ol’ days before I got smart and invested in a vibrator (or five).
At first it was a lot of work and frustration, as our bodies can become used to certain forms of stimulation, but it did eventually lead to new pleasure and a few more intense or prolonged orgasms. And who doesn’t love that?
Now I take regular breaks from my vibrators or use ones that provide different sensations than my favourites, just to make sure I am not relying too heavily on one thing and am keeping myself open to experiencing new kinds of pleasure.
7. Removing The Goal To Orgasm Can Open Up New Pleasure
This was hard. I mean, isn’t that why most of us masturbate??!!
But shifting my view of masturbating to beyond orgasming and as dedicated time to exploring myself, my pleasure and my desires, allowed me to experience new pleasure I would have missed if I had only been focused on the prize. It’s like when you’re super focused on getting somewhere and you take the trusted, fastest route, you miss taking all the cool side roads that could allow you to see all kinds of new exciting things and perhaps even lead to new adventures.
Removing this pressure and focusing on the experience of pleasure in both solo and partnered sex helps me relax and sometimes, ironically, even leads to bigger, better orgasms.
Day 24- did not masturbate, per say, but focused on pleasure with a partner. Applied some of the techniques I had been practicing such as focusing on sensation, using the word “pleasure” to refocus myself when my mind wandered, focusing on the enjoyment rather than the goal of orgasming (though oddly enough- that happened much more easily )
8. My Expectations Are Unrealistic
This came up a lot for me during the challenge. I felt inadequate and even like I was letting people down if I didn’t masturbate every day. Can you imagine that? Some people think a puppy dies every time they masturbate and here I was feeling badly for not doing it more.
But removing the expectation that I was going to be “perfect” was the best thing I could do (in sex and in life). Giving myself permission to not do it 100% and to be okay if it didn’t go the way I wanted. To remind myself that I am still enough, even when I don’t ‘succeed’ in the ways I wanted to.
In other words, “Girl, you are still fabulous, even if you don’t masturbate everyday.”
This is helpful in masturbation, in sex, and in life in general. I remind myself that it’s okay if I don’t feel like going downtown on myself or like having sex, or am not into having a certain type of sex. It’s okay if I’m too tired after I work, make dinner, clean up, and do more work to get freaky with myself or someone else.
9. Mindfulness Helps
This challenge was a great practice in mindfulness; in really being present. So often my mind would wander, but I continued to work on bringing it back by using the word “pleasure” to refocus and bring my attention to my breath, a trick I still use today. I also used/use music a lot to stay focused and match my energy and climax to the intensity in the music.
Since this challenge I have really prioritized things like yoga, meditation, and ‘being in my senses’, which has had big impacts on being able to be present and focused in my solo and partnered sex life.
Day 18: played around with music some more and flexing and releasing in time. Let music guide my intensity. Realized the importance of it for me for really staying focused and present in my practice. music is a huge part of my sensuality and my connection to myself and my desires.
10. I Still Have Shame To Unlearn
As sexually empowered as I like to think of myself, being part of this challenge really highlighted some of the shame I still held around masturbating. Being worried about my neighbours hearing me, doing it when my partner wasn’t around, not telling many people about the challenge or posting regularly in the group, all pointed to the internalized shame I feel about masturbation.
Even writing about my personal experience with masturbating for a bunch of strangers feels a tad uncomfortable.
I don’t know one person where shame hasn’t crept into their bedroom. I’ve done A LOT of work around my own shame related to sex and this challenge highlighted I still had more to do.
Some of the work I’ve done around shame since this challenge: I spent a lot of time noticing my thoughts around shame (as they relate to masturbation and sex). I wrote them down. I got curious about them. I asked myself where they came from? Where did I learn them (a lot of them I learned from the Patriarchy)?
I noticed what shame felt like in my body, what sensations it caused, and was willing to sit with them. Then I started practicing new thoughts that countered the old learned thoughts around shame, things like “I deserve to experience pleasure” and “It’s okay to like sex”. I also spent a lot of time focusing on appreciating my body for the pleasure it allows me to experience, rather than what it looks like. I cleaned up my intake of media that wasn’t sex positive or didn’t have diverse bodies and I worked really hard to notice when I was judging others and where that might be coming from.
Who knew masturbating regularly would unlock so many life lessons? This challenge highlighted a lot of my own personal work still left to do, which sent me on my own pleasure journey, which eventually led to being able to help others’ on theirs. And just made my life more exciting, vibrant and satisfying.
So I guess what I’m saying is, I think masturbating made me a better person.
Top photo: The author