May is ripe with enjoyable holidays, from May Day to Mother’s Day, Cinco de Mayo to Memorial Day. But many people don’t know that May is also National Masturbation Month. Started in 1995 by San Francisco’s famous sex shop Good Vibrations, Masturbation Month aims to celebrate the joys and dispel the myths surrounding sexual self-love.
from The Standard Daily
While many campus groups — including Stanford Students for Choice, Queer Women and the SHPRC — have hosted events supporting National Masturbation Month, its history and purpose are not widely understood on campus and its success questioned by many at Stanford.
Masturbation Month’s goal is primarily to promote comprehensive sex education and dialogue about sex. Good Vibrations created the holiday in 1995 when former U.S. President Bill Clinton fired then-Surgeon General Dr. Jocelyn Elders for suggesting that masturbation be included in national sex education.
“We started Masturbation Month to call attention to the hypocrisy that surrounds this so-common but still-taboo topic,” says Good Vibrations Staff Sexologist Carol Queen, who emphasizes a need to acknowledge non-procreative forms of sex — such as masturbation — as healthy and acceptable in our culture.
“Sex education in this country is, for the most part, second-rate at best,” she says. “That masturbation is controversial or misunderstood is just the tip of the iceberg.”
President of Stanford Students for Choice and a long-time supporter of Masturbation Month’s mission, senior Neela Penumarthy echoes Good Vibrations’ view of the holiday.
“Masturbation Month is about sex positivity and encouraging dialogue about sexual health,” Penumarthy says. “If we are interested in preventing unplanned pregnancies, lowering STD rates and promoting positive sexuality, students need to be educated about how to engage in healthy sex — of which masturbation is a part.”
As an attempt to encourage dialogue about sex and masturbation on campus during May, Stanford Students for Choice hosted their annual Masturbation Celebration at Columbae this month, featuring various performers and entertainment. Flyers clarifying myths about masturbation and boasting hard facts about the benefits of self-love, such as “it’s safe, it lowers stress levels and it can boost confidence,” circulated among the participants.
The celebration’s message was not as widespread as Good Vibrations might have hoped, however, as many of the few dozen students who attended didn’t realize the purpose of the event.
Senior Harris Fienburg, who currently lives in Columbae, says he questions the celebration of Masturbation Month.
“I don’t think there’s really a need to celebrate something like masturbation,” he says. “It’s like having a celebration for breathing.”
Other students said they didn’t feel comfortable attending an event about masturbation. Junior Rahul Kanakia heard of the event through a Stanford email list but decided not to go.
“I don’t feel comfortable celebrating masturbation,” he says. “I think its importance is something people learn on their own.”
This private nature of masturbation in our society may be what makes public acknowledgment, whether in high school sex education programs or here at Stanford, difficult or misunderstood.
“It is still taboo to publicly acknowledge something as private as masturbation,” says History Prof. Estelle Freedman, who teaches The History of Sexuality in the U.S. at Stanford and who first heard of National Masturbation Month this year. “It is very unfortunate that in our culture we don’t have quality, comprehensive sex education for all that includes both reproductive and non-reproductive sexual acts.”
Freedman says she does see potential in opening dialogue about safe, non-reproductive sex through public events like National Masturbation Month, but thinks something titled “Sexual Health Month” would go a lot farther in promoting the comprehensive sex education that she and Good Vibrations would like to see in our culture.
Assistant Dean of Students at the Women’s Community Center Linda Harrison says she agrees.
“‘Sexual Freedom Month’ may be an easier concept for people to embrace,” she says. “Even ‘Masturbation Rights Month’ or something of the like with an explanation of the historical context concerning Jocelyn Elders might make more sense.”
On campus, the SHPRC supports masturbation education all year by offering information about using sex toys and by selling lubricants made “for play,” pointing out that they are not only meant for sex with a partner. But as sophomore and SHPRC student volunteer George Xander-Morris points out, dialogue about masturbation remains rare.
“Most Stanford kids are really taboo about masturbation — only the most confident ones talk about it and I don’t even think everyone who works at the SHPRC would feel comfortable discussing it,” says Xander-Morris, who was familiar with the Elders controversy but not with the concept of Masturbation Month. “People think masturbation is something to be kept to themselves, but there are really so many good things about it — so many health benefits people should know about and discuss.”
Masturbation Month continues in these last two weeks of May, with more events to celebrate self-love and to encourage education. On May 26, Stanford will host a film screening and discussion with Shelby Knox, whose fight to bring comprehensive sex education to her Texas high school has been made into an award-winning film, titled “The Education of Shelby Knox.” Good Vibrations will host a Masturbate-a-thon fundraiser on May 27 in San Francisco.
For more information on National Masturbation Month, visit http://www.goodvibes.com.