Graphic by Haley Morkert.
ANNA GRITZENBACH | OPINION COLUMNIST | firstname.lastname@example.org
MADDIE WOOD | ASSISTANT OPINION EDITOR | email@example.com
The Birds and the Bulldogs is an opinion column series that aims to normalize taboo conversations regarding sex and relationships. The name “The Birds and the Bulldogs” alludes to the term “the birds and the bees.”
Masturbation is defined as “the stimulation or manipulation of one’s own genitals, especially to orgasm; sexual self-gratification.”
There are plenty of manifestations of masturbation. It can be individual or mutual with partners, it can be done with hands or toys, and/or it may look like touching other parts of the body or simply thinking through fantasies or desires.
All methods of masturbation are normal and healthy; in fact, there are many benefits to masturbating — more than many would think.
Masturbation is safer than penetrative sex with partners, it helps people learn what they personally do and don’t like sexually, it is empowering for people’s body self-image, and it releases endorphins, acting as a natural painkiller and helping people destress and relax.
Despite all these health and personal benefits, why is discussing masturbation still frowned upon?
Sex isn’t an easy topic for most people, and neither is masturbation.
Katie Wood, Butler’s assistant director of health promotion, explained why she believes nobody talks about masturbation.
“I believe [masturbation is] taboo because it’s tied to sexuality — which is taboo altogether in American culture,” Wood said in an email to the Collegian. “Plus, it’s something that’s done in private, and folks are hesitant to talk about something ‘private.’”
Masturbation is a normal phenomenon that most people indulge in. On average, out of 18 countries surveyed, 78% of adults masturbate. 78% is no small piece of the pie — that’s quite a lot of people who enjoy sexual gratification by themselves.
Jules Grable, Butler’s sexual assault response and prevention specialist, highlighted the normalcy regarding masturbation.
“It’s self-exploration, and why shouldn’t we know everything that we can know about our bodies?” Grable said.
Grable brings up a good point — masturbation can be a great way to learn about your body and your own sexual preferences, especially for people still figuring out how to express themselves sexually. Masturbation is a really healthy way to explore what your body feels comfortable with and likes.
College is often looked at as a time of self-exploration and growth. With that newfound individuality, masturbation can be especially effective. Between class, extracurriculars, friends and self, the life of a college student is riddled with stress, and masturbation can be a great way to relieve some of that tension.
College is also known as a time for exploring relationships. Most of us are coming to campus with multiple different experiences, particularly sexual ones. Masturbation can be used as a universal tool to explore personal desires that people can bring to a relationship.
“It is a safe place for you to experiment with new things,” Grable said. “When you feel comfortable and in a safe relationship, you can start to expand [upon those experiences] to incorporate a new partner.”
With people having differing ranges of sexual experience, their knowledge on the activity of masturbation and sex could also differ.
Most everyone has had some form of sex education at some point during their life. However, many programs or discussions leave out masturbation as part of their curriculum. Neither of our educations involved the topic of self-gratification, nor pleasure as a whole.
“Ideally, I’d love for everyone to know about this topic, so it’s a little disheartening if we look at the education around masturbation,” Wood said in her email. “It’s lacking. Lessons include anatomy and the reproductive function of organs, but there’s so much research that goes beyond that into the realm of pleasure, relaxation and pain relief.”
The topic of self-pleasure is so heavily stigmatized simply because it is not talked about. The sex education curriculum needs to include masturbation and the overall topic of pleasure in order to start destigmatizing this topic.
In the past, most curriculums have taught only the very basics of sex; anatomy, abstinence, sexual acts, STDs, menstruation, ovulation and other reproductive health. It is a very utilitarian look at sexual intercourse as if the only point of sex is to have a child.
But, there is more to sex and intimacy than reproducing. To us, masturbation is a form of sex and one that is rooted in satisfaction. Education on sex needs to include pleasure as a key aspect of the curriculum. Discussing and educating people will help begin the process of destigmatizing the concept of the pleasurability of sex and masturbation.
The way to destigmatize and normalize having the conversation is by doing exactly that — talking about them. If we continue to tiptoe around the topic, it will never reach a point of complete and utter normalcy.
Today’s society and upcoming generations are known for being more confrontational and open about topics that were previously not acceptable to talk about. For a generation that is so open-minded, we treat sex and masturbation as if it were Voldemort: we don’t name it, and when we speak about it, we fear bad things will happen.
However, as Harry Potter himself comes to find out, bad things arise when things aren’t talked about. Keeping masturbation a secret can create a recipe for disaster, especially for those who are younger and just beginning to figure out what they want and what they like. Leaving the weight of education in the hands of the individual allows for dangerous situations: they may be ill-informed by a subreddit on the topic, fall victim to a sex predator or even hurt themselves experimenting.
“Honestly, I wish more folks were supportive of the topic and the behavior itself,” Wood said in her email. “It’s actually a super safe way to explore sex and pleasure, since there’s no risk of STIs or pregnancy!”
Masturbation is normal.
It needs to be talked about and taught in a safe environment. There is no other solution to the problem. While we aren’t saying to go shout it from the rooftops, we are saying we need to create the space to have the conversation.
In typical 90’s fashion: “Let’s talk about sex, baby.”