Masturbation is simply the stimulation of one’s own genitals. It is the one way humans, in any circumstance, can find pleasure and relaxation. Yet it is treated as if it were something that causes and spreads leprosy. It is one of the nearly universal human taboos.
However, just for a few moments, imagine a world where masturbation was as normal and ubiquitous as eating. Indeed in a few cultures eating is considered very private and is never done outside the home and even then only in the presence of family or very close friends. So, imagine how many things would change for the better if stimulating one’s own genitals was of no greater embarrassment or shame than eating a hamburger (or veggie burger for you vegan’s).
Consider this, infants when they begin to learn to use their hands for exploration inevitably find that touching their genitals brings a unique form of pleasure and soothing. However, just as universally, parents show their children both explicitly and by example that that is not an acceptable thing to do. This is not just true in post-Puritan America, but around the globe. Nearly everywhere young children who are seen to be stimulating their genital area are made to stop. Even the way we diaper our young children has the effect of teaching that the genitals are “yucky” and that they should not be easily accessible. Sure there is some legitimate hygiene issues, as we don’t like it when babies find their poop to be a readily accessible play thing. However, we must ask ourselves how much of diapering is about preventing the young child from getting in the habit of self-soothing via masturbation.
As a social worker I found my colleagues very commonly (nearly universally) made the assumption that a pre-school or elementary age girl who masturbated frequently was either the victim of sexual abuse or had some serious psychological problem. The idea that little girls, just like little boys, would naturally play with themselves because it made them feel good was very rarely considered. When boys did the same it was considered just one of those things that good moms naturally taught them not to do, but it was not considered pathological. Such an assumption is based on a deep-seated distrust of masturbation.
Then there is the parental and societal teaching by example that is actually more powerful than even the direct intervention to stop masturbation. It begins with our mania for keeping the genitals both covered and out of reach. It begins with diapers on the baby and clothes on the parents. That sends a powerful message that is nearly impossible to erase. Then, consider how many children ever see their parent masturbate. Even saying this will cause many people to think “child abuse.” But why? Kids model their entire lives based on what they see mom and dad (or other care givers) do during those first 4 or 5 years of life. We teach to use proper grammar, eat with a fork and even to wipe after they poop. But yet, it is very rare for a child to witness their parent caressing their vulva or penis. There is no scientific basis for this prohibition. Sure Freud was against such things but he had not one wit of empirical evidence to back up his prohibition.
In our home, when the kids were in those formative years, Mom masturbated nearly every afternoon with the bedroom door wide open. Spontaneously, on their own, our children called the dildo and vibrator that she kept (still keeps) openly on the nightstand “Mom’s toys.” We still laugh about how our daughter took to teething on Mom’s best silicone dildo and bit the end right off. Far from being traumatized, Mom’s masturbation was completely normalized and of no particular note to our children. On the other hand, out of fear that we would be accused of child abuse if the kids ever made a comment about it, they never saw Dad masturbate. It is a shame we had to do this, but the fear was justified. Worse yet, after they reached puberty Dad stopped walking around the house naked.
Was that the best thing? No, but given the hysteria surrounding men and sexuality, it was prudent. Had we not moved from the home where we had a swimming pool and Mom & Dad swam and sunned in the nude each summer until we sold the house, or if we'd found a family nudist club nearby perhaps we would have done differently. But, one thing we learned, once the kids expected Dad to cover his penis outside the bedroom, it was a hard thing to change, even if Mom's nudity continued, and we continued to leave our bedroom door open when we made love.
So, what if there was not that assumption that childhood masturbation was bad? What if we did not have the specter of an accusation of child abuse hanging over parents who model that masturbation is a normal part of a well-rounded life? What if seeing Mom or Dad (or Grandma or Grandpa) masturbating right in the living room was so normal as to not raise any surprise.
Again from our experience, as I’ve written before, our kids learned the mechanics of sex from the fact we rarely shut the door when we had sex when the kids were in elementary school. Moreover, they walked in on us having sex in many rooms of the house and never once did we react with shame or did we try to hide what we were doing. As a glamour photographer, the kids saw me shooting nudes of a number of women right in my home studio and such it was simply no big deal even during those squeamish teen years. As teenagers the kids have not the slightest compunction about watching sexually explicit cable TV shows and movies with their mother. When our daughter first had sex she couldn’t wait to tell Mom all about it.
So, what if masturbation was universal, would not that same body comfort be also universal?
But alas, even in the most open communities about nudity and sex, masturbation is still considered low rent. At a family nudist resort you would be permanently banned for masturbating publicly and even at swinger friendly clubs or resorts I’ve never seen someone just casually masturbating in the common areas. That makes no sense. At swinger places, it’s OK to have sex by the pool, but not OK to masturbate? That is how deep the taboo is on masturbation.
Yet, in all this masturbation is nearly universal, how be it behind closed doors. Now that is not always been true. Until the sexual revolution, it was very common for teenage boys to have “circle jerks”, masturbating in groups. Oddly the openness about sex has had the effect of making such behavior largely a thing of the past. Today teen guys who did this would be called "gay" whereas that would not have happened fifty years ago. Sadly public masturbation of boys and men is, in some ways, even more taboo than it was half a century ago.
So, one more time, I ask “what would such a world look like?”
Well for one thing, it would change the nature of masturbation and the role of other people in the presence of someone masturbating. Consider how the shame of masturbation has a tendency to make people rush to orgasm to get the relief and thereby missing the soothing and relaxing potential of their actions. I think most of my readers can remember a time when they were alone for an extended period and they found themselves absent mindedly touching their genitals. The goal in such cases is not climax, but just the good feeling. But for most people that is rare. Why? Because it just seems strange to touch yourself just because it feels good without the goal of orgasm.
So, if masturbation were no longer taboo, it would just be as normal to do so whenever and wherever you are relaxed. Nudity would not be required. Just unbutton your pants or lift your skirt, put your hand inside your pants and make yourself feel good for a few minutes. Riding in the car (not driving), after lunch at school, on the phone at work. When orgasm is not the goal, bodily fluids and disrupting others is not an issue. Imagine anywhere you could comb your hair, that you could just as easily masturbate.
But how would others react?
I can tell you from experience that once people are around other people engaged in sexual behavior on a regular basis, it doesn’t take too long for it to lose the erotic punch I first had. Like I said, for nearly a dozen years, Paula masturbated nearly every day. It was a quite regular part of our home life. To this day, I hardly notice when she gets out her Hitachi magic wand and pleasures herself. I don’t know how many times I didn’t even notice she was masturbating while I read a book. An unusually strong orgasm might get my attention, but it is no more of notice to me than if she were looking at Facebook on her tablet.
If people were routinely exposed to friends and family masturbating, that would just be seen as normal life. Imagine you are at a friend’s place and his wife, or mother, or roommate is in the Lazy-Boy just relaxing watching TV and masturbating and neither you nor your friend nor the person masturbating even raises an eyebrow. It is entirely possible, yet it would likely take an entire generation to pass for even masturbation to become that normalized. Think about nudity on TV and movies. When I was a kid, The Graduate, was released. It got an X rating because of one brief frontal nudity scene. Today, cable TV is awash in nudity and even prime time broadcast TV has sex scenes that not only would have been shocking in an adult oriented movie in the 1960’s, a movie with such sexual content would have been banned. That change in sexual acceptance was in my lifetime and I am not that old. So yes such normalization is possible.
Imagine if the issue in teaching children about their masturbation was not that it was bad and/or shameful; but rather parents just taught boys and girls that there are responsibilities not to leave biological fluids when you masturbate in the living room or at the park. In such a world it would be like teaching kids to wash their hands after they use the toilet. Yes hygiene is important, but the act of masturbating itself has no shame. Why shouldn’t the lonely old man masturbate on his front porch? Why shouldn’t the precocious little girl get herself off before she goes to sleep when she spends the night at her friends (or at grandma’s). Why shouldn’t the teenage boy be able to relax in the living room with his penis in his hand while he watches TV?
I ask you, why would people consider it unusual that our kids took no notice of Mom masturbating in her bed and our daughter learned from observation about female masturbation and the use of a vibrator?
Think about it and perhaps we can begin the change in the next generation.