how did you learn to touch yourself?

Do you remember the first lessons you ever got about touching your body, about masturbation, about self-pleasure? Did you learn on your own? Did friends or siblings teach you, directly or inadvertently? Did you learn from reading or movies or tv? Did your family have lessons or messages about self-pleasure?

I don’t remember what my parents had to say about it, whether or not it was ok to have hands on bodies under or over clothes, whether exploration was acceptable. My parents weren’t the hand-slapping type, they wouldn’t have told me that what I was doing was bad or wrong. They might have been uncomfortable. I know that my mother wanted my sister and me to know the names of all the parts of our bodies, to know the words vulva and clitoris and labia; she wanted us to have more information than she’d received when she was growing up Catholic in the lower-middle of Nebraska.

This morning I am grateful for her generosity to us. I an grateful that she wanted us to have words and understanding. I am grateful that, for all her struggles around sexuality (and who doesn’t have struggles around sexuality?), my mother wanted to do right by these two girls she and my father had brought into the world.

And yet, I was not a child who masturbated — I don’t remember having an orgasm before I was sixteen or so, and that was with a vibrator. I have very few memories of putting my hands between my legs, and what I do remember is feeling vaguely bad about what I was doing: I was clear that this act needed to be hidden, put away, kept under the covers. What I was doing was a little bad, and I shouldn’t let anyone know about it. So there’s been some shame mixed in with my sex from the beginning, and I can’t quite remember where it came from.

But, again, who doesn’t have some shame mixed in with their sex? That’d be a rare bird indeed. We don’t have to be survivors of sexual trauma to feel weird (or defiant or nervous or gross) about touching ourselves — we live in a culture that vilifies masturbation, shames anyone who puts fingers to their own body in search of pleasure. We live in a culture that uses sex to sell everything from perfume to cars to beer to farm equipment, and can still tell us (with a straight face) that sex is only supposed to be for making babies. We live in a culture that says that people who masturbate are the ones who can’t get any real sex, can’t find someone who’d want to love them, are losers or loners or perverts. Masturbation is stealing something from somebody — that orgasm was someone else’s property. We live in a culture where everything’s commodified.

So on this second day of National Masturbation/Radical Self Love Month, how are you speaking back to the voices that rise up in you when you settle in to bring yourself some pleasure? How do you respond to the old wagging fingers or the subtle or overt messages of shame that still hazard the insides of your ears? How do you gently shove away the faces of the disappointed or the concerned? How do you drop down into just your skin, just your desire, just your fantasy, just your pleasure? How do you let your fingers (or vibrator or water or toy or…) be only for your own edification, and not for anyone’s product placement or bargain basement trash talking commercial endeavor?

Be easy and joyful in your hands today. Take good care of that beautiful body. Here’s to our coming. Come again tomorrow.