5 reasons for survivors to reclaim masturbation

(photo: Denise Carbonell)

I don’t often write these sorts of numbered lists, but today I’m thinking about why it matters that survivors of sexual violence reclaim their bodies, reclaim their desire, reinstate their sovereignty over their skin and hungers, taking all of it, every fiber, every nerve response, every singe of shame, every swallow of sorrow, every sob, every shapeshifted fantasy, every trauma-inflected stroke, back from the hands of the person or people who tried to teach us that our bodies weren’t our own.

For many years, I used masturbation primarily as as way to dissociate. Some survivors have used masturbation addictively, and/or as trauma reenactment — some of us had to masturbate as a part of our experience of violation. There are many reasons why we might want to put masturbation up on a shelf for awhile. Certainly there have been stretches of time when I’ve done that: no one can tell me anymore that I have to get myself off, and forcing an orgasm is altogether too triggering. There are times I want my body to be a place that has no sex in it.

And yet: when we are the ones in the drivers seat, when we are the ones making the decision about whether or not to come, when we are the ones deciding on setting and sensation, we can gently and joyfully bring pleasure back into our own skin. Masturbation can be a part of our experience of reclamation and re-empowerment and re-en-joy-ing our own skin.

But shouldn’t we be doing it with someone else? Isn’t that the biggest goal? Isn’t masturbation taking something from our lovers? Why should we learn to get off by ourselves?

1) First and foremost, and yes, it may be cliché, but it still holds true (at least, I’ve found it to be so): if you don’t love yourself, you’re not gonna be able to love anyone else. Masturbation can be a way to communicate to our own bodies that we believe we deserve love and pleasure — that’s some deep and affirming messaging in the aftermath of trauma.

2) “They” don’t get to hold masturbation hostage. Just because someone else trained us to masturbate for their pleasure doesn’t mean that they get to own this profoundly important part of our sexuality.

3) Masturbation is a way we can learn how we like to be touched, so that we can communicate that to someone else — someday, if we so choose.

4) When we allow ourselves to learn the contours of our own desire, we can begin to access the language of our own eros, our thoroughest longing, our biggest desires: in sex, in creativity, in life. Masturbation and orgasm can give us access to creative energy — and vice versa.

5) Our bodies deserve all the pleasure they can get. After a childhood of terror and a lifetime of panic or anxiety or shut-down or living just outside the bounds of our skin, we deserve as much pleasure as possible. All of us do. Every human. We deserve to feel good. Many of us internalized the idea that the only thing we’re good for is sex: that is, for someone else’s pleasure. That’s the idea I want to undermine, undo, root out. Our bodies are built for joy. Our bodies are built for strength and flight. Our bodies are built with an incredible capacity for pleasure — and we can find that pleasure in so many different ways. Sex is one way. Through sex with ourselves, we can begin to retrain those old messages, we can remessage our inside selves, we can tell our good and sore bodies: I believe in you, I want you to have joy, I want to learn how you like to be touched.

Of course, there are more than five reasons why self-pleasure can be a positive for survivors. Do you have other reasons? Please feel welcome to share them here.

Be easy with you today, and find some joy in your skin as it feels best to you. Come again soon, and enjoy this weekend. See you on Monday.


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