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Masturbation Month: Jocelyn Elders and Mainstreaming the “M” Word

May is Masturbation Month. You probably didn’t know, but I bet you’ve been celebrating anyway. As the saying goes, 99% of us are masturbators — the other 1% are liars.

OK, so those stats aren’t accurate, but they’re close enough: in one survey 89% of women and 95% of men admitted to masturbating at least once.

So it’s not a stretch to say that your mother, father, brother, sister, teacher, professor, supervisor, boss — practically everyone you’ve come into contact with masturbates. So talking about it shouldn’t be a big deal. Right?

Masturbation’s Champion

In 1993, then US President Bill Clinton made Jocelyn Elders the United States Surgeon General, the first African American and the second woman to hold the prestigious position. This was a milestone in both the civil rights and women’s rights movement. Unfortunately, Elders would discover that the sexual revolution wasn’t quite there yet.

In 1994, she spoke at a UN conference on AIDS. Someone asked whether promoting masturbation could prevent the youth from engaging in riskier sexual activities. “I think that it is part of human sexuality,” Elders answered, “and perhaps it should be taught.”

This simple statement led to Elders’ termination. In fairness to Clinton, Elders’ had been rubbing him the wrong way on so many issues for so long. Yet it was masturbation that forced Clinton to come out and finally fire her. By then Elders’ had already suggested legalizing drugs, teaching 5-year-olds to use condoms, and my favorite, telling Catholics “to get over this love affair with the fetus and start worrying about children.”

Masturbation Month

Jocelyn’s career as surgeon general may have ended, but her advocacy continued, encouraging others to promote masturbation in the mainstream.

In 1995, Good Vibrations, a leading company in sex-positive culture and education, protested Elders’ firing by declaring May to be National Masturbation Month. They aimed to raise awareness about masturbation in particular and sexual health in general, encouraging positive discussion about topics many still considered taboo.

In 1998 they followed-up by launching the Masturbate-a-thon, wherein participants massturbate (sorry) to raise awareness about self-love, raise money for charity, and raise maturity against the shame usually associated with the activity.

Mainstreaming the “M” Word

Today, there’s still a taboo on discussing masturbation in public, especially in public policy where the mere suggestion is still met with controversy. Yet despite its divisiveness, masturbation, Jocelyn Elders tells us, can even bring us together:

Masturbation, practiced consciously or unconsciously, cultivates in us a humble elegance — an awareness that we are part of a larger natural system, the passions and rhythms of which live on in us. Sexuality is part of creation, part of our common inheritance, and it reminds us that we are neither inherently better nor worse than our sisters and brothers. Far from evil, masturbation just may render heavenly contentment in those who dare.

– Jocelyn Elders, “The Dreaded ‘M’ Word”

Natural and normal, healthy and harmless, masturbation is one of the few activities we can do with little effort and at no expense. Rich or poor, man or woman, theist or atheist, straight or LGBTQIA, it’s something we can all share. We shouldn’t be ashamed, and dare I say, we should even be proud, especially when we can do it without guilt or shame.

Let’s dispel the hate linked to masturbation once and for all. As the late Whitney Houston once said, it’s easy to achieve. After all, learning to love yourself — it is the greatest love of all. Happy Masturbation Month, fellow masturbator! Accept as a gift this infographic from Pleated-Jeans.

Jocelyn Elders Image source


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