“The only thing about masturbation to be ashamed of is doing it badly.” –Sigmund Freud

This month marks the 25th anniversary of National Masturbation Month, launched in 1995 by Good Vibrations to protest the firing of the U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Joycelyn Elders, appointed by President Clinton. Dr. Elders was fired for responding to questions regarding safe sex by saying that “Masturbation is something that perhaps should be taught.” Conservative members of the administration were not pleased.

It Breaks Down the Status Quo

Although a quarter-century has passed since Dr. Elders' firing, research demonstrates an uneven frequency of masturbation between men and women. Depending on the age range, women are much less likely to have masturbated than men.

Among adolescents, 74% of males, but only 48% of females masturbate. Among older people between 57 and 64 years of age, 63% of men and only 32% of women practice self pleasure.

Only recently, among millennials aged 25 to 29 years do the percentages get closer, with 84% of men and 72% of women enjoying the many benefits of sexual self-pleasuring.

If ever there were a place in life to allow our curiosity free reign, it would be in the realm of our sexual self exploration.

It Reduces the Shame That Keeps Us From Exploring Our Sexuality

Of all the sexual acts on the planet, masturbation leads the way as not only the most commonly practiced and safest, but also the one that most frequently and reliably ends in orgasm. Becoming curious is a powerful antidote to both the fear and the shame that has long shadowed both the desire for and experience of pleasure. Indeed, most sexual educators and therapists consider the ability to self-pleasure the cornerstone of sexual health. Overcoming our childhood prohibitions and shame associated with masturbation positively correlates with the capacity for increased sexual pleasure in adulthood.

But the lag of adopting this healthy behavior is not all that surprising. Feeling isolated and confused with our sexual drive is common. The little sex education that is offered in this country has no requirement of accuracy and offers little more than naming body parts at best. In many states, sex education includes only the promotion of abstinence, which is unfortunate because research demonstrates that factual sex education in adolescence correlates to delayed onset of sexual behaviors.

And yet, self-pleasure doesn’t really need to be taught. If you have ever watched a small child explore their own body and discover with delighted surprise the moment they discover their own highly enervated erogenous zones, then you understand what really needs a re-education is our collective discomfort and shame.

It Has An Array of Health Benefits

Would it still be possible in 2020 to be fired from a government position because you suggested that masturbation should be taught? It is hard to say. A 2007 study in Sexual and Relationship Therapy reported a variety of benefits of masturbation for both men and women. These include improved immune system functioning and the health of the prostate; significant pain relief for everything from menstrual cramps to migraines; and stress reduction and better sleep.

But perhaps the most meaningful reason to become acquainted with masturbation is because it is the primary teacher for both men and women learning about their own sexual response. Masturbation can aid men with issues of premature ejaculation as it has the ability to familiarize them with the sensations of climax and master their sense of control. For women, masturbation builds pelvic floor muscles and sensitivity as well as familiarizing them with what kinds of touch leads to orgasm.

Learning how to touch oneself in ways that are pleasurable is foundational to sharing that experience with a partner. Also, solo sexual play can be a great balancer for couples who may have a disparity in sex drive frequency.

And, It Can Build Our Self-Confidence

Perhaps the most important reason to go with your curiosity, and let go of all the judgment and history surrounding this normal sexual behavior is because having access to your own pleasure and orgasm teaches a profound inner lesson: your orgasm is your own. No one else gives it to you or has power over you having it. Having the knowledge and confidence to know what feels good allows you the space and courage to share that most intimate information about yourself with someone else.

Accepting the full responsibility of our own sexual nature, needs and preferences is the gift you bring to a healthy sexual relationship with someone else. All you have to do is let yourself become curious about it.