Dr. Denise Renye in San Francisco, CA, Licensed Clinical Psychologist, Sex Therapist, MA, PsyD
Many of us have been indoctrinated with shame. It seems to be a common societal tool to control and rule when something or someone is out of control. This is especially true in the world of sex, whether it’s solo sex or masturbation. Shame is the instilled belief there’s something bad or wrong with you — fundamentally. It’s not the feeling that you made a mistake, but rather the feeling you Are a mistake.
The Status Quo
Mixed Messages about Sex
When it comes to sex, and particularly solo sex, we’re often bombarded with a multitude of messages that can leave us feeling confused. Messages may include: “There’s something wrong with you if you don’t masturbate, something wrong with you if you do. And if you do masturbate, there’s something wrong with your frequency, no matter what it is.” It can feel overwhelming and almost as though you can’t win.
You’ve likely heard the jokes and myths around masturbation: “If you masturbate too much, you’ll go blind!” or “Masturbation can lead to hairy palms/insanity/erectile dysfunction/etc.” (Note: Those are all false.)
There’s also the more overtly religious “God is always watching you” or something similar. This last one boils to a judgement. And shame is at its root in judgment.
Many religions have many messages about sex and pleasure. Sometimes those messages are used to regulate sex work and sex toys used for masturbation like vibrators and dildos. About 45% of the world’s countries prohibit the import of sex toys because they fall under the umbrella of pornography.
Self-Ignorance around Pleasure and the Body
It is not common to feel pleasure and most people don’t even consider touching their bodies consciously. This is especially true if they have been taught that masturbation can be dirty or sinful. All of this keeps people from knowing themselves, of getting to know their own bodies (if they’re masturbating alone) or someone else’s body (if they’re engaging in mutual masturbation). Shame is fundamentally a barrier to honoring oneself. Honouring and loving yourself more deeply than you already do is one of the greatest gifts you can offer yourself and the world.
If you feel shameful about something, I encourage you look at it and to gently shine a light on it. You don’t have to be too hard on yourself as you begin this important self-inquiry. These messages are worth keeping or are they outdated and inherited by someone else?
Shame Releasing is Essential
My goal in all my work is to help people feel more fully themselves. I believe that releasing shame can help people do this. The problem with shame around masturbation? It can make you feel bad about yourself and make it less likely that you will openly communicate or communicate with your partner. If you don’t know what you like, what feels good to you, how can you express what you want or communicate your boundaries to someone else? Furthermore, you may end up having boring or painful sex, which you don’t ever have to settle for. Mediocrity and sex do not go together and neither do shame and sex, whether it’s solo sex (masturbating) or partnered sex.
Understanding Your Body
It can be a wonderful contribution to your overall life if you take time to learn and tune into your body’s needs. If you’re struggling to wrap your head around that, or perhaps you feel shame around being shamed, that’s okay. Even if you can’t take the message in right now, there’s nothing wrong with you. There’s nothing wrong with masturbation; there’s nothing wrong with pleasuring yourself. You can’t masturbate too much unless you’re finding it’s problematically interfering with your life (e.g., your work or relationships are suffering, it’s consuming a lot of your time, etc..
Human beings are designed to seek pleasure – it’s inherent in our brains and bodies. Masturbation can be one way to experience pleasure.
A new approach to learning
If you’re interested in masturbation, I have an exercise for you. Consider going on a date. Mentally note that this is a time where you are setting boundaries. You can create a sensual space by lighting candles, planning a special meal and playing soothing music. Try to slow down and really smell the candle (and/or add incense, if necessary). You can also smell the delicious aromas in your meal and enjoy each bite.
See if you feel the need for a sexual touch after dinner. Take your time to discover how you would like to be touched. Be patient with yourself, and not rush to get the ultimate goal of an orgasm. Instead, slow down and feel the sensations, focusing on the pleasure. How does each touch feel inside your body? What do you notice about each touch? What happens when you change the intensity or pressure? Maybe an orgasm may occur naturally.
This is a time of self-exploration, self-love, and self-love. There is no right or wrong way here — instead You’re learning what feels good to youYou and no one else. Masturbation, whether you choose to engage in it or not, is a natural and normal behavior. You’re the one that gets to decide that – no one else.
You can reach me or another therapist for support if you have questions about this topic.
© Copyright 2021 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Dr. Denise Renye (Licensed Clinical Psychologist, Sex Therapist), MEd, MA and PsyD in San Francisco CA granted permission to publish