There wasn’t a clear, specific moment where I realized masturbation was a good thing — there was no great parting of the clouds or beatific ray of light revealing that touching yourself was not only fun, but healthy. No cherubic angels reached into their pants and winked knowingly at me, no flash of insight granted instant understanding of what everything “down there” did and how to work it to my advantage.
No, my journey towards this realization was just that — a journey. A long, fumbling, sometimes confusing journey. Like so many other young people, I first discovered masturbation accidentally. Rubbing up against something wearing a particularly tight pair of pants: Ding-ding! WOW! Whoa. What. Wow…That felt good. Really good. Like, I-can’t-wait-to-wear-these-pants-again good.
To be honest, I didn’t know what to make of it. This kind of intense, un-policed, unmitigated pleasure is just not something you’re familiar with growing up, especially if you’re a girl. Everything has consequences. Chocolate cake? That will make you fat. Sitting with your legs spread? Un-ladylike. In short, if it feels good, it must be bad. So naturally, when I discovered this font of amazing feel-goodness, I braced myself for the inevitable consequence. Considering the scale of the WOW, this would also have to be pretty severe—my bet was on being struck by lightning. And then, the most amazing thing happened:
No lightning. No locusts. No hairy palms or other bizarre rumors I won’t dignify with a mention here. There were zero, I repeat, zero, consequences. And this was, ahem, not an infrequent thing. How was this possible? It tore me up inside for a bit. I was sure my punishment was imminent. Was I just missing the lightning strikes? Or… was it that perhaps touching myself only seemed “bad” because I couldn’t believe that something was allowed to both feel good and be good? I mean, I wasn’t hurting anyone. And it was my body after all. Encouraged by the lack of lightning bolts, this tiny crack in my understanding of the status quo, this “does not compute” circuit, made me start to question those other sources of “consequences” — or more accurately put, shame. So what if I spread my legs? So what if I eat the cake—or hell, gain 10 pounds? Why do these things necessitate feeling bad?
Acknowledging how masturbating made me feel taught me to recognize shame for what it was—and to refuse to give it power over me. That in turn allowed me to explore and know my body more fully. And knowing your body gives you ownership of it, which in turn leads to respect. And once you respect your body it becomes easier to expect (and demand) respect from others, in all forms. That can mean being able to coach a lover on what makes you feel good. Or electing a politician that lets you govern how your body is treated. Or supporting media that doesn’t capitalize on shame.
I’d still like a cherub to drop some amazing pleasure knowledge on me out of the blue one day. I wouldn’t trade this journey for anything, though. The long route taught me that masturbation doesn’t need to be a shameful act. But in doing so it also revealed unexpected consequences of a sort I’d never experienced. Not negative, shameful consequences — but empowering ones.
And I can totally get off on that.
Cover image courtesy of Shutterstock.