Masturbation as a tool for sex education

Sexual and menstrual health activist, Terri Harris, writes on why we should talk to young people about masturbation, and why it is a powerful tool for education on anatomy, pleasure, and sex.

The majority of sex education centres around risk reduction. Pleasure rarely comes into the equation. Therefore, as an act centred on pleasure, neither does masturbation.

Young people are hardly ever educated about masturbation. This results in a prevailing culture of shame shrouded by myths like: ‘too much masturbation causes erectile dysfunction’ and the idea that masturbating makes you ‘weird and gross’.

But by educating on masturbation, we unlock the potential for conversations we are always trying to achieve within our general sex education.

Masturbation is the foundation of sexual understanding. Through masturbation, one begins to discover one’s own sexuality and pleasure, and through this a greater understanding of sex itself.

Through masturbation we gain understanding of our likes and dislikes, what turns us off and on. Without that awareness, young people stumble into sexual intimacy having never experienced that kind of pleasure before. This is not just unnerving, but also means it’s much harder for that experience to be pleasurable. It’s hard enough to navigate a new experience for the first time, without also having to blindly guide someone else.

So, more often than not, young people can’t imagine verbalising their sexual desires to their partners. Which isn’t surprising when we think about the fact that they are unable to communicate them to themselves. As sex educators, we are continually trying to find techniques to teach about sexual communication and negotiation. Masturbation is that technique!

Masturbation teaches us about our personal wants and needs, and in turn, how to communicate those with sexual partners. All key elements to creating consensual sexual experiences.

Masturbation is not just useful in creating an awareness of a person’s sexual being, but also actualising knowledge of body and genitalia. Time and time again when teaching sex education classes, I’ve seen young people be shocked by anatomical images of genitalia and mystified by how each part functions. Sex educators will often hint to using a hand mirror for self-discovery, but rarely masturbation. Why? Masturbation offers a real-life learning experience of what genitals look and feel like and what points bring pleasure. A much more insightful experience than an awkward view-point in a tiny mirror.

And on that point, sex isn’t just about penises and vaginas! Again, masturbation debunks that age old myth that sex is just about penetration. Through masturbation, one may discover that the penile glans and clitoral hood are filled with clusters of nerve endings which make them a central component to pleasure; or that the labia, anus and testes are also pleasure points too. These discoveries teach that touch is just as, if not more, important to climax; and that breathing, muscle tension and the mind are all part of reaching climax too. These are all things that often aren’t verbalised in sex education but are a central learning point for more positive sexual experiences for all.

Masturbation also offers a space of inclusivity which is often lacking in sex education. Too often, sex education focuses on heteronormative standards of sex, missing out key areas of play for those who are not having this kind of sex.

By acknowledging masturbation, young people are able to privately explore their sexuality and kinks, the location of other erogenous zones, and other areas of the body that may feel pleasurable to touch.

Young people need to be aware of masturbation and know that it is a part of a healthy and happy sex life. Our role as educators is not to provide a how-to guide. Just like with every other form of sex education, we should provide inclusive information on how to be safe and unashamed in the activities we are undertaking.

The power of masturbation is that it offers young people a tool for self-education.

As educators, we should acknowledge that masturbation allows for greater understanding of anatomy and kinks; that masturbation offers tools to communicate pleasure and consent to partners. And that, most importantly, masturbation offers a space to explore our sexuality and centre our own pleasure in a mindful and non-judgemental way.

By avoiding discussions on masturbation in sex education, we reinforce the idea that masturbation is something to be hidden, something to be ashamed of, rather than elevating it as the powerful self-education tool that it is.

Terri is a sexual and menstrual health activist who delivers sex-positive training sessions with young people in East London. She is the co-creator of inclusive sex-ed Instagram, @blob.gram and a blogger for Girls Globe.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: