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May is National Masturbation Month

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a group of hands with happy faces painted on each finger.
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It was 1995 and a group of political sex shops, still dismayed by the firing the previous year of Surgeon General Dr. Joycelyn Elders, decided something had to be done.  They came together to do what they always did best: combine consciousness raising with politics with pleasure.  

National Masturbation Month (NMM) was their response to the firing of Elders for daring to suggest that masturbation might be something that should be mentioned in school based sex education.  Masturbation, they believed, needed some positive PR.  Each year they held workshops in their stores, they tried to get media to write about the health aspects of masturbation, and the main event each year was the Masturbate-A-Thon, a fundraiser like no other.

The month was also a tongue-in-cheek response to the kind of Hallmark holidays that other industries create. Despite being the most commonly practiced sexual activity, and one that in most cases carries the lowest risk of any negative consequences, masturbation remains a second class sexual citizen.  Who better to be out and proud about masturbation than those businesses that profit (financially, emotionally, and spiritually) from it each and every day.

Since 1999 the Center for Sex & Culture, under the leadership of Carol Queen and Robert Morgan Lawrence have kept the self-love fires burning, organizing events and a live Masturbate-a-Thon each year.  

It may seem a bit counter intuitive to have a big public awareness campaign for something that is so private.  Masturbation is, after all,  primarily a solo activity.  But touching yourself for yourself isn't always something you have to do alone.  And even if it is, talking about it should be everyone's choice.  When people find out that I'm a sex educator they expect me to think and talk only about people having sex with other people. After all, that's what real sex is, right?  Wrong.  

Sex on your own isn't a replacement for partner sex, and there are some things you just can't do without another body there, but of the few gross generalizations I make when talking about sex one of them is that we should all at least start by focusing on ourselves.  Whether you have a partner or not, whether you want one or not, if you want to head out on any sexual journey it helps to know where you're starting from.  It's not necessary, but it helps.  That's part of what masturbation offers.  And it's one of many reasons why I love Masturbation Month.

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