One evening when I was about 7 or 8 years old my mom took me to the big gymnasium of my elementary school to see a local children’s sex educator named Meg Hickling speak. For the record this makes my mom a pretty awesome parent. Hickling talked to us about what we could expect in the coming years as far as puberty was concerned but the thing she focused on that really stood out for me was masturbation. She was very adamant that masturbation was ok. It was normal to touch yourself and it was by no means a bad thing to do. I don’t think that she explicitly said masturbation was a good thing to do but the message was clear, touching yourself was not a sin.
She also mentioned wet dreams as though every boy should be having them all the time which freaked me out because I don’t think I had my first wet dream until I was 20. But this is besides the point. The point I want to make is that I grew up in a pretty liberal part of the world in which children were encouraged to explore themselves as sexual beings. Children were acknowledged as being driven by sexual urges and were educated sexually with that fact in mind. That being said, no one ever told me how to masturbate.
Masturbation was always described to me as “touching yourself.” This description always confused me. I knew that “yourself,” meant “your genitals,” but I didn’t understand why such a big deal was made about touching your privates. “Sure, I touch my dick, big whoop!” I would think, while pushing and flopping my penis around with my hand. It doesn’t even feel that good. Why is this totally mundane act of touching my penis something that I need a stranger to tell me is ok? I know it’s ok, I have to do it every time I pee standing up. If it weren’t ok we’d have a really messy bathroom all the time.
It wasn’t until I was 12 years old at a birthday sleepover party of one of my friends that I learned how to masturbate. It’s not what you’re thinking at all. At these kinds of sleepovers, horror movies were a staple. The scary movie that was lined up for this particular night was the remake of Psycho in which Vince Vaughn portrayed the antagonist. There was a scene in which Vaughn peeps through a hole behind a picture into Anne Heche’s room to watch her undress. The camera pans down to his arm, stopping before it reaches his hand but it becomes immediately clear that he is holding onto his penis with it. His arm is pumping back and forth vigorously and I have, at that pivotal time, a moment of clarity. Through watching Vince Vaughn simulate masturbation in a shitty remake of a B Movie I learned the mechanics of masturbation. I have been bringing myself to orgasm manually ever since on an almost daily basis. And that’s ok, Meg Hickling told me so.
But why, if masturbation is so ok, why didn’t Ms. Hickling explain to us young girls and boys how to actually do it? Why all the “touching yourself” euphemisms? If it’s such an ok thing to do, why wouldn’t they tell us what, exactly, it was that was ok? I spent four years of my life being aware that something was ok but being completely in the dark as to what that something was. And do you want to know what that something was? A free ticket to orgasmville damnit. I didn’t make myself orgasm until I was 12 years old. I’ve made up for it since but I don’t think that others should have to suffer my fate. I believe that if children are going to be told that masturbation is ok, we could at least do them the service of telling them, I mean really telling them, what masturbation is. Otherwise we continue to leave it up to Hollywood and pornography to do the real hands-on work of sex education and let’s remember that both of those industries make their money from entertaining not educating.
I believe that good sex education should leave kids with more questions about sex not fewer, but how can they begin to ask the really important questions if we haven’t even given them the basics.