Have you explored into your undies, beneath a blanket, gently massaging your tingling, pulsing clitoris, feeling the heat rising, the breath shortening, the pleasuring maxing out… only to suddenly hear the car door slam, or had your mum bust into your room with a pile of fresh washing and instead of a wave of orgasmic pleasure, felt the rising heat of shame and guilt fill your body? If so, it’s time to clear the air, shake the sh*t, and let go of the shame associated with getting our rocks off.
Nowadays, if you peruse any women’s magazine or wellness site, you’ll likely come across an article advocating for masturbation as a healthy practice, or even a self-care ritual. And here at Future Dreamers, we tout the benefits of masturbation all. the. time.
But until very recently, popular views of self-pleasure were the opposite. Masturbation has historically been considered sinful, unhealthy, detrimental to partnered sex, or at the very least, indulgent. Consequently, we’re holding onto all of that patriarchally-bestowed shame around pleasure, with a whopping 77% of you confessing in a recent Instagram poll that you experience shame when it comes to masturbation, and when it came to understanding where that shame came from, 38% said you didn’t know.
Untangling shame from pleasure by reframing how we think about it
Bundjalung Feminist, Speaker, and Coach Ella Bancroft explained that she felt oppressed by pleasure shame until she “began to see masturbation as a way to liberate myself through health.”
Easier said than done, right? But perhaps it can be as simple as a mindset shift.
“The more I began to understand myself, the more I understood my sexuality, the more I could walk through the world with confidence and grace. Masturbating made me feel sexy, it also made me appreciate my body for its superpowers to make me feel incredible and it also gave me confidence in the bedroom to use my voice when I was with a partner,” she says.
Bancroft’s advice? Look at masturbation as a key to a healthy life. Um, count us in!
“Here in Australia, we have a chance as women to set standards of how we want to be treated. I believe it all starts with self-love, and the best form of self-love is healthy living: i.e. masturbation,” explains Bancroft. “There is a list of great health benefits for girls and women when they masturbate including, boost in estrogen levels, which helps deepen your REM sleep. All successful people know, a good nights sleep makes for a well-functioning brain.
“We also as women release serotonin and dopamine in the brain, which are chemicals that are our direct link to happiness and love. Every time you masturbate you’re replenishing your happiness. It can also relieve stress, bring oxygen to the brain, bring blood flow to all the right places, and increase your chances of orgasming with a partner as you rewire your neural pathways.”
We’re on board with the idea that giving ourselves pleasure should be as fundamental to our daily routines as breakfast and brushing our hair, but what happens when we feel that overwhelming heat of shame and guilt filling our bodies, anyway?
For Bancroft, she simply sits with it.
“If shame arises after masturbation, allow it to be there. Sit with it. Don’t give up on it or you, allow the feelings to fully be felt and if need be, release them. Exercise is a good way to do this. Over time, if you treat masturbation as a ritual of self-care, the shame will start to dissipate,” says Bancroft.
Where does sexual shame come from?
Sex Therapist Helena Nista explains that sexual shame is usually a learned response.
“We learn it from other people who experience it, we learn it from the media and society as a whole. We learn that being sexual or touching ourselves for pleasure is frowned upon, it’s a taboo, people feel uncomfortable talking about it. And we learn it most strongly when someone else shames us for sexual acts, words, or even thoughts,” explains Nista.
Nista explains that the first step to overcoming the same is to recognise that it’s a learned response, and ultimately, that we have a choice about whether or not we let it take up real estate in our psyche.
“Babies don’t experience shame,” Nista says, “They have no problem being naked, they don’t stress about others being naked and they definitely don’t hesitate about touching different parts of their own body. That’s because they haven’t learned YET that they’re meant to be ashamed.”
Nista adds that avoiding masturbation will lead to sexual issues and struggles, “which is why it’s so important to acknowledge as early as possible that sex and masturbation are natural functions of the body.”
Like Bancroft, Nista adds that if shame does arise during masturbation, “it’s helpful to notice it without judgment or rejection. Over time, it’ll just disappear naturally. Most negative emotions hang around because we try to fight them or push them away.”
Prioritising pleasure over shame
According to Nista, we’re all capable of experiencing mind-blowing bliss and expansive orgasms in the bedroom. In the words of Bancroft: “Pleasure, it all starts with you.”
Nista concurs and explains that a great place to start is to see our own bodies as beautiful and precious.
“As long as we suffer from poor body image and we dislike our bodies, we’ll struggle in the bedroom. So cultivating a positive relationship with your own body is a very important first step,” Nista says.
Nista furthers that how you actually touch yourself also plays a big part.
“A lot of people focus only on their genitalia and rush the experience in order to orgasm quickly. This attitude usually produces disappointing experiences. Sexual pleasure and amazing orgasms are areas where you can train your body. And the training consists of slow, mindful touch. When you touch yourself, you should start by exploring your entire body, by searching for all the yummy spots and by exploring different ways to touch yourself. Your sexuality is not limited to the area between your legs – your entire body has an amazing pleasure potential!”
Nista’s top tip?
“When touching yourself, keep your attention in your body. Don’t get distracted, don’t stress about orgasm, don’t start judging yourself or your experience. By simply remaining relaxed, open, and present to your experience, you’ll start finding and discovering more and more pleasure in your system,” Nista says.
Bancroft agrees, adding that: “Pleasure is subjective like art, and you must really sit with yourself to discover what your needs are. Guilt can often impact our ability to really be in the moment, finding pleasure is about falling deeply into your feeling state, into your body and trying to get out of your head. If you are feeling guilt for enjoying yourself, come back to this statement, “masturbation and women’s sexual pleasure are the greatest ways to liberate ourselves”.
Opening up to your mates
Both Bancroft and Nista believe that another way to liberate yourself from shame around pleasure is to open up your friends about it. If you read our recent article on why you need to create a sex-positive friendship group, you’ll know that we’re totally on board with that.
“Speaking to your friends about pleasure and your sexual experiences can be extremely helpful. We usually seem to think that we’re the only ones who struggle sexually and that everybody else has it all figured out. That’s not the case!” says Nista.
For Bancroft, finding out about her friends’ stories makes her feel like she belongs. “There are so many different stories of pleasure and many different opinions but at least opening up the conversation allows for me to discover new ways of being and this may also help with shame or guilt as you begin to see how others experience pleasure.”
Now, go forth, drop the shame, and learn to lean into your sexy time.