Updated: May 11, 2021
Happy New Moon, Darlings!
May is both Maternal Mental Health Month and Masturbation Month!
There’s a lot that could be said to either of these topics, but I’m going to spend our time together here chatting about the intersection of the two.
And, as a side note, while “Masturbation May” has a nice alliteration to it, I don’t typically use the word ‘masturbate’ in my practice. Instead, I focus on self-pleasure. Why? Partially because of the etymology of the word, and partially because feeling good is about so much more than the genitals.
Masturbate comes from the Latin roots of manus (hand), and disturbare (to disturb or destroy), and later took the form of masturbor, to defile oneself. Self-pleasuring is quite a far experience from defiling oneself, and I honestly find the violent implication found within the latin roots of disturbare (again, to destroy) to be disturbing. Pun intended.
Ok, now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about why mental health and self-pleasuring practices are so inter-related.
1) Pleasure Practices and your connection with something other than stress.
Simply put, feeling good is in many ways the antidote to feeling bad. When we are highly habituated to running on stress, it’s going to be our go-to strategy for managing our activation. Did your kid spill their smoothie on the floor? What if instead of feeling like you wanted to scream and pull your hair out, it was easy to assure your kiddo that a mess is just a mess and that you can clean it up together?
Intentionally expanding our ability to notice, take in, and expand pleasurable experiences helps to re-wire our brain and our go-to defensive reactions (hurray for neuroplasticity!). Being with joy allows our nervous system to shift from high rev to relaxed readiness.
I’m not talking about needing to engage in genital self pleasure every day as a way to be a better parent- although that might fit your needs! Instead, you might start with the small, simple things that already surround you. Allow yourself to take pleasure from the fabric of your softest sweater as it moves against your skin. Allow yourself to really notice and enjoy the color of the leaves when the evening sunlight strikes them. Let the joy you find here fill you, and then expand it by just 5% more.
Orienting towards pleasure fits into the practice of Resourcing, the act of consciously paying attention to what supports you. Maybe it’s quiet, maybe it’s friends, maybe it’s giving yourself enough time to walk to work instead of drive. Maybe it’s even taking some time for some well-deserved self-pleasure ;).
2) Self Prioritization and Self Awareness
How often to you actually, honestly prioritize your own needs, feelings of safety, preferences, limits, or boundaries? Especially if you are a parent? Attended to other people’s needs may seem like the easiest thing in the moment, but the long term consequences it has on your emotional and physical health is taxing. The more we push our own feelings and needs aside, the harder it is to even recognize that we have them, and therefor reduces our options and choices.
Maybe you start noticing resentment or anger spilling out and you’re not sure how to ‘get it under control.’ When we set aside pockets of time specifically for ourselves and go through the actions of securing that time- communicating with your partner, having a friend or parent take over kids, arranging a sleep over, etc, we start understanding that we deserve to be valued, and act accordingly.
When you create and claim space for yourself, you also create the space to actually feel what’s alive and present. You get a chance to explore your own limits, preferences, and boundaries. But when you practice self-prioritization of your erotic self, you create a positive feedback loop, reinforcing the notion that sexuality is not only safe, it’s a holy place to reside. You learn Mother and Sexual are not mutually exclusive.
3) Pleasure Education
Do you ever feel dissatisfied with the sex you’re having with your partner, but you’re not even sure what to ask for differently? Mindful self-pleasure is a great place to explore different sensations, touches, pressures, locations, fantasies, and positions. When we s l o w down a pleasure practice and come into it more mindfully (again, not a five minute quickie with all the regular tricks), we get the opportunity to explore our curiosities, to notice the more subtle nervous system responses that might be happening, and to gently rework some of our assumptions and reactions.
4) Nervous System States-
For me, this is some of the most interesting ways Mental Health intersects with our ability to engage in sexual pleasure. You see, in order for sexual arousal to occur, especially in the female body where physiological arousal often takes longer, we need to be able to access healthy responses in both the sympathetic and parasympathetic branches of the autonomic nervous system. That is to say- can there be both activation and settling cycles working together in concert?
Arousal and climax are a delicate dance between up regulation and down regulation. Increased heart rate? Up regulation. Dilation of blood vessels in the genitals? Down regulation. Ability to move your body? Up regulation. Having curiosity present? Both! In short, healthy sexual responses require a flow between sympathetic and parasympathetic states.
So, when you notice times when sex becomes more difficult to engage in, you might use it as a piece of information to help you understand your broader nervous system states (aka mental health aka emotional health). However, you can also use sex to help digest and transmute some of these pieces.
Sex is a place of great transformation. We enter an altered state during arousal, and often our protective veils get a little thinner. This is why we might freeze often during sex but not notice it at other times. It’s closer to the surface and more available for us to work with.
The important piece here is to maintain connection. During partnered sex this may look like being able to verbalize what’s happening for you, changing positions, getting out of bed, moving around, going for a glass of water, etc, but staying connected with your partner during the process. During solo self-pleasure, the task is to stay connected with yourself.
If activation occurs, you have a few choices. You might already have a sense of what works best for you, or you might find that it depends on the day and what’s coming up. For example, if you notice the activation- maybe it’s cyclical thoughts about what a waste of time this is- you can choose to stay with your practice, shifting your attention from the mental chatter to the physical sensation to help you drop in further. You might start to feel lonely, and shift your awareness to your connection with self.
However, if the activation that arises is big, painful, or scary, it’s ok to give yourself permission to stop. Again, the important part is to stay present with yourself. Do you need to stand up and feel your legs? Do you need to get a cool drink of water? Do you need to let big tears or big rage come out? This is your practice, and it’s here to serve you.
5) Stress Relief
One of the most common reasons for self-pleasuring is stress relief. These instances may be quick, repetitive, and leave you feeling unsatisfied. So what if we circle back to reason number one, and explore the pleasure actually available here?
As I’ve alluded to throughout, our experiences are shaped by our awareness. Where we place our awareness is important. So if you find yourself using self-touch for stress relief, offer yourself a little more time and incorporate a few other pieces sensory stimulation to expand your experience.
But it’s so much more than just ‘stress relief.’ Solo sex is a useful way to let your body express, to practice self-acceptance, and to let your body experience expansion/contraction cycles. It’s all about slowing down and noticing these pieces, rather than rushing past them.
May you all have access to support, earth, and clarity,