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Masturbation is healthy: friends and foes.

Masturbation Month is a reminder of how far we have come in fighting for our right to self-pleasure, and the enemies faced along the way.

By Giada | 8 May 2022
An illustration depicting colourful flowers
Cecilia Grandi

If we’re still asking ourselves if masturbation is healthy (and “normal”), it is because our journey towards sexual education and awakening has always been paved with obstacles and enemies. Masturbation has been a longtime victim of repression and prohibition, the victim of an anti-sex discourse often hastily attributed to the Catholic Church. However, a number of cultural, social, anthropological as well as theological aspects have shaped sexuality throughout the ages. Who are the allies of masturbation? And who are its enemies?

Oppression, religion and gender roles: foes.

Catholic oppression, centuries of control over pleasure and forced celibacy have encouraged and perpetrated the stigma and shame around masturbation we still experience to this day. Christianity imposed a spiritual perspective on sexuality, far remote from the fun and pleasurable aspect it had in pagani spheres. Pleasure was the root of guilt why sex was the expression of sin, for men and women alike.

Lust and impulses became something to regulate and punish; for men especially, sexual urges were highly difficult to control and celibacy was almost unbearable. That led to outlets such as severe punishments or even some instances of bestiality. This perspective on sexuality meant that even doctors saw sex acts such as masturbation as a dangerous waste of energy as well as the manifestation of disease and depravation.

The Catholic norm also gave way to a rigid gender separation. What we now know as gender roles originated before the Dark Ages. At a time when child mortality was especially high and sex was demonised, women, then considered destined to procreation and maternity, would choose chastity to avoid likely postpartum death and unwanted husbands. In refusing sex, they thus carried out a revolutionary act of sorts that made them somewhat equal to men.

Women’s sexual revolution & sex positivity: friends.

The modern era saw female desire as marginal and diabolical. Women were either vulgar and brazen, chaste and pure, or fragile and sensual. Current efforts to normalise masturbation, especially when it comes to women, is a strong reaction to centuries of repression.

The Sixties saw the birth of a revolution that would affect the entire Western world. Women found a way out of the rigid structure that made them bystanders of their own fertility. Then, the first masturbation workshops were held, encouraged by the great sex toy boom. Thus, women got reacquainted with their bodies and sexuality.

As the height of the HIV epidemic, or even during COVID-19, masturbation is promoted as the safest way to have sex.

With the sexual liberation came a new way to look at pleasure. The sex positive movement, freed from shame, opened minds and possibilities. Far from judgement and shame, with deep respect for diversity and gender expression, all within the boundaries imposed by consent.

Sex education & social media: friends.

Sex education still has a long way to go. Today still, it isn’t considered as something that should be universally and extensively taught in school. However, thanks to the Internet, sex education and self-pleasure awareness have reached a wide audience; in this context, masturbation is finally seen as an act of self-care.

“I think that is something that is a part of human sexuality and it’s a part of something that perhaps should be taught.”

US Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders on masturbation, 1994.

When they manage to overcome known biases, social media platforms have been instrumental in delivering knowledge against taboos and myths. And bringing people together.

Guilt, shame and repression: foes.

As highlighted previously, religious, cultural and personal values affect the way in which we approach sex. And directly affect our feelings towards it. In fact, one of the possible consequences of masturbation, likely caused by religious practices and self-imposed restrictions, might be a strong sense of guilt, afterwards or even as we’re doing it.

The guilt and shame it causes might get in the way of self-exploration and repress sexual urges. And even generate anxiety and depression. However we feel about it, let us remember that masturbation is healthy, an act of wellness rather than a battle to be fought. While not everyone may need to practice it to optimise their sexual health, we all need to keep fighting for our collective sexual freedom.


The Joy of Self-Pleasuring: Why Feel Guilty About Feeling Good? – Edward L. Rowan

Due in una carne: Chiesa e sessualità nella storia – Margherita Pelaja, Lucetta Scaraffia

Internet Sexualities – Nicola Döring

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