As humans, sexual pleasure is as basic a need for us as food, water and shelter. Who better to give us this basic need than our own selves? Masturbation then becomes a natural expression of this fundamental desire. Society and cultural norms however seek to control and disguise this natural phenomenon as unhealthy and sinful practices that would damn us for all eternity or worse – make us blind.
What is masturbation guilt?
It is the feelings of shame, guilt and anxiety that one feels after one engages in masturbation, or at the thought of wanting to masturbate. This phenomenon is more prevalent in women who often find it difficult to pleasure themselves because of cultural or religious beliefs or due to personal beliefs that perceive masturbation as a taboo and immoral act.
Research about Women and Masturbation
According to research 62% of women report feeling guilty about masturbation at some point in their life. Research also showed that women who reported feeling guilty had negative views toward masturbation and did not explore sexual pleasure as much. The shame and guilt attached with it negatively affects their self-esteem and self-image which ultimately results in lower quality of sexual experiences. Some research even concluded that masturbation guilt in women can lead to negative self-talk, difficulty with intimacy and avoidance of sexual activities. Research also shows that masturbation has a lot of positive benefits – both on the mental and physical health of women. It is the negative associations and perceptions that result in guilt which stop women from accepting this as a basic need.
What causes masturbation guilt?
Misinformation and superstitious propaganda is conveniently used to scare kids into abstaining. These dogmatic endeavors may also be fueled by misogynistic attempts at oppressing and exerting control. Historically, women’s sexuality have been heavily policed by deeply ingrained religious and cultural beliefs. The aim was to take away basic rights away from women and make them feel guilty and ashamed by demonizing their desire for sexual pleasure. This conditioning would often create feelings of displeasure and dissonance within women who would naturally feel this basic desire. This shame and guilt was just another in a long list of things that a patriarchal system would endorse to enforce the gender norms and maintain the cruelly oppressive system. In fact, a prevalent lack of sexual education mixed with rampant misinformation eclipses the fact that masturbation is actually great for one’s health- sexual and otherwise. Once these false beliefs make it into the mind, the fear keeps them there. Lack of information and lack of education similarly propagate fear among society.
Labels are another important factor. Society labels sexual exploration and sexual liberation negatively. It is not until we start subscribing to these beliefs and labels that the conflict and guilt arise. These labels usually catch us when we’re kids and absorb everything around us as the ultimate truth. How can I be a morally righteous person if I masturbate (which is inherently an immoral and sinful act according to society)? Doing something you label as “immoral” leads to the birth of this insidious guilt.
Once the guilt is there, this same societal attitude creates an atmosphere of shame. We feel guilty for masturbating and then instead of reaching out for support from our loved ones or even professional help, we are silenced by shame. Shame sustains the vicious cycle.
How to overcome masturbation guilt?
Masturbation guilt can be rooted deep inside one’s mind, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t be dealt with. Here’s how to overcome masturbation guilt
- Normalize it: Research shows that 92% of women reported having masturbated at some point in their life. The other 8% were probably feeling shy! It is a normal aspect of human sexuality and there’s nothing inherently wrong with it. Understanding the elementary nature of this need also helps normalize this behavior.
- Practice self-compassion: Be kind to yourself when these emotions arise. Breaking a belief that has stayed with you for so long will take time and effort but in the meantime you still deserve that gentle and kind compassion, especially from yourself. Acknowledge your feelings of guilt and just sit with it. We need self love the most in times of distress.
- Identify and challenge negative beliefs: These feelings are rooted in some beliefs that we pick up, sometimes without even knowing that we have picked them up. Understanding the root cause of these feelings and actively challenging them is an important step in breaking free from these unhelpful feelings. For example, if you feel masturbation is sinful or immoral, ask yourself what makes it sinful and/or immoral. Remember, you don’t have to go through this process alone.
- Reframing negative thoughts: Research and my gut tells me that masturbation is extremely beneficial for our well-being. Reframing the negative beliefs around masturbation into more realistic and factual beliefs can also help. For example looking at masturbation as a form of self-love or self-exploration instead of a sinful and immorally deviant act. One can recount the multiple benefits of masturbation like reduced stress and anxiety, improved mood, improved sleep and relieves pain (menstrual pain too!)
- Seek support: Talk to a trusted friend, family member or professional about your feelings. Expressing your concerns and problems in a social or professional setting can give you the necessary information or acceptance inherent in socializing.
There is so much taboo and misformation around masturbation that it takes away from us a basic tool for honoring our essential needs. Social and religious beliefs coupled with conditioning kids to view sex or anything sex related as “only for adults” or “only for after marriage” creates a lot of masturbation guilt for these kids when they come of age, especially women. We can rise above this. Through dedicated efforts and precise remodeling of our belief systems we can enjoy masturbation as the innocent expression of self-love it truly is instead of a monstrosity to be avoided. The goal is to be as unashamedly liberated about masturbation as Deadpool. Or as he would say – “ I am touching myself tonight.”