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Why is Masturbation Left out of Sex Ed? Tips on How to Bring It Up

23.05.2022

By Avril Louise Clarke, Clinical Sexologist, Education & Community Relations Manager

How A Feminist Porn Director Gives Her Daughters “The Talk”

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Masturbation is considered by most in the sex-positive sphere as a normal and healthy part of human sexual behaviour. Given that there is no evidence that masturbation has any negative effects on health, we couldn't agree more than it is one of the best and safest ways to explore one's body and sexuality.

A study completed by The University of Michigan found that most children—both boys and girls—touch their genitals in a playful way by the age of 5 to 6 years of age.  By the age of 15, nearly 100% of boys and 25% of girls have masturbated to the point of orgasm.

So if (mostly) everyone is doing it, why aren’t we talking about it? Here at The Porn Conversation we understand that the best way to stop the stigma is through shame-free conversations. But we understand that it's a topic that many parents feel awkward about discussing with their children. This Masturbation Month, we are kicking off the conversation by getting our TPC Ambassadors’ insight on masturbation, their own experiences, and tips on how parents and educators can teach and talk about masturbation with children and teens.

When I say the word masturbation, what are the first thoughts to come to mind?

Briana:
Sex toys, hands, and self-love.


Jordan:
Pleasure & power.


Mia:
Solo sex, exploring my body, and loneliness.


Indira:
A matter that should be private. 


Nyssa:
Self pleasure


Saya:
Playfulness, pleasure, and shame.



Did you ever talk about masturbation with your family growing up?

Briana:
That it was a private thing that should be saved for my partner when I got married.

Mia: I was told it's not something to do around other people, it's a private thing. I remember being afraid I'd be discovered if I fell asleep with my hand between my legs.


Indira:
It was not discussed. The topic was never addressed. The underlying message was that it was not an option for girls.                      

Mikayla: Almost none other than hearing that it was a sin but without context of what it is. For a long time I masturbated using not body-safe products like the ends of hairbrushes and other at home alternatives for sex toys and would use it until I would get scared that I was starting to wet the bed/pee but never knew that that was masturbation and ejaculation.

Nyssa: I grew up with a lot of mixed messages around masturbation. On the one hand it was seen as an empowering thing, and on the other it was a word that you should say in a whisper.

Saya: That it was something to hide, even though nobody ever told me that directly. Although I don't think I minded hiding it; I felt more like it was mine and something precious that way perhaps.



Do you think it's important to talk about masturbation with kids and teens?


Zuri:
Absolutely. For 5 years I was a child caregiver and I find that it helps them understand pleasure, consent, and finding ways to explore their body in healthy ways. Often with children they become a lot more curious than we expect (as young as 2 years old!) so we can find ways to educate them in age-appropriate ways. This will help them explore masturbation in safe ways with themselves and others in mind.

Evie: Absolutely. I grew up with a lot of shame and thinking I was odd when it's a completely normal thing to do with many health benefits.

Saya: Yes, it can literally be a way for young people to RELEASE a lot, physically, emotionally etc. A lack of education around it means they don't know how to manage very normal urges. Those urges can get played out in other dangerous ways, or masturbation can become fraught with shame. Neither is necessary... when masturbation is really simple and actually helpful for some.

Tess: Definitely. They have to know that it is healthy and normal, and one of the safest sexual activity!

Mia: Yes absolutely! I think it's important to let them know that it's normal and a good thing. I dream of a world where parents give their kids gift cards to sex toy shops and encourage them to talk to someone with professional expertise to find the right toy/s for them.



How do you think a parent or educator can best bring up the topic of masturbation for kids and teens?

Briana: It depends on the age.Young kids should be able to feel safe exploring their own bodies but also recognise they own their bodies and they decide who gets to touch them and how. Even with simple cheek pinching from grandma, you can tell her you don't like that but instead would like a high five, etc. Giving kids the ownership of their bodies is important and I believe that goes hand in hand (no pun intended) with masturbation.

Saya: Just bring it up. Maybe in the context of growing up, bodily changes etc. The same way girls are taught how to manage menstruation and what to expect. Educators could frame it within biology. Essentially, most young people are already talking about it - you may as well get involved and talk about it too!

Nyssa: Take a deep breath, own up to your discomfort and dive right in!

Zuri: I would often catch children touching themselves while working as a child care provider. And when they begin doing it, they don’t know it’s something to do in private. So the first conversation I would have is, “This is ok, it’s normal, but it’s for private time.” The second conversation was, “Make sure to wash your hands before and after” as they get older you can be more detailed, but to begin, think about health and safety first.

Rachele: It’s important to develop a sex education style that doesn’t depend on risks and rules to adopt once you start having an active sexual life with partners. It should be focusing on sexual pleasure and health and, from that, embrace everything else. In this way you teach a positive and healthier approach to sexuality.

We challenge you this Masturbation Month to get comfortable with talking about masturbation. Whether you are a parent or educator, you can break the stigma of masturbation by bringing up this common practice to your children, teen, or students and reaffirm the importance of self-pleasure - without the guilt or shame.

Want more tips on how to speak to your child or teen about masturbation? Check out our conversation guides and curricula. Are you interested in becoming a TPC Ambassador? Read more on how to join here.