AskTrish: SexEd Teacher Wants to Overcome Shame on Issue of Masturbation

I teach SexEd for 15 / 16 year-olds. I usually manage to have an open atmosphere and we discuss all different topics openly (I even created an experiment how condoms react to different lubrications). Where I have always failed was the topic of masturbation.  I think it is a very important topic, but how could I overcome the shame issue? Any ideas?


Dear Trantor1970,

This is a wonderful and timely question!  This issue resonates with me not only because of ArousedWomanBlog, but also because my teenage daughter is taking SexEd right now in high school.  As someone who loves sex and being sexual, I think everyone should have honest, non-judgmental information available to them.  As a mother, deep inside, I’m a little freaked out that my baby is learning about sex anywhere  much less at school.  Thankfully, we’ve had chats about the vagina and her body before this.

I’m not sure if you teach in a public or private school, but for now, I’ll assume it is a public school.  Since you do condom experiments, it sounds as if you have a good rapport with your students.  This is very important when tackling the hard issues, such as masturbation.

The shame of masturbation is intrinsically tied to the misogyny and oppression of religion.  Any sex that was not partnered and heterosexual was demonized by the Church and other patriarchal religions centuries ago.  Extra-marital sex, homosexual sex, and solo sex were all frowned upon because legitimate (male) heirs could not be born from these forms of sex.  (The Church and Western culture just love their male heirs.)

Another kooky aspect of religion is the notion that the body belongs to “God,” should be put to use for “God’s work,” to do “God’s will.”  This medieval mental hogwash strips the notion of body autonomy from the start — the person is a vessel; the person does not have a right to his or her own body because it is owned by a deity in the sky.

As a public school teacher, this line of thinking presents a problem because of the topic of religion.  For a parochial school teacher, talking about religion may be more easily allowed, but truth about sex, masturbation, birth control, et al, may not be told in a private religious school.  However, it is  religion that forms the basis for the enduring shame of sex, birth control, and abortion — a pernicious misogyny that has sunk its talons into government as well.

Not  talking about religion when talking about any of this is strange to me, but I’ll leave that soapbox alone for now… (except to say that I get irate when my daughter tells me they were talking about religion in her public school.  I have the ACLU on speed-dial, and I’m not afraid to contact a teacher or principal to find out the exact curriculum being taught to my child.)

As I told my daughter when she was 13, “Your body is yours to explore as you choose.”  Leaving religion out of the masturbation dialogue, I would approach it this way.  Start by not using the polarizing, giggle-inducing word, “masturbation.”  Call it “Solo Sex.”  By using a different term, it allows the listener to actually contemplate the information rather than falling back on emotional, knee-jerk reactions.  Notice, in the paragraph up above, I used the term “extra-marital sex” and not “adultery.”  The latter term has a more grave, more judgmental, shameful, sinful connotation (thanks to religion).

Make your points by positioning the conversation in a logical way with supportive arguments:

  • Your body is yours to explore as you choose.
  • Solo sex is natural and normal.  (Perhaps give examples of other species that masturbate.)
  • Solo sex is a great way to learn about your body, your specific erogenous zones, and your individual sexual response.  (Each of us is unique.  How will a partner know your zones if you don’t know what to tell him/her about your body?)
  • Solo sex is a great way to sort through the raging hormones and experience orgasm without engaging in partnered sex before you’re really ready.
  • With solo sex, you won’t get pregnant or contract a sexually transmitted disease.

Even then, students may ask about the religious aspect, i.e., “But won’t I go to Hell for touching myself?”  I would say, “I’m here to teach you about your body not religious dogma.”  Removing religion and the subsequent cultural attitude helps lesson the shame of the issue.  The shame from religion stems from the Church’s quest to control every ounce of a person’s mind, will, body, and soul, especially that of women.  That was how the Church leaders stayed in power and made money.  Puritanical American culture has continued this misogyny against women through body-shaming, name-calling, and other cultural forms of judgment based on a woman’s sexual freedom with her body.

The most blatant and vicious assault on women was the European and New World witch trials.  Forget the myths of hexes and magical mojo — Did you know that “witchcraft” was officially a capital sex crime?  Ironically, other countries look at America with ridicule because of how immature our country still is in regard to true, passionate, fulfilling sex… (but sexualized violence and rape are okay in American media, video games, comic books, and culture).

For me, masturbation is a body autonomy issue, a basic human right, as is protecting children from the violent sexual abuse of having their genitals mutilated (notice, I didn’t use the word “circumcision” — it’s all in the phrasing).  When we acknowledge our bodily autonomy, we acknowledge our inherent freedom as human beings.  People masturbate for various reasons:

  • Solo sex and orgasm feel good (awesome, even!).
  • A person may have solo sex because he or she does not have or does not want a partner… (Believe it or not, there may be times in your life when you don’t want another person in your bed.)
  • A man or woman’s significant other is unable to have partnered sex due to illness or disability.
  • Solo sex allows a sexual abuse survivor to reclaim his or her body, sexuality, and bodily autonomy.

Masturbation is the butt of jokes in television shows all the time, which I find to be truly sad.  Masturbating can be a beautiful way to love yourself and to learn yourself.  For me, solo sex has been the key to resolving my past abuse, loving my body, integrating my various parts to become a whole woman, and ergo, a whole human being.

I hope something I’ve said will help you.  Please write back and let me know how it went!


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  1. Thank you for all the work you put into it. Much of it is very helpful, some other ideas don’t really apply to Western Europe and some things don’t work language wise.

    About my school: I work in a public school with newly arrived young immigrants to Germany, but I hear similar stories from “normal” secondary schools, too. The influence of religion is quite mixed, I’d say 1/3 of students is not religious at all, 1/3 is some kind of Christians (but so far none of those fundamentalists you have in the US) and 1/3 are Muslims, half of them strict. Now and then, we also have Buddhists and Hinduists, but they seem rather relaxed in sexual matters.

    What always confuses me is, that it is socially and peer-group accepted to have heterosexual sexual intercourse (except for Muslim girls), and even homosexuality seems to be less of a problem then the matter of masturbation, which in this age probably 99% of boys and 50%+ of girls do. Is it the same in the US?

  2. The notion that sex was only for reproduction is an important problem even nowadays. And in modern times, this notion often persists on an unconscious level. So, it is often difficult to tackle (similar to remnants of homophobia).

    Then again, if someone thinks sex was only for reproduction, that would lead to a condemnation not only of solo sex, but of homosexuality and oral/anal sex, as well. So, if these things are mostly accepted among your pupils, the notion “sex is for reproduction only” can’t be main problem. In this case, there must be some other issue, something that applies specifically to solo sex.

    My guess is that quite a number of your pupils might misuse sex as a tool to boost their egos. Sadly, many people perceive sexuality as something to prove their “worth”, or as a means to build self-esteem. Those people often strive after “achieving” things to boast about—such as “being good in bed”, “giving” lots of orgasms to their partner and the like.

    The crucial point is that in solo sex, there is no “honor” to gain. You can’t prove anything in solo sex. You can’t impress anyone. You can’t boast about being a “great lover” afterwards. I fear that many people nowadays consider solo sex a kind of losers’ activity. (Although I think that quite the opposite is true)

    Do you think that attitude might be a reason for your pupils’ condemnation of solo sex?

  3. Well, ya coulda TOLD ME you were in Germany! 😀

    That is very important information… especially since I am not familiar with the Euro attitudes toward masturbation. I would have assumed the Euro take on self love would be as open and accepting as their view on sex in general. I have a friend in Germany who is in his mid-20’s and might be more in tune with the Euro, teen mindset.

    Regardless of culture, religion, or language, sex and masturbation are normal wants, needs, and functions of the human body. Approach the subject as normal and everyday as cooking or taking Algebra. Most especially, reassure them there is NO SHAME in self love. It is their body, and they are in control of their body. Anything other than body autonomy is someone else asserting outside domination on their psyche as well as their body and self-esteem.