Pernicious religious doctrines, political legislation, social convention., cultural mores and folkloric dogma all focus on our genitals in an adverse manner. “Masturbation” and “fornication”, both heterosexual and homosexual are usually designated the paramount “sins” against which all sorts of moralizing ideologies are promulgated.
The most prominent religions typically propound that “sins” of sexuality are even more serious, and more severely punishable, than actions involving violence against life. Consider here the teachings of fundamentalist Christianity and Islam, as well as certain aspects of orthodox Judaism, and also many of the hind, Confucian, and Shinto traditions. Strident warnings against the perils of self-pleasuring and the dangers of illicit sexual liaison are also issued by prevalent folklore in traditional as well as contemporary cultures.
My personal journey with self-pleasuring is commonplace. Although I can only recall genital self-stimulation from the age of about six years, I assume that I had tried to touch my genitals for pleasure ever since my infantile hands were sufficiently coordinated to grasp my penis, or my body sufficiently coordinated to press, rock and rub my pelvis against a suitable object. Unless actively prevented from doing so, children naturally engage in these delightful pursuits, from infancy or early childhood onwards – although memory of these pleasures, like almost all memories before the age of about five years, tends to disappear.
In my case – as is often the case, even today – I was discouraged, punished, and shamed for this practice, even as a young child. Thankfully, I experienced nothing like being beaten, having my hand chopped off, or being publicly flogged. Also, thankfully, the prohibitions and restrictions to which I was subjected never seemed to stop my pleasure in the practice. However, I also know that, while still young, I became psychologically conflicted about self-pleasuring. And I have invested a significant portion of my adolescent and adult journey of Persian growth struggling to overcome this conflict. I have succeeded in this to the point where I am now able to express openly my gratitude for the great blessing of being able to honor myself through self-stimulation. Am honoring of the self is indeed what it is.
Despite my early history of personal conflict, I know that the activities of self-pleasuring have been a “saving grace” in my life. Since the age of about six years, I know that I have stimulated myself genitally at least once a day, and often several times daily. This has continued throughout my adulthood – alongside the privilege of enjoying partnered sexual activities of all sorts.
Solo sexual activity actually has many psychological benefits. I know, very surely, that I might be a rather vile and violent man today if it were not for this persistent practice – which I, of course, not to suggest hat my personal growth has been facilitated by this practice alone. However, the healthful and healing power of self-pleasuring has yet to be sufficiently acknowledged by our society or any other.
If you doubt the pervasiveness of the anti-sexual messages and mystifications in our contemporary world, consider the fact that almost everyone can identify at least half-a-dozen beliefs about the dangerous consequences of “masturbation” – even if they claim that they are not themselves believers in these myths. For example, it deforms one’s genitals, it deranges one’s mental capabilities, it detracts from one’s ability to work and to love, and so forth.
Also, almost everyone within a range of a television satellite can name at least a half-dozen movies, worldwide box-office successes produced within the past decade, that takes their motif the dire consequences of extramarital dalliance or sexual encounters that destroy a family life that otherwise appears perfectly ordered. Other stories describe irrespirable erotic passions that wreck careers that are, in all other respects, rocketing to exemplary success, and still others depict pleasures relentlessly pursued to their “inevitable” denouncement in madness or mayhem, and so forth.
Against these prevalent cultural messages, let us now embrace these “sins” for what they indeed may be – an emotional healing and spiritual practice par excellence. Let us begin by appreciating the physical, emotional, and spiritual benefits of “masturbation.”
In Chapter Ten, we already empathized how much children – and anyone who has ever been a child – need to be touched. We mentioned how being touched is essential to our physical welfare, our emotional vitality, and our spiritual growth. However, none of us would thrive if our being touched remained dependent on the love of others – the love of our self is prerequisite.
It is important line of childhood development that, as we grow from babies into toddlers, we are able to assume some responsibility for our need to be touched, as we become sufficiently coordinated to touch ourselves intentionally. This does not mean that the need to be touched by others disappears. Quite the contrary, it remains strongly important to continue to be touched by others, especially since we know that being touched by another human being has pronounced different energy dynamics than touching ourselves – an issue we will mention again. But it does mean that, as our child develops, touching can be reciprocal, and then, if these developments proceed well, touching can become energetically mutual or “synergistic.”
Very importantly, it means that our child becomes able to administer the gift of touch to ourselves – moving from being simply a recipient, to the possibilities of being actively self-giving. This is an enormously important shift for physical and emotional development as has been demonstrated in many ways that documented in the literatures of developmental psychology and psychoanalysis. It is also the foundation of our human capacities to receive love, and therefore to be able to give love.
Self-pleasuring is the foundation of our potential to love and be loved.
Self-administrated touch integrates, soothes or comforts, and gives us a psychologically fundamental sense of worthiness and competence – which is commonly called “self-esteem.” It is the antidote to shame. The “skin envelope” defines where, and how, we are in our sensual and existential foundation – the capacity to engage in active self-stimulation of our own skin envelope is thus essential to the formation of a healthy and happy sense of “self” in at least five ways.
First, self-stimulation “in-forms” or integrates our child. It informs us where the sensual space of our “self” has it’ margins, that sensual boundary where – so to speak – “self” appears to end and the rest of the “world” appears to begin. Thus, returning to the process of self-stimulation, and knowing one has the intentional ability to choose such a return, centers our “self” in a profoundly healthy sense.
Second, pleasurable self-touching soothes or comforts us when we are distraught, by alleviating our fearful anxieties, and indeed by helping us – at least to some degree – to achieve a letting-go of our judgmental mind, our fear-based patterns of thinking. The gentle enjoyment of touching grounds experience in the present moment, and quietens the chattering mind.
Third, these abilities, which serve reliably to ground ourselves in our bodies and to center ourselves in pleasure, are the wellspring of our sense of being loveable. By this, I mean that we come to feel basically worthy and competent in our sense of being-in-the-world. As this occurs, we become able to experience more clearly the extent to which our world is trustworthy.
When these three contributions of self-touching are facilitated, self-pleasuring constitutes and catalyzes our most basic human capacities of feeling lovable, of being able to love and of finding spiritual bliss. However, when these three contributions of self-touching to physical and emotional development are interrupted, egotism substitutes for what I am calling a “healthy sense of self.”
Disturbances in these developments of self-touching, the progression from being touched to touching ourselves, lead to profound unhappiness throughout our lives – by which I refer to the extent that we all wrestle with psychotic, neurotic, and addictive processes. Psychoanalysis shows us how everyone suffers, to some degree, from these constituents to our personality. We also know that the psychotic, neurotic, and addictive components to our mental functioning.