In 1994, then-U.S. Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders attended a United Nations conference on AIDS.

In response to a question about the appropriateness of promoting masturbation among youth as a form of low-risk sexual activity, Elders responded, “I think that it is part of human sexuality, and perhaps it should be taught.”

Elders — a pediatric endocrinologist and an expert in childhood sexual development — was already a controversial and outspoken Surgeon General who had remarked earlier that year, “We really need to get over this love affair with the fetus and start worrying about children.” In the midst of the hoopla that arose after her comment about masturbation, President Clinton fired Elders from her position.

Good Vibrations, the famed sex-positive sex shop and retailer, promptly responded to Elders’ dismissal by declaring May to be an annual National Masturbation Month. May was chosen because, according to the Good Vibes website, “’The merry, merry month of May’ has long been seen as symbolizing sexual awakening. Also, because ‘May’ and ‘masturbation’ both start with ‘M’ — it’s nice and alliterative.”

Thus, since 1995, May has been National Masturbation Month — a month dedicated to the celebration and open acknowledgement of masturbation. Far be it from the scope of this article to fully enumerate the delights of masturbation (if you need any convincing at all), but the physiological and emotional benefits of wanking off are numerous, including:

  • An increase in knowledge of one’s own body — what feels good and what doesn’t, and which techniques are most pleasurable
  • A greater openness to sexual awareness and sexual expression
  • A good cardiovascular workout
  • Endorphins, relaxation, relief for stress and menstrual cramps, lowered blood pressure and possible reduction in risk of prostate gland infection and yeast infection
  • A risk- and cost-free sexual activity
  • A pretty much guaranteed good time and an appreciation of one’s own ability to give and receive pleasure

“Many people are still ashamed of masturbation — do it without feeling good about it — and these feelings are reinforced by a culture that is NOT less conservative than it was in 1995,” said Dr. Carol Queen, Good Vibes’ Staff Sexologist and Chief Cultural Officer, about the importance of National Masturbation Month. “If anything — just look at all the awful sex and gender discourse that accompanied the last election cycle — we are MORE conservative in some ways. So masturbation, as Elders said, is indeed ‘something that should be taught;’ or, put another way, something that deserves to be discussed, acknowledged, to have a place in the discourse.”

One way of furthering the discourse has been the annual Masturbate-a-Thon event. Originally instituted by Good Vibes as part of National Masturbation Month festivities, the first few Masturbate-a-Thons were a play on the walk-a-thon concept. Participants would ask friends to pledge donations based on the number of minutes spent masturbating; then, in private, participants would go for the gold in masturbation longevity and all of the resulting proceeds went towards Good Vibes’ allied charity organizations.

A new twist was introduced to the Masturbate-a-Thon several years later, when Queen and her life partner, Dr. Robert Lawrence, had a mutual epiphany while giving interviews about the Masturbate-a-Thon with radio shock jocks. Radio jocks were joking that they wanted to serve as judges at the Masturbate-a-Thon, prompting Queen and Lawrence to insist that the Masturbate-a-Thon was not a group event.

They then realized that they could make it one.

Under the auspices of San Francisco’s Center for Sex and Culture, of which Queen and Lawrence are co-founders, the first Live Masturbate-a-Thon took place in San Francisco in 2000. (Good Vibes is not the host of this Live Masturbate-a-thon offshoot, but has given its blessing.) Participants of the current incarnation of the Masturbate-a-Thon can ask friends to sponsor them by the minute or by the orgasm. They then have the choice of attending a public masturbation extravaganza at the Center for Sex and Culture (1349 Mission St., San Francisco) or participating remotely from home.

This year’s 13th annual Masturbate-a-Thon is scheduled for the evening of Saturday, May 25.

You’re not alone if you think that masturbating in the presence of strangers is a deeply unnerving prospect. According to the Center for Sex and Culture’s Masturbate-a-Thon press release, many participants attend for the validation that the supportive space offers, while others approach it as a challenge to face their fears.

Queen has a few suggestions for anyone who might be considering attending for the first time:

“First, gather together the lube, toys and other elements that make your masturbation pleasurable — if you’re going to attend a public event devoted to masturbation, you should certainly masturbate the way you like best,” she said. “If you come to the group event, be ready to cast your assumptions to the wind and be with a diverse group of people for whom self-pleasure is deeply important.”

“We try not to take this event too seriously,” Queen added. “But we are utterly serious about the rights of people to masturbate and to feel comfortable about it.”

To cater to participants’ different preferences for comfort, the Live Masturbate-a-Thon venue includes a partitioned space for women-identified people only, a space welcoming to all genders, and a space that is viewable by a section of bleachers where “voyeurs” can elect to watch rather than actively participate.

The live event is open to attendees who bring either a completed pledge form or an entrance fee of $30, but participants are highly encouraged to collect pledges rather than pay an entrance fee; the goal behind the event is to encourage open and frank conversation about masturbation, and collecting pledges is a highly effective way of eliciting that conversation.

The Masturbate-a-Thon conversation, in fact, has become global since 1995. Masturbate-a-Thon events have been held in London and Copenhagen (fun fact: the London event was also known as a “Wank-a-Thon”). Dr. Queen said that National Masturbation Month will now be called “International Masturbation Month” because it has successfully outgrown national borders.

And though this year’s Masturbate-a-Thon is a relatively truncated evening affair, past Masturbate-a-Thons have been all-day endeavors featuring masturbators competing for world records in most orgasms and longest time spent masturbating. In 2009 at the San Francisco Masturbate-a-Thon, Japanese world champion masturbator Masanobu Sato pleasured himself for an eye-watering nine hours and 58 minutes.

Having never attended a Live Masturbate-a-Thon myself, I sought out the perspective of someone who has attended an event in the past.

“I went with my friend a few years ago,” Oakland resident Benjamin Packard, 29, told me. “We walked around and watched for a while and we were like, ‘This is totally crazy and weird.’ … And then after about five minutes, you just totally get acclimated to it.”

I also sought out inspiration at Oakland’s Good Vibes location (3219 Lakeshore Ave., Oakland), where last week I attended a one-hour Humpday Happy Hour workshop about lubes and vibrators. Kayla, a highly proficient and friendly Sex Educator-Sales Associate, happily passed around a mind-boggling array of lubes and vibrators for us to examine.

In terms of lubricants, there are cream, liquid and gel varieties that offer different textures and slicknesses. There are water-based lubes that are cleanup-friendly; oil-based lubes that have a different feel than their water-based counterparts (but that are not compatible with latex condoms because the oil degrades latex); lubes that contain glycerin, which imparts a long-lasting slick sensation; and silicone lubes that are non-water-soluble and don’t dry out, so are particularly great for massages and use in the shower.

Good Vibes’ vibrator selection includes small pocket vibrators for external stimulation; long vibrators designed for penetration; remote-controlled vibrators whose remotes can be handed to a partner; hands-free ring vibrators for wearing around a dildo, penis or finger; G-spot vibrators with an upward-pointing curve designed to “hit the spot;” waterproof vibrators; vibrators made of silicone, plastic, elastomer, eco-friendly organic materials and more; and contraptions like the mega-popular Rabbit Style vibrators that provide a thorough combination of vibrating rabbit-ear-shaped external stimulation and internal stimulation via a rotating shaft filled with tumbling pearls and a vibrating tip.

The long and short of it:

Visit your friendly local sex toy shop, seek out a sales associate, and ask any and all questions you might have to find what you’re looking for – or what you didn’t know you were looking for. Be open to experimentation and trying something new. Have a conversation or two about masturbation. Make a prediction about how long you think your own personal Masturbate-a-Thon record might be. And have fun.

As one of Masturbation Month’s many punny slogans reminds us, “Don’t forget. May is cumming. Are you?”

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ADDITIONAL RESOURCES:

Queen recommends several books about masturbation, including:

  • Sex for One: The Joy of Selfloving by Betty Dodson
  • The Ultimate Guide to Prostate Pleasure by Charlie Glickman and Aislinn Emirzian
  • Nina Hartley’s Guide to Masturbation by Nina Hartley
  • The Joy of Solo Sex by Dr. Harold Litten

Good Vibes stores carries many of these titles, along with numerous other books about different aspects of masturbation.

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UPCOMING MASTURBATION MONTH EVENTS:

Ask Our Doc! Masturbation Demystified with Dr. Carol Queen

WHEN: 6:30 – 7:30pm on Thursday, May 16th
WHERE: Good Vibrations Polk Street, 1620 Polk Street, San Francisco
COST: Free
MORE INFO: www.goodvibes.com

 

The 2013 Live Masturbate-a-Thon

WHEN: 7 – 11pm on Saturday, May 25. Arrive by 10pm
WHERE: Center for Sex and Culture, 1349 Mission Street, San Francisco
COST: Bring a sponsorship form with pledges, or attend for an entrance fee of $30
MORE INFO: masturbateathon.tumblr.com

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Oakland Social is a weekly arts and culture column devoted to upcoming events, new places, and narratives about going out in Oakland. Have ideas for what to cover? Contact goingout@oaklandlocal.com.

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