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National Masturbation Month: A Surgeon General’s Firing Inspired the Celebration – The Teenzine
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National Masturbation Month: A Surgeon General’s Firing Inspired the Celebration

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Various surveys back that up — the first two parts, at least. 

According to a 2021 survey published in Archives of Sexual Behavior, “​approximately 60% of men reported engaging in masturbation in the prior month as compared to 36.5% of women.” Moreover, when asked how many of them had ever masturbated, the gender-diverse sample saw about a quarter of women and 10% of men who’d never masturbated. The survey’s findings also stated that “for gender nonbinary participants, 11 indicated they had masturbated in the prior month and one indicated having never masturbated.” 

(To help paint a better portrait of the cultural landscape around masturbation, I took to Instagram: In a poll answered by about 120 people, four individuals said they “don’t talk about that,” which translates to about 3%. I also got six people who said they “absolutely do not” masturbate, which was approximately 4%. Unsurprising to me, because my friends are a liberal bunch, a whopping 109 people — 92% — shared that they shamelessly self-pleasure.)

So, if a majority of us have done it, why did Dr. Elders get fired for saying schoolchildren should learn about masturbation? And why do we still struggle to talk about it openly? Critics of open conversations chant “Protect our kids!” but sex educators say that’s not really what this is about.

Cindy Luquin was a nine-year-old girl when Dr. Elders was fired (e.g., one of the children conservatives were trying to “protect”). Luquin is now a certified sex educator and the founder of the sexual-health education company Pleasure to People. “Dr. Elders basically called it out and said, ‘By not teaching the children such sex education, we’re actually setting them up to be in potentially harmful situations,’” says Luquin. 

“Masturbation and abortion, those two things are not separate,” says sex and gender historian Hallie Lieberman, PhD, of the unjust uproar caused by Dr. Elder’s comment. “It’s always been — and is still — about controlling our bodies and sexuality. We’ve made great strides in talking about masturbation, she adds, but some people are still trying to censor it as they did in the ’90s.

Exhibit A: There is still an anti-sex toy law in Texas, where it’s illegal to own more than six “obscene” devices. Exhibit B: There are now strict porn regulations in Louisiana, where you have to show ID to access any pornography website. Exhibit C: “There are also talks in Texas to bring back the Comstock laws,” says Dr. Lieberman. The Comstock laws, in case you’re unfamiliar, are a series of 19th-century laws named after conservative Christian anti-vice activist Anthony Comstock. 

Comstock successfully persuaded politicians to pass a federal law — as well as a slew of state laws — that banned “the mailing, importation, and transportation” of allegedly “obscene” paraphernalia and media through the postal service, essentially allowing the church to use the state to enforce its religious beliefs. As Teen Vogue has previously reported, Comstock’s national crusade served as a roadmap for the modern religious right. In fact, the federal Comstock Act was cited by at least one anti-abortion group in its case to bar access to the abortion pill.

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