In 1994, then-US 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 following Elders’ comment about masturbation, President Clinton fired Elders from her position.
Good Vibes, San Francisco’s famed local sex-positive sex shop, promptly responded to Elders’ dismissal by declaring May an annual National Masturbation Month. Since 1995, it’s been just that — a month dedicated to the celebration and open acknowledgement of masturbation.
One way of celebrating masturbation is the (in)famous annual Masturbate-a-Thon, happening this year on Saturday, May 25. Under the auspices of San Francisco’s Center for Sex and Culture, of which Good Vibes’ Staff Sexologist, Dr. Carol Queen, is co-founder (alongside her life partner, Dr. Robert Lawrence), the first Live Masturbate-a-Thon took place in San Francisco in 2000. (Good Vibes is not the host of the event, but has given its blessing.) Participants in the Masturbate-a-Thon can ask willing buddies to sponsor them by the minute or by the orgasm. They then have the choice of attending the masturbation extravaganza at the Center for Sex and Culture or participating remotely from home.
Dr. 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 says. “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,” Dr. Queen adds. “But we are utterly serious about the rights of people to masturbate and to feel comfortable about it.”
The live event is open to attendees who bring either a pledge form or a flat 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.
In terms of inspiration and resources to gear up for the Masturbate-a-Thon, Dr. Queen recommends several books about the art of wanking off, 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
Dr. Queen also teaches a free workshop, Ask Our Doc! Masturbation Demystified with Dr. Carol Queen, at the Polk Street Good Vibes location on May 16.