National Masturbation Day is May 28, 2023, and May is Masturbation Month. This orgasmic holiday promotes the importance of self-love and allows women to put their pleasure in their own hands. With the holiday approaching, we should rethink our relationship with masturbation and the stigmas accompanying it for Black women. Dr. Shemeka Thorpe is an expert sex researcher and educator committed to cultivating space for Black women to help them share their experiences around their sexual well-being.
Her research has found that most Black women have received mixed messages, many being pessimistic regarding masturbation due to their childhoods. Unfortunately, this negative messaging and ideals tend to follow Black women during adulthood. According to a recent study, women are more likely to report that they just were not interested in masturbating and that they felt uncomfortable with their bodies compared to men. However, in addition to providing pleasure, masturbation can benefit your health and mental well-being by helping you achieve better sleep and regulate your moods, including stress relief and, most importantly, increased sexual awareness and self-love.
The Masturbation Stigma for Black Women and How to Move Past It
In a 2022 study, Dr. Candice Nicole and Dr. Thorpe asked Black women of all sexual orientations what messages they received about masturbation. They found that most Black women typically received negative messages in childhood and positive messages in adulthood. Most negative messages came from family members and religious teachings; however, as they aged, they received messages encouraging them to masturbate and learn about their bodies because, if they don’t know their bodies, how will anyone else? “Black women often struggle to enjoy masturbation in adulthood because they internalized shame from religious teachings that told them masturbation was “a sin,” “ungodly,” and “a violation of their temple” We know that despite this shame, Black women still masturbate,” says Dr. Thorpe to ESSENCE. In a recently released article written by Dr. Ashley Townes and her colleagues, 68.7% of Black women reported masturbating alone in their lifetime, and 45% reported masturbating with a partner in their lifetime.
Dr. Thorpe believes that many Black women undoing shame starts with our environment. However, there are solutions. “Surrounding yourself with people who are more sexually aware and liberated allows us to see what is possible for ourselves. We must become comfortable with our bodies. Becoming comfortable includes showing ourselves and our bodies love and grace as we undo years of shame and negative messaging. I often encourage women to start by doing mirror work. Many women have never looked at their vulva, so taking a look with a mirror is a good first step,” she says.
She continues, “Next, Black women should determine what types of sexual stimulation they are comfortable with. Some women prefer toys, while others may be more comfortable with their fingers. Sexual stimulation also includes considering the pressure and touch preferences. There are multiple ways to touch the clitoris, and people prefer different types of pressure during stimulation.”
For Black women who are interested in starting their masturbation journies, she suggests the following tips.
- Work through your sexual shame.
- Spend time doing mirror work.
- Learn what pleases you (pressure, type of stimulation, environment, etc.)
Dr. Thorpe encourages Black women to empower themselves to decide when and where they would like to masturbate. “Is masturbation the best for you in the morning, mid-day, or at night? Do you prefer to be in bed? Do you like to watch pornography while you masturbate or possibly have a partner watch? These are all important questions to consider. Finally, journaling helps process sexual shame. Ask yourself: What messages have you received about masturbation across your lifetime? Do you agree with these messages as an adult? Where did your shame and guilt about masturbation come from? Are you carrying the sexual shame and guilt that others gave you?” she states.
Dr. Thorpe believes that sexual exploration is just trial and error. “It may be uncomfortable initially, but soon you’ll become more aware of your body. Ultimately, do what’s best for you, and remember to practice grace. Masturbation does not always lead to orgasm, and there are no “perfect” ways to masturbate,” she shares.