I would wager money that almost every single person on this planet has masturbated (and those who deny it are probably lying). It’s an easy, low-stress, healthy activity that you can do on your own, almost anywhere (if you’re the adventurous type) and however you like. You can use fingers, toys, a shower head, or even a stout zucchini (I even had a friend who preferred an electric toothbrush) to get the job done, and odds are it’s going to feel freaking fantastic, so why wouldn’t you? In grade school when I made the mind-blowing discovery that I had a clit and it felt good to rub it, I immediately had a satisfying new hobby. And it still is, especially since my taste in toys, techniques and types of titillation have expanded a lot since then.
So if we’re cumming all the time anyway, why not cum for a cause? That’s why Toronto sex shop, Come As you Are (CAYA), is holding a Masturbate-a-thon during May. In case you didn’t know, May is National Masturbation Month (NMM), which originated in 1995 when the American Surgeon General at the time, Joycelyn Elders, was fired for suggesting that masturbation be taught in sex ed classes (You can also thank McGuinty for dropping a proposed Canadian sex education curriculum in 2010 that would have addressed masturbation).The San Francisco sex shop, Good Vibrations, responded by creating the month-long wank fest to get people talking about self pleasure in the open and normalize it. The earliest masturbate-a-thon was held in 2000 and CAYA was the first progressive sex shop in Canada to hold its own self-love session.
“We just feel very strongly that all forms of sexual expression are valid,” says CAYA co- owner Sarah Forbes-Roberts. “And masturbation is still sort of talked about in a series of joking ways but it’s a very valid form of sexuality and very important for a lot of people. So we wanted to start promoting it and talking about it in more of a public atmosphere,” she says.
Masturbate-a-thon participants get people to sponsor them for every minute they spend paddling their pink canoe in a day and the money goes to sexual health organizations in the community. This year the recipient is Maggies: The Toronto Sex Workers Action Project, which provides education, advocacy and support to sex workers to improve their job conditions and safety.
But jilling/jerking off is still, by and large, a taboo subject, enforcing feelings of shame and secrecy. If you ever stayed up late to watch the Red Shoe Diaries with the volume at a minute level, you know what I’m talking about.
“I think negative feelings are passed from one generation to another,” says Forbes- Roberts. “And there are still feelings around it being an activity for someone who’s lonely and can’t get it with a partner. But I think there’s incredible value in masturbation and legitimizing it. I mean most people do it so the fact that we’re all shameful about it is a really sad part of our sex negative culture.”
Not to mention the fact that there are many benefits to masturbation, from experiencing a pleasurable release of endorphins, stress relief and better blood flow to not having to rely on a partner, or the lack of a partner for sexual pleasure. It can also empower us to come into relationships feeling stronger about our bodies, knowing what feels good and what gets us off.
“Our mandate is really about how everyone’s bodies are built differently and we all have different experiences so we need to be able to communicate to our partner what we like and what we don’t like and have really good consent and communication around that stuff,” says Forbes-Roberts.
About 30 to 50 people usually participate in CAYA’s stroke and poke event, which raises around $1000 every year. The top five fundraisers will win $100 gift certificates to shop at CAYA, which is the perfect way to end a day of bush beating, in my opinion.
When I suggest that people could always tag-team the masturbate-a-thon with a buddy, Forbes-Roberts says that it’s definitely been done. “There are also people who are going to be live tweeting throughout the day so it should be a really awesome, inspiring day where we all feel really open and good about what we’re doing alone.”
Adriana Rolston is a sex-positive feminist, a journalism grad and a freelance writer/researcher. She currently works at a sex shop in Toronto and tries to combine her pro-sex, anti-discriminatory politics with selling vibrators and pussy sleeves. In her down time she is learning the ropes of roller derby and searching for the perfect pair of shiny booty shorts.