// photo courtesy of London Zhiloh \\
When I was a teen, I was very active in my church community, & one particular evening, my weekly youth group was set up a little differently. Rather than the usual rowdy game of Capture the Flag with a light-hearted sermon afterward, we instead did a special hour-long Q&A session with a couple of our other youth pastors.
This would be our chance to ask our burning questions about sex, love, & other teenaged-life conundrums & get answers from our older & wiser youth leaders based on a Christian perspective—a kind of rapid-fire What would Jesus do? session.
I don’t remember any of the questions asked, but I’ll never forget this one discussion prompted by one of the popular guys.
He stood up, a smirk on his face, laughing a little. His question: “So, like, what does God think about masturbation?”
The rest of us laughed at both the absurdity & the audacity of his question, while his slaphappy friends high-fived him & gave him playful smacks on the back. This was gonna be good.
When the laughter & hooting died down, one of our youth leaders addressed his question by asking another.
“Let me ask you, son. What do you think about when you’re masturbating?”
More laughter. Youth pastor quickly adds, “You’re lusting, right?” The boy, sitting now with his troupe of buddies, crosses his arms & kind of shrugs, still smirking a little.
“I mean, the bible’s very clear about what God thinks about lust,” the pastor said. “And the images you’re creating in your mind while masturbating aren’t clean. They’re dirty thoughts. They’re sinful thoughts.”
We, the audience, a group of 13-15 year olds with pimples on our chins & sex on our brains, are quieter now, thoughtful.
The pastor continues. “How would you feel if Jesus were in the room while you masturbated? Would you be OK with that?” We fidgeted uncomfortably in our seats, giggling cautiously.
“Probably not,” the pastor answers for him. “Jesus is all things. He’s always there with us, he always knows the content of our hearts. So next time you’re masturbating & thinking sinful thoughts, remember that. OK! Next question!”
Well. That explains it. Masturbation equals lust, lust equals sin. And sinning is bad, so masturbation is obviously bad.
All of my shame & guilt around not just masturbation but sexuality became wrapped up in that ideal, which birthed other falsehoods: Sex with myself is a perversion. Dirty thoughts are wrong. Jesus wouldn’t sin (masturbate), so I shouldn’t either.
This is one of the most prominent origin stories of my sexual shame.
It’s all too common for women to be introduced to sexual shame by way of religious beliefs & putting-the-fear-of-god-in-you type of thinking. And these are some of the most stubborn ideals to release.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in the middle of a sexual act with myself, & my mind somehow, out of of nowhere, goes to this place of “Jesus is watching you sin” or “What you’re doing is wrong in the eyes of God.” Not only are these thoughts invasive, they’re incredibly damaging to my sexual expression. They make me panicky & deeply shameful.
These thoughts, I’d like to add, are also bullshit.
How could they possibly be true? God created sexual energy! Got created orgasm! And this God, who makes no mistakes, made sure to equip my body with a clitoris, whose only prime function on my body is to give me intense pleasure!
Apart from that, I intuitively know that these “Masturbation is sinful” thoughts are bullshit because some of the most spiritual experiences I’ve ever had have come with sex, where I felt God so present in my body, where I felt so connected to divine & infinite love.
But still . . . those dogmatic thoughts poke through.
So, how does one cope with the shame & guilt that’s often attached to self-pleasure?
I have a couple ideas, & they’re founded on assignments I give my clients when we’re working through sexual shame.
And these aren’t just for those who need to release religious (both in the organizational & habitual sense) dogmas from their sexualities. This can also be for those dealing with other heavy feelings associated with solo sex: trauma, limiting beliefs, & general body shame.
1. Closely examine your negative notions about masturbation.
Think back: Where did these beliefs come from? Who put these ideas into your head & body? Can you pinpoint where it all began?
It can be challenging to go inward & analyze where these unpretty thoughts originated, especially if they were born of trauma. But getting to the core of your sexual wounding is key.
Without it, the foundation of your sexual liberation will be built on shaky ground.
So, if you want to feel good about self-pleasuring, dig in deep to uncover the gunk behind the negative beliefs. It’ll be messy, but in acknowledging them, you’ll be in a better place to heal & move forward with lighter ideas of your sexual expression.
2. Want to continue to believe the bullshit? It’s up to you.
Whenever I’m in session with a client & we get on the topic of the negative beliefs that create sexual shame, I like to ask them this one simple question: Is it true?
This question often stops them dead in their tracks. That recording in their minds that’s on constant loop—This is bad, this is sinful, I should be ashamed—is suddenly called into question, & they re-realize their inherent power.
Those negative dogmas go against their own commonsense, & if they don’t think it’s true, they don’t have to believe it any longer.
I remind myself of this often, actually: I know intuitively that the beliefs that bring me sexual shame aren’t true, & I make an active choice to not subscribe to them.
This takes practice, of course, but just having this perspective has changed the inner landscape of my mind.
3. Create new & positive affirmations around self-pleasure.
If you’ve found that the damaging thoughts about sex & self-pleasure aren’t true & you no longer want to believe in them, perfect!—you’ve made the first step in rewriting your beliefs about your radiant sexuality & erotic expression.
Yes, you get to choose what you want to believe in place of those harmful ideals. You can choose to see your sexuality as lightness, as heathy, as completely whole & safe.
So, what do you want to believe instead?
Maybe that self-pleasure is a beautiful gesture of self-love & -intimacy. Maybe that your sexual nature is perfect as it is because God created it so. Or, maybe that masturbation is one of the safest, loveliest forms of sexual expression.
You are inherently powerful, & you can absolutely construct new beliefs about masturbation & sex that empower you, that make you feel like a sex goddess, that glorify this intimate relationship you’re creating with yourself.
4. Inviting spirituality into your sexual expression.
I often hear of people who try to compartmentalize their sexual expressions from their spirituality. They do this as a way to cope with the invasive idea that God is watching them sin, so they drown out God from their erotic explorations, kind of hanging up a Do Not Disturb sign that keeps Spirit from entering.
I have no judgment for people who do this. Given the circumstances, it’s completely understandable. But I’d like I offer a different approach:
Rather than keeping the spiritual & the sexual separate, try integrating the spiritual into the sexual.
When I was challenging my own beliefs about masturbation & sex, my spiritual beliefs were also getting thrown into the mix. As I was trying to embrace myself as a sexual woman, I couldn’t help but think about God watching me & shaking his head in disappointment (which, creepy).
Keeping God & morality out of sex seemed like the only way I could enjoy myself. Until I tried this one thing.
Before I masturbated (& sometimes while I masturbated), I said a prayer. And in saying this prayer, I said affirming things about my beautiful sexuality & invited God to witness & bless this act of sensual playtime.
I went from seeing God as this stern, prudish guardian who frowns upon sex to viewing God as an all-loving, all-accepting energy that sees my self-lovin’ as an act of spiritual worship.
Because the God that I believe in loves sex, loves seeing me blissed out with pleasure. The God I believe in wants me to feel good.
In saying this prayer, & invoking spirituality within my own sexual practice, I was able to not only spur the healing of my sexual shame, but also create a better & more healthy relationship with my spirituality as a whole.
5. Make gentle, non-sexual touch a new habit.
Sometimes, the one thing that’s keeping us blocked from accessing a heathy sexual relationship with ourselves is the lofty feeling that touching ourselves can come with.
As women, many of us grew up with comments that reinforced body shame & genital fear. We were told not to touch, not to look, & to wash ourselves with harsh chemicals because of how “dirty” things get down there. Is it any wonder why we self-pleasure can feel so heavy?
Instead of placing the expectation on yourself to be able to masturbate without an issue, start small. Make gentle & non-sexual touch a habit. Make it your new self-care practice.
Whenever I get out of the shower, I slather extra-virgin coconut oil all over my body as a natural skin moisturizer. I make sure to get every surface area of skin, including my yoni. I make sure to moisturize her too (coconut oil is amazing for vulvas!), giving her gentle caresses & sending her loving, grateful energy while doing so.
It usually only takes a few seconds, & rarely ever turns into something more than that. It’s simple, impactful, & fosters yoni love.
Sometimes, just having a consistent relationship with your vulva is enough to release shame. Your touch is incredibly healing.
Books that’ll help release shame around & bring joy to masturbation:
- Sex For One, Betsy Dodson
- For Myself, Lonnie Barbach
- Women’s Anatomy of Arousal, Sheri Winston (free pdf here!)
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*Want to step out of sexual shame & into your erotic power? I’d love to work with you.