From a discussion on sex education for unschoolers:
"For us, [discussion following "Kinsey"] was about how *very* unacceptable masturbation was in the early 20th century, and still is in some families."
"Joycelyn Elders got fired by President Clinton for talking about masturbation. I'm attaching this essay she wrote because the link no longer works."
Masturbation: it's not a four-letter word, but the president fired me for saying it.
In this so-called "communications age," it remains a sexual taboo of monumental proportions to discuss the safe and universal sexual practice of self-pleasure. No doubt, future generations will be amused at our peculiar taboo, laughing in sociology classes at our backwardness, yet also puzzled by it given our high rates of disease and premature pregnancy. We will look foolish in the light of history.
Over the months since I left Washington and settled into my home in Little Rock, I have pondered the rage, embarrassment and shock with which the word "masturbation" is met in our culture. What other word, merely voiced, can provide justification to fire a surgeon general -- or anyone?
What horrible betrayal of our proud race does masturbation conjure in our minds? As a physician, and as the nation's physician, it was important to answer every question posed to me with clear information.
Informed decisions require knowledge. To insure the health and well-being of a patient, age-appropriate information must be made available. Some call it candor -- I call it common sense and good medicine. On the other hand, coquetries can be more than deceptive: both the refrain from self-gratification and the concealment of it can result in sexual dysfunction.
In 1994 Dr. Jocelyn Elders - the first woman appointed to the position of U.S. Surgeon General lost her job as Surgeon General because she dared to say that masturbation should actually be taught in schools. We think her mistake was when she said, "It's practicing for sex" . She never implied that a method of masturbation be taught... or did she? It's Healthy, Normal and Okay to Masturbate!
Joycelyn Elders biographical background, with more discussion on "the incident."
This links to a good article on how parents can communicate about masturbation and privacy and be supportive without being nosy. (Brought from the WayBack machine, as it was gone, in 2016.)
ReligiousTolerance.org has a good section here with links to discussions from different religious points of view, and some humor sites (clearly marked as such) dealing with religious taboo in a satirical way, and there are links to explanations of why, exactly, Mormons and Catholics and conservative Christians condemn masturbation.
Yet to study masturbation would be to admit its role in our lives—one that many of us are not comfortable with. Instead, we discourage the practice in our children, dispensing cautionary tales that read like Steven King novellas. These myths were more understandable before Pasteur enlightened the world to the presence of germs in the 1870s; prior to his discovery, no one really knew where diseases came from. Masturbation was blamed for dreaded conditions like syphilis and gonorrhea, as well as for their ramifications: dementia, blindness and infertility, to name a few. It's remarkable that some of these rumors still circulate despite clear evidence that they are unfounded.
The wall of myth surrounding self-sex is just beginning to crack—thanks, in part, to President Clinton who put it in the news. For the first time the topic is being broached on popular television shows, and comedians are able to joke about it without alienating their audiences. You can even find a variety of "how-to" books in the "sex and health" section of most bookstores.
The overwhelming majority of psychologists and medical professionals seem to believe that sex-for-one is a natural part of living; we all touch our hair, necks, knees and many other spots on our bodies in public to calm ourselves or to scratch itches, and it is no less acceptable, they assure us, to touch other body parts in private.
A friend, a senior citizen, stopped me after church one Sunday and said, "Please tell the children that masturbation won't hurt them. I spent my entire youth in agony waiting to go blind, because my parents told me that's what would happen if I masturbated. I guess I could have stopped, but going blind seemed the better option."
We all want to tell our children the truth about their bodies and sex, but many of us are afraid of the consequences. Parents need to let go of the idea that ignorance maintains innocence and begin teaching age-appropriate facts to children. Informed children know what sexual abuse and harassment are, what normal physical closeness with others is, what should be reported, and to whom. Rather than tell children that touching themselves is forbidden, parents may gently explain that this is best done in private.
One enlightened friend shared with me the story of how she taught her pre-school-aged daughter about her anatomy: The mother told the girl about her vagina as they examined theirs together with mirrors. There was some discussion and admiration. Later that day, friends came to dinner at their home, and at the dinner table the father asked his daughter what she had done during the day. Of course, she told him the most interesting thing that had happened: she and Mommy looked at their vaginas. But hers was prettier than her mommy's—"Want to see?" The stunned dinner guests were silent as the mother quickly retreated with her daughter to explain privacy. It is never okay to shame children for natural inquisitiveness or behavior: that shame lasts forever.
Masturbation, practiced consciously or unconsciously, cultivates in us a humble elegance—an awareness that we are part of a larger natural system, the passions and rhythms of which live on in us. Sexuality is part of creation, part of our common inheritance, and it reminds us that we are neither inherently better nor worse than our sisters and brothers. Far from evil, masturbation just may render heavenly contentment in those who dare.
©1997 M. Joycelyn Elders, M.D.
On December 1, 1994, at a United Nations-sponsored conference on AIDS, U.S. Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders stated that masturbation "is a part of human sexuality, and it's a part of something that perhaps should be taught—perhaps even as part of our sex ed. Curriculum." America was not ready for such a message. Teach children to masturbate—or even that it was okay to figure out on their own how to masturbate! Scandal!
Jocelyn Elders The Clinton White House (ever quick to know which way the wind was blowing) made it clear to Elders that if she did not resign, she would be fired. She resigned. (Ironically, Clinton himself was later accused of having his pants down, not for masturbation, but for a blowjob courtesy of Monica Lewinsky. He, however, never resigned.)
Jocelyn Elders may have paid a huge price for daring to speak the obvious—that it was better to have young people jacking off safely at home rather than risking HIV from sexual promiscuity. But the truth of her message was not permanently lost on many parents, educators, and clergy. Although virginity was originally touted as the Holy Grail that would save America's youth, it quickly became clear that most kids couldn't take seriously the directive to save themselves for marriage, to pretend premarital sex was bad just because "the Bible said so." Their hormone charged bodies had a different message to preach.
Instead, the wisdom of Jocelyn Elders began to take flight as teens, sex educators, and even Christian ministers finally begin to publish pro-masturbation information to the world wide web. Young people are being told that masturbation helps them learn about their own sexuality and prepares them for better quality "couples sex" down the road. Pro-masturbation educators claim that masturbating helps young people (and even adults) find realistic control over their sexual appetites, empowering them to make better choices about who they have sex with, when, and why. Additionally, as teens and young adults point out, masturbating won't get you pregnant or give you AIDS, it just relaxes you, helps you sleep better, and even helps you clear your mind. (Provided you don't guiltily obsess afterwards.)
Beware the rest of the site—graphic nonsense for graphics' sake, and "news you cannot possibly use." The linked page has some history and geography of masturbation. The site is gone; this links to an archive; it is NOT uplifting—be warned.
Parents helping kids understand sexuality