A very frequently quoted phrase from the Bible is “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” It often seems to be what motivates people to be more loving toward others. But what if we really took this phrase to heart and loved others the way we love ourselves. Wouldn’t we be giving them guilt, shame, judgment, self-loathing and very conditional love?
It’s often far easier for us to love others than it is for us to truly love ourselves because the one person that any of us truly knows everything about is ourselves. We know all of our past actions and we also know all of the judgments that we’ve held against ourselves because of it. We are taught from a very young age to judge ourselves and to accept being judged by other authority figures in our lives in an attempt to be a better person. Imagine for a moment if you actually loved everyone else the way you loved yourself. My guess is that for most of us, we’d run out of friends pretty quickly because they wouldn’t like the way we were “loving” them.
Masturbation is one of the ways that we can truly love ourselves. That action however is typically fraught with guilt and shame due largely to the religious teachings which have been imposed upon us since childhood and held in place by our culture. Our most intimate time with ourselves should be a joyous expression of pleasure and inwardly directed love yet all too often that is not the case.
The Deer Tribe introduced me to a new term that they use instead of masturbation which is “self-pleasuring”. When I first heard someone use that term in the Shamanic Dearmoring process I thought they were using it describe something specific to the process and they didn’t want to confuse it with masturbation. Recently I learned that they use the term because they believe that “masturbation” is a mechanical process whereas “self-pleasuring” is the purpose of the activity. I’ve become quite fond of the term now that I see it framed that way.
As an erotic therapist working with men on various aspects of their sexuality, self-pleasuring is often a topic of much discussion in my initial consultation with new clients. When I ask them to tell me about their masturbatory habits or patterns, most men will tell me stories which typically fall into three main themes. One theme is “it is a rushed experience with ejaculation as the only objective”. They use it to relieve stress, clear their head or tranquilize them into sleep. The second theme is using it “only as a last resort” because they were unable to have sex with someone else. They live in a constant state of avoidance because they want to have sex so badly that they feel they have to be as ready as possible in a moment’s notice. Unfortunately they also aren’t having sex for various reasons and so they just stay in a constant state of anticipatory arousal with no relief in sight. These men are so aroused that when sex does happen it is usually over in a matter of minutes because their bodies are in such a state of desperate need.
The third theme is those who enjoy the experience without guilt or shame. These men always seem to be more connected to their bodies and their sexuality. They have a better understanding of what they enjoy and need in the form of touch to become aroused. They are typically more at peace with themselves and more relaxed because of the pleasure that they bring so joyously to their bodies. Generally speaking they are better lovers too because they understand the healing power of pleasure, even if only at an unconscious level. They are able to make love to themselves and are therefore more loving towards others. They are the ones who want to learn how to extend, increase and expand upon their techniques for bringing even more pleasure to their bodies.
Since I am a male working only with males, the body of my professional experience and focus of my education is on male sexuality. As such, I’ll say that all that I’m about to share will be based upon the male perspective but assume that much of what holds true for men will also hold true for women. Each gender and each person of course brings their own set of baggage to the experience. So rather than me trying to constantly defend my statements as being “the male perspective”, I’ll just say here that everything will be from that perspective and women should read this with that in mind and not become offended by my statements if they aren’t true for women. I’m the first to admit that women are a mystery to me in general but particularly when it comes to their sexuality.
A RUSH JOB
For most of us, we discover masturbation at a very early age and around the time that we are told that it is taboo and not discussed openly by the adults in our lives. Masturbation then becomes something that we feel we have to do in private and as quietly as possible to avoid detection. The fear of getting caught therefore leads us to being as quick about it as possible. So from a very early age we add shame, fear and guilt to the process along with speed and then as adults wonder why we have sexual performance issues. Is it any wonder that performance enhancement drugs like Viagra are the most popular drugs on the market today for men?
When I ask the men I work with to tell me about how long they spend self-pleasuring, the majority say that they spend 5 minutes or less per experience. Often guys will say that they might masturbate 1 to 3 times a week. Given that, the typical male then spends about 15 minutes or less per week pleasuring themselves. Add the emotional baggage they hold around the experience and it’s easy to see why we have so much conflict in our male dominated world and we struggle to love ourselves or others.
“I’M SAVING IT”
The other theme I hear is that guys will avoid masturbation out of a desire to have sex instead or as a way to be ready in case their partner wants to have sex with them. For too many men it seems to be an either/or situation that they are setting up for themselves. The result is “either I masturbate or I have sex” and unfortunately for most of us that means we receive no stimulation at all. This seems to be especially true for the straight men that I work with. We modulate our sexual energy so that we will be able to “get it up” and “perform on command” for our partners.
As young men, when we reach sexual maturity, we are bombarded by the biological imperative to mate in an effort to ensure the preservation of our species. The hormones that our bodies generate cause an unending stream of desire for sex. As we grow older, that intensity of desire begins to wane and we learn to regulate our sexual activity to accommodate that shift. Unfortunately we connect desire with ability. As our constant desire for sex diminishes, we believe our ability to be sexual decreases along with it. This can be a debilitating misconception for men because we falsely associate our virility with ability to maintain an erection.
OUR BELIEFS SHAPE OUR EXPERIENCE
The truth is that our bodies are capable of far more than we give them credit for but the key to accessing that capability is our belief system. Whatever belief we hold in our minds about our sexuality or sexual ability, our bodies will adopt and behave accordingly. This became very clear to me during the Shamanic Dearmoring process. As a 47 year old man, I had convinced myself that one ejaculatory orgasm a day was about all that I could handle. In my sessions I would find creative ways to avoid too much stimulation so that I wouldn’t ejaculate because I feared that I wouldn’t have enough desire to be aroused enough to work the rest of the day. As I witnessed my experience and thoughts during the ceremony I realized that I was almost constantly holding my energy back out of the fear of not having enough. I was moving my erotic energy based upon a false mental construct that said “one orgasm a day is all I am capable of”. Once I recognized that it was a mental limitation and not a physical one, I was able to let go of the construct and just allow my body to do whatever it wanted without me trying to mentally control it. It was very freeing and liberating to trust my body’s innate wisdom without trying to short circuit the experience.
“Deep pleasure brings deep healing” is one of the principles from the style of Tantra that I study and the belief upon which my entire erotic practice is based. For many people, when they hear that they think that it’s just a platitude tossed out by Tantra practitioners to justify their erotic actions. As I’ve learned over the past 6 years in my professional practice, it’s not an excuse; it’s a very powerful truth. I’ve witnessed men break down into tears when they experience pleasure in ways they never have before and they realize how they have limited themselves erotically from past wounds.
WE ALL DESERVE LOVE
Self-pleasuring is self love. Learning to love and respect our bodies and being willing to bring pleasure to them can be very challenging for us. In a body conscious society, we see ourselves in a mirror and dislike what we see because it doesn’t look like the images we are presented with as the “ideal body”. Rather than try to heal the belief, we sink into that wound, deny our body some pleasure and eat more to try to numb the pain. The junk food that we eat to try to feel better causes us to put on more weight and so the stored fat holds our wounded belief firmly in place in our physical bodies.
THE MECHANICS OF FEELING GOOD
The healing power of an orgasm cannot be denied. When we experience orgasm our brains release many hormones including oxytocin and prolactin. These hormones relax our bodies, soothe our systems and clear our minds. Those things alone are very healing for the body but the emotional component of bringing pleasure to our bodies and allowing ourselves to feel good cannot be denied. Consider for a moment how you feel when you are sexually satisfied versus how you feel when you are under stress. In which state do you believe you would be most loving, compassionate, relaxed and caring?
The release of these hormones can help soothe our bodies but to really achieve the deepest levels of healing, we have to examine our emotional state during masturbation or even during sex. I could compulsively masturbate because I enjoy the rush of hormones and the physical relaxation but if I do it from a place of guilt or shame then I am not reaching the deeper levels of healing that the experience has to offer me. This is only possible when we consciously observe our emotional state which draws us to self-pleasure and the thoughts which emerge as we engage the process. As we become consciously aware of the beliefs that we hold about masturbation then we can begin to take action on healing any emotional wounds which surface. Without that deeper awareness of what is motivating our actions, we will continue to deny ourselves pleasure or behave in an unconscious mechanical manner as an avoidance mechanism rather than engaging a pleasurable process for loving and healing ourselves.
William Reich, psychotherapist and sexologist, observed “The patient who cannot masturbate with satisfaction has not completed his analytic therapy.” In other words, Reich was saying that the ability to give oneself pleasure is a key indicator of self-acceptance.
The following practice can help you to heal sexual guilt and fear. Usually such fears arise in the moment when you are starting to pleasure yourself. That is when the admonishing voice within says, “Watch out!” At that point you have a choice either to go with your past conditioning and feel guilty or to take a deep breath and find the courage to explore the new dimension of self-pleasuring, healing the fear and guilt through a positive experience of consciously directed pleasure.
Plan for some time that you can be alone and uninterrupted. Be willing to turn your phone off (a ringing phone is very mentally distracting even if you don’t answer it), avoid email and shut the world out for about 30 minutes of alone time. The world will survive without you for a little while and will benefit by the healing work that you do on yourself. This doesn’t have to be an elaborate process but rather a dedication of time from you for you and about you. Choose a time when you won’t feel rushed but also when you aren’t too tired.
The things you will need for this are: something to write on, something to write with and some lube or lotion and a space to comfortably lie down. Using your bed for this is ideal because that is also the space where much of our wounding has shown up though sexual engagement with another or ourselves. Encourage yourself to see this experience as a healing ceremony. When we engage ceremony, we heighten our awareness because we are bringing our consciousness to the process rather than simply recreating unhealthy unconscious behavioral patterns. You may want to put on some soft music or light a candle or two to help set the mood. Do what works for you to help you feel sensual and warm. Warmth is important here as it is challenging to feel sexy and sensual when you are cold and uncomfortable.
ENGAGE THE EXPERIENCE
Begin this process by removing your clothes, lying down and allowing yourself to relax. Spend a minute or two taking some deep full breaths, inhaling through the nose and exhaling out the open mouth. If you find the mind buzzing with thoughts, take a moment to write down what you are thinking about. Make it a quick note to yourself about whatever it is so that you know you have it and so that you can let it go for now. Also make some brief notes about any thoughts or emotions which surface related to the self-pleasuring process you’re about to engage. At this point, try to limit yourself to just naming or identifying them rather than trying to explain, justify or process them. Also make a note regarding your mood going into the process.
In the following process, if you find yourself moving into a judgmental space with any part of your body, know that this is just old pain tapes playing and counter them by caressing that body part and repeating “I approve of myself” until the judgment gets drowned out. Try not to single out that part by naming it, but rather repeat the phrase so that you are approving of your entire being and not one part over another. This can be a powerful exercise all by itself.
Once you have these notes complete then spend some time touching your entire body. Touch all of it head to toe. Caress it lovingly. Begin at the top of your head and work your way down to your toes. Gently stroke the back of your head and play with your hair. Notice any thoughts which arise as you caress your face including your ears, eyes, nose and mouth. Try not to engage the thoughts beyond simply noticing them, almost as if you were taking inventory. Continue that process as you move your touching down both arms to your fingers, over your chest and nipples and down to your abdomen. Notice any judgments which arise as well but don’t become attached to them. Try your best to stay with the loving space of self-touch.
As you move your hands down to make contact with your genitals notice any changes in moods, thoughts or emotions. Let this touch be about exploration more than masturbation at this point. Give your genitals the same amount of attention as you did any other body part. Don’t let them become the focus at this point. Continue the light stroking of your body down to and over your genitals and between your legs. Allow yourself to make contact your asshole. Be especially aware of thoughts which arise here as this is a place where most of us hold our deepest shame. Move your hands back out and over your hips to your glutes and caress them as well. Continue on down through the thighs (inside, outside, front and back) to the feet and toes on each leg. Try your best to lovingly touch every body part during this experience.
After you have touched every single reachable part of your body, take a couple deep breaths to complete that phase of the process. Take a few moments to make any notes on any particular or powerful thoughts, emotions or sensations which surfaced during the experience. Let these be brief bullet points or thoughts rather than detailed notes or analysis. Don’t let the note making become a distraction for your love making because you really are doing this to make love to yourself. Allow the note taking to be a way to simply release anything that begins distracting your mind rather than a journaling or analytical process.
Now allow your hands to return to your genitals and begin stimulating them in a loving manner. See if you can find a slightly different way to engage this experience than you usually do. This might be as simple as using the other hand or just playing and finding some new way of bringing pleasure to yourself. Perhaps adding lube, vibrators or toys will bring a new dimension to your exploration. Give yourself permission to play and explore rather than feeling like a taskmaster trying to complete a project.
If you find your mind wandering, just notice it and gently call your attention back to the touch and/or your breath. Notice if there are times when you are holding your breath and consciously choose to let the breath flow. If you are normally quiet during your masturbation, try to consciously add a moan/groan quality to the exhales. Breath in through the nose and out through an open mouth with a nice deeply resonating “Oooooo” sound. Try and feel the vibration from that sound all the way down your spine and out the top of your head. Allow that vibration to move the pleasure all through your body.
Let this experience be about being loving with your body and ultimately loving yourself. While an orgasm is a beautiful part of this experience don’t let that become the objective but rather let it be an equally enjoyable part of the experience. For men especially try to refrain from ejaculating until at least 30 minutes has been spent on indulging yourself in loving self-pleasuring. Remember you are worth every minute that you are able to invest in yourself. Respecting yourself enough to fill your body with pleasure will transform old negative belief patterns and heal sexual wounds. If your body desires it, allow yourself to end the process with an orgasm/ejaculation and really go for it with gusto. Moan, groan and roar it out with power.
IN THE AFTERGLOW
At the end of your self-pleasuring experience, allow yourself to lie quietly and as still as possible and enjoy the buzz you will feel in your body as your brain releases the endorphins and other pleasure hormones. By allowing the body to be still, your energy is not directed at movement but rather at relaxation and awareness. Allocate at least 5 minutes or more to this post-orgasmic space of bliss. Notice how you feel during this time. Notice what you feel and where you feel it. Try not to analyze it or yourself but rather just soak in the pool of self-love that you have created and enjoy it. Allow yourself to enter this space as you would meditation. Just observe what is without trying to change it.
After 5 minutes, take some time to make notes on what you experienced, review any notes that you made prior and take whatever action is necessary. If it was important enough for you to write down, it is worthy of your attention, action and love. Often times you’ll find deep inner realizations surface during this process. Honor those and take action because that information came from the depths of your being. Self-pleasuring raises your vibration and gets the catalyst sexual energy moving. Powerful insights can emerge from that if you are conscious and aware.
The important part of this experience is about being conscious of your thoughts, moods and sensations. When we lovingly move our sexual energy this way, we can clear lots of blocked energy and heal some deep mental, emotional and sexual wounds. Engage the experience from a loving place and remember that you know your body best and are therefore capable of stimulating it in exactly the way you enjoy the most. If that statement sounds challenging to you, then use this self-pleasuring experience to help you begin to see the truth in it.
Can you truly call your masturbation time “self-pleasuring”? If not, what stands between you and the ability to do that?