Did you know that cornflakes were designed to kill the urge to wank?
No joke. While the veracity of the cornflake’s specific origin story has been questioned, it is a simple historical fact that bland foods were thought to prevent “lascivious” behaviors. As Kate Lister, Ph.D., points out in her book, A Curious History of Sex: “It was everything John Harvey Kellogg prescribed to stifle sexual desire: bland, plain, meat-free, and made of corn.”
Oh, Kellogg, you cheeky idiot.
ICYMI: Eating bland foods does not make you want to touch your junk less often. But plenty of strange myths like this have been woven into sexual history books. The reason? We, as a society, are not fans of anything that disrupts the dominant narrative about sex. If it isn’t procreative, penis-in-vagina intercourse, we are not here for it.
“I suspect much of this has to do with [the] Judeo-Christian roots of mind/body separation and the notion that the body is dangerous,” says sex and relationships therapist Cyndi Darnell. “When religion was able to control people’s pleasure (and bodies), it was better able to control the masses with threats of eternal damnation.”
Queer sex? Hell no. Oral sex? Get real. Masturbation? You, sinner, are going to burn in hell.
We at TheBody thought it would be fun (and educational) to debunk three of the most common, wild, and downright absurd myths surrounding self-love. Knowledge is power, after all. So, let’s lay these out so that we can all get off in peace.
Masturbation Fact #1: You Will Not Cause Permanent Physical Deformities That Alert Everyone to Your Perverted Ways
Your palms will get hairy (and somehow you’ll also go bald); you’ll go blind; your vagina will be looser; your peen will be forever smaller; etc. There are numerous myths that are linked to physical deformity, all designed to curb the urge to masturbate. These myths have their roots in many places—mostly the Dark Ages, when Christianity became the norm in Europe and sexuality was aggressively suppressed.
“There is zero evidence—even anecdotal—to connect these physical symptoms to masturbation in any way,” says Ty David Lerman, a certified sex therapist and clinical sexologist. No one is going to know at a glance if you’ve been masturbating (There’s Something About Mary slip-ups aside), and you certainly will not wind up with some kind of ailment because you’ve enjoyed a wank.
In fact, numerous studies show that masturbation reduces stress, improves sleep, reduces anxiety, and helps with overall well-being. “Masturbation is a part of happiness everyone is entitled to,” says Sofiya Alexandra, who along with Courtney Kocak co-founded and co-hosts the podcast Private Parts Unknown.
And I’m no Christian, but I’d bet my bottom dollar that Jesus would have been down with self-love. He seemed like that kind of dude in Jesus Christ Superstar, which is obviously a documentary. I’m just sayin’.
Masturbation Fact #2: Vibrators Are Not Addictive (And No, You’re Not a Whore)
One of the insidious lies that is still prevalent in our culture is the idea that if you use a vibrator, you’re going to become “addicted” to it, and then you’ll never be able to experience pleasure with a partner again. This myth is mostly aimed at clitoris-owning people and those who were assigned the female sex at birth. Nothing shakes a patriarchal system to its core like women who are in control of their sexual pleasure.
“This is a myth that gets perpetuated because some people do experience desensitization of a specific variety because of habitual ways of masturbating,” explains Kenneth Play, the founder of “The Sex Hacker Series,” a course designed to help people discover their best sexual selves in a hands-on way. “However, it’s not permanent, and it doesn’t make you a bad person.” Basically, it’s like when your foot falls asleep from sitting on it: It might feel a little numb for a while, but it goes back to normal.
Your vibrator is not addictive, and it will not ruin partnered sex for you.
And here’s another factoid to help you let go of your sex-toy shame: as Laurie Mintz, Ph.D., points out in her book Becoming Cliterate, masturbation actually increases desire for partnered sex because sexual desire is built out of a reward system, not an innate human drive. The more orgasms you have, the more you want.
Masturbation Fact #3: It’s Not Just for Single or Unhappy People—and Folks in Relationships Still Do It
The myth goes a little something like this: If you masturbate, it means that you are a lonely, single POS who will never find love. And if you masturbate in a relationship, well, then you are a dirty, horrible person.
The idea that masturbation is some kind of “last resort” option is extremely incorrect. The idea that, if you’re in a healthy, fulfilling relationship, then masturbation should be off the table, is also extremely incorrect. And yet, every single week, I have new clients coming to my clinic who feel fear and loathing around their partner’s very normal masturbation habits.
Fact: Masturbating in a relationship is not cheating. Masturbating when you’re single is not sad.
“The reality is [that] getting to know and love your own body and be[ing] able to pleasure yourself usually makes you a better lover (which makes you more attractive) and doesn’t detract from your sexual relationship(s) with others. In fact, it tends to make them much, much better,” says Kocak.
With that being said, Lerman points out that if you are masturbating so much that you’re depleting the amount of energy you have for your partner, social events, or work, then you probably need to take a step back and address your habits. Masturbation is not addictive, but it can become a damaging, compulsive behavior for some people. Check in with yourself, because only you can know if something needs professional attention.
All in all, masturbation is a normal and healthy part of human sexuality. We have this notion that partnered sex is “better” sex. I say we throw out this idea completely. All sexual acts are created equal. Whether it’s hand sex, oral sex, intercourse, or sex with yourself, it’s all fine and great. You do you.