Masturbation Is Wrong. Wait. What?

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When I was about 6 years old, a girlfriend took me down to her basement and showed me how to masturbate. At the time, we didn't know there was a name for what we were doing, but we knew that if we laid down on our stomachs and put our hands between our legs and wiggled, it would feel good. And until recently, my masturbation practices remained largely unchanged. It's something I've always done in private as a quick tension release and quite frankly, it's an activity I've been embarrassed about.

It's no surprise I've felt like my masturbation habits are a dirty little secret. My parents never shamed me, but if the Google search results below are any indication, it seems the world thinks masturbation isn't something we should be doing, much less talking about openly with our friends and lovers.

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So when I decided to confront what I had perceived as "low libido," I realized that if I could masturbate, then I clearly had the capacity to turn myself on. And with that realization, I began to wonder if getting over my embarrassment about masturbation might be key to unlocking the sexual tiger within.

What follows is a story that may shock some, and perhaps still shocks me a little. But I think telling it will do more good than harm, so here goes.

After getting the Google results above, I kept typing and eventually made my way to Betty Dodson's website. Now, if you don't know Betty, she's an 86 year-old firecracker of a women who wrote the book "Sex for One: The Joy of Selfloving." On her website, I found mention of a workshop in her Manhattan apartment that she's been doing since the 1970s. It sounded extremely unconventional, but in the spirit of research for myself and readers of my blog, I took a deep breath and signed up.

Fast forward a few months, and I found myself in Betty's entryway, getting undressed with 10 other women. You read that right. Betty's workshops are done in the nude... partly to weed out folks that aren't ready for the type of education she provides and partly to remove the physical barriers that keep our pretenses and judgments up.

On the first day of the workshop, we got to know our genitals. It's funny that although most men are intimately familiar with their genitalia, if you asked a woman to identify hers out of a line up, odds are she wouldn't be able to do it. We simply can't see ours! So, we each sat side-by-side with Betty with a light and a mirror to examine our pussies. I use that word, because I prefer it over medical terms, but please substitute "hoo-ha" or "yoni" or whatever word you like.

Now if you think this is a normal everyday occurrence for those at the workshop, let me assure you, it was not. Once we got over the ridiculousness of the situation, it was hugely liberating to see all the different sizes, shapes, colors and even hairstyles. We found features we had in common and aspects that made us unique. It felt like some beautiful shame-cleansing ancient ritual. And in the end, we each named our pussy, reclaiming them from those we had given them to in the past... our doctors and our partners.

On the second day, we watched as Betty demonstrated her technique for masturbation, aided by a stainless steel vaginal barbell and the much-lauded Magic Wand vibrator. She then gave us a couple hours to practice. This was another "Am I really here, doing this" kind of moments, but it was also hugely educational. Similar to the experience when I was 6 years old, here I was observing not just one, but many different ways that women masturbate! Whenever I found myself in a rut and unable to find more pleasure, I just looked around the room and mimicked what someone else was doing... which proved a surprisingly good way to learn.

Since the workshop, I've added a few new tools to my masturbation toolkit including erotica, a vibrator and my favorite of all, sharing masturbation with my husband. Understandably, Betty's workshop isn't for everyone, but perhaps my story will enable others to let of the guilt and enjoy masturbation more fully. What steps will you take to embrace your selflove?

"Wait, that's it?" Transformation takes time, so I'm intentionally sharing in bite-sized doses that reflect my experience over the last year. I'd love to hear your questions and thoughts, let's continue the conversation in the comments section below. Or visit my blog at downtothere.com