I recently gave birth to my first child and the entire process from the moment I found out I was pregnant to months after giving birth has been a wild ride of thoughts and emotions. My spectrum of feelings has gone from extreme joy to extreme stress. I have felt both proud and stable in my new mama life and body some days, and others days felt as if I have been transplanted into someone else’s body that I do not recognize. It has become a time of reflection and exploration to help me navigate this new rollercoaster life I find myself on.
My new life led me to increase my understanding of Mindfulness, a practice I have been drawn to since beginning my education in the mental health field. Many have heard of Mindfulness, an increasingly popular practice to help reduce stress and anxieties. The purpose of Mindfulness is to build moment-to-moment awareness of our thoughts and feelings through a non-judgmental lens. Jon Kabat-Zin, a renowned Mindfulness expert, defines it as paying attention on purpose to something in the present, non-judgmentally. This can be a surprisingly difficult skill to learn which is why a variety of methods and activities have been developed to practice one’s ability to be present.
My first introduction to Mindfulness was breathing exercises. I found the experience rather challenging because breathing was not stimulating enough to keep me in the present for much more than three breaths, something I have heard is a common experience for many others. In lamenting to girlfriends one evening about my inability to practice focusing on my breath we began discussing more stimulating sensations. Possibly as a result of a couple glasses of wine the conversation turned to sexual stimulation. The only problem we deemed is that it involves a partner which often stops us from focusing solely on our own in the moment experience. This led to the topic of masturbation, an often awkward topic to discuss because many of us still feel some uncertainty about whether or not it is okay to do. We discussed why society still seems to be so uncomfortable with masturbation when many sexual health experts tout it as a safe and healthy sexual act.
The main reason I could find is that North American society was predominantly built on religious values that viewed masturbation as a sin, and this perception of personal pleasure still lingers even though large percentages of the population masturbate and scoff at that deviant view of masturbation as outdated (Scowen, 2014). In his article, We need to talk about masturbation, the last great sexual taboo, Scowen (2014) explains that by ignoring the normalcy of masturbation we continue to connect it with fear and shame, which is both dangerous and harmful. He references the case of a young boy caught and secretly filmed masturbating in the school bathroom by his peers. The video went viral and he was bullied and shamed to such an extent that he wound up taking his own life. This is an extreme example of why we need move beyond the stigma that still surrounds personal pleasure, but it is relevant to this discussion. So, in our evening of embarrassingly discussing sexual pleasure, we laughed in the face of ‘socially acceptable dinner conversation’ and discussed the potential of masturbation being used as a modality on one’s journey to mindful living. The more we discussed it, the more the idea made sense. Is there anything better than pleasurable touch to keep your mind present on the moment?