It’s Masturbation May! Once again, we’re publishing a sticky handful of articles on the delights and the woes of solo pleasure-seeking. This one covers masturbation and religious trauma.
Most people who masturbate have a routine: Step one — find some sexy inspiration to get in the mood. Step two — go to town. Step three — ideally, pee to prevent a UTI. Well, for me, there’s a fourth step. After I masturbate, I pray.
I grew up in a Black Christian household, and I’m not talking about one of the new queer-accepting ones — I mean one of the OG, guilt-them-till-they-die Christian households. I also went to Catholic school, so instead of learning about actual sex during sex ed, I was told that sex would turn me into a crumpled up piece of paper.
My schools and churches framed sex as an addiction that could pull you from the “right pathwp_postsand push you closer to hell. This lesson was especially pushed onto us “fast-ass Black girls,wp_postswho were hypersexualized from the moment we hit puberty, if not earlier. So when I — the little closeted Black girl who was already trying to solve her budding sexuality through prayer — started masturbating, I tried hard to fix my “addiction,wp_postseven after I left home and Catholic school.
I downloaded an addiction-tracking app. I created a complicated prayer to ensure that no one would be hurt by my unforgivable actions. I was ashamed and scared, but also, masturbation was undeniably good for me — I was having actual orgasms while my peers were having climax-free, unsatisfactory sex. Still, I couldn’t shake the “addictionwp_postsnarrative — that is, until I realized I was queer and let go of the lies I’d been telling myself.
When I came out, I realized I didn’t like the churches I grew up in, and I didn’t agree with the lessons they taught. If their God banished people to an eternity of torture for being themselves — well, I didn’t want any part of that. I knew I wasn’t doing anything hell-worthy by being queer, so sex was probably okay, too.
My guilt around sex and self-pleasure started to melt away. Eventually, I forgot about my addiction app and just let myself masturbate when I wanted to. I bought my first vibrator and lube. I also had sex for the first time. I was feeling sex-positive as hell — well, mostly.
Sex doesn’t feel wrong to me anymore. I’m having fun with different people, and when we’re having sex, we both get something out of it. But when I’m masturbating, I’m the only one getting any pleasure, and that makes it feel selfish and sinful, even though I no longer believe in sins. A little voice inside my head reminds me of all the lessons I learned growing up — that something horrible will happen to myself, to others, even to the whole world, if I indulge in self-pleasure. It’s hard to ignore that voice, so here I am — a no-long-Christian, sex-having adult — still praying after I masturbate.
I know I am not the only religiously-traumatized queer out there who feels shame around masturbation. Erasing decades of religious trauma doesn’t happen overnight, so while I haven’t cut prayer out of my masturbation routine just yet, I know I’ll get there eventually. I try to remember this: If I hadn’t started masturbating, I probably wouldn’t have known how to advocate for my pleasure once I started having sex. I was able to start my sexual journey with someone I trusted — me — and that’s a beautiful thing.