The HUD Love Club

Get to know yourself this May

By Katherine

At HUD App, we love a cheeky little history lesson every now and then, particularly if it's relevant to our sex-positive ethos. And when we heard that May is known as International Masturbation Month - colloquially called "Masturbation May" - we were intrigued.

According to good ol' Wikipedia, the holiday started in 1995, after US Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders suggested that masturbation be part of the sex education curriculum for American students - and lost her job for it. In response, adult retailer Good Vibes declared May 28, 1995 as "National Masturbation Day".

That's the short version. But like most history sound bites, there's a much more interesting background to this story. Take a moment to learn about the powerhouse that is Dr Joycelyn Elders, and her impact on sex ed in the USA in the 1980s and 90s.

A public health trailblazer

Dr Joycelyn Elders is an absolute legend in the world of sex education for her progressive, thoughtful, and controversial - especially for the time - views on issues such as contraception, legalizing drugs in order to reduce crime, and expanding HIV testing services.

A pediatric endocrinologist, Dr Elders is the second woman, second person of color, and first Black person to serve as Surgeon General when she was appointed to that role by President Bill Clinton in 1993, and before that, the first Black woman to serve as Director of the Arkansas Department of Health (when Clinton was Governor of that state).

While she was in office in Arkansas, Dr Elders' initiatives to increase the availability of birth control, counseling, and sex education resulted in a decrease to the teen pregnancy rate. As a voice of the African-American community, she spoke up about the connection between poverty and teen pregnancy and staunchly advocated for young Black women to have equitable access to contraceptives, saying, "If you can't control your reproduction, you can't control your life."

Speaking truth

As a public health educator, Dr Elders was opinionated and outspoken. She allegedly caused major headaches for the Clinton administration due to her forthright, radical views on a number of topics, including abortion and sex education.

In 1994, when speaking on World AIDS Day, Dr Elders was asked whether the discussion and promotion of masturbation might be considered in the context of AIDS prevention - that is, could young people be encouraged to masturbate instead of engaging in potentially riskier sexual practices. Her reply: “I think that it is something that’s part of human sexuality and it’s part of something that perhaps should be taught.”

She went on to say, "But we've not even taught our children the very basics. And I feel that we have tried ignorance for a very long time and it's time we try education."

You'll never guess what happened next

Of course you guessed. In December 1994, Dr Elders was forced to resign by the Clinton administration, who were apparently embarrassed by her views and felt they were in conflict with President Clinton's own opinions.

In response, adult retailer Good Vibes - founded in 1977, they're one of America's first sex-positive, shame-free, woman-friendly places to shop for all things pleasure - stepped up and declared May 28, 1995 "National Masturbation Day". Theirs was a well-timed and brave political response, and it garnered attention and support, helping to destigmatize masturbation and instead promote it as a healthy, safe, and natural way to express your sexuality.

Masturbation May

Fast-forward three decades, and National Masturbation Day has morphed into International Masturbation Month, celebrated every May worldwide - and the world rejoices. So when you're celebrating Masturbation May this year, spare a thought for the strong, outspoken, well-educated Black woman whose courage of conviction inspired it. Dr Elders is now in her 90s and is still teaching, advocating, and speaking out, and we're proud to celebrate her legacy this May.

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