Dr. Joycelyn Elders, the inspiration for Masturbation May
by Maile Manliguis
This May marks the 26th year of celebrating International Masturbation Month, or Masturbation May as many of us refer to it. During May we often see a boom in sex education around self-pleasure, whether it be creating new masturbation routines, learning pleasure techniques, or reviewing favorite ‘tools of the trade’, it’s a great time to brush up on self-pleasure skills.
While Masturbation May has grown in notoriety and popularity, many don’t know the fierce Black woman behind it all. That badass woman is Dr. Joycelyn Elders, former Surgeon General of the United States.
Joycelyn showed tenacity in her career from the beginning, serving as chief resident during her medical school training and becoming the first board-certified pediatric endocrinologist in the state of Arkansas. It was during her career in endocrinology that Joycelyn took an interest in studying sexual behavior in adolescents and advocating for better sex education.
In 1993, Elders was appointed Surgeon General by President Clinton. She was the first Black Surgeon General and only the 2nd woman to hold the position. While serving in this role, Joycelyn became more outspoken on her advocacy for important topics such as racial justice, drug decriminalization, and sexual health. She believed it was especially important for young Black women to have agency over their sexuality and reproductive health and she worked to ensure access and resources. When asked about beliefs on abortion, she remarked, “We really need to get over this love affair with the fetus and start worrying about children”.
Dr. Elder’s progressive views were not well received by some. Her advocacy around ensuring access to condoms and other reproductive healthcare for sex workers as well as for teens resulted in Rush Limbaugh dubbing her the ‘Condom Queen’ sneeringly.
At a 1994 UN conference, Dr. Elders made remarks on including masturbation in sex education curriculums: “I think that is something that is a part of human sexuality, and it’s a part of something that perhaps should be taught. But we’ve not even taught our children the very basics.” It was this speech that ultimately led Clinton to express his disapproval for Elders’ views and she was forced to resign after only 15 months in office.
The following year, in honor of Elders and her advocacy, sex toy shop Good Vibrations declared May “National Masturbation Month”, to encourage celebration and education on self-pleasure. Twenty-six years later, we’re continuing this tradition and commitment to providing comprehensive sex education with masturbation as a core component.
So go on and celebrate the month with a new toy, an updated masturbation routine, or some sexy mutual masturbation and keep the self-love going — I think Dr. Elders would be proud.