Finding my Joy Through Mindful Masturbation: A Guest Post by Kai Cheng Thom
The icy depths of winter had descended Toronto, and I was going through one of the most difficult times in my life: depressed, unemployed, chronically ill, and deep in the throes of PTSD and depression. Because I didn’t have a job to go to, and because I can’t stand the cold, I spent a lot of time in my apartment that winter – my tiny, Toronto shoebox 400-square-foot apartment. Day after day, I whiled away the hours watching cartoons on Netflix and drinking boxed white wine, sinking ever deeper into self-loathing and wishing I was dead.
That’s the mise-en-scene for this story, and it echoes many a tragic-to-triumphant online personal narrative about mental (un)health: Sad Girl wino in the depths of despair who, in her darkest hour finds something – a hidden reserve of inner strength, an incredible new self-care technique, jogging – to turn it all around. If I were a rich white Magical Girl™ I probably would be writing about a yoga retreat in Bali that I “discovered,” or an exciting new therapy involving crystals (and the truth is, I really do love crystals).
Being a jaded, traumatized, extremely weird trans girl, though what I found in my moment of despair was something a little seedier: masturbation. And because I’m a psychotherapy nerd, the particular type of masturbation I found was mindful masturbation – which definitely didn’t turn everything around all on its own, but certainly helped in my time of need.
Mindful masturbation is the practice of engaging in a mindful way with one’s own body and sensations of pleasure. It involves slowly – very slowly – exploring the whole body (instead of just the genitals or other “commonly known” erogenous zones) with touch, breath, sound (as in, making sounds such as moaning, gasping, laughing, singing – whatever feels right), and visualization. You can also use toys, if that’s your jam.
Rather than simply going straight for whatever feels the most intense, familiar, or orgasmic, mindful masturbation involves taking a lot of time with self-pleasure. Instead of just doing “what works” (which for most of us is about what gets us off as quickly and quietly as possible), mindful masturbation takes a curious approach. You can explore things that feel silly or strange, because it’s your body, and no one else gets to tell you what to do with your own body. When we touch, breath, and otherwise stimulate ourselves mindfully, an infinite number of predictable and unexpected sensations and emotions can arise: joy, release, sadness, shame. Boredom. Frustration. Discomfort. Liberation.
There’s (a surprisingly large amount of) writing out there on the Internet about mindful masturbation that frames it as a transcendently spiritual, even exotic practice. And I’m sure that is a lot of folks’ experience with it. For me, though, the whole thing still feels kind of ridiculous and very grounded in the reality that it’s really just me, touching myself alone in my room – and that’s what I love about it. I don’t have to be enormously orgasmic or even orgasmic at all. I don’t have to perform. Alone, with just my imperfect, leaky, fragile body, I can just be me.
I first came across mindful masturbation as a student of a healing modality called somatic sex education, which is a type of pleasure-based sex education that can involve, among other things, masturbation coaching and hands-on exploration such as erotic massage (basically, it’s the sex education you never got in high school because it actually teaches you how to have, give, and receive pleasure in addition to the more traditional topics of sexual safety and consent. Some practitioners also specialize in holistic pelvic care and healing sexual trauma). At first, the whole thing sounded too embarrassing to try – even alone at home.
But as I said, I was unemployed at the time, and I had run through most of my recommended list on Netflix, so…
I’ve always had a fraught relationship with my body, and a frankly terrible relationship with my sexuality. Like most folks, sex was taboo in my family of origin and essentially equated with danger and disease. Growing up queer, my sexual orientation was heavily shamed by my peers as well. And even when I was out and living in queer community, my body and sexuality were still shamed, first as a queer Asian boy (who tend be seen as sexually repulsive in white gay culture) and then as a trans woman of colour (who tend to be seen as hypersexual and predatory by gay and straight culture).
I am also a survivor of multiple sexual assaults, and in one case, extreme psychological gaslighting and abuse around my sexuality. As a result, my body is not often home to me. My body has disappointed me. Betrayed me. Let me down. My body is like a dormant bomb, and I do not know when it will go off. My body is a machine gun that I cannot control, firing bullets in every direction. My body is a winter wasteland. Frozen. Unfeeling.
When I started mindful masturbation practice, the first several sessions were hard. I felt silly, I didn’t know what to do. Then I felt numb, bored, like I wanted to just “get it over with.” Then I started to feel irritated, frustrated, angry – angry whichever dumb white (I assumed) person had thought all this mindful masturbation stuff up. Angry at the culture of Western mindfulness in general. Angry at other people, for apparently being able to feel a kind of pleasure that I couldn’t, could never. Angry at myself, for failing to feel.
And then, little by little, something did open up. Nothing huge, nothing momentous. Just little moments of noticing pleasure that hadn’t been there before. And those small moments gave way to longer moments, which gave way to new sensations, giving way to bigger pleasure, giving way to something deeper. My body opened up to me, unfolding just a little at a time. And I learned how to love myself, my life, my jaded, traumatized, extremely weird trans girl body, just a little bit more, in the middle of that terrible winter in my shoebox apartment in Toronto.
If you want to learn more about trying mindful masturbation: https://www.elephantjournal.com/2014/05/mindful-masturbation-5-tips-to-create-a-self-pleasure-practice-ren-usha/
If you want to learn more about somatic sex education: http://www.makesexeasy.com/what-is-somatic-sex-coaching/
If you need support around mental health and suicidality: http://www.crisisservicescanada.ca/
Kai Cheng Thom is a writer, performer, and social worker who divides her heart between Montreal and Toronto, unceded Indigenous territories. She is the author of the Lambda Award-nominated novel Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars: A Dangerous Trans Girl's Confabulous Memoir (Metonymy Press), as well as the poetry collection a place called No Homeland (Arsenal Pulp Press). Her forthcoming book, I Hope We Choose Love, is a collection of essays about the importance of love in social justice movements.
This is the tenth blog post for our 2019 Summer of Self-Love! Every week for 12 weeks, we're sharing questions, activities or ideas that we hope will help you fall more in love with yourself this summer. You can find our first post here, or sign up for our Summer of Self-Love Newsletter here.