Last week a young man tweeted me with a post that, on first glimpse, seemed inappropriate. It happens when you’re identified as a sex educator and I’m used to quasi-explicit messages and requests for ‘friendships’. I took a look at this young man’s twitter profile and saw that he self-identifies as a black man with Asperger’s. And, I decided to respond.

His original tweet is gone; I suspect he deleted it. It was something like this, “I see masturbation as sexual expression and a way to relieve sexual frustration...” My response, “I think that’s true for most of us. It’s a good way to stay in tune with our bodies.”  He acknowledged my reply with,  “It sure is”. 

This young man acknowledges his sexual desires and frustrations. He has found the most appropriate vehicle for dealing with his frustrations—masturbating. That is a perfectly normal feeling, though expressing it in a public venue under one’s own name and photo may not always be safe or wise. I’m not sure how his Asperger’s plays into this but the knowledge of his disorder did affect my decision.  

I had three choices. I could ignore his comment. I could have blocked him. Or take the more educational, helpful approach.

Desire and the frustration of not having the emotional and physical outlet for those desires plagues many of us. How do we express our sexuality in a world that shuns natural sexual expression? And what do we do if we’re not in a sexual relationship? This isn’t a problem unique to young men. It can be especially frustrating for men and women of all ages who are no longer in a relationship. Touch, affection, intimacy and sex are natural parts of a fulfilling life. Without them we find ourselves feeling out of balance, sexually frustrated and emotionally isolated.

This young man was admitting that he masturbated. I think he needed someone to acknowledge the normalcy of his actions and physical needs. By telling him that self-pleasuring was a great way to stay in touch with one’s body, I didn’t censure or shame him. I simply acknowledged a normal sexual behavior our society likes to pretend doesn’t happen. Hopefully he was comforted by the response. 

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I write about self-pleasuring as a tool for women to learn more about their bodies and for maintaining sexual health when not in a sexual relationship. The same holds true for men, right? But we rarely offer that sort of advice to men. Suggesting a woman indulge in masturbation sounds sexy and liberating. Urging a man to develop a masturbation practice doesn’t have quite the same seductive ring to it. 

Masturbation can be used to build desire or manage sexual tension. We can improve, increase and control our sexual urges by taking the time to self-pleasure ourselves. It’s a natural sexual activity that many people indulge in. According to a study done by Indiana University, roughly 70% of men and over 50% of women aged 50-59 report masturbating alone. By the age of 70 it has dropped to 46% for men and 33% of women. (Data on frequency wasn’t available.)

This is really a conversation about normalizing sexual desires. The first step is to acknowledge that we all experience sexual urges. Expressing our desire, appropriately, should never be cause for dismissal and censure. We should be working to create an environment where acceptance and recognition of our sexuality, at any age, is the norm. 

I feel good about my interaction with this young man. I met him right where he wanted to be met—in appreciation and recognition of his needs as a young man. The path to healthy sexuality starts by recognizing our physical needs and becoming aware of our body. Nothing healthy and nourishing arises from criticism and shaming.  Let’s embrace our sexuality, nurture out bodies and seek out positive conversations about our wants and needs.

Have you been criticized for expressing your sexuality? Was it age-related? I’d love to know. You can respond here or send me a message through Boomeon or here.

Walker Thornton is a writer, sex educator and public speaker, with a Masters in Educational Psychology and over 10 years experience in the field of sexual violence against women. She is a strong advocate for midlife women’s sexuality, encouraging women to ‘step into their desire’. Kinkly.com ranked her blog, WalkerThornton.com, #17 in their top 100 Sex Blogging Superheroes of 2013. Walker is the Sexual Health columnist for Midlife Boulevard and writes about sex and the older adult for Kinkly.com. You can connect with her on her website (www.walkerthornton.com ), Facebook (https://facebook.com/AWomansPage )  Twitter  (http://twitter.com/WalkerThornton)  and Google+ (https://plus.google.com/u/0/+WalkerThornton/posts ).