Despite doing an outstanding job as U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Joycelyn Elders was fired for suggesting children be taught about masturbation. She was terminated by the Bill Clinton, whose behavior a few years later showed the world his sexual ethics were lacking.

The firing of Elders, and the angry criticism directed at her by religious conservatives, should alarm those who want young people to receive information needed for physical and emotional health.

Contrary to what her right-wing critics allege, Elders was correct in saying children should be taught about masturbation.

Fewer unwanted pregnancies

The number of teenage pregnancies could be reduced by teaching adolescents about masturbatory outlets for sexual tension. Sexologist Dr. Lester Kirkendall writes that a student from Ghana once told a college class in the U.S. that, in his youth group in his home country, there were no unwanted pregnancies.

The student explained that couples there exchanged mutual masturbation instead of having intercourse.

If this form of sexual expression were more popular among the high percentage of American teenagers who are sexually active – and who seem to have little interest in abstinence – the rates of teenage pregnancy could be drastically lowered.

Less sexual frustration and distraction

Also in connection with dating relationships, masturbation can prevent problems that sex researcher Alfred C. Kinsey attributed to the practice of teenagers engaging in petting. Although he considered petting a necessary part of sex education, he worried about its effects on teenagers who don’t obtain sexual release.

Kinsey wrote: “Physiologic difficulties may develop if there is considerable arousal in the petting and the activity is not carried through to orgasm. In such a case, most males and some females find themselves nervously upset, disturbed in their thinking, incapable of concentrating on other matters, and [having] inefficient motor reactions.”

Masturbation can handily solve those problems.

Lower STD rates

Young people should know that using masturbation as a sexual outlet can protect them against contracting sexually transmitted diseases. In his book A Secret World: Sexuality and the Search for Celibacy, psychoanalyst and ex-priest A. W. Richard Sipe describes how one Catholic priest first gained insight into the real nature of masturbation and its possibilities as a virtue.

The priest served as an Air Force chaplain at a base during the U-2 flights. Some of the men confided to him that they masturbated while thinking of their wives to protect against the temptation of seeking out prostitutes or local girls in the town.

If more people viewed masturbation as a positive alternative to risky promiscuous behavior, the spread of sexually transmitted diseases could be significantly reduced. It’s completely safe sex.

As for mutual masturbation, although some sexually transmitted diseases can be contracted through it, the risk is very slight.

Fewer sexual assaults

There’s also evidence that masturbation can reduce the number of rapes and other sexual assaults in society. In his book Deadly Doctrine, psychiatrist Wendell Watters asserts that although rape is commonly considered an act of hatred and hostility against women, it may be a mistake to ignore the fact that rape is also a sexual act.

Watters cites a case study of a man imprisoned for rape. The man admitted he was sexually aroused when, on the way home from drinking at a bar, he broke into a randomly chosen house and raped a woman who was a total stranger to him. When Watters asked him why he didn’t relieve his sexual tension by masturbating, the man looked horrified and replied, “Oh, I was born a Catholic . . . that’s a mortal sin.”

Similarly, in the book Solving America’s Sexual Crises, Dr. Ira Reiss tells of sitting in on a therapeutic group for persons convicted of sex crimes. One of the participants explained that he had sexually molested his daughter because he was often sexually turned on and needed an outlet besides his wife.

When the group leader asked him why he didn’t masturbate as an outlet, he replied, “No, not me! The way I was raised made it clear that masturbation was bad for a boy and even worse for a grown man. I sure as hell wasn’t going to do that.”

Stronger marriage and other partnership bonds

Sex therapist Anne Hooper explains that masturbation “enables you to explore your body and gain detailed knowledge of your sexual response.” This knowledge improves a person’s ability to relate sexually to a partner.

Hooper also says masturbation “can be a gorgeous experience in its own right. . . . It assists us when we have sex with a lover, comforts us when we may be lonely, and offers relief when we live with frustration.”

According to Dr. Richard Louis Miller, sex researchers “emphasize the importance of masturbation and of learning to pleasure oneself. If you don’t know how to make yourself feel good, how can you possibly indicate to the other person how to make you feel good?”

The more each partner feels good, the stronger the relationship is and more likely it is to last, including for the raising of children.

Guilt isn’t warranted

Teaching young people the facts about masturbation can spare them much unnecessary fear and guilt resulting from inaccurate pronouncements on the subject. Some conservative religions still teach that masturbation harms one’s health in this world and brings eternal punishment in the next.

Gene Roddenberry, a Humanist and the creator of “Star Trek,” described some of the harm caused by such teachings. In a 1991 interview with The Humanist magazine, he said that masturbation was condemned by the Baptist church in which he grew up. Regarding the pain caused by this doctrine, Roddenberry stated, “And then the God you consider in your teenage years is the guy who knows you masturbate. This has tormented so many people. . . .”

Fortunately, some fundamentalist Christian leaders have adopted a more enlightened position on this issue. In 1998, Focus on the Family’s James Dobson gave sensible advice about masturbation: “Attempting to suppress this act is one campaign that is destined to fail – so why wage it?”

In Sexual Confidence, Dr. Debora Phillips states a truth that schools and religions should teach to young people: “The list of bad things about masturbation can be summed up in a word: Nothing. Except the attitude that masturbation is shameful.”

Additional benefits

In the medical field, masturbation is often prescribed as part of sex therapy to help patients overcome sexual problems and have a better sex life with their partners. It has proved to be effective – and is sometimes viewed as essential – for achieving those goals.

Sex researcher and educator John Ince adds: “Masturbation also facilitates independence. It allows us to have a sexual life even in the absence of sexual partners. In promoting both sexual self-sufficiency and self-love, we become more confident, both sexually and socially.”

Similarly, author and advocate for sex positivity Janet Hardy states: “I redefine the fundamental human sexual unit as one person, so that you can be a complete sexual unit unto yourself. Once you have that, you can be free to open it to other people and welcome them in without holding desperately to them.”

Besides, Woody Allen commented, “Don’t knock masturbation. It’s sex with someone I love.” Along the same lines, Ince points out that “masturbation can be a form of self-love, enhancing our self-esteem.”

Sex therapist Dr. Marty Klein sums up: “Masturbation is now widely considered good for your health.” He describes this understanding as “a major step forward in society’s expanding consciousness about human sexuality.”

Citing California urologist Dr. Rena Malik, Klein says “abstaining from masturbation is consistently associated with negative health outcomes.” Malik lists the benefits of masturbation as including “better sleep, decreased heart rate, decreased stress and a lot of increase in feel good hormones.”

Klein concludes: “After 42 years as a sex therapist, one thing is pretty clear: The world would be a better place if more people, not fewer, masturbated – and felt fine about it.”


Dr. Elders recognizes that young people need comprehensive knowledge about sexuality to make intelligent and responsible decisions, and to have sexual health and happiness.

Her critics are promoting the ignorance and guilt that cause so much harm and sorrow.

And if Clinton had masturbated instead of using a White House intern as a sex toy and then lying about it, so much pain and so many problems would have been avoided.

It’s one of many ways Elders was ultimately proved right.