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The first thing that comes to mind when I think of masturbation is the classic “American Pie”-esque movie scene in which a high-schooler furiously strokes away, wide-eyed in front of a computer screen, beside a trash can filled to the brim with sticky, crinkled tissues, only to be disturbed mid-ejaculation by his mother — a nightmare situation if I’ve ever seen one.

The idea of self-love has had an incredibly powerful taboo associated with it for far too long. It’s been labeled as shameful “self-abuse” and inappropriate — just a lustful way to release pent-up, well, lust. But our generation has made great strides in breaking down the taboo with masturbation. Ask any teenage guy whether he “wanks it” or “beats the meat,” and you’d be hard-pressed to find a negative response.

You can probably see the direction this is going, and I want to reassure you that I’m not trying to sensationalize masturbation. You might think that this kind of thing only belongs in the Sex on Tuesday column, but there’s a lot more that can be said about masturbation’s effects on our bodies and the social stigma surrounding it.

The UC Berkeley campus, with its strong support for sexual exploration, is contributing to the destigmatization of masturbation and the widespread acceptance of self-love. Whether it’s the person in the penis costume walking around on Upper Sproul Plaza sponsored by the Sexual Health Education Program or a presentation given by Good Vibrations — a Bay Area-based sex toy shop — in one of the residence halls, our campus is encouraging its students to turn cultural taboos into cultural norms.

And because people are beginning to create an actual dialogue around masturbation — separate from the jokes you can hear in any college dorm that seem to never get old — without cringing , we’re actually able to seriously discuss the concrete benefits of the act. Actual scientists, not horny teenagers, are studying the benefits of ejaculation through masturbation. A 2008 Fox News article raved about all the good masturbation could bring. Fox News, of all places. Imagine that.

The most obvious advantage of masturbation is that it’s a natural mood booster. During an orgasm, the largest natural release of dopamine and oxytocin occurs, which relaxes muscles and reduces stress.

An Australian study concluded that the more men ejaculate in their twenties, the less likely they are to develop prostate cancer later in life. Of the men in the study, those who ejaculated more than five times per week were “one-third less likely to develop prostate cancer,” which is the second-highest cause of cancer death among men, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It also increases cortisol levels, which can actually strengthen the immune system when released in proper amounts.

So men who masturbate are in great shape. Fantastic! But what about the women? As much as I’d like to consider our generation to be super progressive and liberal, the idea of “female masturbation” — which unfortunately has to be distinguished from “male” masturbation as a completely separate and less accepted form of sexual pleasure — is still a rock-solid taboo. Women who do masturbate are, as per the social stigma, considered promiscuous and excessively lusty, exhibiting no self-control, while their male counterparts are given a societal pass to fap at will.

But the health benefits for women are just as potent. Along with mood enhancement, female ejaculation has been shown to lower the risk of cervical and urinary tract infections by flushing out harmful bacteria and allowing beneficial bacteria to proliferate.

So why do women still feel guilty after this glorious act? Studies show that by age 20, 95 percent of men reach an orgasm through masturbation, compared to only 60 percent of women. The gender gap is indicative of the societal strain that women take with them into the privacy of their bedrooms, and it’s this societal strain that is depriving them of the opportunity to explore their bodies. There’s no reason to feel guilty after buying that first dildo, vibrator, velvet thrust kit, anal plug or lube shooter. In fact, this natural process should impart excitement, enthusiasm and eagerness.

Regardless of gender, the glory of self-pleasure extends beyond the realm of physical health. In my last column, I wrote about the impact that relationships have on our lives, our minds and our personal health, and this is no different. Regardless of your gender, you know your body better than anyone else, and exploring what you like and the limits of what you can do can drastically improve the nature of your romantic relationship.

Whatever your motivation may be, don’t let any preconceived notion perpetuated by societal ignorance prevent you from exploring your body. The days when masturbation was considered wrong and morally devoid have cum and gone. Today, it’s time to take matters into your own hands.

Shahin Firouzbakht writes a Thursday column on health issues affecting student life.
Contact Shahin Firouzbakht at [email protected].