HAPPY May all you sexually frustrated and bored beings! May is Masturbation Month, so you are allowed to play with your lonely selves without feeling guilty.

For those who do not know, May was declared the month of self-pleasure in 1995 by Good Vibrations, a sex toy store in San Francisco, US, and has been celebrated in solitary circles ever since.

The store decided to dedicate May to masturbating after former US surgeon-general Joycelyn Elders was fired by former US president Bill Clinton for suggesting at a 1994 UN conference that masturbation should be taught. That was the end of the first black surgeon-general's Washington career and the beginning of National Masturbation Month.

Statistics show that 95 percent of men worldwide masturbate. According to Women on Sex, a study by Susan Quilliam, an American sexologist, 29,1percent of women masturbate at least once a week. Only 1,8percent masturbate without clitoral stimulation and 95percent always have an orgasm while they masturbate. In comparison, 77,3percent can have an orgasm from oral sex and 79,2percent during intercourse, but cannot always. In her study, 95percent of women she surveyed masturbated.

Chris Saunders, a relationship psychologist, says people, especially women, are becoming more comfortable with the idea of masturbating, but many women are still slightly embarrassed to talk about it, much less practise it.

"While masturbation in South Africa was once regarded as a perversion and a sign of a mental problem, it is now becoming a normal, healthy sexual activity that is pleasant, fulfilling, acceptable and safe.

"It is a good way to experience sexual pleasure and can be done throughout life. A person who masturbates can learn about the sexual responses of their own body and thus be better prepared for sexual activity with a partner at a later time," says Saunders.

He adds that masturbation is only considered a problem when it inhibits sexual activity with a partner, is done in public or causes significant distress to the person.

He says it may cause distress if it is done compulsively and/or interferes with daily life and activities.

Why do people masturbate?

In addition to feeling good, Saunders says masturbation is a good way of relieving sexual tension that can build up over time, especially for people without partners or whose partners are not willing or available for sex.

"Masturbation also is a safe sexual alternative for people who wish to avoid pregnancy and the dangers of sexually transmitted diseases. It also is necessary when a man must give a semen sample for infertility testing or for sperm donation.

"When sexual dysfunction is present in an adult, masturbation may be prescribed by a sex therapist to allow a person to experience an orgasm (often in women) or to delay its arrival (often in men).

"It also provides a chance for the woman to explore her sexual response and for the man to release his tensions when aroused at a time he is alone or does not have a girl friend," Saunders says.

He adds that female masturbation is the best way to discover what stimulates a woman and to show her partner how to please her.

Advantages of masturbation

l It enables the playing out of pleasurable sexual fantasies.

l It releases sexual tension and often produces a pleasant, tranquil feeling.

l It helps one become more comfortable with one's own sexuality.

l It is an enjoyable experience when shared with a partner.

l It can curb impulses to have inappropriate sex with someone.

l You can't get pregnant.

l It helps maintain good pelvic blood flow and strong muscles.

l It's great for stress relief.

l It can help you sleep.

l It can temporarily relieve menstrual cramps in women.

l It provides an alternate sexual intercourse - free of the need and complications or cost of finding a consenting partner, free from the risk of sexually transmitted diseases and free from HIV-Aids.

l It helps to develop self-love and familiarises oneself with one's own sexual response.

Disadvantages of masturbation

l Most people who masturbate have a feeling of guilt of doing something they have been made to believe is bad. Most of these feelings arose from religious or cultural taboo and traditional beliefs on sexual behaviour and practices.

l Bruising of the genital organs can occur during masturbation, particularly if they are handled roughly during the act or if there is not enough lubrication. These can cause a lot of pain and can lead to infection if contaminated by germs.

l Like all habits, masturbation may be difficult to break for some people. The tendency is also there for adolescents to do nothing else, but masturbate whenever they have some free time. This is bad as it does not allow them to develop other aspects of their talent and broaden their horizon for the world ahead.

l There is the danger masturbation may be preferred to normal sexual intercourse, which may affect sexual relationship after marriage.

l In men, masturbation has been known to be associated with premature ejaculation.

l If a person thinks of masturbation and nothing else or if his/her whole existence revolves around it, it is harmful, but if one enjoys it with full control, it is not harmful. -