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Masturbation way to relieve stress, therapist says

Published: Friday, November 18, 2005

Updated: Wednesday, September 2, 2009 15:09

It should be a relief to know that masturbation cannot cause blindness or hair loss. In fact, "masturbation is a great way to relieve stress," sex therapist Cay L. Crow said in an interview.

"It also is a great way to mediate anxiety. It's a great stress relief, especially during midterms and finals," Crow said.

Crow, a licensed professional counselor, teaches sexual education classes for Forbidden Fruit, a woman-owned, women-operated business serving the community. Its mission is to help create erotic self-awareness and improve intimate communication in relationships.

She gives workshops and seminars about sexual topics and writes a Saturday column for the S.A. Life section of the San Antonio Express-News. Crow traced the history of society's perception of masturbation.

In 1758, the Swiss physician Simon-Auguste-Andre-David Tissot wrote that masturbation was the principal cause of mental illness. His views became the standard until the 1960s. Tissot led many to believe that masturbation caused blindness, hysteria and mental illness.

Doctors including Dr. John Harvey Kellogg and Sylvester Graham, prominent physicians during the Victorian Era, promoted the movement to discourage masturbation.

Kellogg and Graham connected food with sex, and to decrease sexual cravings, both thought it was necessary to follow a calm lifestyle along with a bland diet.

Kellogg's cornflakes and Graham crackers were the result: Both were created to suppress sexual drive.

In 1834, Graham said men should not have intercourse more than 12 times a year.

"Sex was looked upon as a necessary evil," Crow said, "it's only benefit being to reproduce." During this era, the Catholic Church adopted this view and wrote into doctrine that masturbation was a shameful act.

Paganism on the other hand celebrated fertility.

"People were being committed to mental institutions if they were caught masturbating," Crow said. In the 1800s, the woman's uterus was thought to be "wandering in her body," and this was known to cause anxiety and irritability, also called hysteria.

To cure this, doctors would massage the vulva and produce a "hysterical paroxysm," later known as an orgasm.

Many thought this to be a disease that would often return after the massage, and with the invention of the vibrator, doctors saw a quick and efficient way to provide aid to women suffering from hysteria.

Although it was looked upon as a medical device, the vibrator quickly was taken into the home for personal pleasure and began to appear in short pornographic films.

With this, doctors disassociated themselves with the vibrator, and they were seen only as a sexual toy.

"Up until the 1960s sexual revolution, masturbation and sex were considered to be evil," Crow said.

In 2005, this is still a topic most shy away from.

"No one wants to admit to their solo sexuality," Crow said. "People consider sexuality as something secretive, and it doesn't have to be."

The myths and misconceptions about masturbation are wide-ranging, and most were proved medically false.

"According to the American Medical Association, there is no harm in masturbating," Crow said. "And it's perfectly safe in this era of disease."

Everywhere people turn, they are bombarded by sexual images, Crow said. "Our society is setting someone up for sexual dysfunction by preaching about abstinence but refusing to acknowledge masturbation as a safe alternative."

According to the Planned Parenthood Web site, "In 1981, Congress passed the Adolescent Family Life Act, also known as the chastity law, which funded educational programs to 'promote self-discipline and other prudent approaches' to adolescent sex, or 'chastity education.'"

With this passage, one would imagine that masturbation would be looked upon as "great way to relieve sexual tension without the risks of STDs or pregnancy," Crow said.

After people get the factual information, Crow believes people will see masturbation as common and a great first exposure to one's own sexuality.

"Masturbation, in fact, releases chemicals to your brain and gets the circulation going. It also helps to oxygenate the blood," Crow said. "Sexuality is really one of those things that can throw you for a loop. Be comfortable in your own skin and with your sexuality."


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