This is the fourth part of a five-part series promoting Sex Out Loud's annual Sexual Health Week. Sex Out Loud facilitates programs about healthy relationships, safer sex and pleasure. Through these programs, inquisitive minds are asking questions about a wide range of subjects; a majority of people want to learn how to do something better. "How can I be a better lover to my partner?" "How can my partner be a better lover to me?" At every program, facilitators are consistently advocating two things: communication and masturbation. Why? Because that's how you'll find the answer. Unfortunately, this concept is new to most people. Contained within the health classes of our middle-school years, gym teachers and nurses segregated the students based upon perceived sex and guided us through what they determined was essential for our emotional and physical well-being as it related to sexuality. Boys were instructed about the occurrences of erections and wet dreams, and masturbation was passively recommended as a normal part of an active boy's sexuality. However, the females experienced no such recommendations. Instead, girls learned that the essence of their sexuality centered on menstruation and pregnancy. Aside from the strong homophobic and sexist connotations of this health class, this model ignored and deterred women from finding pleasure for themselves or otherwise. Whereas the boys found pleasure intertwined with sexuality from the beginning, the girls learned not to expect pleasure from any sexual encounter. The implications of this are frightening, and further, the truth behind this is simply nonexistent. The physical benefits of masturbation alone are obvious. The act of having an orgasm or ejaculating creates heightened arousal while epinephrine courses through your body, producing the flushed face, shallow breath and post-climactic euphoria. But more important, masturbation is a great form of intrapersonal communication, which affects your ability to relate to your partner. Masturbation is a self-exploratory method by which you get to know (in the biblical sense) the most important person in your life. The question is, what is specifically unique and pleasurable for you? Do you use toys? What do you like to think about? Do you prefer Internet or imagination? The more you know yourself, the better you can please yourself and communicate that information to your partner. Many partners have enough trouble relating openly about how to please one another, and it is indeed much more difficult if you do not know the answer for yourself. Mutual masturbation, the act by which two or more partners stimulate themselves in the presence of each other, is another way in which masturbation is good for others. Mutual masturbation allows for you and your partner to reveal the map to your pleasure centers. Watching your partner masturbate is a practical way to see the method by which your partner pleases him/herself, allowing for you to use this as a constructive framework or rubric to build upon. Masturbation also encourages and fosters intrapersonal development, growth and independence. By masturbating, you teach yourself and your body that a partner is not a necessary element of your sexual happiness. You become your own greatest lover — a long-lasting relationship guaranteed. Individuals can find out for themselves the nuances of their sexual landscape and become a vocal, active and assertive partner in communicating those desires. Further, masturbation is an experience by which you learn to want and expect pleasure from sexual play. You can banish the unhealthy thoughts that make you feel like sex is not fun or that you do not deserve pleasure from these encounters. Just as the ancient yogis discovered yoga as a technique by which the human can strengthen the bond between his body and soul, we believe that masturbation can have the same effect. If a healthy sexuality is something you desire, then you have a responsibility to know as much about yourself as possible and a responsibility to freely communicate that information with yourself and your partner. As responsible adults, we encourage you to pull your weight and masturbate. Chris Daniels ([email protected]) and Jes Levatter ([email protected]) are members of Sex Out Loud.