May is here, and with it comes Masturbation May—a month dedicated to embracing self-love and exploring one's sexuality. In celebration of this occasion, we want to shed light on an influential figure in the field of sexual education and empowerment: Dr. Joycelyn Elders. Dr. Elders' advocacy for sex education and sexuality has led to the creation of Masturbation Day, now expanded to Masturbation May. In this blog, iroha would like to take a deep dive on Dr. Joycelyn Elders’ accomplishments and recognize the significant contributions made throughout her career.
Who is Dr. Joycelyn Elders?
Dr. Joycelyn Elders is a distinguished figure, having served as the former United States Surgeon General, Head of the Arkansas Department of Health, and a professor of pediatrics at the University of Arkansas Medical School. Currently, she is a professor emeritus at the University of Arkansas School of Medicine and continues to be very active regarding many topics.
Dr. Joycelyn Elders’ Legacy
Born in 1933 “in a rural, segregated, poverty-stricken” area of Arkansas, she was the oldest of 8 children. During her college years, she discovered her fondness for biology and chemistry. After a speech from Edith Irby Jones, the first African American to attend the University of Arkansas Medical School, Elders realized she could become a physician just like Jones. Elders joined the Army, trained in physical therapy, and then attended the University of Arkansas Medical School. In 1976, Dr. Elders became a full professor after obtaining her master's degree in biochemistry.
The Push for Sex Education and More
Prior to becoming the U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Elders was already advocating for comprehensive sex education for youth, better access to contraceptives, and other progressive ideas.
Elders used her knowledge and practice to help with juvenile diabetes, which led her to identify that young women with diabetes are more likely to face health problems if they become pregnant too young.
If I wanted to keep those kids healthy, I decided I had no choice but to take command of their sexuality at the first sign of puberty,”
Recognizing the rising rates of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and teenage pregnancies in Arkansas compared to the national average, Dr. Elders, as the head of the Arkansas Department of Health, faced controversy and backlash from conservatives and religious groups when she advocated for school clinics and emphasized the importance of sex education in school curriculums. In 1989, she was able to secure legislation that mandated a “K-12 curriculum that includes sex education, substance-abuse prevention, and programs to promote self-esteem.” By 1992, with Elders’ push, Arkansas was able to double childhood immunizations, expand Arkansas state’s prenatal care program, and more.
In 1993, Dr. Elders made history when President Clinton appointed her as the U.S. Surgeon General. As the first African American and second woman to hold this position, her tenure faced strong opposition from conservatives due to her progressive views on sex education, providing contraceptives in schools, and advocating for the legalization of certain drugs. Despite serving for only 15 months, Dr. Elders definitely left a mark with her progressive remarks.
I think that [masturbation] is a part of human sexuality and it's a part of something that perhaps should be taught. But we've not even taught our children the very basics. And I feel that we have tried ignorance for a very long time and it's time we try education.
- Dr. Joycelyn Elders
During the United Nations AIDs Conference, Dr. Elders was asked about masturbation and if there’s a need to promote such discussions to reduce unsafe sex.
In a 2016 documentary, Sticky: A (Self) Love Story, Dr. Elders expressed her belief that masturbation could reduce unintended pregnancies and the spread of STIs. In addition, youth should learn that masturbation is a natural and common aspect of human life, not that they should be taught how to do it.
Celebrate May with Self-Pleasure
As a brand that believes that everyone should feel comfortable with their sexuality and enjoy their sexuality in their own way, we want to help reduce taboos and provide a safe environment for people to discuss masturbation and explore their sexuality.
iroha hopes to help those that are interested in starting their self-pleasure exploration or further assist seasoned people in their self-pleasure journey.