May is National Masturbation Month. That’s right: there’s an entire month dedicated to self-love and you bet your ass I’ll be participating hard. Despite the act having gained more positive associations as of late—at least outside of the Catholic church—with scientists promoting its health benefits, the origin of National Masturbation Month is much less celebratory and more contentious; a backlash, in fact, against a presidential administration that ironically later became defined by the act of sex itself. Altogether, the history of National Masturbation Month reveals just how fresh our cultural acceptance of masturbation is.

It began in 1995, when President Bill Clinton fired Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders for suggesting that masturbation should be discussed in schools as part of sex education. In hindsight, her opinion was not only sensible—preaching the merits of masturbation in place of abstinence is a good start—but something Americans were in desperate need of. The U.S. government didn’t approve sex education for public school curricula until the 1920s. Seventy years later, the U.S. government, via provisions in the 1996 Welfare Reform Act, dedicated tens of millions of dollars to abstinence-education programs in public schools. Remnants of those programs still exist in education systems today, so much so that porn sites like Pornhub found it necessary to offer their own sex-education microsites.

Appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1993, Dr. Elders was the first African American to serve as surgeon general of the United States. She instantly became a catalyst for outrage among the religious right due, in part, to her outspoken nature and progressive views on sex.

On the subject of reproductive rights, Elders encouraged Americans to “get over this love affair with the fetus.” She was also nicknamed the “Condom Queen” for distributing contraceptives in public schools to promote safe sex. Her often flammable views weren’t limited to sexual topics, either. Elders wanted the government to study drug legalization long before it became hip to do so. In sum, this woman was ahead of her time, especially if you consider what’s now happening with marijuana across the country. Even the relatively more progressive country of Canada didn’t tackle legalization until this year.

Turn-of-the-century publications featured ads for spiked penile rings, to wake men whenever they got an erection.

Because of her leftist beliefs, Elders’s statements often sparked controversy on the right, which required rebukes from the Clinton administration. It came to a head at a 1994 United Nations conference on AIDS, where Elders answered a psychologist’s question about prospects for starting “a more explicit discussion and promotion of masturbation” as a means to curtail the spread of the virus.

As reported by the New York Times, Elders replied, “As per your specific question in regard to masturbation, I think that is something that 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.”

This statement sparked immediate outrage among conservatives and unrest within the Clinton administration, with many advisers saying Elders had ignored previous warnings to be more discrete when she spoke.

Supposedly, the slip at the AIDS conference marked the third instance that top administration officials had to corral Elders. But it’s not like Elders wanted to teach children how to masturbate. That wasn’t her intention. Instead, she simply wanted students to be aware of it, to ease young people’s fear of experimentation. Still, it proved to be too much for President Clinton and he fired her shortly after, going on record to say that he still “held her in the highest esteem.”

San Francisco-based sex toy retailer Good Vibrations was “astounded” by Elders’s firing and retaliated by dedicating the month of May to masturbation, in order to highlight its importance. But Elders was terminated in December—so why May? Good Vibrations says it’s because May symbolizes our sexual awakening. They also note that both May and masturbation begin with the letter m, making for great poetic alliteration.

Attitudes toward masturbation have always been rooted in misconception and shame, driven mostly by religion. In 18th, 19th and even 20th century Europe and America, masturbation was believed to cause physical and mental illnesses. As such, treatments for preventing masturbation became commonplace.

As Good Vibrations cites, turn-of-the-century publications featured ads for spiked penile rings. The intention behind this device was that men would wake up from their sleep whenever they got erections (which all men do, so, ouch). Women have also been subject to torturous devices such as cauterizing irons and even received clitorectomies, or the surgical excision of the clitoris.

Thankfully, these archaic devices and procedures, as well as the general perception that masturbation will make you ill, are behind us. While many of us don’t regard masturbation a degrading act today, it’s still viewed by some as a selfish, sad or second-rate substitute to penetrative sex. Those smart enough to find the balance between masturbation and sex know that it’s possible to enjoy both.

So, readers, feel free to be a little selfish this month. Aside from the fact that it feels fantastic, you can also considerate it a political stand for what is right, as well as deserved acclaim for those who’ve fought for the right to pleasure yourself into a tube sock.

And if you wish to kick your masturbation techniques up a notch, Good Vibes offers an excellent guide to advanced male masturbation techniques.