Come on, now, don’t be shy…
The 21st century has brought with it a lot of development. People are now openly talking about rape, periods, sex, the consistency of bodily fluids when we’re sick – yet for some reason, things are all hush-hush when it comes (excuse the pun) to female masturbation.
Why is there such a stigma surrounding women pleasuring themselves? I have two theories. The first is that men feel threatened by the thought a toy, or even a woman’s own hand, could replace them in the bedroom. And the second, and more concerning possibility, is that women’s sexuality is still a dirty topic; to paraphrase Ludacris, we’re supposed to be ladies in the street and freaks in the bed – but never, ever disclose the latter.
While on the way to a sex chat recently, I divulged to my friend that I have never masturbated.
I’ll give you a moment to pick your jaw up from off the floor…
To be fair, I’ve never needed to; I’ve always had men at my disposal, ever since I started having a sex life. WAIT – DON’T HATE ME! I’m the one who feels out of place.
It’s totally normal for women to masturbate. Do you know how odd it feels that I don’t? Even when I went on the Sex and the City tour in New York and visited the sex shop where Charlotte bought her Rabbit, all I wanted to do was spend $100 on that vibrator, but I couldn’t bring myself to fork out that much money on something I wouldn’t use. I left empty-handed and depressed.
Over a cocktail at Scout (Aidan and Steve’s bar), my husband asked why I was so down.
“I didn’t buy a vibrator,” I sulked.
He looked puzzled. “Um, did you see the women who were buying them? They need them. You don’t – you’re a babe, and you have me.”
He didn’t get it.
When I got home, I couldn’t shake the uneasy feeling I wasn’t normal, so I decided to do some research.
Even though masturbation, like other sexual acts that end in climax, has been linked to enhanced physical and mental health, it is largely unspoken about – even on the anonymous forum of the internet. Thankfully a few clever scientists haven’t been so shy.
A University of Westminster study found 46 per cent of women reported feelings of guilt and shame associated with masturbation. But why? Well, leader of the study, Tamsin Rowntree, says “the women expressed their awareness of a patriarchal fear of sexual empowerment” and that the participants “shared a reluctance to tell their partners of their self-pleasuring behavior, in fear that he would feel sexually ‘unneeded or emasculated’”.
That’s all well and good (well, not really, but it is understandable), but why don’t we share this personal info with our girlfriends as openly as we share the size of his dick or the sexual positions we manage to get ourselves into?
Sex therapist Giverny Lewis’s expert opinion is that it has to do with the fact that female genitals are often thought of as “dirty and forbidden”.
“From a very young age, [women] are discouraged from touching themselves or even learning the correct names for their genitals,” she notes.
“When we reach puberty, we learn about ‘feminine hygiene products’ – another term that reminds us our vulva and vagina is unclean and needs to be managed in secret.”
And Lewis is right. Even the way vagina-related products are marketed in the public sphere has an air of secrecy.
“Most young women have their first sexual experience with a partner, whereas most young men have their first sexual experience with themselves. Therefore, women learn about sex and pleasure in relation to another person, rather than as something that can be enjoyed on their own.”
Not accepting that it’s okay for women to masturbate is stunting us sexually. Our mental state plays a big role in whether we reach orgasm or not, and believing it’s ‘dirty’ for us to touch ourselves is not healthy or helpful. It’s so shunned that some women don’t engage in it for fear of being found out and judged; if this is you, has it ever occurred to you that not knowing your body and what makes you tick could be the reason you’re not achieving orgasm? Mind. Blown.
From a professional perspective, Giverny backs up this thought, explaining the effect of not masturbating or talking about it is multi-faceted.
“Many women learn about and understand their bodies and genitals in relation to male genitals – as an ‘entry point’ or ‘receiver’ of penetration – and they avoid touching themselves except to ‘manage’ their periods. This does us a huge disservice in terms of understanding our sexual response, enjoying our bodies, and being able to effectively communicate with partners – whatever their gender – about what we want and need during sex.”
So let’s just put it out there right now: masturbation is not a sin. It’s an absolutely normal, integral part of a healthy sex life. Women shouldn’t have to visit sex shops in disguise, for fear of being seen. Wave that vibrator around with pride (or, you know, just enter a sex shop without hiding behind huge glasses and a floppy hat) and be glad you’re an independent woman who can be responsible for her own orgasm.
Comment: What’s off limits in your girly convos?