Let’s talk about masturbation. It’s happening all around you, and yet, it’s the one word you would do anything not to say in front of your parents, a taboo in all sorts of polite societies. Even the pronunciation of the word sounds awkward–masturbation–and gross, like a mix between mastering a level of a video game and hooking a worm on a fishing pole as bait. It’s definitely not something you usually bring up in conversation, even with your friends. As comfortable as conversations about “amazing,” “wild,” “hot” sex have become, I’ve yet to have anyone come up to me and tell me about their amazing, wild, hot masturbation sessions. In fact, I never really heard anything about masturbation–except that it was a sin–until I moved to college.
Admittedly, I was raised in a fairly conservative environment, but I didn’t know that masturbation was a normal thing girls did until I started living in a dorm. Sure I’d heard plenty of references to guys “jacking off” and “pulling the chain” through various mediums of pop culture, but that had always been specifically gendered to men and always made masturbation seem like a hyper-sexualized, pubescent act to be executed in the upstairs bathroom while Mom was in the kitchen making dinner.
I didn’t even think to masturbate myself until a guy I was involved with encouraged me to try it.
Of course, like all sexual things, the first few times were awkward. It was hard for me to stop thinking in terms of biology textbook diagrams and start thinking in terms of my own body, and once I did that, I found I still had to think about other things too. I had to think of myself as a sexual being. I had to get comfortable with being able to turn myself on–which was daunting because before then my heteronormative upbringing had ensured that that was something only guys could do to me. And it was weird because whenever I would start to do it I would worry that someone would walk it, which seemed like the worst because with sex at least there was someone else there with you to share the embarrassment, but with masturbation the spotlight was solely on you–with your hand down your pants.
But then I started locking my door, and when I finally did get it right it was like falling in love for the first time. Seriously. Not only was it the first time I experienced a full orgasm, but it was also the moment when I realized I could give myself that pleasure. As simply as that, I developed an appreciation for the sexual parts of myself. My vagina, which had in the past been kept in mystery and regarded as a source of monthly annoyance, became an accepted part of my body. My clit became my direct route not just to orgasming but to relaxing (and on lazy days, the elevated heart-rate it solicited also became my excuse for exercise).
I started masturbating every day not because I was always rowdy and ready to go but because it seemed like a nice thing to do for myself–to connect with my physicality and focus on something other than my to-do list for a little while. It was always pleasant, and I always orgasmed, and I started lamenting that no one every acknowledged how healthy and wonderful female masturbation could be. Hell, no one even talked about female masturbation!
So obviously I started talking about female masturbation–which generally surprised people, delighting some and making others extremely uncomfortable.
My sister, for instance, looked liked I’d thrown a drink in her face when I first said the “M-word” to her (I would have used a colloquialism, but there aren’t many for female masturbation because it really is that marginalized). “I’ve never done that,” she informed me, and when I asked her why not, she excused herself by saying, “Well now that I have a boyfriend I don’t need to.”
This confused me. Perhaps I’ve been too theoretical in my conceptualization of masturbation, but I’ve never viewed it as a placeholder for something else. “So?” I asked her. “Sex with yourself is completely different from sex with another person.” This I wholeheartedly believe–in men’s case as much as in women’s–and, since I’m on the subject, I will say now that as much as the silence about female masturbation saddens me, I don’t think the talk surrounding male masturbation has been entirely fair either. It’s always portrayed as this hyper-sexualized act, as the quick fix for the horny guy who can’t get lucky, and in that way men have been cheated too, because they’ve been conditioned to view masturbation as a means to an end instead of as an experience in itself.
It all just boggles my mind because every month Cosmopolitan is able to come up with “647 Ways to Blow His Mind,” but no one ever talks about how you can blow your own mind. Admittedly, I don’t need to read a magazine article to figure out what I like when masturbating, and I do know that some people are more private about their sexuality, but I still think masturbation should be acknowledged as a healthy, fun thing. People shouldn’t be afraid of their bodies, or their sexuality, or their ability to turn themselves on, and they shouldn’t be afraid to admit that.