Women & Masturbation
This week sees the end of Masturbation May, a month long celebration of wanking. The purpose of which is to raise awareness of an area of sexuality that is still taboo, especially for women. When I was training to become a sex therapist, I wrote an essay on masturbation, only to discover that there was hardly any research on female masturbation. I got the impression that researchers didn’t think it was necessary to explore this topic because women just didn’t do that. So why the taboo? Mainly, I think it’s because historically, female pleasure and sexuality has been dismissed. Men have (also historically) been fearful of female sexuality so the most effective way to combat this is by snubbing it out as much as possible. Despite this attitude being centuries old, we are still experiencing the effect of religious and patriarchal control.
Our ideas of sex and sexuality start as children as we are not encouraged to love and be with our bodies. We use a language which completely eradicates any connection to our vulva, vagina or clitoris, such as “down there”, or “tuppence”, a good old north eastern expression. We are also told as children not to touch ourselves and are given messages like it’s dirty or naughty. Is it any wonder some of us then developed quite a confused idea of our sexual selves when something that feels great and gives a huge amount of pleasure is actually wrong? If we consider our school based sex education, how much of that is concerned with sexual pleasure? I’ve not been to school in almost 30 years but I know from my clients who are in their late teens and early 20’s that sex ed is still hugely inadequate, with emphasis still being on biology and reproduction. Appallingly, the clitoris is often still omitted from biology text books, completely eradicating female pleasure. Interestingly, the full extent of the clitoris, which is huge, was not discovered until 1998.
I’m aware that I’m making big generalisations here as not every woman has a problem with masturbation and feeling comfortable with themselves, but yet masturbation is still not part of our general conversation. In an article I found recently, written by Metro newspaper, it stated “women don’t feel the need to share this information with others” Oh really? It isn’t that we don’t feel the need, it’s that we don’t feel we can? But why should talking about an essentially private activity be openly discussed? Because we need to remove stigma, we need to reclaim our sexual selves and we need to be able to be in control of our own sexual pleasure, if we want to access it. We do this by talking and sharing. The more we adopt the societal view of masturbation and pleasure, and the less we expose this really important aspect of who we are as women, the more potential we have to feel ashamed of who we are.
For decades now, magazines such as Cosmo have given tips on how to masturbate, which is great, of course. However, for those who still can’t achieve an orgasm, or are not sure whether they have had an orgasm or not, and don’t feel they can ask anyone as we don’t have those types of conversations as the norm, a sense of inadequacy can develop. For that reason alone, I rarely direct people to those types of “How to” guides as we are too unique for that. What isn’t taken into consideration is peoples experience and their own history. Telling someone to rub a certain way isn’t going to help with someone’s past sexual abuse which makes the idea of sex in any capacity difficult, or the pervasive sexual message that masturbation is bad or sinful. Nor is it going to help with the past physical abuse what makes relaxing enough to let go, in order for orgasm to be possible. Some women may just need a bit of advice of how to touch and where, but others need more. Either way, women should not be left feeling that they can’t access their own sexuality.