Masturbation. Most of us do it, and yet most of us are afraid to admit it.
The first time I touched myself, I was probably in seventh or eighth grade. I found Cosmopolitan magazines under my parent’s bed, and I picked them up not knowing exactly what to expect. My friends had gotten ahold of them over the years, but I knew that my parents didn’t want me to read the “dirty” magazines. Phrases like “Tease Him and Please Him” and “Too Naughty to Say Here!” graced the brightly colored cover, and my innocent 12-year-old mind was eager to be expanded. I sneakily brought the magazines up to my bedroom, and educated myself on the right color of lip gloss for my skin tone, how to dress for my “apple sized” body, and, gasp, sex!
My youthful eyes widened as I read the erotica excerpt found in the back of every issue. I reached under the covers and tried imitate some of the stuff I was reading until I felt a strong sensation of pleasurable release. I got up, washed my hands, turned off my reading lamp, and went to sleep. Looking back now, I don’t think I had any idea what I had done, and I didn’t reacquaint myself with my body until years later when I really began to understand the idea and importance of self-pleasure.
Society expects women to be innocent and unaware of their sexuality, yet glorifies and normalizes male sexuality. It is commonplace that boys start touching themselves at a young age, and that their release is seen as natural. As a female, you are often told that “we never touch ourselves” and feel pressure to remain pure and virginal in the eyes of society. For example, during a coed get together in high school, we played a game where you raised your hand if you had or hadn’t done something (it was basically an excuse for people to brag about how sexually experienced they were). Someone in the circle asked if anybody had ever masturbated before. I had, and I’m sure most of my other female friends had, too, but I nervously looked around the room and kept my hand down. I felt inexplicable shame for doing something completely normal that my male friends could discuss as easily as they could soliloquize the weather. And that sucks. This “boys will be boys” mentality feeds into a negative stigma surrounding women’s relationships with their bodies and their sexuality.
This trend was especially apparent growing up as one of the only females in a big group of male friends. Masturbation was a normal topic of conversation, and the guys talked about weird ways they would “jack off,” how many times a day they did it, etc. Thinking about it now, I feel like if I ever brought up my own self pleasure, my comments would’ve been received with “eww” and “TMI” rather than laughs and pats on the back. This double standard continues to persist, and it is why many women still feel like they have to whisper the word “masturbation” rather than proclaim proudly that, yes, they too like to touch themselves.
I finally overcame the stigma in my own life, and I now have a very healthy relationship with my body and my sexuality. I touch myself to relieve stress after a long day just like any of my male friends. I learn about my likes and dislikes so I can help my future partner understand what brings me pleasure. Hell, I masturbate because it’s fun and I’m a human and I like it. I’m gonna take a wild guess and say I’m not the only one.
To be honest, I don’t really know exactly how to change the stigma in a significant way. It stems from a society that inherently favors the male sexuality and prefers to think of women as delicate flowers.
You can make a difference in the lives of those closest to you, though. Just focus on the little things, like making sure your daughter knows that touching herself is a totally normal part of life. Take away any possibility for shame early on. Have healthy conversations about your (self) love life with your friends. My roommate and I have absolutely zero boundaries, and he often loves to point out that he heard me “squeaking the bed frame last night.” When your male friends bring up that weird sock trick they just found out about, shock them with one of your own tips or discoveries. Making masturbation a normal part of the conversation at all goes a long way. It’s completely normal to masturbate, and I urge you to love yourself freely and wholeheartedly in all ways, sexual and otherwise.