Friday, November 21, 2008

When We Talk About Sex We Always Leave Out Masturbation

I told Destruction about the birds and the bees quite some time ago.  Not being the kind of parent to withhold information from my child, we answer all questions he has in relation to sex as openly and honestly as we can.

When he came to us in concern because the fish in his testicles were dying we managed to withheld our laughter, and tell him that he didn't need to feed the sperm that he wasn't even yet capable of producing. 

When he announced at the dinner table that he was planning on remaining celibate for life because a friend told him that an orgasm is like an explosion, we smiled and reassured him that no orgasms don't hurt, and that he would love them when he had them.

Recently what I have been thinking a lot about is masturbation.... Oh I know dirty girl, dirty girl.  You see I realized that we talked to our child about sex and neglected to discuss masturbation.  Self pleasure is something that we joke about culturally, but seldom have real conversations about. (Note to self: talk to kid about masturbation)

Even in our conversations about masturbation are decidedly genderized.  We have various colloquial phrases for when men choose to pleasure themselves and very few for women.  It is assumed at some point a man will choke the monkey, jerk off etc., whereas women are expected never to touch ourselves.

The vagina has been constructed as the dirtiest body part belonging to a human being.  For a woman to touch herself intimately is a secretive act of deviation. We are further not constructed as sexual beings within our own right.  A womans sexuality is framed as servicing a mans needs rather than actively seeking pleasure for the sake of pleasure.

Masturbation should not be some kind of dirty shameful act.  It hurts no one and provides us with an excellent understanding of our bodies.  For women who are taught to repress our sexuality, masturbation can be imperative in learning about what truly turns us on.  How can you tell someone how to pleasure you, if you don't know what you find pleasing?

I think it is time that we bring masturbation back into our conversations about sex.  It is time that we move beyond it as a source of cheap jocular humour and focus on the good it can create.  Most of us are sexual beings and masturbation is a legitimate expression of that.  Why deny yourself pleasure based in the sexist idea that your body is dirty or foul, or that you are not meant to enjoy sex?

Getting yourself off can be the greatest gift you give yourself and its free.  So go ahead dim the lights, sip a glass of wine and get down with your bad self.  The only person you are hurting by denial is yourself.

I know that people get shy talking about this so don't clam up in the comment section.  Share what you have learned about yourself through masturbation...reply anonymously if you are to embarrassed but keep the conversation going.


Anonymous said...

I masturbated for the first time when I was 16. It just had never occurred to me before. When I was hooking up with guys it never felt super-amazing so I decided to actually figure out how to please myself. Novel idea, I know.

It's been several years since then and currently I enjoy masturbation about once a week (I really do need to make more time for it). What's odd though, is that even now as an agnostic and feminist I still experience "Catholic guilt" immediately after every orgasm. For about a minute after I finish masturbating I have to shake off this guilty/dirty feeling that I know I shouldn't have and don't deserve. I suppose that just goes to show how deeply ingrained our sense of sexual shame is for women.

What I'm trying to do now, besides masturbate ;), is make it into something that can be mentioned casually and joked about among women the same way it can be among groups of men. I make it a point to talk about jilling off or getting new batteries for my vibrator or whatever just so it can become a normal part of conversation instead of something private and embarrassing.


Jadelyn said...

You're absolutely right about female masturbation being so alien to our culture. Here's my clue-by-four on the subject, from some years ago:

I remember when, sometime around 2002, I outright admitted amongst a bunch of male friends who were discussing masturbation that yeah, I did it too. The looks on their faces! Shock, amazement, lust - it immediately branded me a Bad Girl, and was followed by the guys, whom I had always thought of as *just* friends since I had been "one of the guys" for years, bugging me incessantly for days about how I did it, when I did it, what did I think about while I did it, why was I doing it when I had a boyfriend (!), could they get pictures or watch(!?!), etc. It was actually quite eye-opening; I hadn't realized that simply saying "Oh, masturbation? Yeah, me too." was such a horrible thing and would immediately change my status from "one of the guys" to "OMG BOOBS! AND ALSO SHE'S A SLUT!" I mean, seriously, these guys who had never gotten sexual at me before were suddenly asking me for pictures of me masturbating. It was a major WTF moment. The other startling part was their attitude of, "You've got a boyfriend, what do you need to masturbate for?" Well, duh, is my boyfriend there every night when I wanna soothe myself to sleep? I didn't think so. You think one orgasm a week is sufficient? But it was a big deal, because I was supposed to just be satisfied with what my boyfriend could do for me, without ever taking the initiative on my own time like that.

rebecca said...

I review children's and young adult books, and I've noticed more masturbation references over the years. Not tons, but the number is certainly growing! Also, the number of girl characters who masturbate in books is growing. It's such a good thing.

Tracey said...

I wish that girls weren't taught that masturbation is for boys and not for them. Looking back, it bothers me a little that my first orgasms were "given" to me (I hate that terminology, by the way) by someone other than myself... especially since that someone isn't someone I think very fondly of now.

We always societally frame girls as more vulnerable to sexual advances than boys are, but I think if I had been encouraged to discover and get to know my body, sex wouldn't have seemed as strange and foreign to me as it did for so long. Masturbation would have given me more of a sense of confidence and bodily autonomy. And not to go out and have more sex or to be "promiscuous" as I'm sure many conservatives worry about, but to not feel like I had to submit to a man in order to feel sexual pleasure.

White Trash Academic said...

I discovered masturbation relatively early, although I did not have an actual orgasm until much later. I echo the comments in that I did view what I was doing as bad, even though I knew boys masturbated pretty regularly.

I hate the fact that I have a couple of girl friends who have never had an orgasm(!). That is one reason I make it a point to discuss masturbation with my girls and we even compare the quality/utility of certain vibrators :)

space said...

I discovered masturbation very young, and possibly in a couple separate contexts. I didn't understand social attitudes about it until I got older. In 8th grade, it was only mentioned on the health class video about male puberty, but when they showed that lots of people did it, the illustration they used included cartoon men AND cartoon women, so that left a good impression of it being healthy and normal. When I was a little older, I heard a high school girl say "I wish I were a guy so I could jerk off," but I didn't feel it appropriate to tell her that girls can jerk off too right then and there.

One thing I must say about masturbation is that it reinforces my being more than a little cynical about sex. If I can give myself orgasms with a few minutes and a bit of energy, what's the big whoop about sex? I bet a boy can't give me an orgasm. I've long been anxious about sex, but not because sex is shameful so much as because it's dangerous: you can get emotionally hurt, you can get sick, you can get pregnant and have to make a big decision about what to do with any embryo that might get conceived. And also because I figured it would be disappointing.

I fool around now, but I cannot get off thus far without masturbation - I sometimes have my partner finish it for me, but I still have to use my hands to get anywhere near climax. There is something that I really enjoy physically that I can't get on my own though: the sensation of someone breathing on my neck. That's almost better than orgasm. Or just as good.

Anonymous said...

I was not raised in a religious household, nor do I remember ever being told masturbation for girls was 'bad', but I do remember thinking it was bad. As a teenager, I would feel guilty about it, and try to make myself pledges to not do it again. I had the same sort of experience as Jadelyn when I told my boyfriends/guy friends the fact that I masturbated. I recently found out that my sister (21 years old and pregnant with her 2nd kid) has never had an orgasm. My parents were absolutely great in raising us, but I hope I can do a better job at making sure my kids (and I'll probably have to have a talk with my niece someday) don't have these sorts of hang-ups.

Sloth Womyn said...

my 5 year old daughter came to me and wanted to know about "down there." So I gave her a mirror and told her to take a look. She was amazed. She kept laughing and saying, "Oh my God!" I remember I never even looked at my vulva until I was in my twenties, and even then I squinted.

She pointed to her clitoris and asked, "what's that?"
I told her that that was her clitoris and that it was a very sensitive and sacred part of our bodies that give us pleasure when we touch it. I made sure to tell her that she was the only person that could touch it and no one else was allowed down there. And that was it. Our first conversation about masturbation. She ran off to play after that. A few days later, she asked me if she could have the mirror again because she wanted to look at herself in private. So I gave her the mirror and off she went. All in all, I think the "talk" went rather well. said...

I was in the "masturbation is diiiiiirty" club until just a few short years ago. It's pretty sad the way we grow up as adults...

We literally stubmled upon The Kid exploring herself a couple of weeks ago and I had to have the masturbation talk w/ her. It was surprisingly easy! I started off by telling her I noticed she was checking her labia, and she told me she was making sure it was OK. I also asked if it ever felt good, and after a slight pause, she admitted sometimes it did.

I reassured her that everyone touches themselves (mind you this is the short comments version). Something that can only be described as relief washed over her face. We came to an agreement about privacy, where I assured her she would have appropriate time and space as long as she kept her door shut and remembered that it was a private thing (and I gave her a reminder about how other people touching her isn't OK whatsoever until she is much much older and consenting), and we promised to always knock before entering a closed space.

That is the short version, but I so incredibly believe that it is important to teach kids that they are normal for masturbating. That they are not weird or dirty and that it can be a positive thing.

Thanks Renee! said...

Might I recommend the books It's Perfectly Normal and It's So Amazing and It's Not the Stork by Robie Harris for great age appropriate sex ed material for kids. The illustrations are great, and the material is factual, non judgmental, and covers a broad range of topics from bodies, good/bad touches, reproduction, sex, families (all kinds), and other related topics.

Octogalore said...

I'm in the group of having discovered it early. Around 10. Although, kids seem to start around 2 or 3 and then drop it for a few years -- I've seen my daughter do it (she's 4) for the past couple of years on and off. We've just started telling her about it being private.

Luckily, I never thought about it as being bad, just something not done in public. I was never willing to do it in front of a partner, though, until recently with my husband. Too self-conscious! (Because I'm a former stripper, of course I've simulated doing it in the past, but never for real).

I'm generalizing, but I think women tend to be more turned on to thinking of various things while masturbating, rather than looking at pictures -- of course, YMMV. For me, it's helped me realize what turns me on -- which thoughts will trigger orgasm and which won't.

Danny said...

When I was a little older, I heard a high school girl say "I wish I were a guy so I could jerk off,"...

I've never really liked how people acted that way about guys masturbating. Yeah it happens a lot but with the way people casually talk about it you'd think that there was some hard wiring that says we are suppsed to do it (the opposite of the "ewwww. girls aren't supposed to do it" mentality).

Question. I personally have two ways of masturbation. The quick payoff or the long time investment depending on my mood and how much privacy I have. Is this also the case for women?

(Thousand pardons if this is a women only conversation.)

Renee said...

I would say for me it depends on my mood. Sometimes I plain and simple want to get off and do what I need to do...I cannot speak for anyone else but I would definitely say that it is mood based.

Yeah it happens a lot but with the way people casually talk about it you'd think that there was some hard wiring that says we are supposed to do it

The point is unless you are an asexual person masturbation is something everyone should be engaging in. It increases your comfort level with your body, and reduces stress.

Sarah J said...

I got shit from some friends (even so-called feminist friends) for saying that if I ever had a daughter I'd buy her a vibrator young and let her figure out how to get herself off before she ever started messing around with boys (or girls).

I do talk about it and joke about it at this point, not with everyone, but certainly with friends male and female.

I discovered it late--I remember thinking about it when I was in high school, but never actually doing it. I didn't buy myself a vibrator until after college, but now I couldn't live (or sleep) without it.

Icca said...

Hey Renee! I often read and never comment but I thought I would jump in here-

I identify as asexual but masturbate and rather enjoy it. It's a nice way to enjoy the physical benefits of orgasm without having to be around someone you're not sexually attracted to. I will say I'm not sure that the pleasure I derive from masturbation is the same as that of a sexual person and I suspect the reasons I masturbate are different (usually it's when can't sleep so want to relax) but it is enjoyable and has beneficial effects. I'm definitely not trying to speak for all or even most asexuals -- we're all different, and there are many different "types" of us, but a number of asexuals definitely enjoy (at least some of) the physical aspects of sex/orgasm without experiencing attraction or desire.

I'm actually pretty sure that for me, being able to masturbate is a huge boon to my mental health and also allows me to be in a relationship with a sexual person and enjoy some sexual activity, since I know my body. It was really a relief to learn that I could enjoy orgasm, as well as learn what I liked well enough so that when I'm with my partner sexually, it's not such a big turn-off having to contemplate sex that we can't make up for it with things that I know I like. So it has huge benefits sexually/romantically for me as well (and again, not all asexuals will even want to be in romantic relationships let alone sexual ones but I'm ambivalent to sex in general and very much romantically inclined).

Please pardon the excessive punctuation; I always feel the need to add huge disclaimers when talking about anything to do with asexuality. Also, apologies if I accidentally commented like 48 times; I clearly have no idea how to give my ID to blogger.

MeeNeeCat said...

I remember once, I posted a comment on Scarleteen about masturbation, and I talked about sex toys for women, and apparently I had done something horrible by mentioning this because I was scolded by the administrators and told that if I ever did that again I would be banned. They said that talking about dildos and vibrators was too obscene. I was so shocked and quite frankly offended that I left the site and never commented or participated there again. They claim to be a sex education site, yet apparently talking about female masturbation is "too dirty"...It's beyond me while female masturbation is looked at as so taboo...even to people who purport to be all about honest and open sex education.

Anonymous said...

The point is unless you are an asexual person masturbation is something everyone should be engaging in. It increases your comfort level with your body, and reduces stress.

Hmm, Renee, I'm not quite comfortable with that "should" in there. People have lots of chapters in their lives, with physical and mental and emotional variations; there are times when a person (even someone who isn't asexual) just might not feel like masturbating. I certainly agree that masturbation is something that everyone *should* BE FREE to engage in, but I don't think masturbation itself is a "should." That sounds a little judgy.

I love your blog, read it every day and LEARN TONS. Thank you for it.


Danny said...

The point is unless you are an asexual person masturbation is something everyone should be engaging in. It increases your comfort level with your body, and reduces stress.
There is a big difference between "free to do it" and "if you don't do it then something is wrong with you".

hexy said...

I'll second that. I'm a very sexual person with an exceptionally high libido, and multi-orgasmic with little prompting. Yet I don't masturbate. It's just not an exciting concept for me. Sex and orgasms are things that happen with other people around, and I'm fine with that.

space said...

To MeeNeeCat:

Perhaps the problem was not that you were talking about female masturbation per se, but you were more specifically talking about masturbation aids that are only supposed to be available to adults, and they saw that, perhaps, as akin to advertising pornography. After all, you generally find sex toys and pornography in the same places.

irresponsibility said...

I had the misfortune to be brought up in a very religious, conservative environment where masturbating was just as evil as sex before marriage. WTF. I did it anyway, but felt terribly guilty. Now I realise what a crock that is, do it regularly, and feel wonderful about it.

I do go through phases of not being bothered - sometimes because I'm seeing someone and they're taking up my sexual energy, sometimes just because I don't have any energy to spare. But usually I enjoy it regularly. If and when I have a daughter I will definitely encourage her to know and to take pleasure in her body.

Anonymous said...

I've been masturbating since before I knew what the word meant. :P My parents tried to "teach me better", but failed miserably.

Um, I learned that my clitoris and nipples are lots of fun. And also that I have zero interest in casual sex. I have years more experience with my body than random guy #24, so it seems kind of unlikely that having him around would be all that conducive to my orgasm. (No offense to y'all out there who do enjoy it; it's just not my thing is all.) Also also, I just recently bought my first vibrator (at 19). It's of the phallic variety, and I was surprised when it didn't ramp up my (solo) sex life right away. I guess there's still a little part of me that assumes phallic object + vagina = better orgasm, even though I already know I'm not much of a G-spot girl.

Anonymous said...

I've never felt shame in masturbating. Part of that might be that when I was an innocent 13-year old, I was reading a sex ed book that talked all about the different "parts." It said that rubbing those parts would make you feel "good all over" for both guys and girls. So when I started masturbating (without knowing what I was doing, really) it didn't bother me at all.

Now while there wasn't shame there was some embarrassment, and fear that my parents would find out (not because they'd disapprove but just because we'd have to talk about it, and them talking about sex with me always made me uncomfortable). But that's more of a hang-up on keeping my emotions private and under control than anything else.

Anonymous said...

The point is unless you are an asexual person masturbation is something everyone should be engaging in. It increases your comfort level with your body, and reduces stress.

I know a number of people have already pulled up this quote and commented on it but I thought I'd throw my two cents in: I am a sexual person in that I do find people attractive and I do get turned on but I don't often masturbate. I know that this is because I'm fucked up and that the hang ups from the thing that fucked me up are... well, sometimes they feel all encompassing and eternal and very, very depressing. For me I don't feel guilt about masturbating, my Mother was quite open about the fact that she masturbated and that it was normal and I've had numerous conversations with friends (and even my sister) about masturbation, but what I do feel is... more broken, more lonely, because when I have, in the past, had sex it's always been rather traumatic and masturbation is just a reminder of something my head won't let me do without funky flashbacks. Bloody head. :S Being told, or rather reading, that to be a sexual being means that I should be doing something... well, I've never really liked being told I should be doing anything even when it's about something I'm not all messed up about.

Thing is, intellectually, I have no problem with the concept. Just like I have no problem with other people being sexual in whatever form that takes so long as everyone involved is adult and consenting. I just don't appear to be able to be that myself, I can think about it (*smile*), but I can't seem to translate thinking into doing. I'm rather envious of people who can.

Anonymous said...

Something else about female masturbation, it is expected to be the equivalent a male masturbation: getting off by simulating sex. The thing is, most women don't masturbate this way, they just stimulate their clit or play with the vulva. Some, like me, don't even need to touch themselves, they just rub their legs together. I guess that's too confusing for guys or makes it too obvious that a woman's sexuality is hers.

I've been doing it since I can remember. Luckily, my parents only told me to do it in private, they never said it was just wrong. I used to do it a lot when I was single, but my current boyfriend is so open sexually with me, I can do it around him with him helping, so I don't feel the need to do it much alone. Only when I'm horny and he's not around. : P

meeneecat said...

Space, what is so pornographic about a woman using a dildo to masturbate? Especially since it's a FACT that many women use them. I don't see how talking honestly about the fact that women masturbate, and the fact that there are many ways in which women masturbate is in any way "pornographic". Why even bother talking about women and masturbation, if it's still so taboo to talk about HOW women masturbate. You think there aren't any girls out there who wonder about HOW other women masturbate? Everyone knows that young boys are practically expected to go and find their daddy's "magazine collection" and use them to masturbate, and it's pretty easy for a boy to figure out what to do, based on the messages that society sends him...So what's wrong with telling girls about the various ways that women masturbate (i.e. some women like clitoral stimulation, some women like vaginal, some women use dildos, fingers, vibrators, rubbing, etc.)? Excuse my language but what the $#%@ is wrong with that? Answer should be: there's nothing wrong with talking about any of it! But, that fact that it's still considered "obscene" "pornographic" or "taboo" is totally sexist to me.

So again, my question, Space, what do you find so "obscene" about talking about a woman using a dildo or vibrator to masturbate? What's with all the "hush hush can't talk about it 'cause it's too obscene" attitude? I know many girls that used vibrators before they were 18...So let's be honest, most boys start masturbating before they are 18, what's wrong with talking about the fact that it's okay for girls to do the same?! Masturbation is a perfectly legitimate, healthy alternative to partnered sex, especially for, shouldn't we be talking honestly about this and encouraging women/girls who want to masturbate, instead of saying "No you girls can't talk about it, it's too obscene!" Wouldn't it be wiser if supposed sex educators got a clue and realized that teenagers are sexual beings too, and admitted that it's normal for women to masturbate? And by the way, they are not "sex aids" when you use them to masturbate....there's a big difference between masturbation and sex.

Also, they use dildos to show how to put on a condom in many sex ed classes in schools, I'm a teacher, I've seen this. Most high-schoolers are not yet 18, but no one is saying you can't show these kids the dildo or the condom because they "are too young". The idea that dildos, frankly, a hunk of plastic shaped like a zucchini, are pornographic is just ridiculous!...No, it's what they represent that must be "pornographic" then...the idea that women use them to masturbate! To me that's sexist, plain and simple!

Unless by some strange change you are from that particular website and are only trying to defend their ridiculous assertion that women using dildos to masturbate is somehow "obscene" which case I wouldn't expect you to agree with me.

Anonymous said...

You know what I find amusing? That while a lot of religious institutions shame people for masturbating, those same instutions would also shame people for having premarital sex. Abstinence-only would be a LOT easier if people were allowed to jerk off/jill off as they pleased.

I'd also like to get rid of this idea that, regardless of whether you're a man or a woman, you're less of a person if you masturbate instead of having sex. I myself prefer being a virgin and work'n it with my hand; there's no risk of me getting pregnant, I know for sure I'll orgasm, and there's no worrying afterword about the emotional complexities of a potential relationship. So, while I respect people who have casual sex, I'd like to be respected for my choice to masturbate. I'm no less of a sexual being for that.

Rj said...

meeneecat, you sure attacked space inappropriately. I believe what was said was referring to the site you were on, not her specific opinion about it. Sheesh! If you feel that strongly, I would think the solution wold be to tell the administrator of that site. We are probably all in agreement with the issue otherwise.

blue milk said...

I think masturbation is fabulous. I don't think it is possible to overstate the advantages of masturbation. Go masturbation. hahaha. It is the best stress relief possible after a difficult day of work and parenting, particularly as parents don't always get to retire to bed at the same time of the evening together. And I think masturbation is integral to animal behaviour, it is entirely natural. I hope my children grow up to have happy, safe sex lives and I see masturbation as being the beginning of that and a continuing and fundamental aspect to their sex lives.

meeneecat said...

Re: "I would think the solution wold be to tell the administrator of that site."

Ummm, that's exactly what I did after they told me that female masturbation/women who use dildos is "obscene", I sent them an email, and I was again told it was "obscene" and inappropriate to talk about. So then this commenter said that it was probably because women masturbating w/ dildos is "pornographic"... and I thought that was sexist. I didn't say anything hurtful toward HER, I didn't insult HER, I just expressed my outrage at the IDEA that women who masturbate using dildos are "pornographic" and obscene. So I ask you, where is the "insult" and the "personal attack" in my comment?! Or do you just not like my "tone".

Excuse me for having an opinion. "sheesh"

TobyR said...

I'm all for more masturbation, and I encourage it as often as I can stand to. I come from a family where no one even attempted The Talk, so I had to learn everything from the internet, and my main interest was slash, so that didn't really teach me much of anything. Until I was sixteen and had an orgasm manually, I had no idea that that's what was happening with the massaging showerhead. I really do try to talk about it normally, but it's a struggle for me, between the messages from outside and the messages from home.

Not having known anything, I had previously tried to masturbate with manual penetration, and while it felt good sometimes, it never got me there. I sheepishly confided in a friend, who gave me a funny look, and I ended up saying what I thought at the time, that my wrist got tired too quickly. In retrospect, it was a friend that I never should've had - he also would constantly make remarks about my weight, and was generally an asshole. I think when I managed to masturbate to orgasm manually, via clitoral stimulation (the terminology's still problematic for me because of my gender identity, and I have a hard time figuring out what I'm comfortable with), I felt like I worked right, that there wasn't something strange and wrong with me. It's been a huge boon to my mental health, though how much depends on what I use and/or fantasize about.

At every opportunity, I say that the world would be a better place if more people masturbated. This was all kind of rambling, but thank you for letting me talk about this. :)