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(sex)uality: next stop, masturbation station

We are growing up in a world leaving us sexually fucked. The media, pornography and the fashion industry all tell us that we need to be sex toys. They tell us we want to be having lots of casual sex with lots of men. They tell us this will make us feel empowered. However, we are also told that if we dress or behave promiscuously, we are sluts, pariahs and we should be shunned. Does anyone else feel dizzy?

What is absent in this to-ing and fro-ing is the information about how to have great sex FOR YOU!  This article is just for you. Literally!

I want to talk about masturbation.

Historically, masturbation has been labelled as dirty and sinful. Heck, people were told they would go blind if they did it. This stigma has dissipated almost entirely for men. Pornography is a multi-million dollar business, men are seen masturbating on TV shows (honourable mention to Dylan McDermott in American Horror Story), male masturbation is an accepted part of life. What isn’t discussed is female masturbation. Why?

For us, it is still seen as taboo. Those who do it rarely talk about it, while those who don’t often don’t even know they could, or think that it would be dirty. Whatever it is holding us back; it is bad news for our sexual identity. It is this continued silence that makes us think that maybe there is something wrong with female sexuality. Because the only other messages we are getting are conflicting, confusing and downright judgemental.

Hysteria has, until early last century, been one of the most diagnosed conditions in women. Symptoms? Anxiety, irritability, erotic fantasies and vaginal lubrication, to name a few. Treatment? Doctors massaged their patient’s genitalia until they reached orgasm. From what I can gather hysteria comes from being horny (Ryan & Jetha, 2010). So, until recently, female sexuality was a pathology. It was an illness to be treated.

What does this mean for us today? We’re faking orgasms rather than having them. A proportion of women report never having had an orgasm while an even larger number of women who have engaged in sexual intercourse with a male partner report never having had an orgasm from penetrative sex.  We are being told through the media that to be empowered means to be sexual, but we aren’t empowered sexually.

So how do we empower ourselves sexually? Ask for and get what we want. But how do we know what we want? Oh, you guessed it. We explore what our bodies respond to, we explore the erotic fantasies that turn us on, and we find out more about what we want from our sexual experiences when we decide to have them. We masturbate. This isn’t just about sex though. Regardless of whether you are in a sexual relationship, waiting for the one, waiting for marriage or waiting for the next sexual encounter, this is about owning who you are sexually. That involves no one but you.

Sexual identity isn’t about washing cars in bikinis (thank you, Jessica Simpson), or abstaining because someone told you that you are a bad person if you don’t. It is about making informed decisions for you and owning them. In my personal experience, whenever I talk to a woman who reports never having had an orgasm, I always ask her whether she masturbates. After the initial shock of being asked a question they never would have expected, the answer is always ‘no’. It sounds like a cliché, but it is true, how can anyone know how to give you pleasure if you don’t know yourself?

What I see in movies and TV shows is 30 seconds of penis-into-vagina sex leading to screaming orgasms. Think Revolutionary Road or Mr And Mrs Smith. No foreplay, no clitoral stimulation, just penetration. Images of women being pleasured, such as the oral sex in Blue Valentine, are controversial at best and censored at worst. As a result of this misrepresentation of sex, it can be difficult to figure out that that is not how things work. If you have never masturbated, it might be news to discover that the orgasmic success rate for those kinds of interactions is low. If your partner has also only been exposed to those images, well, it’s the blind leading the blind.

Masturbation is good for women. It relieves stress. Masturbation can enhance your self-esteem. The endorphins released make you feel great. It’s a great cardiovascular workout and it helps you fall asleep. It can even relieve menstrual cramps. But, most importantly, it’s fun. And it’s just for you. Feeling sexual is part of being a woman, so don’t feel guilty, own it!

This week’s topic might have made a few people uncomfortable. Good! You are the people I want to be talking to. You are the people who are going to get the most from this conversation. You are the people who have some homework to do!

For anyone not comfortable commenting publicly, but who wants to share their thoughts with Sara, you can get in touch with her at saraforwomen@gmail.com.

(Image credit: 1.)

2 thoughts on “(sex)uality: next stop, masturbation station

  1. You point out an anecdotal relationship between how at ease a woman is with masturbation and her ability to orgasm in a sexual encounter/relationship. I wonder what the correlation is between a womans ability to hit on a guy and her level of comfort at the concept of masturbation or talking about it?
    The notion of women hitting on guys is clearly something cultural it seems in my own experience. I’m an average to good looking guy -I think I can say without false modesty- and I’ve only once in my life been hit on by an Australian girl – first generation with Irish parents. When in South America however, I was frequently approached and if not asked directly, the body language given off put me at ease that if I asked her out, I would not be rejected. Admittedly, on occasion, when this happened it became apparent that it was my relative wealth which they were attracted to but not always and in those cases that moved on to sexual encounters, I also observed that they achieved orgasm more readily and showed considerably less inhibition in engaging me in the tasks that allowed them to achieve it. It wasn’t infrequent to hear a group of women giggle and perhaps make a remark as an attractive man walked by. On the whole, I got the distinct impression that South American women seem less inhibited in expressing sexual attraction towards men.
    Australian women in my experience relatively always play much harder to get and perhaps this is associated with a higher level of sexual inhibition? Maybe I just don’t fulfill some criteria -perhaps socially- with as many? In earlier years my respectful advances made at a club for example even to women who had given me an encouraging glance, were often met with an unnecessarily discouraging attitude which again seemed indicative of an insecurity that, at the time only served to make me insecure as I invariably internalized it, believing that their must have been something wrong with me and quickly lost interest in trying.
    What are your thoughts on this?
    Cheers!

  2. Hi Troy,

    Sorry for my incredibly late reply. I have been trying to find a particular reference related to what you discussed and I have not found it. It was from the book ‘Sex at Dawn’ and discusses a group of people, from what I remember, a hunter gatherer society. The finding was that the women in the group orgasmed EVERY TIME they had sex. This was due in large part to the the perception of female sexuality within this society.

    I think your observations from your experiences of another culture are intelligent and accurate. A culture that openly embraces women having and enjoying great sex is going to be a culture in which women feel comfortable asking for what they want and helping themselves to what they need. At one point, you mention that the women “showed considerably less inhibition in engaging me in the tasks that allowed them to achieve [orgasm]“. It seems to me that the culture around female sexuality in Australia involves far more taboo and far less open communication. Asking someone to engage in activity that allows you to achieve orgasm is either too scary and foreign an idea to communicate, or women may not even be aware of what that activity could be.

    Regarding the relationship between asking a man out and female’s comfort with discussing or engaging in masturbation, whilst I have not encountered any research that has investigated this, I think your idea is probably bang on. Intuitively, it seems like a relationship that would feed off the other. Inability or fear to engage with our own sexuality seems to fit perfectly within the greater context of women in our culture getting relegated to two places, the slut box and the goddess pedestal. Neither of whom asks the guy out on a date…

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