why don’t women feel comfortable talking about masturbation?
Masturbation is part of many women’s self-care routine to relieve stress, sexual tension and even ease menstrual pain. But many of us don’t feel comfortable talking about it. What is stopping us from casually speaking about self-pleasure?
‘It’s a very awkward topic, because of the reactions of modern society…I would just keep it to myself.’ Yana* says, ‘I’m not likely to talk about it because it feels private… (I feel) embarrassed by it. I would feel judged – it is something that could be easily made fun of.’
Over 90% of Glamour Magazine’s readers masturbate according to their recent survey, but the stigma continues to affect our conversations, even though self-pleasure is natural and routine for many.
‘With people that I don’t know, it’s the fear that they would judge me that would stop me from sharing.’
Masturbation is not a topic many women feel happy talking about, perhaps due to societal pressures to remain modest. Speaking about sex is not as uncomfortable because it is less ‘intimate’ and private compared to individual pleasure. Sex is more widely accepted than masturbating, perhaps because it satisfies male desires, making conversations easier. When will we finally get to a point where it is easier to speak about female pleasure?
Only 14% of people think female masturbation has lost its stigma in the UK, with the stigma still affecting conversations around the topic. Yana says she ‘would feel vulnerable telling another woman and in particular men’ about masturbating in case they used it against her in the future. Talking about masturbation causes anxiety for women because society sees it as inappropriate- women shouldn’t experience erotic desires, nor should they fulfil them alone. While women are sexualised and seen as objects, their sexuality and pleasures aren’t considered in society- the focus is instead on pleasing males.
Male judgement reinforces society’s view of self-pleasure as unaccepted, stopping women speaking about masturbation. Lillie* mentions that pressure from men affects conversations around masturbation because they view it ‘as really abnormal.’ For men, it is the opposite: ‘If you don’t [masturbate], you’re abnormal.’
Yana says that male masturbation is approved and helps them to ‘bond’ yet for girls, it is ‘slutty.’ Male criticism should not block meaningful and essential conversations, but their opinions influence negative perceptions of masturbation, making it harder to talk openly.
Why are these attitudes still present in 2021? Probably because the traditional view of sex is an act ‘women do for their husbands,’ says Yana. Jasmine* also believes that old attitudes towards women affect views on masturbation today. Male masturbation is more accepted, because of the patriarchy and age-old concept that ‘women would be nothing without men.’ Women prioritised men’s needs and were a pleasure prize for men, with their own desires rarely considered.
‘It stems from the idea that people want to see women as these innocent virgin characters; women don’t need men.’ Patriarchal views of women could be a cause for the disapproval of masturbation in society.
How do we abolish the stigma for good? For starters, masturbation should not be perceived as an act of shame but rather, a symbol of empowerment and exploration. Dr Nan Wise is a sex therapist who considers masturbation to be ‘one of the best forms of self-care.’ She says when women learn to ‘cultivate the pleasures of masturbation, we radically challenge some of the sex-negative notions pervading our culture. Rather than focusing on being a sex object for someone else, masturbation allows us to focus on being intrinsically sexual beings whose bodies are places of pleasure that exist at times just for us. It puts your pleasure first.’
Talking openly about masturbation can be awkward, but it does not have to be. Kaylee* says ‘finding a place where you feel happy expressing your feelings is important. If women around you are comfortable speaking about self-pleasure, the likelihood is, that you will too.’ It begins with movements helping spread awareness; encouraging conversations and feeling happy to talk about masturbation is the next step to abolish the stigma.
The day the stigma is abolished, is the day women feel happy speaking openly about masturbation- free from judgement, pressures, stereotypes, and intimidation.
*Names changed on request
Alice Cullinane is a radio presenter and writer who loves to publish history articles, alongside pieces regarding feminism and topical issues.