Ever since Women’s Student Assembly hosted Sex Week at USC, I’ve been thinking quite a bit on the politics of female masturbation. The two events “I ❤ Female Orgasms” and “Best Sex Ever,” which was hosted by sex vlogger Laci Green, made me think especially on female masturbation in popular culture and how it’s conveyed (or more often not) to girls and women. It’s something that we don’t discuss very often, and it has largely been rendered as gross, uncomfortable and taboo. This is huge problem.
For a lot of people, learning about masturbation comes from peers, entertainment, personal exploration and sex education in school. But a lot of sex education is woefully lacking, whether it’s abstinence-only and neglects to teach about birth control, condoms, dental dams and STDS, or it teaches kids that masturbation is bad. Even my Quaker school’s sex education, which was very comprehensive and covered safe sex between men and between women, pretended that female orgasms didn’t exist. The book we read, It’s Perfectly Normal, acknowledged male ejaculation and orgasm from masturbation but only said that girls might feel some “strong sensations” if they stimulated their vulvas.
“Strong sensations.” That was the end of the horizon. This refusal to acknowledge female orgasm discouraged me for a long time. I grew up thinking that there was nothing much else out there. When I finally learned that female orgasms did exist, because I personally couldn’t find any helpful information or depiction in popular culture, I believed that a ridiculously huge percentage of women just couldn’t have orgasms and maybe I was one of the unlucky ones.
Looking back, I feel cheated. And I feel so much compassion for the girls who are currently being or will be cheated. Masturbation is a normal, healthy and fun practice that should be part of anyone’s life if they want it to be – it releases endorphins, reduces stress and can also reduce pain from menstrual cramps (like marijuana does). By why is it that masturbation, something so positive, is treated like such a taboo, especially when it comes to the idea of women getting their rocks off solo-style?
It’s not just insufficient sex ed that’s an issue. All anyone has to do is take a look at our culture. There is silence on the western front not just when it comes to female masturbation, but female orgasms and pleasure in general. In George R.R. Martin’s popular book series A Song of Ice and Fire (better known as Game of Thrones), there are dozens upon dozens of explicit heterosexual sex scenes but he doesn’t mention a woman having an orgasm until the third book. The third book. And remember, these books are all roughly 900 pages long. This, in my opinion, is pretty ludicrous.
Whereas popular culture essentially instructs boys how to masturbate, you have to dig through endless material to find something on female masturbation that isn’t treated with shame, disapproval or voyeuristic eroticism. Whether it’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High, American Pie or Weeds, masturbation is depicted as just a normal fact of male life. It’s not only expected, but encouraged and celebrated. The only example of female masturbation on film that comes to mind is from Black Swan. And that scene wasn’t a normal part of that character’s life, but a special erotic treat for viewers to look in on.
When we take into consideration how we’ve been socially instructed to think about sexuality, women’s value within a patriarchal society and women’s bodies, and how this has negatively affected women’s self-worth and comfort, it’s sadly not a big surprise that female masturbation is just not considered valuable for its own sake within American culture.
We live in a society that sexualizes, fetishizes, and idealizes the female body all at the same time; it’s repulsed by the reality of the female body (the hair, the fat, the menstruation), but obsessed with the female body as an object, as an idea, as a tool for male pleasure. Think about how girls are rewarded for putting effort into their appearances, shaving, dressing up, looking sexy enough and appearing to be sexually available for men. Now think about how women are socially punished (called sluts, whores, dirty, loose) for exercising sexual agency, for taking charge of their own pleasure and looking for sexual encounters instead of just sitting back and waiting for men to decide they’re worthy of male attention, for not shaving off their natural body hair.
We need to acknowledge the interconnectedness of how we’re taught to think about sexuality, body image, socialized gender roles (ie: women as submissive and men as aggressive) and masturbation. We need to start deconstructing the harmful notions we’ve developed around all of these whether by promoting healthy body image or fighting for comprehensive sex education that’s not mechanical and uncomfortable but celebrates healthy sexuality, pleasure, and safety. We need to teach ourselves to value female pleasure.
But while all of these are significant, the first step we can take is simply to talk more about female masturbation. We need to say more often that vaginas are awesome! We need to start dispelling the myth that they’re confusing, dirty or shameful. So let’s start talking. Talking about something makes it a little more normal, and boy do we need to normalize female masturbation. We do not live in a society that encourages universal self-love (truly and deeply, not just physically), but we can start working toward it.
Whether you do it or not, just start discussions about it and if you’ve never tried or have trouble doing it, check out a guide. Look up some others that personally suit you better. The internet is at your fingertips. So is your vulva.
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