First published on Thursday the 29th of March, 2018, this piece comes in at number 17 in the top 30 most read Villainesse stories of 2018.
I can remember sitting in health class, learning about wet dreams. At the time I probably thought ‘This is gross, TMI’. Now, I appreciate the fact that I was able to learn about sexual development from a young age in a respectful environment.
But there is a gap around female sexual arousal and pleasure. Boys are taught that arousal is normal and healthy; girls are not.
There was never a moment in health class where female masturbation was acknowledged. There was no validation of the fact that female desire develops throughout puberty. While that’s a central focus of sex talks for young men, women don’t have the same experience.
Sex education skips the conversation around female masturbation. That leaves a few untrustworthy sources for young women to turn to – the internet, hushed conversations with similarly ill-equipped friends, or crude jokes from boys at school.
Pop culture isn’t saturated with jokes about female orgasms. The female reproductive system, especially when it comes to pleasure, is overlooked in discussions about anatomy and sex. I don’t remember anyone mentioning the clitoris or orgasms in Health class. And that silence creates a stigma. There’s a taboo around the fact that women enjoy sex, and also around the fact that women masturbate.
The result? Girls don’t really talk about masturbation. Many of us are not sure how to start the conversation.
Part of the issue is the widely propagated myth that women don’t or shouldn’t masturbate. That idea reduces women to objects who can’t seek their own sexual fulfilment. Aside from the many problems with that idea, it’s just not true. Studies find that above the age of 16, the majority of women in every age group have masturbated. For women aged 25-29, the proportion of women who have masturbated is 84.6 per cent. So masturbation is perfectly normal, and yet we are brought up to believe otherwise.
Honestly, I can’t think of any justification for not talking about female masturbation. But even in groups of women who are open about sex and everything that goes with it, there’s still a taboo around masturbation.
There’s an argument that the stigma might be a kind of historical throwback, as female masturbation was originally associated with hysteria and seen either as a cure for ‘hysterical’ women, or even as an underlying cause of mental illness. It’s possible that our society still carries a residual idea that it’s wrong and unusual. Or maybe society is struggling with the idea because men can’t accept that women don’t need them to orgasm.
We need to start talking. And we need to start acknowledging what clitorises are for and how much fun they can be. For young women, masturbation should be seen as a natural part of experimentation and learning about sex. Most importantly, in a sexual landscape that prioritises male orgasms, it could help young women to realise that they too deserve to experience pleasure.
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