Why is “female” masturbation still so taboo?


  (Artwork by Jessie Krish)

I was a very sexual child. I discovered porn at a very early age flicking through the television channels in the hotel on our family holiday. A naked woman appeared on the screen in very soft lighting. Being daytime, hotel porn there was nothing more hard-core than her nakedness. I remember being very aroused by the woman’s breasts. This is my first memory of arousal. I was about 6.

I don’t remember the exact day, but I discovered masturbation accidentally at around the age of seven. I felt like it was dirty and private but also that it was really exciting. I used to fold up pieces of tissue to masturbate with because it seemed dirty to actually touch myself. My mum used to call my vagina my ‘front bum’ and I was confused about why I got this sensation from rubbing it. I used to throw the tissues down the side of my bed afterwards, not knowing what else to do with them.

I remember I gradually started masturbating secretly in public: at the back of my parents’ car on long journeys at night and once in the living room when my family were watching television. I was ashamed as neither of my parents ever talked about masturbating, let alone girls masturbating but with hindsight the public masturbation was probably a cry for attention so that someone could explain what I was doing. To this day, neither of my parents has mentioned masturbation to me.

I began to get more and more experimental and I started humping one of my teddies and masturbating whenever I had the chance. I used to lock myself in the toilet for privacy. There still was not any mention of this word ‘masturbation’ from my parents, from anyone at school or my friends. I started to become worried and wanted to share my experience with someone but how could I? I didn’t even know what it meant and I was worried I would be considered disturbed or disgusting. I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was dirty and that it was something I should not be doing.

Eventually, on a family camping trip when I was around nine, I started talking to a girl I had made friends with about masturbating. Neither of us were using the word as we didn’t know what it was but it was a revelation to meet another child my age who was doing the same thing! At least I shared it with one other person. We masturbated together in her bedroom unselfconsciously and then ran back outside to play with our friends.

I started to gain more confidence on the topic as I got a bit older. By the time I reached Year 6 and had had some mild sex education (I now knew that the phrase ‘front bum’ was both scientifically incorrect and just ridiculous), I brought up the topic of masturbation with some of my friends. It turned out, of course, that most of the girls either kept lips tightly sealed on the topic or others genuinely didn’t know what it was. I did not reveal my own masturbation habits to any of my friends for some time. When I told an intimate friend towards the end of Year 6 she told me she had too. I finally felt this conversation might start to become an open one. One girl in my class, however, found out about my confession. She started to spread round that I was a lesbian and that I had had sex with my brother (children are very logical…) I retreated back in to my shell and denied ever having ‘masturbated’. The friend and I never spoke about it again.

This experience changed the way I could talk about my sexuality. My attempt to bring this topic up to some close friends had failed and I was humiliated. I continued guiltily and silently masturbating at home.

I discovered porn properly when I got my own computer in Year 9. I think a boy had told me some of the porn sites he had seen and so I decided to check them out myself. I loved it and so began another stage in my life of furious masturbation.

Even by the age of fourteen when lots of my friends had started to become sexually active and many were experimenting, there was still no conversation about masturbation.

People had started using the word ‘orgasm’ so I started to become suspicious that my friends had masturbated as there was no way they were having orgasms from the kind of sexual activity I was engaging in with teenage boys. Most girls at about fourteen or fifteen that I knew were reading magazines like ‘Cosmopolitan’. We were learning about all of these sexual things and talking and laughing about them but never once mentioning masturbation or our own sexual pleasure.

I decided to google ‘female masturbation’ and came across a website where women and men shared their masturbation stories and techniques. I loved this website and it was at this stage I started to move away from porn, realising I was more aroused by words. This website really made me start to think that I needed to try and talk about wanking with girlfriends but I couldn’t do it. It really was taboo and I didn’t want to risk having another rumour being spread about me in school. Even after reaching sixteen and becoming sexually active, I used to lie to my boyfriends about masturbating.

‘Female masturbation’ was always something I had seen as abnormal because I had only come across two girls that had ‘admitted’ to it. I did not understand why all the boys could laugh with each other about wanking. Even now when people talk about girls masturbating they call it ‘female masturbation’ with a real need to put the word female before the word masturbation.

Unfortunately, my silence regarding my sexual urges and the fact that I had used porn to learn about sex meant that when I did become sexually active, I did everything I possibly could to be like a porn star. I never thought about my own pleasure and this continued through my teens. I realised that what was more important to me in sex was whether or not the guy thought I was sexy and I used to be satisfied if I imagined the sex being filmed and thought ‘yeah, that would look good on camera’. I used to fake orgasm to quite an extreme level and began to feel deeply insecure about my body. I placed so much value on what boys thought of me and felt a deep sense of satisfaction if I heard a boy wanted to have sex with me or thought I was attractive. This was all very ironic considering I had been making myself orgasm since the age of seven. Pleasure was something I only experienced alone.

There were many factors feeding in to my sexual insecurities but lack of open discussion about sex and masturbation in my family, at school and in life generally, was something that made me hide my experiences and feel ashamed about them.

It had a negative effect on my sex life. I slept with people I didn’t really want to just to feel better about myself, to validate my sexual attractiveness. I finally realised that this wasn’t making me happy and I was being left after sexual experiences feeling like a masturbation tool. Oral sex was practically non-existent and boys would loudly talk about how disgusting they thought it was. Penetrative sex seemed to be the only way and it wasn’t working for me.

I plucked up the courage to talk to my friends from university about masturbation eventually and I was surprised when they were all so open about it. Maybe the situation at my school was particularly bad or I had friends who were specifically ashamed or shy about it – it’s very difficult to know. Mostly, I think it’s because some girls educated themselves through reading sex blogs privately or had been lucky enough to have female friends who are open about it (a rarity as far as I’m concerned). Depressingly, I would say that not even half of the girls I know have ever spoken openly about masturbation. It was a total revelation to me that some of my university friends had had these conversations with friends as early as twelve or thirteen.

I talk relatively openly about my masturbation habits now but mainly with select friends and still tread very carefully around the topic with some friends. The education on this topic is almost totally absent from schools and most parents feel embarrassed to discuss the topic. The Bridesmaidsesque jokes about little boys’ cum covered sheets snapping in half are seen as hilarious and Ben Stiller’s cum hair gel is a classic romcom moment, but where are the jokes about girls masturbating? Where is the normalisation of something so normal? The only scenes depicting women masturbating that I saw when I was younger were sexualised; filmed by men for men.

My lack of decent sex education meant that I had some quite unpleasant experiences. I lied to friends and boyfriends and I was less equipped to become sexually active in a way that made me comfortable and confident.

Masturbation isn’t dirty and it should not be considered just a male pastime. Obviously girls and women masturbate and they should not feel ashamed in the way that I did. I am more in control of my sex life now and no longer need as much validation from men. Penetration does not pleasure many women and it took me too long to realise this – I thought clitoral stimulation was something I did myself and that penetrative sex was what I did with a man. I should’ve opened up about it earlier but I was prevented from doing so by the toxic environment I was surrounded by.

Unfortunately, it says a lot that I am writing this article anonymously, I still feel it is a topic I can approach only with people I trust and have consistently seen men sexualise women and fantasise about those who talk openly about masturbation. This needs to stop and I hoped in writing this piece that I could help all the women and girls out there that feel or felt like I did. Let’s break the taboo around masturbation and start to have an open conversation.