I’m writing this article in a whisper. There’s something about the topic of masturbation that seems especially scary to broach. There are friends that I have known most of my life that I have never really talked about this with – and if I have it’s been furtively, with a side-long glance at their face, waiting for them to betray any sense of discomfort or disapproval. I think everyone knows about the silent understanding you develop with certain friendships where you just “don’t go there” – but why is that? I’m going to explore the minefield that is female masturbation in a special two part article. Those of a prudish disposition look away now….
I remember a friend telling me an experience she had with a guy as a young teenager. They were innocently snogging away in the garden of an underwhelming houseparty, when he suddenly slurred into her mouth “I want you to touch yourself”. She was taken aback having not even done this in the privacy of her own bedroom. So her introduction into the world of wanking was as a display for the boy she was with. For some women, their main association with wanking is a performance for someone else’s titillation. Of course, there are some for whom masturbation doesn’t do it and that’s fair enough. But, for the most part, those who feel the urge have a voice in their head saying there is some inherent shame in enjoying their body on their own terms rather than for the benefit of someone else. Indeed, one of the main reasons that is peddled for having a healthy relationship with wanking is so you know what to tell a partner about your desires. I am a big advocate of this reason, but it’s certainly not the only reason. The end goal shouldn’t just be so you can instruct someone else on what gets you off. There is nothing wrong with quite literally doing you.
Then there are the toys. Walking into a sex shop is a baptism of fire. All the paraphernalia on display can be overwhelming – brightly coloured, whizzing and buzzing contraptions with all kinds of add-ons and implements. What does that button do? Where is that spike supposed to go? How many inches??? And on and on and on. This can make the uninitiated feel like only the most brazen of people belong in these sorts of spaces. This is an understandable feeling – it’s not the most inclusive of environments for all women. This is a cultural and classist issue too. The sex industry, much like many others, implicitly markets its products to a certain type of woman and, if you are not thin, white, rich, cis or heterosexual it may feel like you don’t belong. But, as long as you work within your financial means and personal boundaries and try to avoid companies that you know to be derogatory in their representation of minorities, there’s no reason you can’t partake.
It’s hard to know where to start if you’ve never bought any toys but don’t get caught up in the bells and whistles (and knobs and pulleys and chains and whips…). Simple is often best, especially to start with. I think the main thing to remember is, if you feel a little scared, to go for it; you are not alone. I still feel a tiny sense of teenage foreboding if I step into Ann Summers. Goodness knows why – so many of us are at it, and yet it feels like no one is. I’m done with feeling like I’m being subversive if I mention enjoying a wank. It’s not an event! It’s not a political statement! God knows being a woman is a political enough minefield without having to think about all that when you’re trying to get your vibe on in the bed or the bath.
Even if you’re a woman who considers yourself comfortable in your sexuality, it can be hard to reach a point of self-assurance where masturbation doesn’t feel like a taboo. We are still being raised to consider our bodies sites of deviance and shame. There are certainly cultural and religious elements that come into play if you come from a religious or ethnic background where sex is considered a dirty thing. The key is to take this journey at your own pace and know that you’re not the only one who partakes in a bit of self-love. Be sure to check in for my second article on the topics of porn and slut shaming. Til then, happy wanking!
Vanessa is a poet and spoken word artist currently based in Bristol. Watch her perfrom Take Up Space here.