Dear Mum, if you’re reading this. Please look away now. Please.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a man in possession of a penis, must be in the throes of an orgasm, Jane Austen once said, or something along those lines. When someone says the word masturbation, what do you think of? Do you think penis, or vagina? For a good 15 or so years of my life, I thought penis. Why? Because I didn’t know that girls could masturbate.
Seems bizarre now, I know. But growing up, I was aware that vaginas possessed a sexual power, but only one that must be guarded, and contained. A vagina is used in sex, and sex is used for babies. That was the extent of my knowledge. There was nothing sexual about vaginas that meant pleasure. I didn’t even realise that sex could be pleasurable, bar the obvious male enjoyment.
I think back to my horribly awkward and incredibly insufficent sex-ed talk in primary school, aptly labelled “The Talk” by us students. Our principal wheeled in the TV one day when we were about 12, and we instantly knew what was happening. This was it. We were going to learn the secrets of life and everything would change.
We didn’t learn the secrets of life, and nothing much changed, except for the fact that I couldn’t look at babies for a while because I still didn’t understand how they fit (and tbh, I still don’t. Sometimes tampons hurt, how am I going to fit a baby out?). My sexual education focused on the How-To. How to have a baby, how to have a period, how to prevent pregnancy (condom, pill, or no sex), how sex works – basically the basics of heterosexual penetrative sex. Penis goes in vagina, 1 – 2 -3, penis cries in happiness and that’s the end of that, kids. Case closed. The vagina is merely used as a little home for the penis to get comfy in until it climaxes.
Now this talk did mention masturbation, but not in a female context. By extension, I could never even pin-point sexy-sex feelings down there, and if I did, I had different feelings about it. I knew that this was something I shouldn’t talk about, something no one talks about. I knew boys could, and that they did. To me, it was an inherently masculine thing to do. They didn’t need a reason, it was just something boys did- boys will be boys, eh?
In my mind, there was never a question of girls masturbating. Part of that was the logistics of it; I physically didn’t know how. The closest thing my va-jay-jay knew to happy times was a new pair of underwear from Penneys. I didn’t even hear of the clitoris until my late teens. When I did realise that girls could masturbate, I didn’t. Sadly, I used to be of the opinion that girls shouldn’t masturbate. I used to say “that’s the boyfriend’s job”. Girls, in my mind, were the epitome of loneliness if they masturbated, they were weird if they pleasured themselves. How sad that they couldn’t wait to find a boy to do it for them, how weird that they did something so (in my eyes) masculine, but most importantly, how? If I’m being really honest, I didn’t and couldn’t believe girls did this mysterious thing.
That talk I had when I was 12 was the groundwork for my sexual education. It was the first official introduction into all things sexual, and it was useless. It was far too removed from reality, and things did not get better in secondary school. That lead to us taking our sexual education into our own hands, passing around information that had been around for far too long without verification.
As I got older, the focus remained on how-to. But it became how to give a blowjob, how to give a hand-job, how to give a hickey, how to kiss well, how to be sexy and most importantly, how to please someone else. How to do things for someone else, not myself. My education focused on learning about the penis, how to do things just right for it, and not me. It never occurred to me to educate myself about my own body.
Of course I knew women could orgasm. But I stupidly assumed this was from sex, which I wasn’t having when I was 16 and judging girls for masturbating (soz).
Maybe I wasn’t curious enough. Maybe it’s my fault that I never had the urge to explore down there at a young age. Everyone else seemed to figure it out. How did the boys figure it out?
They figured out from the countless cultural and media representations that highlight the acceptance of male masturbation. I remember boys in my primary school openly talking about and gesturing about their erections, being proud at how many they had a day and even worse, pointing at which girls caused them, making me worry when I wasn’t one of them. Even at that age, when they spoke so openly about their sexual arousal, there was no question of a female equivalent.
Women are viewed as highly sexual creatures, yet only in certain contexts. We are sexual vessels that are perfect for male pleasure, but for that only. Anything outside of that is slutty and wrong. Bad, bad women for thinking that our sexuality, our sexual pleasure can be for ourselves. Our sexuality is to be used and viewed, but not by us. It’s meant to be contained until the right time. We’re there to looked upon, viewed, and judged. We are there to be fucked, to have sex with. We’re there to ensure we have sex to completion, that is, until men have an orgasm. Because then sex is over, isn’t it?
I didn’t have an orgasm until far too late in my life. And even then, it’s not something I talk about a lot (I’ve had this saved in my drafts for MONTHS). But I’m slowly starting to unpack the shame and general awkwardness about masturbation (can we think of a less awks name, pls). Using your vagina (or penis or foot or hairbrush or whatever you’re into) doesn’t mean you’re lonely, abnormal or even over-sexual. It’s okay to feel horny and do something about it; if you got the itch, scratch away, my friends. No judgement from me.