Why is female masturbation still a touchy subject?

Francesca Collins shares her stories of self-discovery from those difficult teenage years and asks why we still shy away from female solitary pleasure.

The first time I publicly broached the subject of wanking, I was in a science lesson. Not biology, but physics — strangely appropriate, because my musings on that day seemed to disrupt the entire fabric of the secondary school space-time continuum.

I was thirteen or fourteen years old and in the zygotic phase of my feminist development. I didn’t know much, but I knew I didn’t like what I heard when The Boys started talking about shaking hands with the little soldier. Before the sound ‘mast-‘ could even leave the mouth of the first boy, the patient zero, the young men would glide effortlessly into formation: an iron curtain of dick-having, the Spaffish Armada, a standing-to-attention army ready for hand-to-gland combat.

I stuck my head above the parapet for a brief moment to interject: yeah, but I bet girls do that too. I was met by mixed expressions which suggested that I had just told the funniest joke of all time, but then went on to vomit all over each and every one of them.

Quickly reassuring everyone that of course, I didn’t mean myself (nb: I did), I only meant that there must be some girls out there who liked to touch themselves. Surely. I furrowed my brow and feigned scientific curiosity appropriate for the laboratory. Embarrassed and slightly shamed, I tried to avoid my own mental image of myself the night before: a spotty teenage vision in starry-print pyjamas, hands in pants in front of some NC-17 Ron and Hermione fanfiction.


By sixth form, it was more acceptable among my more sexually experimental friends to at least admit that they knew what masturbation was. Until the age of sixteen, I’d found that, almost uniformly, a perfect blend of extreme confusion and mild distaste would be the response to mentions of girls happening to flick the bean. Given that this was the reaction of most of the girls I knew at the time, I was surprised when most of them seemed to know where babies actually came from. ‘I don’t know what that is, but if I did, WHICH I DON’T, BY THE WAY, I would think it was kinda gross.’ To bring it back to physics, I had had my first encounter with the concept of Schrodinger’s Sexually-Muted Young Woman.

Schrodinger’s Sexually-Muted Young Woman is the young cis woman whose pussy is touched and untouched simultaneously: she is sexually enticing and satisfying, but only for the gratification of men, and only in their presence. Unless clutching onto a suitably masculine hunk, her sexuality is grotesque and gauche. Being sexual for the sake of her own desire is uncouth. It is this phenomenon that leads young women to be embarrassed when talking among themselves, and shamed when talking with young men.

Many straight teenage boys, as most who know one will confirm, are blessed with the divine capability of being able to wank to anything. This includes pornography and cam-shows of girls getting themselves off. Or girls wanking alongside one another. Or girls wanking and then being “walked in on” by “accident” by their “horny uncles”. When hot girls behind screens masturbate for boys, for the camera, for money, it’s hot. When young women in general — 3D, sometimes acned, sometimes bespectacled, and always glorious — decide to wank, it’s uncomfortable. Teenage boys, although equally as acned and bespectacled, instead get a seal of approval and a (potentially sticky) high-five.

We need to make sure these young women know that masturbating is fine. We need to make sure that young men know that girls masturbating is fine (yes, even offscreen). Sexuality is fine, it is healthy, and it can be incredibly liberating. No young woman should be embarrassed by orgasmically shaking legs and strange jaw alignments. All young women should feel that, should they want to, they can openly celebrate their own personal sexual victories. When we seem to coach young women into believing that their bodies are not for their own enjoyment, we are teaching them that their bodies are not their own, that Some Other Entity Somewhere has jurisdiction over their hands, their genitalia, their curling toes. I doubt I need to explain why we should all find that alarming.

For me, masturbation has been a great reclamation of my body, a magnificent personal journey along my Great Wall of Vagina. To get to this place, though, I had to have a lot of awkward conversations, tell a lot of half-truths and clear a lot of search history. Let’s change this for the next generation of fledgling feminists — let’s have an open, unashamed, happy conversation about self-love that respects and reflects the experiences of all genders. Change can come, and I hope you’ll all join me in riding the wave.

Illustration by Jess Baxter

This article was originally published in Issue 12

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