The Big O and the Little O: Masturbation’s Gender Divide

Millie Giles tackles the taboo of women and masturbation.

I distinctly remember the shift in conversation when the boys in my class discovered their new favourite body part.

There was suddenly a kind of cult of those who had, one way or another and for lack of a better term, w*nked. Some had found a catalogue of naked women in a bush in the park, some just found a catalogue of the Boden variety. But, most simply arrived at the life-altering discovery that porn could be found literally just by typing ‘porn’ into any non-child locked area of the internet. Even with a few parentally forbidden pages, you could probably find some smutting about in the corners.

Whilst this seismic self-love movement occurred with the testosterone-loaded candidates in the classroom, the only parts of sex education that seemed to apply to me were that Mr. Sperm will meet Mrs. Egg when I love someone very much and I allow them to physically invade me. We covered erections, ejaculation, and even spent a surprisingly large amount of time on wet dreams (a topic which, in my experience, has come up far less frequently than little details such as the female orgasm and the sex-hole not being the pee-hole, which were skipped over entirely).

Although I knew that my teachers were not entirely thorough with the sexual syllabus, masturbation remained as a ‘boy’ thing in my mind for years. Boys would openly discuss their favourite porn categories, have minimally dressed celebrities as their wallpaper, and, in a bizarre era of Primark t-shirts, even have Rihanna in a bikini stamped tribally on their torso. The sexuality of the pubescent boy felt rampant in my early years of secondary school. But, having googled the word ‘porn’ and seen things that were both deeply fascinating and traumatic, I decided that my horniness would be limited to watching Zac Efron films. 

Had PornHub’s content seemed even slightly less aggressive and terrifying, maybe I would have wanted to masturbate too. And maybe, if I hadn’t thought of self-pleasure as a sub-universe defined by porn and boys, I might have expressed my sexual feelings sooner, without feeling guilty that I had become one of the women being openly degraded on my screen or in my school.

Alongside the gargantuan issue that porn is generally made for the male viewer, I think the crux of the problem is that ‘horny little boys’ are considered to be embarking on a pubescent rite of passage, whilst ‘horny little girls’ are condemned to being ‘sluts’ who flirt and roll up their skirts. It seems that boys are expected to pursue their targets and proudly display their achievements on their voyage into manhood. Meanwhile, girls persistently reject but occasionally accept advances, working their way up their ladder of conquests – based on which boys they’ve allowed to ‘do’ these things ‘to them’, rather than as an empowering exploration into their newfound urges. Then, suddenly they are ‘experienced’ and can finally enjoy sex. Congrats!

It honestly didn’t occur to me until a lot later than the dawn of puberty that I could make myself orgasm, despite consistently being reminded that boys could (and would quite a lot, apparently).  Now, it seems insane to me that I thought the only way I could receive pleasure, one of the most innate parts of being human, was from a partner. The development of sex education is vital not only to prevent things like pregnancy and STDs (which, ironically, my classes were unsuccessful in doing despite it being all that was vehemently stressed for 2 hours a week). Sex education also needs to equip young women with the information they need to interpret changes they will experience during puberty and beyond. 

The culture surrounding easily-accessible porn perpetuates both how boys see girls and how girls see sexually active women – not even as women, but as the obedient blow-up dolls that these sites portray them to be. But before staging a revolution against a multi-million-pound industry, it’s important that girls talk about masturbation: to each other, to our families, and to boys we fancy or don’t fancy. Moreover, we need to recognise that w*nking just as valid for libidinous little women as it is for the ‘horny boys’ that our teachers warned us about. The teenage years tell us so much about what it means to understand ourselves, and crucially (albeit obviously) to know our body is to know ourselves.

And also, let’s make sure girls know what the clitoris is. It will, in the coming years, likely become their favourite body part.

Artwork by Aggie Tait.

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