It helps you sleep, eases body pains and releases endorphins to make you feel happier. No, we are not talking about marijuana. Masturbation can feel like the miracle pill, a fix-all for physical problems, yet for every three young adult men who masturbate, only one female does.
“I’m in a class called Sex, How To, and it’s described in sex-ed how male masturbation is always talked about. Females, we talk about menstruation and the biological aspect of things but never the pleasure,” explains Emma Schafler, a third-year social science student at Western University. “Males are told how to, and we’re not even told about it.”
From the way porn is manufactured — predominately focused on male pleasure and point of view — to how females are urged to remain pure and proper, there is an undue pressure placed on females to behave in a particular manner. This “manner” does not always include masturbation.
“For men, the idea of male masturbation is kind of laughed at [or] seen as silly — boys will be boys and that it’s what men do,” notes Treena Orchard, a medical anthropologist at Western. “With women, it’s more hidden; it’s unwritten that we do it, but it’s discussed much less often.”
Through media, schooling and colloquial conversation, the idea of self-intimacy and body familiarity is introduced to men at adolescence; fuelled by the beginning of "wet dreams" and "morning wood," their idea of masturbation is normalized from youth. In contrast, with females, it's rarely spoken about. Approached as a topic that applies to adulthood, it symbolizes the power females gain over their own bodies and how little power they begin with as they transition from young girls to women.
“The first time I masturbated was terrifying. I didn’t know what I was doing. I felt shameful,… and I still feel bad because growing up, it’s not talked about. It’s not ‘normal’ for women,” says Sarah*, a first-year social science student.
On one side, not being allowed to embrace sexuality from a young age, more in some cultures than others, makes female masturbation even more difficult to talk about with the passing of time. With the fear of being seen as overly-promiscuous, dirty or abnormal, many girls are likely to keep the conversation at bay.
On the other hand, steps toward acceptance have been made. Discussions do happen, sometimes behind closed doors with the curtains drawn. But, as drafts push through those open windows, we hear more about how females are willing to take control of their pleasure.
“When I first talked about it in high school, if my friends had went 'That's so weird,' I wouldn’t be so open about it [now]. There was instant validation, so it wasn’t a big deal,” says a second-year actuarial science student Lisa*.
As more people talk about masturbation, the idea of how pleasure can be created has evolved. With sex shops, toys and accessories entering mainstream culture, the possibilities and opinions of female masturbation have also evolved. While “I masturbate” may not be a surprising statement, “I masturbate with a dildo” might be, despite 28 per cent of women using a toy for penetration and 22 per cent using them for penile stimulation.
“Going to a sex shop, openly and publicly, people kind of 'tee hee hee' about it. While people are more accepting that it happens, the operationalization 'how does it happen,' … that piece is framed in a humourous or comical way,” says Orchard. “[The humour is] used to mask contradictory feelings we don’t know what to do with, so we laugh about it. The humour is gendered. The male is ridiculed; the female is seen with an 'oh my god' sense.”
While the stigma is present, all of this is being contested. With the accumulation of different movements, media and people speaking out about their sexuality and sexual preferences, we see a shift in perception. Interactive online games like Happy Play Time, are showing girls how to approach masturbation in a safe and fun way.
Female masturbation is starting to enter media and mainstream culture — and maybe soon it won't be so taboo.
*Names have been changed to protect individuals' identities.