I’m frustrated that I’m blogging about this again, and that I still feel like an outsider for something so personal and unique.
More specifically, I’m frustrated by the extensive online energy around women’s masturbation and how one-note that conversation seems to be. I’m frustrated by the shame and inadequacy I feel within the sex blogging community for not being an avid masturbator. I’m frustrated by how self-care and body positivity have become so tightly knit with masturbation. I’m frustrated that I will likely get comments on this post that say I should masturbate more in order to be less frustrated.
I get it – de-stigmatizing women’s masturbation makes room in the dialogue on sexuality for sexual agency and empowerment. I don’t deny that it’s an effective tactic against the systemic attempts to keep women as passive cogs in the big wheel of misogyny and I would never, ever want to limit or minimize any one’s experience, but here’s the rub: not everyone masturbates for the same reasons, in the same way, and some people don’t masturbate at all. So why is the dialogue so one sided and so dependent on themes like body positivity, self-love, self-care and understanding pleasure? My guess is that without those buzz words, companies, especially pleasure-product companies, would have a lot less to market their wares with. Capitalism wins again.
The reality is, you are not necessarily any more in touch with your body if you masturbate regularly. You’re not more divinely feminine if you wank by candle light on the full moon or use a sacred stone dildo that was mass produced and sold as a must-have accessory to your pleasure. To be clear, all of this is fine. If that’s your thing, great. But what’s not great is the lack of acknowledgement that masturbation remains private and subjective. Not everyone enjoys sensual masturbation and the narrative that masturbation is universally a magical portal to self knowledge and personal intimacy, is simply not a helpful narrative. When we imply that personal and subjective experiences should be a certain way, we invalidate the rest of the spectrum of experiences and the people involved. It used to be that the response to masturbation was a gasp and some pearl clutching, now if you say that you don’t masturbate, or that you don’t really enjoy it or find it useful, you may find yourself the object of criticism and judgement that you are stifling your sexuality and doing a disservice to yourself. Say it with me: no one should be criticising anyone else’s sexual expression. What works for one person may not work for another and that is perfectly okay.
I also find it troubling that the discussion around self-empowerment via masturbation is so intensely gendered. Are men being encouraged to masturbate in order to understand their bodies and have a deep soul connection with their pleasure? No? Hmmm. So why is that the language that’s used for women? I can’t personally speak to the pressures and expectations beyond the typical gender binary, but I’d imagine that it is just as complicated and nuanced, if not more. As a cis woman I have always found the masturbation debate incredibly frustrating and limited and many times I have been put in the position to have to defend my sporadic and “all business” approach to self pleasure both publicly and privately. As a sex blogger I’ve been accused of being “a hack” and a charlatan because I receive and review sex toys when I have been vocal about not being very into masturbation. I shouldn’t have to explain or defend that I most often use toys with my partners and that I’m not dysfunctional or broken because I’m minimally interested in coming alone.
Full disclosure: I don’t masturbate much because I find it really, really, really boring and tedious. I’ve been told this is because I must not have a healthy relationship with my body and sexuality. Apparently, I should find myself endlessly sexy and be inspired by all the wonder and magic of my femininity. I should be able to lay back and with a few thoughts or sensual caresses, begin to feel my body switch into desire mode. Nope. It’s boring and much, much more challenging to orgasm when I’m alone. When masturbating, I can have a half-strength clitoral orgasm, if the stars are aligned and the conditions are perfect. What’s perfect for me? Quiet, completely private (i.e.: no one else is home), powerful vibes, no penetration and some very, very specific porn. With a partner, I come easily, every which way, because I’m actually engaged in the moment. I need to see and smell and taste and hear another person. Without a partner, it’s only ever a means to an end, and often it’s not even worth it. In this way it’s not helpful or healthy or empowering for me. Failing to get yourself off can be an incredibly crushing experience, so why invest in something unpleasant and demoralising in the pursuit of pleasure? There are so many things I’d rather do.
I have learned, in my frustration, that if I continue to internalise the cultural messages about the profound and inherent value in masturbation and the implied value-add to my worth as a woman, a lover, a feminist, etc. I will always come up short and that is what I reject.
You can read more of my thoughts and feelings on masturbation, in real-life and fiction, here.