May is my favorite month for so many reasons. In my neck of the woods it heralds the arrival of reliably warm weather, the long holiday weekend and fresh fragrant flowers everywhere.
Self-pleasure can be a touchy subject…both literally and figuratively. I distinctly remember an episode of the sitcom Roseanne where young DJ is caught masturbating and his father tells him, “The funny thing is everybody does it, but no one ever, ever talks about it.”
The taboos around wanking still linger. It’s not something many of us feel comfortable discussing. In my experience, masturbation is sometimes perceived as a lesser, somehow baser type of activity reserved for sexually frustrated individuals. It’s not “real” sex. It’s the thing you do when you’re horny and lonely.
Like many people, I discovered masturbation early in childhood. And I’ve gotta give props to my mom, who explained that touching myself was something to be done privately, but did it in a totally gentle, positive way. I never felt that I was doing anything wrong. Nor was I consciously aware that it was a sexual thing to do. All I knew is that it felt really good and it helped put me to sleep at night.
It was seventh grade when I learned that the best part of my bedtime routine had a name: Masturbation. My twelve-year-old mind was well and truly blown
I was fascinated. And confused. By that point, I’d known about sex – at least the baby-making kind – for several years. I had read a few steamy Harlequin passages and watched lovemaking scenes on TV. I knew what sex was. The private touching I did in my room didn’t seem to qualify.
As I grew through puberty, there was a much stronger connection between my sexual desires and fantasies and my urge to masturbate. But I still didn’t think of masturbation as part of my sexuality. Again, shout out to my mom who gave me books with a holistic sense of sexuality like Our Bodies, Ourselves. Unfortunately, as a teen I found pulp paperbacks, soap operas and other mass media depictions of sex far more compelling. Those sources provided high eroticism for a teenage girl. The turn on was fun. But I didn’t realize until was I much older that I was learning from all that sexy fiction and some of those lessons didn’t serve me well.
I learned that women – at least the “nice” ones – didn’t take ownership of their sexuality. They became sexual because they were desired by someone else, often the romantic male lead. In books, the good girl was sexually passive, waiting for a loving partner to want her and eventually entice her into sexual surrender. Female characters who were more proactive about sex were typically cast as villainous, indiscriminate bad-girls. Even then, sex required someone else’s participation. And on some level, I internalized the idea that “real sex” and true sexuality would only happen when there was another person in the room.
I was well into adulthood, attending my first sex-toy workshop when the facilitator told us that touching our bodies was an essentially sexual act. “Masturbation isn’t just something we do instead of having sex. It is sex.” That was a pretty provocative thought – and not just for the obvious reasons. Masturbation is sex. That simple idea was the catalyst for a major shift in my perception of what sex was. It made me realize that sex belonged to me. The emotions, the desires and those wonderful, hot tinglies were happening to me, in my own body. They were mine to share with others, to ignore or to enjoy all by myself.
A paper published by Planned Parenthood and the Society for Scientific Study Of Sexuality noted that women who reported masturbating scored higher on a self-esteem index than women who didn’t report masturbating. Which isn’t to say that wankery is the magic bullet to feeling good about ourselves. And it doesn’t mean that we all have to masturbate in order to have confidence. But I do believe that accepting ownership of our own bodies is a pretty powerful act of self love. And on a sexual level, I can see how that acceptance might lead to…well…some powerful acts of self-love!
As a child, it was a joyful instinct. As a teenager it was a placeholder for partnered sex. Now as a woman, masturbation is the kind of sex that reminds me that my body belongs to me.
Happy May, everyone!
Already Pretty contributor Nadine Thornhill is a sex educator and blogger at Adorkable Undies. She is also a burlesque performer, poet and playwright, living in Ottawa, Ontario – Canada’s national capital. Her writing tends toward subjects such as clitorises, feminism, vibrators, body image, gender politics and non-monogamy. She is a passionately committed Scrabble player and lifelong klutz, having sustained 16 concussions to date.