In our culture, it’s perceived as normal that people with penises masturbate. This is not the case for people with vaginas. For many people who identify as female, self-pleasure (or masturbation) is still a taboo subject. In fact, you’ll be hard pressed to find women who talk about it openly, let alone admit to doing it. How did we get here and why is it that women in particular don’t feel comfortable with masturbation? Let’s explore some of the most common reasons women seem to be embarrassed by or ashamed of self-pleasure.
It's a Guy Thing
Studies show that men tend to masturbate more than women. According to The Janus Report study on sexual behavior, 63.3% of men said they masturbate vs. 41.7% of women. Why is that? One popular theory is that men/people with penises grow up understanding that touching their penis is normal (to pee, to adjust, etc). Not only that, but penises are completely visible - it’s all out there in front. People with vulvas do not need to touch their vulvas in order to pee. In fact, vulvas are hidden away between their legs. Some theorize that the implication is that the vulva is unclean, (especially if we have our period). Therefore, just touching our vulva for anything other than hygiene is cast as abnormal and dirty.
Outmoded Cultural Beliefs
Many religions teach that masturbation is a serious sin and some cultures believe masturbating is anathema to procreation. However, some early civilizations found nothing wrong with female self-pleasure. Female masturbation, and in fact female sexuality has been accepted and even celebrated in many cultures throughout history. In ancient Egypt, it’s rumored that Cleopatra created her own vibrator by filling a gourd with buzzing bees and then placing it on her vulva.
Lack of Knowledge
With the dearth of pleasure-inclusive sex education in schools, and parents’ reluctance to talk about sex with their children, it leaves kids nowhere to go when they have questions about their bodies and sexual selves. This shortage of information may send us a message that sex, including solo sex, is wrong. This lack of guidance might leave us distrusting our natural urge to self-pleasure and mentally file it in the “bad things we shouldn’t do” folder.
Disliking our bodies leads to disconnecting from our bodies, and why should we want to touch a body we dislike and are disconnected from? In Lora DiCarlo’s recent survey of over 1000 women, only 30% strongly agree that they are comfortable with their sexual bodies. This tracks with other studies that show the less comfortable women are in their bodies the less likely they are to masturbate. This unfamiliarity and insecurity with our own bodies can often lead to a skewed idea of genital and body norms, making us feel like we are not attractive enough or that there is something inherently wrong with our bodies the way they are.
So what have we learned? Shame about self-pleasure is a social construct. There is nothing wrong with feeling sexual and demonstrating that by yourself. If you find yourself having a hard time wrapping your head around that, please know that there are educators, counselors and even books that can help free your mind. So, whether it’s with your hands, a toy or even with a partner, self-pleasure is an enjoyable, healthy and natural expression of our sexual selves and an intrinsic part of being human.