Female masturbation should not be something that we are scandalised by, and yet, any time a woman talks about it, she is met by mixed horror and fascination. At the #WomenAreCumming tweet-chat that Feminism in India hosted the other day, someone appreciated the fact that brave women were talking about masturbation – but the fact that it seems to require bravery is the reason we need to talk about it.
So, first off, lets dispel some myths about it:
Yes, We Can
This might sound ridiculous, but for the longest time, I didn’t know female masturbation was a possibility. Most of the conversation around us is limited to ideas of male masturbation, and the Mills & Boons I guiltily read growing up made little or no mention of solo loving. It took a boy to tell me that women could masturbate, and then Google to tell me how.
And there are a lot of ways women can find pleasure in our bodies and reach clitoral, vaginal, and anal orgasms, among others. However, many of us are unaware of the many possibilities in our bodies because we’ve never experimented with them. What feels good? What feels bad? These are things that we can discover for ourselves without a partner.
The internet can offer some resources on how to masturbate (I, personally, discovered a lot by reading Harry Potter fan-fiction with strong female protagonists who didn’t need a partner to bring them to orgasm). But the best way to discover these things is by yourself. If you’re a woman, reach down and explore your own body, and you’ll be surprised at how much you haven’t learned about yourself.
Yes, We Do
This is another myth that we need to grapple with. As a teenager, I remember playing a game of “Never Have I Ever” – a game in which someone says something they haven’t done, in response to which everyone who has done it admits it. A girl in my friends group said “Never have I ever masturbated.” All of the boys admitted to it – and then, to everybody’s shock, so did I.
Women do masturbate. It’s normal and even healthy to explore your own body, and if something feels good, why is it surprising that women would do it? Generally, it’s surprising because of the next belief, that the only women who masturbate are “sex-crazy.” But…
We’re not “Sex-Crazy”
Yes, even “good” girls masturbate. You might not want to think about this, but the women in your family probably have/still do touch themselves to make themselves feel good. Hormones are natural, as is the urge to find sexual release. Masturbation isn’t an act that only a certain “type” of woman engages in – even children explore and find pleasure in their private parts. You can be heterosexual, homosexual, asexual, cis, trans, young, old, sexually active or not – male or female.
Also, it isn’t something that requires “Western influence” to indulge in. The Kama Sutra (though an inherently male-centric text) does mention the idea of women masturbating. More evocatively, consider the poem I came across last week:
With her eyes closed
she brought him to bed in her mind,
then did all the work with her hands
till her jingling bangles fell slack.
The poem above is a translation from a Prakrit work, Gatha Saptasati, which was collected between 200 BCE and 200 CE. The poetry speaks of love and desire – but not just with a partner, because, in the poem above, it’s clearly talking about female masturbation. That was a few thousand years ago – there’s no reason to imagine that it occurs now due to a “corruption” by Western values.
It Can Be Quick & Dirty
Women can masturbate quick and dirty, just like men can. It doesn’t always require hours of work, and women definitely don’t always need a certain type of “romantic” evening to do it, with candlelight and wine. While some women do enjoy this sort of self-love technique, some men do as well.
Speaking of what men and women both enjoy, another commonly held belief is that women don’t watch pornography while they masturbate. Well, PornHub says otherwise. Data from its 2015 insights shows that 25% of visitors from India were female, which is higher than the global average of 23%. Whatever the limitations of this kind of data, it still stands to show that the idea of women masturbating isn’t as far removed as you think.
Well, so, the fact that these are myths that are in circulation means that female masturbation isn’t spoken enough about. Masturbation, for any gender, is a healthy act. It relieves pain, stress, sleeplessness, and overall, keeps the body healthier. It is also the safest form of sex because it is unlikely that you can catch an STI from solo loving (although it must be noted that any toys used during masturbation must be kept clean and hygienic). Masturbation isn’t just a regular act that shouldn’t arouse any moral panic, it’s one that the scientific and health communities encourage. And female masturbation is an important aspect of female sexuality that needs to be accepted.
This becomes important because we need to feel as though it isn’t shameful to want to learn and explore our own bodies. We need to learn for ourselves what feels good and what feels bad – I know several sexually active women who have engaged in painful sex because they just do not know that their bodies are capable of feeling sexual pleasure.
A woman’s body is not just for the pleasure of her partner. The politics through which female pleasure has been systematically erased and stigmatised has been examined by several researchers and projects, who explain the patriarchal roots that frame the need to control female desire.
In 19th century Europe, the first vibrators were created – not for pleasure, but for the medical treatment of “hysteria,” and they were only ever used under the (male) doctor’s supervision. The Cliteracy Project, which attempts to educate women about the pleasure they can find in their clitoris, notes how the canonical medical text Gray’s Anatomy had the clitoris completely erased from its study of female anatomy. Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), in which a woman’s genitals are circumcised, excised, and/or infibulated, takes place all over the world even today, and is explicitly linked to sexual politics and male dominance. Aarefa Johari’s first-hand account of experiencing khatna or a type of FGM practised by the Dawoodi Bohra community is a painfully striking attempt at making sense of the rationale behind the removal of the clitoral hood, a practice that she is fighting to end.
There is an inherent fear of female sexuality that extends to female masturbation. Though seemingly trivial, the fight for female masturbation, or pleasure, isn’t any less of a fight than one against violence. A woman’s body is considered the property and right of the man, and her role is reduced to one of reproduction. Issues such as sexual pleasure, which feminists have long fought for as a right, are ways of asserting our autonomy and rights over our own bodies. The barriers that women have to cross when they consider masturbating, or talking about it, are the same ones that feed into the larger patriarchal systems of control that determine all of the other choices that are available to women. We need to fight for our pleasure, and prevent people from telling us that feeling “good” is not as important as “larger” goals. An institutionalised patriarchal system cannot be fought from only one direction, but needs to be challenged at every point possible.
It isn’t easy to talk about female masturbation anywhere in the world, not least of all in India. But we cannot let our bodies, our sexualities, be caged into patriarchal systems of propriety. And if there was ever a fight you could find pleasure in, it is this one.
Ladies, the power is in your hands. #WomenAreCumming
All images courtesy Bhamini Lakshminarayan for Feminism in India.