Love column: Removing stigma through discovery

by Gretchen Kuhsel / Beacon Correspondent • April 20, 2016

I masturbate with the same regularity that I wash my sheets—every other week, unless I find myself with some extra time and a need to randomly throw a load of linens in the washing machine. Just like laundry, self-stimulation differs greatly based on the person. 

I know people who say they’ve never touched themselves and people who get themselves off up to five times per day. Statistically, ladies fall towards the former and men towards the latter. Peggy Orenstein, author of Girls & Sex, found that around a third of women masturbate regularly, and about half say they’ve never tried it. The topic is still brought up in hushed tones, especially amongst women. It’s seemingly impossible to engage in a candid discussion about flickin’ the bean, even from girlfriends who are quick to talk about their explicit escapades. 

This is due partly to the reality that no one wants to talk about vaginas. According to socially constructed conceptions about female genitalia, vaginas remain an inferior sexual organ that release blood and odors, rather than impressively enlarge and ejaculate. Penises are everywhere: scrawled on bathroom stalls and bus stops, and bulging out of David Beckham’s H&M ads. Lady parts can—and should—be known for more than periods, babies, and an orifice to help others get off. 

I thought that by the age of 20 I would have a better understanding of female self-stimulation, but I’m just as confused as I was when I was 12 and discovered my clitoris by accident. This is caused by the stigma that women don’t masturbate—it’s not ladylike because people with vaginas should be able to control sexual impulses. It’s even gotten to a point where government officials like Sen. Ted Cruz want to regulate the practice and have fought for the ban of advertisements and sale of sex toys. His legal team argues that “there is no substantive-due-process right to stimulate one’s genitals.” In a male-dominated world, there are outdated misconceptions about female masturbation and a debilitating silence about giving yourself an orgasm. This causes a lack of knowledge about one's own body, which can lead to dissatisfaction with a partner. If a woman doesn’t know what she likes, how can she expect someone else to sexually please her?  

Like many misconceptions about female sexuality, the blame can’t be placed on one single person. Masturbation has been shamed since The Bible was created. But it wasn’t until an 18th Century medical pamphlet titled, Onania, OR The Heinous Sin of Self-Pollution, made its way into American homes that people believed masturbation was biologically harmful. The literature warns that self-stimulation “frequently practis’d” by women makes ‘em look pale, and those who are not of a good Complection, swarthy and hagged. It frequently is the Cause of the Hysterick Fits, and sometimes, by draining away all the radical Moisture, Consumptions.” In other words, if you touch yourself, you’ll become physically and mentally unstable. 

It wasn’t until about 300 years later in the 1960s that human sexualtity researchers, namely Dr. William Masters and Virginia Johnson, started to scientifically disprove this idea. Though we’ve come a long way from calling an orgasam a “Hysterick Fit,” there’s still little openness when it comes to talking and learning about female sexuality such as masturbation. For the first four years that I buffed the muff, I was convinced that I was keeping a wild secret, that I was doing something that felt so good it must’ve been wrong.

 It wasn’t until my freshman year of high school that I realized I wasn’t the only person who discovered this sensitive bulb down there. My chemistry lab partner mentioned using a vibrating rubber ring that she got from a Bat Mitzvah as a sex toy in passing, and I mustered up the courage to ask her for more details after class. 

Since then, I’ve found that I usually fall somewhere in the middle of the masturbation spectrum, but lately; I’ve been leaning towards the lower end of the scale. I have a consistently satisfying sex life with a significant other, and honestly, little time to lay in bed and scroll through Tumblr porn like I did in the summer. But this isn’t to say that having a partner replaces buttering your own biscuit. I’m a strong believer in not relying on people for anything—especially not an orgasam. No one deserves to be treated like a blow up doll, beckoned at every horny call. 

Ultimately, this issue comes down to a matter of de-stigmatizing masturbation. The more research and education that’s being completed on the subject certainly helps to do so, but the real progress will be when people start to talk about it as openly as they do about sex. Being candid and light hearted about getting yourself off is the key to normalizing it. Plus, there’s an endless amount of ridiculous terms to use for female masturbation, so we might as well start talking about it.