Masturbation Conversation, Part 1
The latest and greatest in our “conversation” series. You’ll hear from Jessamyn this morning and Harrison this afternoon. Have another voice to add to this conversation? Shoot your submission to email@example.com and we’ll post it!
Whoever brings up masturbation first in a conversation deserves a gold star. And I say this not just because I am normally the one to do so. In fact, I should amend – I think anyone besides me who brings up masturbation first gets a gold star. Because when I do it, as convicted as I am to its relevance in the course of the moment, there is always that dreaded afterwards when I pause and glance around for looks of amusement or discomfort, praying that it will at least be written off as quirky or bold and that, at the very least, it will be a very good way of self-selecting friends for the future. If you bring up masturbation first in conversation (bonus if it’s done tactfully in the first conversation) I am already halfway to naming you my friend on more than just facebook. It’s the way some people feel when they learn someone’s political standing, or their opinion about eating organic. These things are not everything, but they are important. If I went on a date with a man and he managed to mention masturbation cleverly, honestly, and un-sleazily in conversation, I would probably ask him for a demonstration at the end of the evening.
What it’s really about for me is this – talking about masturbation, not just doing it, but talking about it, denotes a refusal to be shamed. Because as ubiquitous as it is, masturbation is consistently implicated as something unspeakable. Even in educational settings, somehow the “M word” retains its old smut power. I remember in my Chicago Public High School English class a girl said it once. A girl that no one thought fit in, whom people openly whispered had Asperger’s, and who was, by my account, a bold, creative spirit, loudly intoned that she thought it was a shame that realistic representations of female masturbation were rarely depicted. The cacophony of squeaking plastic and nervous titters was deafening as students squirmed and glanced at our teacher for a reaction. I looked too. Waiting for a sanction. Praying for one. For her sake as much as mine. But it never came. Almost worse than any verbal condemnation, he simply stared, and with a flutter of his eyelids, rearranged the conversation back to Antigone and whatever she was going on about.
My biggest regret is that I never said anything. Not because that girl needed protection; she was fine. Better than fine as far as I’m concerned. She was right. But I needed to speak. Because that was the first moment I became conscious of my own shame towards talking about masturbation, and I hated it. That even in English class, my high school safe haven, you could find yourself alienated-left alone with your own embarrassment to ponder. Not that I think our English teacher should have asked for an in depth description of what exactly an accurate portrayal of masturbation would look like for a fifteen year old girl (I’m sure the CPS handbook has a clause about that). But he should have turned a critical eye on what was, and still is, a very real issue, and made us question it. How many other girls in that classroom felt the same secret hope and subsequent disappointment that I did? His silence confirmed that “no, that’s vulgar, we don’t talk about that.” Not in this society. But if you can’t talk about something, you learn to be afraid of it.
I can’t speak for all women, but I know that in my own awkward teenage years I desperately wanted to be accepted. And to be sexy. And to feel sexy. To actually align the sexuality I felt with what I was taught to believe was sexy. And it was this that made me perk up, insides tingling with anticipation at the slightest mention of touching oneself. In seventh grade when my male friends started to do it I leaped eagerly into the conversation. Intrigued, they goaded me on. But generally, in what very quickly became a pale imitation of the latest installment of American Pie, insisted on chortling out inane questions like “how many fingers do you like?”, which left me feeling like the butt of some big joke. I desperately wanted girls to mention it. To hear someone talking and be able to say, “Yes! Yes, I do that to! Isn’t it wonderful?” would have granted more acceptance than being picked first for every gym class or high school dance. Because I worried constantly that I was the only one. That this masturbation was somehow the reason (or at least symptom) of my condemnation to be perpetually single and die alone – a husk of wasted love and wetness. (Everyone thinks that in high school right?)
Because one of the things we never seem to grow out of, even after we get laid and abandon our fears of virgin-deaths for more compelling failure scenarios, is this idea that people who masturbate do so because they are lonely. Because they can’t find a sexual partner other than their vibrator. How many women are depicted masturbating because they’re happy? Or because Fight Club came on TV? Or simply because they’re sleepy and a glass of warm milk just won’t cut it anymore. I want to hear about women masturbating without a discussion of how their vibrator compares to a real life penis and when they’re going to encounter one of those again. Both on TV and in real life. Even in conversation girls seem to me too quick to offer disclaimers about the fact that they’re masturbating simply because it’s been a long time since “the real thing”. Real thing nothing.
The idea that sexuality extends only so far as with a partner is just as restrictive as saying that sexuality need only extend so far as with a certain kind of partner. And our association with masturbation as a sign of loneliness denies the existence of a sexuality that is purely our own. For me, as a young girl, this idea was particularly disenfranchising. The idea that one day, if chosen – if pretty enough or good enough – some white knight was going to come along and unlock the holy grail of my clit for me and I’d be a woman. Trust me, the idea that men knew more about my body than I did never helped anyone. Just ask the first boy who ever fingered me.
Have you ever watched the way really young children quickly discover the comfort of touching themselves (or, in my little brother’s case, a constant check-in to make sure his most favored appendage was, in fact, still there inside his pull-up)? NO ONE needs anyone to “open the door” of sexuality for them. They just need the rest of the world to back off and let them feel it out. I’m not saying we all need to grow up practicing group masturbation (although, if that’s your thing…) and telling our mother, our boss and our neighbor about how many digits we like to get in there in order to really hit the spot. I’m just saying that for me, masturbation is a turn on. And a refusal to let sexuality become a site of further shame and secrecy in our already self-conscious lives is a turn on.
So I don’t need anyone else telling me that masturbation is just a stand-in for the real thing. That girls don’t masturbate. Or that talking about masturbation openly is “unladylike”. Not to make anyone else in the room uncomfortable, but after years of being told by strangers and relatives alike (thanks grandma) that I was “too sexual”, I’m gonna pass on all the shame of silence and say: go fuck yourself. Then we’ll talk.