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I started masturbating at 18.
By that point I had been sexually active for four years. I had a handful of sexual partners to date, dispensed sex advice to friends, and prided myself on my knowledge of sexual health.
In many respects, I was considered “experienced”. But my savviness when it came to masturbation was non-existent. To be honest – I didn’t understand my body and what made me feel good. Though I had experienced orgasms on many occasions, I didn’t understand what led to them, or how to make them happen again. What’s more, neither my partners or peers really understood that women could achieve orgasm or “finish” in the way that men do.
At that age, sex had a beginning, middle and end, with the end culminating in male ejaculation. Being asked “Did you come?” or any reference to my personal climax did not join the conversation until I was at least 18, and even then it was rare.
I distinctly remember being shocked that at 25, my 29-year-old boyfriend was oblivious to my need to orgasm. He was unaware that women came and equally naive to his responsibility in helping me get there. At 29!? Shameful.
Over the years I’ve come to understand this experience to be the same for many of my female friends. Up until very recently, many of them still didn’t achieve orgasm when it came to intercourse. (And many of their partners were dumbfounded that this, too, is a goal they should both be striving for).
Which begs the question: WHY?
Why in the US do women experience one orgasm for every three a man does?
Why are male orgasms a given and female orgasms a question mark?
Why is there an “orgasm gap” to begin with and how do we close this?
There are a million and one explanations from biologists, psychologists, and feminists (to name but a few) to explain two known truths: Women don’t masturbate or achieve orgasm at the same rate as men.
Results from national probability surveys conducted in Great Britain (2008) and the US (2010) confirm that higher incidences of masturbation are reported among men than among women (96% men to 71% women in Great Britain, and 94% men to 85% women in the US). Fewer women masturbate and those of us who do reportedly start way later and do it with less frequency than men.
Because of this, I believe we’re slow to realise the potential of our sexual pleasure.
Think about it….we have way less practice than men do. And being late to the game has all kinds of negative consequences…
We spend the first several years of our sex lives putting up with bad sex. How many times have you felt disappointed after the act?
We become conditioned to think that the female orgasm is achievable only if we’re lucky. Or on top.
We establish low expectations of our sexual encounters and partners. We take what we can get and often leave the situation feeling sexually frustrated.
Our self-confidence, self-respect and self-worth takes a hit, and we’re taught to seek fulfillment elsewhere – from outside ourselves rather than inside.
Our focus from a young age, therefore, is on others when it should be on ourselves: our wants, needs, pleasures, hopes and dreams.
Why does this matter?
It’s a provocative idea but I believe it to be true: Gender equality in the most tangible terms (i.e. pay equality) cannot be reached until we have sexual equality, and sexual equality cannot happen until we close the orgasm gap.
Close the orgasm gap and you’ll close the pay gap.
If we strip society back to its most basic, primal nature and level the playing ground in the bedroom, we’d have greater impact on affecting change in the boardroom.
If we’re trained from a young age – both boys and girls – that sexual pleasure is equal, and we set the expectation that we have to work together to achieve it, I believe the quality of sexual relationships we have as a society will increase. As will the respect towards women as equal human beings with the same rights as men (instead of just sexual objects).
How do we do this?
We reform sexual health education to include the discussion of pleasure.
School based sexual health education in England has been criticized for not being good enough (Ofsted, 2013). Sex-ed focuses on the technicalities of sex: male and female anatomy, conception and contraception. Despite the fact that it’s awkwardly reduced to its basic biological function – there’s no mention whatsoever of pleasure or of the clitoris aka the holy grail of the vagina. The male orgasm, on the other hand, is ingrained in the curriculum: Man and woman have sex. Man ejaculates. Women gets pregnant. The end.
The female orgasm is not even mentioned. True, they don’t teach boys how to masturbate, but the male orgasm is at least part of the narrative.
Because masturbation and the female orgasm is it’s entirely absent from the sex-ed curriculum, very little awareness exists as to why it’s important or how to actually do it.
Which brings me to the point of this post…
Instead of championing widespread educational reform and taking on the outdated values of evangelical and religious groups that are entrenched into our society – I’m going to play a much more practical, effective and subversive role.
I’m going to tell you about my own very personal story about how as a woman I learned how to masturbate. My aim is that this story helps you in some way. Whether that’s learning how to do it for yourself, or learning that it’s a perfectly normal and healthy activity (and in many ways a safer alternative to sex).
I personally didn’t start masturbating until my first semester at university. I didn’t have the most thrilling undergraduate experience, as I somehow ended up on the “Wellness Floor” where no drugs or alcohol were permitted. Though I would now really appreciate the values of that environment, at the time I certainly didn’t. And because most of the residents on that floor chose to be there and I didn’t – needless to say I was not with my people. (They called me the anti-christ).
I didn’t do much partying throughout my first year of school. I didn’t do much socializing, either. I stuck to myself, studied and went to the gym. Whether it was the environment or a lack of opportunity – I did not have sex for my entire first year of university. And because of this, I was really, very horny.
This was also the first time I lived away from home, and conveniently had my own private room in the halls of residence: An environment that would have been great for sex but needless to say I never had the chance to test it out!
The friends I did have lived in a separate all-girls residence. We’d gather on Saturday night to watch Sex and the City. The combination of solitude, privacy, abstinence and watching Samantha Jones get off every Saturday night created the perfect conditions for learning how to masturbate.
The show was great at bringing female masturbation to the forefront and introducing sex toys into the mainstream. An entire episode was dedicated to the now infamous rabbit – a penis-size vibrator with a rabbit positioned directly where the clitoris should be. And a day shopping for neck massagers at Sharper Image for Samantha brought to light the possibility of using everyday household items as sex toys. It was the noughties equivalent to 50 Shades, and made the relentless pursuit of an orgasm seem OK.
I used my hands, saliva and circular motions for the first little while, and in doing so discovered the all-powerful clitoris as the magic button to achieving orgasm. (When moving your hands around down there one is bound to discover what feels good – after all, you’re the one in the driver seat, you have control).
The clitoris has about 8,000 nerve endings and is roughly the size of a pea, whereas the penis has about 4,000 nerve endings in a surface area that’s the size of a banana (if you’re lucky). The ratio of nerve endings to size doesn’t even compare. For the guys reading this: If it feels great to have your penis touched, think of how great it feels to have our clitoris touched?!
After using my hand for a while I graduated to bathtubs. Another technique learned from Samantha in Sex and the City:
I’d place my butt against the front of the bathtub, and sit under the faucet as the water rushed down on my body.
Though waterboarding my clitoris was fun for a while…it wasn’t sustainable. If I wasn’t particularly focused during a session, I would end up drowning myself in the process.
Despite the fact that I knew about sex toys and had disposable cash to buy one (hello student loans) I didn’t acquire my first vibrator until I was 22 – a Conair neck massager purchased at Wal-mart for $10.
Like the bathtub faucet, it too was not sustainable. I burned through its equivalent value in batteries every month and after prolonged use it started to sound like a helicopter engine. Not the most discrete…
It wasn’t until I was 24 that I bought my first official sex toy – the Lelo NEA Petite Clitoral Vibrator in black. Purchased at the university sex-shop for a discounted price, I invested in the sleek, rechargeable device for $65 – best money ever spent.
Next it was the USB-chargeable MIA by Lelo, followed by Je Joue’s Mimi. I wasn’t in the habit of acquiring loads of vibrators – I just had the habit of losing them (don’t ask how one loses a vibrator as I’m still not sure).
My latest addition is the Lovehoney USB rechargeable vibrator, which I’ve been using for the last 2 to 3 years.
I always opt for clitoral vibrators for their small, sleek efficiency. Many of my friends use the rabbit but I have yet to try it out (in light of this post, perhaps I should take my own advice and give it a go).
I have also used anal beans, pornography and recording myself in the act on a now defunct flip-phone – all as a means to getting myself off. The key is to try loads of different things to find out what you really like and what works for you.
If porn works for you there are loads of free youtube-like porn sites out there (pornhub and youjizz come to mind). I’ve gone through phases of liking porn and not liking it. Nowadays I find my imagination is just as vivid as a video. I have a treasure trove of experiences and memories I call upon when I’m in the act. Some of them are personal, others are fantasies. Some are even scenes from television shows or movies.
My one caution about porn, however, is that you appreciate it for the absurdity that it is. Men and women don’t look like that in real life, we don’t bleach our assholes, and we don’t act like real-life sex dolls. Porn is not real sex, it’s fantasy. And there is a danger in getting swept up in that fantasy, so don’t overdo it.
If you’re curious about porn but don’t know where to begin, I’ve always found the work of Sasha Grey fascinating. By definition she is a hard-core porn artist and her work can be quite dark on the spectrum – but I find her aggression quite subversive to the role women are expected to play in pornography, which is a refreshing change. I also like that she embraces an alternative style to the typical blonde-bombshell with fake boobs and no pubic hair. She is notably thin, but she rocks a bush and has naturally flat breasts.
Whatever your opinion on sex toys, pornography or fantasy, keeping an open mind is beneficial to finding what works for you. As evidence even suggests that the use of objects and fantasies results in more consistent orgasms…
A study of 3,000 high school students in Sweden found that those who held more negative attitudes toward masturbation and the use of fantasies and objects (like sex toys) tended to be less “active”, used less objects and fantasies during masturbation and experienced orgasms less frequently.
No matter what your friends, parents, teachers, boyfriend, girlfriend or clergymen say (heaven forbid) – exploring your own body and your own interests is a completely natural and healthy practice. Whatever your method or preference, remember that practicing self-love encourages a positive relationships with yourself. And only good things can come from that.
I hope you found this article helpful in some way. If you want to share your own personal story or ask me questions, please let me know if the comments below.
You might also like:
Jodie Leigh Hanson. (2014). Sex, Desire and Masturbation: An Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis of Sexual Health Education for young women. Manchester Metropolitan University.
Wiebke Driemeyer, Erick Janssen, Jens Wiltfang & Eva Elmerstig (2016): Masturbation Experiences of Swedish Senior High School Students: Gender Differences and Similarities. The Journal of Sex Research.