Wanking, fapping, pounding the flounder, spanking the monkey, flogging your dog, hand to gland combat. The list of terms to describe male masturbation is colourful, slightly grotesque and seemingly endless. Yet the idea that your average male might end the day playing a little five on one is not likely to surprise your average woman.
However, when it comes to self-pleasure, there is a hole in our discourse. Why don’t we talk about female masturbation? Surely in a society that has managed to accept fetishism, the idea of a woman Han Soloing should be on the conservative side of sex?
In a small Brisbane bar a few Thursdays ago I sat on an Ikea stool with a group of 19 and 20 year-old girls. Amongst the conversation my friend announced to the group that I was currently researching the taboo surrounding female masturbation.
“I masturbate all the time!” declared one girl. While not shocking, I was still a little surprised. No girl had ever admitted that in such clear terms to me. In my circle of young, educated, sexually liberated friends, masturbation was something never admitted to. Only in the back corner of a bar, in a circle of young women with drinks in hand, could the idea of exploring south of the border be discussed.
How is this possible? We all know sex is normal. It is completely accepted as an integral part of the human condition. Why shouldn’t the first person we have sex with be ourselves?
Hallie Lieberman is currently completing her PhD in the history of sex toys and recently wrote a blog post detailing a scheme that would provide every 13 year-old girl with the opportunity to own a vibrator. The program aims to provide teens with an opportunity to learn about their own sexuality as well as a safe-sexual outlet. While convincing parents to allow their 13 year-old to purchase a vibrator may prove difficult, Lieberman argues that for many women, orgasms are unattainable without artificial aid.
“Every clitoris is different; they are like snowflakes but much more fun,” says Ms Lieberman. “But sometimes, for women, manipulation with their hand is not enough. The vagina is so confusing, but if you turn on a vibrator it is instant pleasure for almost every woman.
“If you don’t experiment with self-pleasure when you are young, when you do begin to have sex with a partner you don’t know what you want – you’re confused,” she continues. “It’s like a new tool that you haven’t tried out. It’s like the new iPhone.”
The vulva is undoubtedly one of the more poorly lit areas of the body. Not only is it in an awkward position but without diligent maintenance you can find yourself finger trekking through some grassy plains. Despite the various diagrams of lady regions young women are shown in sexual education, there never seems to be any encouragement to discover the mysterious lands for oneself. And, unlike their outgoing male peers, most heterosexual women never get a good look at anyone else’s bits, without delving into the dubious (hello, labiaplasty) world of porn.
There probably isn’t a girl alive who at some point hasn’t been confused about the intricate anatomy of their nether regions. The question of just how many points of entry or exit occupy our lady area confronts most women. Such confusion is only exacerbated by the use of sweeping terms like “vagina”, which is often incorrectly used to refer to everything from the panty line to the anus.
However, the vagina void encompasses more than anatomical confusion. When it comes to spending a girl’s night in, statistics show that nearly 50 per cent of women masturbate less than once a month. However, our male counterparts clock up 12 sessions of self-lovin’ in the same amount of time. Sure, we could drag out the hard-worn argument that all men want is sex and all women want is a relationship. But the 12-fold gap between men and women in masturbatory achievement is rooted as deep in human history as it is in biology.
“I think we need to look at this from a historical perspective,” suggests Chair of the Society of Australian Sexologists, Jocelyn Klug. “Up until the fifties, the clitoris wasn’t even mentioned in medical textbooks. Sadly, many women grow up with shame and negative feelings towards their genitals,” Ms Klug says.
Feelings of shame do not end with the physical vagina. Around 20 per cent of women stated that they feel shame after masturbating. While the progressive argument may dismiss such embarrassment as ludicrous (given doing something non-harmful to our own bodies that gives pleasure can be nothing but good) historically and culturally masturbation has been associated with a wide array of sinful manifestations.
“For men that’s been normalised in our culture,” says Ms Klug. “But for women, sadly, there has been very little discussion. Hence, there is awkwardness around it.”
Vaginas are much like the children they deliver. You don’t really care about anyone else’s but your own and once you get to know each other, you never really part.