Masturbation is a touchy subject, no pun intended. While taking charge of your own pleasure is important, it's a topic that is rarely considered in polite conversation. Even though Carrie and her friends introduced us to the wonders of the vibrator over fifteen years ago, our conversations at large haven't progressed very far. In 2010, The Guardian called masturbation "literature's last taboo" adding that it "is the one form of sex that writers have yet to truly get to grips with."
That doesn't mean self-pleasure or masturbation in literature has been all-out avoided, it's there in some of the biggest classics. But even as I write this, I feel slightly awkward, whereas I wouldn't feel the same way if I were simply writing about sex scenes in books. I feel more intrusive, like prying into something more private and intimate. That's just all our societal pressures talking: we aren't supposed to openly talk about things.But really, there's nothing to feel funny about or even worse, feel ashamed of when talking about masturbation. Getting to know yourself is important, and no one should ever make you feel anything less than wonderful about that. And thankfully, we now have anthems like Beyonce and Nicki Minaj's "Feeling Myself" to help us talk (and sing) about it more openly.The journey toward self-knowledge isn't always smooth, as some of the examples show, but the very presence of these scenes shows how matter-of-fact of discussion of masturbation should really be.
1. “I have this special place and when I rub it I get a very nice feeling. I don’t know what it’s called or if anyone else has it but when I have trouble falling asleep, touching my special place helps a lot.”
— Judy Blume, Deenie
No list about self-exploration and sexuality would be complete without Judy Blume, who may have proved the most influential writer for many of us. In Blume, we found someone who gave us permission to explore our sexualities and who affirmed us in ways we may not have gotten at home. Her story about Deenie is no exception.
2. "And then a rocket sprang and bang shot blind and O! then the Roman candle burst and it was like a sigh of O! and everyone cried O! O! in raptures and it gushed out of it a stream of rain gold hair threads and they shed and ah! They were all greeny dewy stars falling with golden, O so lovely, O, soft, sweet, soft! Then all melted away dewily in the grey air: all was silent."
— James Joyce, Ulysses
Arguably one of the most well-regarded novels of all time, Ulysses explores the minutiae of one man's day. While Leopold Bloom's orgasmic scene is more than a little uncomfortable — he is in public after all — it is certainly one of the memorable.
3. “Listen…right down there in your pussy is a little button that gits real hot when you do know what with somebody. It git hotter and hotter then it melts. That the good part.”
— Alice Walker, The Color Purple
Alice Walker's novel is largely a testament to the strength of one woman in the face of extreme adversity. Abused by both her father and her husband, Celie hardly knows herself and has difficultly engaging in sex. It takes Shug Avery to introduce her to herself in an affirmative and simmering scene.
4. "She runs her hands down her belly. Her right forefinger touches the clitoris while the left forefinger goes deep inside her, pretending to be a penis. What does a penis feel, surrounded by those soft, collapsing caves of flesh? Her finger is too small. She puts in two and spreads them. But her nails are too long. They scratch."
— Erica Jong, Fear of Flying
The physicality of Erica Jong's language is unparalleled as she describes the pleasure and even moment of discomfort as Isadora touches herself. The scene doubles as a tutorial for those of us who may need a little push to explore ourselves more.
5. "At the Saturday afternoon movie I would leave my friends to go off to the candy machine — and wind up in a distant balcony seat, squirting my seed into the empty wrapper from a Mounds bar. On an outing of our family association, I once cored an apple, saw to my astonishment (and with the aid of my obsession) what it looked like, and ran off into the woods to fall upon the orifice of the fruit, pretending that the cool and mealy hole was actually between the legs of that mythical being who always called me Big Boy when she pleaded for what no girl in all recorded history had ever had."
— Philip Roth, Portnoy's Complaint
No list about sex in books — in general, partnered or solo — is truly complete without a mention of Philip Roth. Often more infamously known for his frank portrayals of male sexuality, Portnoy's Complaint stands as an important exploration of adolescent desire, in all its strange and weird glory.
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