I was, for several years, a sex advice columnist. I've dealt with every sexual issue you can think of, but one of the things that seemed to garner the most ridiculous sexual myths? Masturbation — specifically, female masturbation.
Something about women doing it for themselves still just doesn't sit right with our cultural imagination. Despite a flood of new publicity since the '90s (Samantha's seminal moment with The Rabbit on Sex And The City is claimed by many observers as the beginning of a new age of sort-of openness about female masturbatory practices), it all still has the aura of something private, wrong, and unfeminine.
But why? Well, unfortunately, female masturbation hasn't been part of our conversation about sex — ever. The Bible doesn't mention it, the symptoms of frustrated female sexual drive were misconstrued as "hysteria" for centuries, and it's only been on the table since the '60s and '70s as a viable part of female existence, in large part due to sex educator Betty Dodson. After all, it was only in 1994 that U.S. Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders lost her job for commenting positively about masturbation at the United Nations.
Of course, men have had to deal with some problematic ideas about the dangers of quietly rubbing one out too, from blindness to hairy palms. (Kellogg's cornflakes were invented by John Kellogg to prevent masturbatory urges. Think of that next time you have breakfast.) But while most people now know that masturbation isn't actually going to make you go blind, there are a few serious myths about female masturbation still running around that need to be stopped, immediately.
So let's rub them out — pun intended.
Myth #1: Most Women Don't Masturbate
I just cannot with this one. It's part of a centuries-long depiction of women in western society as sexless creatures who endure intercourse all for the sake of making babies. There's no value in any blanket statement about sexuality, but this one's particularly stupid, because it's quite clear that women do masturbate — often, and with great pleasure.
Stats on masturbation are hard to gather (because people don't like talking about it), but in a recent survey, 50 percent of women aged between 25-29 said they'd masturbated in the last month. The reality is probably more: another study found that 92 percent of adult respondents over 18 and under 30 said they'd masturbated recently and regularly.
Myth #2: Women Don't Enjoy Masturbating To Pornography
This is one that requires clarification. It's not that women don't enjoy pornography — the massive rise in interest in feminist pornography shows that's a lie — it's just that pornography throughout the centuries has been for one gaze and one gaze only: men. While women can still enjoy mainstream pornography, their exclusion from its target market make it problematic, and raise some serious problems for philosophers like Andrea Dworkin, who think it's violent and dehumanizing to women.
It's also interesting to note that the whole mode of pornography — graphic images with minimal storyline — is tailored to men's brains. Women, it turns out, respond to other kinds of stimuli much better, like sound, touch, and smell — and to things with emotional relevance to themselves. The problem ain't with ladies, it's with the product.
Myth #3: Women Require A Sex Toy To Masturbate
Nothing against sex toys. They are lovely. I own several. But the idea that women can't possibly get themselves off without aid from a pink machine from China is damaging, not only to our bank balances but to our empowerment. Fingers can do the job very well if required for many women, thank you — and if you've experimented and discovered it doesn't work like that for your parts, or like having Lelo's entire collection in your drawer, that is awesome. But it's no universal rule.
Myth #4: Women Who Masturbate Are Nymphomaniacs
This one probably came from the demonization of women with sexual drive throughout history. The 2013 book What Do Women Want?: Adventures In The Science Of Female Desire pointed out that for a very long time, people (including scientists) have either made female sexuality a deviant problem or put it a nice, neat, civilized box — when it's actually just as rampant and powerful as male desire.
We're in a bind, ladies: we've actually got a tiger in our tank, but if we let it out to play we're still believed to be devils in disguise. Remember that 92 percent statistic? We can't all be raving sex maniacs.
Myth #5: Men "Need" To Masturbate — Women Don't
This is, yes, a man-centred one, but it's also a myth about contrast. Men, according to this view, need to masturbate, while women don't — because men have such a strong biological requirement that it's needed to blow off steam. Women, however, are seen as less sexually driven, and their masturbation is not perceived as an urge in the same way.
In reality, it's all the same thing — and it depends on the person. An interesting trend bucks this myth: a group of men have challenged themselves not to masturbate, and attributed all kinds of sexual and personal achievements to this decision. It's certain that men really like masturbating, but it doesn't seem to harm them more if they stop.
Myth #6: Women In Longterm Relationships Don't Masturbate
Yeah, this one's complete rubbish. Masturbation isn't just required when a partner isn't around to satisfy needs; it's a healthy part of a lot of sexual life, and can produce responses that partner sex can't. Different strokes for different folks.
It doesn't mean that a partner is bored or not getting enough sex, either. Forty percent of men and 30 percent of women in relationships still masturbate, according to a Kinsey study. Mutual masturbation can also be a strong part of your sex life with your partner.
Myth #7: Masturbation Makes You Worse In Bed
I understand the logic behind this one: excessive focus on yourself and your sexual needs may make you more selfish when it comes to another person. But the realities of sex are different to a masturbatory experience, and masturbation is often recommended before you have your first time with a partner, because it helps you to get to know your body, how it feels, and what it wants. If anything, it may just make you more comfortable — and better in bed. Knowledge is power.
Myth #8: Little Girls Don't Masturbate
Nope. Many people are alarmed to discover children self-stimulating, but it's part of childhood to be normally interested in what happens to your body. Playing with your genitals as a young kid is regarded as absolutely normal and healthy. Interestingly, one study found that nearly every young boy had masturbated by the age of 15, while only 58 percent of young women copped to doing the same. Girls also reported masturbating less frequently than boys — but that certainly doesn't mean they aren't masturbating at all.
Myth #9: Women Who Don't Masturbate Are Bad Feminists
Not wanting to masturbate doesn't make you abnormal, a bad feminist, or a flawed creature with the sex drive of a slug. It just doesn't appeal to some of us, and doesn't meant that you'll never know your body or be able to satisfy a partner's needs. Libidos differ greatly across the population, and the types of things that turn us on are as diverse as tastes in food. First rule of sex ed: if you find you don't enjoy it, don't do it. No worries.
Images: Universal Studios/Apatow Production; Giphy.