Why 2013's Legacy Will Be Female Masturbation

At this point, there are few sexual taboos left that we can’t talk about on television. Dudes diddling themselves? All the time. Those same dudes watching porn? Hell yeah. Anal sex? Sure, why not. But turn the conversation to a woman pleasuring herself and the room goes silent — or in the case of the CW’s recent historically inspired drama Reign , the CW cuts that part out of the conversation. In a world in which practically anything sexual goes, the notion that a woman masturbating is hush-worthy is absurd. And that’s exactly what we may have finally learned in 2013.

It’s the year that saw the conversation move from HBO and racy cable networks (Mad Men and Girls have included masturbation scenes prior to 2013, as The Frisky recently pointed out) to primetime teen-angled programming on network TV, where that kind of sexual liberation dare not speak its name. It’s the year Anna Kendrick got everyone’s panties in a twist when she tweeted something suggesting she masturbates to Ryan Goslingooh, shocker. It’s the year Aubrey Plaza actually masturbated for a scene in a movie about a young woman’s sexual exploration. It’s the year Gabourey Sidibe masturbated on American Horror Story and incurred hatred for doing something natural. (To be fair, the Minotaur that was present when it happened sure wasn’t.)

This is the year women bringing themselves to orgasm the old-fashioned way made its triumphant arrival in pop culture in a very big way — even if its biggest moment came in the form of outrage over masturbation being censored on the CW. And while somewhere on the Internet there will always be some sexual oppressor lurking — like Dirty Girl Ministries, which seeks to inform girls that masturbation is a sin — 2013 gave us a plethora of editorials declaring female masturbation is normal (I would say “duh,” but that seems to be the revolutionary part) and begging that we stop treating it as some taboo. And maybe, just maybe, 2013 will go down in sexual history as the year we finally acquiesced to that request.

Even before it became a topic of conversation on a pop culture level, thanks to Reign and American Horror Story, the Telegraph’s Rebecca Holman wrote in September, "But we never discuss female masturbation, on its own, without a purple, glittery, revolving phallus, without a man present, just for the sake of it." One Thought Catalog writer took it a step further the same month, mocking the silence around women’s proclivity for self-love by posing her piece as some sort of Alcoholics Anonymous-style confession. Taking it a step further, Cosmo’s Anna Breslaw opened up an interesting conversation when she masturbated on the subway and then wrote about it. Rather than the discussion revolving around condemning Breslaw for being overtly sexual, critics of the stunt point out that what she’s done is prove that female masturbation is no different from male masturbation: both are extremely inappropriate in a public place with unwilling spectators.

Taking a less drastic approach in 2013, one woman decided it was high time she educated those still mortified enough by their own private parts to get comfortable putting their hands down under. HappyPlayTime is a mobile app (screenshot below) designed to teach women how to bring themselves to orgasm with their own two hands, and it was released this year to a bevy of criticism and fanfare. Its main goal is educating women in manual masturbation. After all, thanks in great part to Sex and The City and Charlotte’s Rabbit phase, vibrators have been accepted into pop culture and therefore general discussion for years. It’s the matter of women actually touching themselves (like the Divinyls' well known song that’s been condemned to “joke tune” status) that makes some people antsy.

I remember reading about buying the right vibrator in Cosmopolitan when I was 16, 10 years ago. By the time I got to college, I discovered Babeland: a wonderland of sex toys with friendly, easy-going people to help you find the one that’s right for you. To this day, my friends are happy to suggest going to Babeland or mention their own preferred vibrator purveyor, but open up the topic of how good a vibrator is or what it actually does, and that all-powerful hush returns. We can talk about Magic Wands, Silver Bullets, and Gee Whizzes until the cows come home, but talk about what they’re meant to do and it’s time to shut your trap. That’s for behind closed doors and, in some circles, “that’s gross.”

But it certainly shouldn’t be. We live in a society that laughed endlessly at Cameron Diaz putting Ben Stiller’s semen in her hair in Something About Mary — and that was in 1998. We’re the folks who made fan fiction-turned-novel Fifty Shades of Grey, about a sado-masochistic billionaire with a “red room of pain” a national best-seller many times over. Yet, something that many young women learn to do just as early on as young men is somehow considered something other. Cosmo still calls it "indulging" rather than giving it weightier descriptions, such as "important" or "imperative" or "the only thing that keeps me sane." But with all that’s happened in 2013, the tide may finally be turning.

After all, it seems like a natural progression. In 2012, the topic of single women going longer without starting families (or going on with their lives without starting families at all) was the subject on everyone’s lips. Does more single women mean more promiscuity and how can we judge them for that? Does more single women mean they’re just doing it wrong? Or (my personal, completely insane favorite) are these women waging some kind of war on men? Now that that’s settled and we can acknowledge that women are simply focusing on their own successes, rather than the ones society has set up like hologram bowling pins, we can move onto other areas of acceptance. And since sexual freedom was well-worn territory before women were being chastised for not being married, masturbation is the last frontier, aside from porn viewership, which is sort of an extension of the first topic.

Still, the Kinsey Institute’s most recent findings on men and women’s masturbation rates still show a distinct jump in frequency between women and men. Perhaps that can be attributed to the slowly deteriorating, but still present stereotype that female masturbation is somehow more perverted than male masturbation — either the women being interviewed aren’t masturbating because of the stereotype or they don’t feel comfortable telling someone they masturbate, again, because of the stereotype. But now, with all this liberating discussion and demonstration going on throughout pop culture and Internet culture in 2013, perhaps that number might see an uptick in the future.

Until then, let it be known that women masturbate and do so often, because it’s our God-given right and because it feels really, really good.

Images: CW TV; HappyPlayTime.com