Why It's So Important To Talk About Self-Pleasure

by Laken Howard
Ashley Batz/Bustle

We need to talk about female masturbation more. Think about it — how many times have you heard a guy making a casual joke about jerking off? How many times have you seen a movie or TV show that depicted a dude touching his junk? Now compare that to how often you've heard a woman nonchalantly discussing masturbation, or seen a woman masturbating on your TV screen (porn doesn't count). There's really no contest: as a society, we seem to be a lot more comfortable talking (and hearing) about male masturbation. That's all well and good — of course men should be able to discuss their sex lives freely! — but it would be stellar if women felt a similar comfort to talk about their pleasure without fear of judgment or shaming.

One of the unfortunate side effects of our lack of dialogue about female masturbation? Some women just don't know self-pleasure is a totally normal, healthy thing to do (tragic AF, right?). In a hilarious and bold new short film called Everybody Does It, filmmaker Megan Brotherton explores the weird and wonderful experience of masturbating for the first time as an adult. The 10-minute film follows "Claire" (portrayed by Brotherton), a mid-20s woman who's stressed, overwhelmed, and constantly on edge — until she goes to her therapist, who bluntly asks her "Do you masturbate?" In that moment, her whole world is turned upside down, and she sets out on a (slightly awkward) journey to explore her own body for the first time ever.

Life imitates art, and art imitates life — so naturally, Brotherton's inspiration for the short film was based largely on her own experience (or lack thereof) with masturbation. "[The film] was inspired by a somewhat traumatic experience I had going to a sex shop for the first time at age 26," Brotherton tells Bustle. "I was super afraid and embarrassed, and even though I knew it was kind of ridiculous I was totally overwhelmed by the feelings. I also didn't realize that masturbation was normal and healthy for women and that, well...everybody does it. So when I learned this I couldn't help but imagine everybody doing it, which of course was both creepy and hilarious so naturally I wanted to write about it."

The Female Masturbation Taboo

But if so many women are doing it, why aren't we more comfortable talking openly about masturbation? Part of the problem is representation: if we rarely (if ever) see women in the media masturbating, or at least talking about doing so, how will we know it's normal?

The stigma around female pleasure (particularly when it is not catered towards a man) is really baffling. It implies that we as a society want to shame women for enjoying sex."

"Our culture has a HUGE impact on the way we talk about masturbation and sexuality in general," Brotherton says. "Reference to men masturbating is pretty common in film and television but female masturbation is still avoided, which is really confusing and unhelpful to girls because it communicates that their sexuality is something to keep secret or be ashamed of. The stigma around female pleasure (particularly when it is not catered towards a man) is really baffling. It implies that we as a society want to shame women for enjoying sex."

To anyone who's sex positive, it's a no-brainer that, just like men, women enjoy pleasure for pleasure's sake and should be able to explore their own bodies freely. Unfortunately, not everyone shares this view, and that pervades our culture in subtle ways that we often don't even stop to think about — and which have seriously negative consequences.

"Attempting to control or take ownership of [female pleasure] is so dumb," Brotherton says. "[Firstly] it doesn't work, you can't control or oppress someone's sexuality, it will come out one way or another and secondly, women who know their bodies and how to pleasure themselves are better sexual partners because they are comfortable with themselves and their sexuality. And it's not just men that are reinforcing the stigma. Our society's discomfort with female sexuality is so deeply embedded, we all buy into it on some level."

How Can We Tackle Such A Complex Problem?

Ashley Batz/Bustle

In a patriarchal society, women are viewed largely through the male gaze, which of course has an impact on how women's bodies and sexualities are portrayed and discussed in the media. (Just think about all the ads you've seen that feature a sexy, busty woman seductively... eating a cheeseburger?) Though it's tempting to blame men for all our sex-related problems, that's neither accurate nor fair — in reality, other women can be part of the problem, too.

"Male masturbation has already been normalized," Brotherton says. "But the conversation about female masturbation has two different fronts working against it: the old school 'women aren't sexual and shouldn't pleasure themselves' thinkers and the new 'aren't we beyond this already?' progressive thinkers that don't want to acknowledge that there are still LOTS of women who don't masturbate or aren't even able to orgasm during sex."

It's awesome if you feel empowered discussing your sexuality openly and candidly, but it's also important to remember that not everyone is necessarily on the same comfort level as you. Ultimately, it's not beneficial to assume everyone shares the exact same views about sex as you do, because it could prevent you from having authentic, mind-broadening dialogues with your female peers.

"The old way of thinking will pass eventually with time, but the 'progressive thinkers' are afraid that talking about something like the stigma around female masturbation somehow threatens their cause or the progress that we've already made... and I think that's a big mistake," Brotherton says. "The truth is we are all in this together and we have to have compassion for each other and a serious dialogue digging into the real problems that persist today."

Why It's Crucial To Talk About Female Masturbation

The importance of talking about female masturbation is pretty straightforward: the more we talk about it, the more normal it will become, and the more women will feel able to own their sexuality and explore their bodies independently.

"If women talk about masturbation openly, like the healthy and normal thing that it is, then more women will do it," Brotherton says. "And if more women do it, then they will know their own bodies, own their sexuality, and ultimately be more empowered all around...empowered to ask for what they want, to say no, and to take care of themselves. But it all starts with the messages young girls receive about their bodies and sexuality."

You don't have to throw your windows wide and shout to the world that you just gave yourself an amazing orgasm — but if more women start talking to each other about their pleasure, the more prepared they'll feel to talk about it with their sexual partners, which will lead to better, more satisfying sex (because if you know what you like, you can communicate that to your partner).

"The avoidance of female pleasure in television and movies and... the reinforced message that female orgasm is only appropriate if a man is giving it to her makes it very hard for women to grow up feeling empowered and believing that they are entitled to enjoy themselves as much as men," Brotherton says. "All of this can change if we start talking about it and educating girls about their bodies and their sexuality."

The Impact Of Representation

Ashley Batz/Bustle

Though it'd be nice for female masturbation to be destimgatized overnight, it will, of course, take time to truly see a change in the way our society views female pleasure. The first step? Creating more examples of women in the media who are empowered and confident in their own sexuality — or are at least on a journey to self-empowerment.

"I hope Everybody Does It will get women talking (and men listening) about their sexuality," Brotherton says. "I want them talking about what it's like growing up female today and how it affected their sense of sexuality and self-confidence. I want people talking so much about female masturbation that it really becomes normal so there is no shame or embarrassment about it. Parents and educators should tell kids that masturbation is safe and healthy. There's a large gender gap when it comes to masturbation and it's because we don't talk about female masturbation. Let's talk about it, kill the stigma, and empower ourselves and our gender!"