I don’t masturbate. Don’t judge me.
That isn’t to say I never have. I’ve tried. I really have. But it’s always felt more of a chore -– a kind of requisite feminist activity -– than the pleasurable, relaxing, even necessary pastime I assume it is for everyone else.
While for most women, I’m told, masturbation is a shameful activity, my shame always came from the fact that my orgasms were never self-induced.
Feminists are supposed to masturbate. We’re supposed to be empowered, sexually liberated, independent women of the (sexy, sexy) future! In essence, we’re supposed to be able to give ourselves dick-free orgasms.
I’ve tried vibrators and dildos and vibrator dildos that spin around and shake simultaneously, undulating like a penis possessed. That last one came highly recommended by all my friends. It was a sure thing, they said. Not for me. And I put in some solid practice time. Really gave it a chance. But at the end of the day, unlike the times I have actual intercourse with owners of real, live penises, I didn’t come. Mostly I just got bored. And felt like a failure.
It felt like the Internet was especially interested in women’s masturbatory habits this week due to a not-yet-released app called Happy Playtime, designed to facilitate and encourage female masturbation. The general consensus from feminist-types is that women masturbate less than men because of “cultural stigma.” Oh, and because they think their vaginas are gross.
And this is not necessarily untrue. Women have long been taught that their vaginas are dirty and that to touch said vaginas is shameful. Not only that, but women tend not to be taught about sexual pleasure so much as they learn sex is dangerous -– that sex is something men want, and will try to “get” from you. Women learn they are the passive recipients of sex whereas men are the aggressors. We learn that men’s sexuality is uncontrollable, predatory, and animalistic and female sexuality is akin to a delicate flower or a precious gift we give to men. Women learn to perform sexiness before we learn to find pleasure in sex.
In other words, sex isn’t for us. It’s for them.
Ann Friedman, who wrote a piece about female masturbation and the Happy Playtime app last week, said (with what I interpreted to be either surprise or disappointment): “I know some adult (feminist!) women who never masturbate or claim they don’t enjoy it.” While Friedman argues that the fact that women masturbate less than men is due to it being “taboo,” I’ve had sort of the opposite experience.
The “taboo” for me, or the shame, rather, was that I was this sexually liberated, feminist woman who very much enjoys sex, who also doesn’t masturbate. I felt like everyone was doing it but me. Even my last boyfriend made me feel bad about it in a “What’s wrong with you?” kind of way.
So there’s another side to masturbation shame. When the vast majority of women I know are masturbating and when what feels like the whole feminist Internet thinks you’re a prude who hates their vagina if you don’t, we may want to consider that there might be other reasons some women don’t masturbate. For example: Meh.
Here’s what I’ve learned over the past 16 years I’ve been sexually active. Not only is my libido directly attached to individuals (meaning that I get turned on thinking about or being around someone I’m attracted to as opposed to experiencing, random, arbitrary horniness), but my orgasms are completely dependent on dicks. Without getting overly detailed, if I were to have orgasms on my own, I’d have to bolt a big, fake penis, attached to “hips” to my bed. Suffice to say it’s a two-person job.
Orgasms come easily to me (now, though this hasn’t always been the case) once comfortable with a man. It’s really just math: attraction + erection + the right angles = ecstasy. But the party line, when it comes to “sex-positive” feminism (a term that, frankly, I could do without as it implies there is some faction of “sex-negative” feminists and creates an imaginary divide among feminists on that basis) is that women who like sexual pleasure should also like alone time sexual pleasure.
And don’t get me wrong –- women should definitely masturbate and give themselves lots of orgasms if they are so inclined –- but can I also freely admit that when I’m not dating anyone, I’m not having orgasms? And that I’m really OK with that?
My orgasms are all wrong from the feminist get-go. Apparently clitoral orgasms are what women have, vaginal orgasms are a myth, and dicks don’t give orgasms -– tongues, fingers, and toys do. So basically I don’t exist. It’s the future and in the future the “never-fail, go-to spot for her orgasm” is the clit.
Getting over the fact that my clitoris wasn’t giving me orgasms, and figuring out that I could come, pretty easily, via penetrative sex was pretty liberating. (Though apparently I’m a minority, so don’t feel bad if this doesn’t work for you). But I sure do feel like I wasted a lot of years trying to force it and feeling like there was something terribly wrong with me for not being able to get off like everyone else I knew and like everything I’d read had instructed me to. (Why yes! I did read up on this like a big sex nerd!)
We’ve recently (and thankfully) started to clarify that the clitoris actually isn’t limited to that tiny ball of nerves at the top of a woman’s labia. The fact that the clitoris actually extends into the vagina (in fact, most of it is inside) and can, therefore, be stimulated from within tells us that clitoral orgasms and vaginal orgasms are not necessarily the two very separate things we thought they were.
I blame Freud for ruining everything for feminists who have vaginal orgasms (they’re the “mature, feminine” orgasms, he said, causing us all had to rebel by only having “immature” clitoral orgasms). And actually, the one good and empowering thing that came from reading Naomi Wolf’s odd, scientifically-confused woo-woo goddess Vagina book was this: “Freud was wrong and Shere Hite didn’t have the whole picture, and the feminists of the 70s were waging a battle to prioritize the clitoris over the vagina that is actually beside the point, because every woman is wired differently.”
“HA!” I thought. “I’m just not wired the way a feminist should be. My penis-dependent orgasms are not my fault, but rather the fault of my neural wiring.” At last I can stop wasting time with clit vibrators. I felt relieved.
Feminism’s efforts at both encouraging women to explore their bodies and give themselves sexual pleasure, man-free, has been an excellent and desperately needed endeavor. But I do feel the focus on “sex-positivity” has gone a little of the deep end, landing in prescriptive territory and leaving women who aren’t either hyper-sexual (or who are asexual or simply have low libidos, because those women get to exist and be liberated ladies too, yes they do!) or who, like me, have individual/penis-dependent orgasms feeling boring, regressive, prudish, anti-feminist and like insufficiently-liberated women.
So after all these years of being told and of telling myself that, if I can’t get myself off, I’m not sexually empowered or some other such garbage, I’m over it. I don’t masturbate and I don’t care.
I’m done feeling shame over my masturbation-deficient life. I like my orgasms. They are the best. I like having sex with men and feel relieved that my free time can be dedicated to watching “The Real Housewives” and eating olives instead of trying to force orgasms onto myself.
Meghan Murphy is a writer and radio host from Vancouver, B.C. She holds a Masters degree in Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies from Simon Fraser University and is founder and editor of Feminist Current, one of the most-read feminist blogs in Canada. You can find more of her writing in Al Jazeera, AlterNet, Ms. Magazine, The Globe and Mail, The Georgia Straight, Herizons, The Tyee, rabble.ca, and more. Follow her on Twitter@meghanemurphy. This piece was originally published on xoJane.com.