Brook’s Education and Wellbeing Specialist, Paulina Wawrzynczyk, shines a light on common myths and challenges societal stigma surrounding female masturbation.
Over the course of the 20th and 21st centuries, a lot has changed in the societal view of masturbation. Development of sexology as a separate scientific study has helped people throughout the world to consider a new narrative and reclaim the right to pleasure. We’re on the right track but there is still a lot to do when it comes to normalising self-love at every age.
By addressing them and dismantling these false beliefs, we can begin to normalise dialogues around female masturbation and break down the stigma that still surrounds it.
Traditionally, female masturbation has been less discussed and remains a bigger taboo than male masturbation, so firstly I would like to invite you to explore you own values and beliefs. If you are a parent, carer or a professional working with young people, how does thinking about female masturbation make you feel? What have you learnt about it at home, from religion, your peers and sexual partners? It may make you feel uncomfortable, as many of us have not been raised in a sex-positive environment.
There are no medical reasons why young people shouldn’t masturbate, but some old cultural notions and myths are still widespread.
Have you heard any of these before?
MYTH: Girls are less ‘sexual’ than boys and they don’t masturbate (at least girls that I know!).
TRUTH: The idea that people’s sexuality depends on their gender is a myth. Everyone is different and their sexual desire or interest in sex is very individual. Some people masturbate from a very early age, some may never be into it and that’s perfectly ok.
MYTH: Masturbation leads to sex, or even worse – casual sex.
TRUTH: Firstly, there is no such link. Everyone has a different timing for their sexual debut and masturbation has no proven impact on people engaging in partnered sex. Secondly, desexualisation of girls brings people to the conclusion that teenage girls aren’t or shouldn’t be interested in sex. Instead of ignoring the reality that young people of all genders may choose to have sex, we need to ensure that young people have safe, accessible services and healthcare available to them. Comprehensive and inclusive Relationships and Sex Education also plays an important role in giving young people the skills and knowledge to navigate relationships and sex. We welcome the introduction of mandatory RSE in schools and colleges this academic year.
MYTH: Instead of masturbating, women should find a sexual partner/a husband.
TRUTH: It’s a prevalent myth that a person’s sexuality can thrive only in a monogamous relationship and women should ‘save’ it for their partners. This is a sexist and unrealistic concept. The advice we would give to young people is that getting to know your body first helps you to understand your likes and dislikes, which can lead to more pleasurable sexual experiences if and when you do choose to have sex with a partner. Let’s also not forget that for some people masturbation can be more enjoyable than sex, because the focus is just on yourself.
MYTH: There is one typical/acceptable way to masturbate.
TRUTH: Some people think that girls only rub their vulvas, others think that ‘real’ masturbation is about inserting a finger/an object into the vagina. Whatever their preference, people should masturbate in ways that feel good for them. Using toys for masturbation remains a big taboo or is sometimes ridiculed. The idea of virginity was useful to keep women away from inserting anything to their vaginas because of a ‘danger’ of breaking the hymen. Now, we know that every person has a different hymen, they are stretchy and don’t break. People may enjoy using different sex toys vaginally or anally, but just remember that it’s important not to insert anything that isn’t designed to be used in that way. It could break, get stuck, or leave you vulnerable to infection. If you think it’s needed, talk to young people about health and safety. Vaginas have a specific pH and understanding how to look after it is very important, anuses are also sensitive.
MYTH: Masturbation will change the shape of your vagina and vulva (and it’s unattractive).
TRUTH: Our bodies can’t permanently stretch because of masturbation or sex. Vulvas and vaginas have been shamed enough for how they look and feel, it’s time to stop that. They are all different just like our eyes and noses, and we should be encouraging young people to celebrate diversity.
MYTH: Masturbation will desensitise you.
TRUTH: ‘Getting used to’ your hand or a vibrator is sometimes portrayed as harmful as it may reduce other sensations. This implies that sex with a partner (without hands and vibrators) should be more desirable and more pleasurable than solo-sex. In reality, people orgasm in many ways. Knowing your body and being able to give yourself amazing orgasms can only enhance future sex life.
When we come to terms with what we actually think about masturbating and what modern science says about it (the list of benefits is long), it will be easier to talk about it with young people. It’s important to reassure them that masturbation is healthy and safe for all genders as long as it’s done in a private setting and young people understand where to seek support if they are worried about their habits.
Shrouding masturbation in secrecy and taboos can mean young people don’t feel able to ask questions and may experience feelings of shame or possibly engage in more unsafe activities as they haven’t received proper education. No one should feel guilty or embarrassed about solo-sex as many humans (and other mammals) have always been doing it.