Recently a good friend of mine told me a story about how as a fresh-faced young student she had been asked by a new acquaintance whether she masturbated. She was the last in a group of other young women who had all shaken their heads and ‘Eughhed’ because it was ‘gross’ and she duly went along with the others and denied her willingness to engage in self-love. Yuck, women just don’t do that sort of thing seemed to be the party line.
I have another brilliant friend who talks about wanking all the time. I used to think that this was because she is foreign and doesn’t understand the British reticence to discuss such matters, but I love her willingness to say the unsayable (often loudly and in the pub) all the same. The last such conversation we had led to a group of women talking about their experience of orgasms and I found out that one of my other friends had her first at the tender age of 4. These are things that women do not often talk about and to do so felt liberating and refreshing.
Not talking about wanking is not just symptomatic of Britishness however – there doesn’t seem to be any shortage of men willing to talk about taking pleasure into their own hands. No, talking about wanking is something that women don’t do because to do so is to see ourselves as active participants in sexual activity rather than a passive recipient of male attention. Views on women’s sexuality grow ever more complicated in an age of internet porn and constant Cosmo articles telling us how to please our man and have better orgasms while maintaining a perfect figure and work life balance. We are supposed to be experts at giving blow jobs yet not practice on too many people lest we become sluts. We can never be sure how many men we have to sleep with before we become a slut and the preferred option seems to be a very informed virgin who has been employing a banana as a make-shift penis in order to perfect her technique. Be available but not too available. Dress sexy but don’t show too much flesh. Like sex but don’t like it so much that you want to go out and have it with lots of people because then you will be dirty and nobody will want you any more.
Women are taught from a young age to be ashamed of our sexual desires. Until recent years I found it almost impossible to talk to my partner about my own needs because even to admit that I had sexual needs felt shameful. Shame is a powerful emotion and like guilt, can hide in your subconscious so that you hardly notice it’s there. It’s not until your mate in the pub starts talking loudly about having to pull over her car to have a wank in the services, that you realise it exists and that you experience it too.
Admitting that you like wanking as a woman is to admit that you like sexual pleasure for its own sake. It is to see oneself as subject rather than object. Approximately 1 in 3 women report having problems reaching orgasm (some surveys put it as high as 43%) and I can’t help thinking that the taboo around female masturbation is partly responsible. If you have never explored your own body and found out what turns you on then how can you begin to explain this to anybody else? If masturbation is just for boys then how will girls ever learn to put their own needs and desires first?
If women admit that they like having orgasms on their own then there is the scary possibility that they might just not need men any more or that they might start to prefer their vibrator to the touch of human flesh. This challenges the patriarchal status quo and it’s easy to see why sometimes it’s hard to be the only one willing to tell the truth. Swallowing our own sense of shame is difficult but I believe it’s essential if men and women are ever going to be on an equal footing in the bedroom. Sometimes being a feminist means doing difficult and uncomfortable things and writing this blog is part of my own process of trying to overcome the patriarchal norms to which I am subject. Maybe being proud that I’m a wanker too is a good first step?