Illustrations by Hannah Robinson

Four years ago, a friend started a conversation about masturbation. I was too ashamed to admit that I had taken pleasuring myself into my own hands until she told me that she masturbated. I remember turning to look at her, because I simply couldn’t believe that I was not the only girl doing it. After that day I actively started seeking out a conversation about masturbation with my female friends, and almost every single one of them was uncomfortable and ashamed. Too ashamed to admit that they were masturbating, or so ashamed that they never even tried. 

This shame my friends and many girls and women still feel, is deeply rooted in the taboo society places upon female masturbation. Whilst it is socially acceptable for a man to masturbate, female masturbation still carries a stigma of promiscuity and obscenity even though masturbation can help alleviate pain, cramps and reduce tension. These stigmas however are firmly entrenched in the century-long oppression of women.

A 2019 survey conducted by the sexual wellness company TENGA found that 78% of American women and 88% of British women admitted to having masturbated before – the percentage of men engaging in masturbation being 13% and 5% higher respectively. 

With almost as many women as men self-pleasuring themselves, it is distressing that the conversation around female masturbation has only recently started to unravel and that the social taboo and the shame placed on women is still so prevalent. 

While women talk more frequently about any sex-related topic than men, a study conducted by Penn State found that the sole exception to this is masturbation. 

The social taboo surrounding sexual behaviour and masturbation arguably starts and is often reinforced in schools, when students learn about virginity, whilst conversations about female masturbation or the pleasure and enjoyment of sex are rarely included in discussions. It is not surprising that generation after generation of young women have felt ashamed of their sexual self. 

Even though the conversation is slowly starting to unravel as female masturbation has been addressed on TV shows such as Sex Education, Girls and Orange Is the New Black, there is still a clear double standard regarding education surrounding masturbation and the attitudes that are attached to it.  

To create an open discussion and develop public understanding and cultural acceptance, the first step would be to reform the sex education curriculums at school to include sex positivity, education on masturbation, and inclusivity. A lack of dialogue, not only within schools but also amongst family and friends, continues to reinforce this social taboo and stigmatization.

On an individual level seek conversations with your female friends about masturbation, because alongside numerous health benefits, it is also the epitome of sexual liberation.