Why We All Need to Be Talking About Female Masturbation

For far too long, our culture has placed an emphasis only on male masturbation by normalizing it in the media and expecting it from men, since men are often depicted as being constantly horny and unable to contain themselves (which is absolutely not true). But luckily, as of more recently, female masturbation is getting the attention it deserves by being highlighted in TV shows like Pen15, Big Mouth, Broad City, and Sex Education.

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When working with women, or folks with female genitalia, I ask about masturbation or self-pleasuring practices, and the responses are too often filled with shame and disgust. Our culture is teaching women that their parts are “gross” or need to be “perfect” and are only deserving of pleasure with a partner or when it looks and smells just right, or in some cases, not deserving of self-pleasure at all. And that is why I am absolutely thrilled to share with you that this is not the case! Masturbation is an important, and frankly awesome, part of your sexual experience and it is not just for men. In fact, only women have an entire part of their body just for pleasure (ahem, the clitoris). Here are 3 considerations for why we all need to be talking about the importance and value of female masturbation:

  1. When you know what you like and what turns you on, it’s easier to share with a partner for a better partnered sexual encounter. This is pretty self-explanatory, but can be hard to put into practice. Many people have the mind-set of, “my partner should just know what I like”, or feel it’s too embarrassing or vulnerable to talk about what they like sexually or to give feedback. It is not your partner’s job to “just know” what you like, what turns you on, or what gives you pleasure. Most women do not orgasm from vaginal penetration or from the “G-spot”, it is typically from clitoral stimulation. When you learn your favorite ways to orgasm (such as how much pressure you like, where you like the pressure, what kind of motion, what kind of touch, what position and so forth), it’s easier to share this information with your partner and coach them on what you like to increase the probability of you experiencing pleasure or orgasm during a sexual encounter. And contrary to popular belief, your partner is not responsible for your orgasm, you are.  

  2. It can improve body image, because your body is so freaking cool and was built for pleasure. Negative body image, especially among women, has become an epidemic in our society. Women are given strong messages that their body has to be perfect and thin, or have curve only in the right places, in order to be seen as sexy or desirable. Female clients report negative body image as being one of the top barriers to pleasure and connection with a partner. When you’re focused on what may be jiggling or if your cellulite is showing from a certain angle or position, you aren’t letting yourself focus on what’s most important: pleasure. Masturbation or practicing self-exploration with your body can be a wonderful antidote for negative body image (even though it takes time!).  When you explore your body with compassion and curiosity, and go on a treasure hunt for what’s pleasurable for you, you’re giving yourself the message of, “my body can experience pleasure,” and “wow, I can make myself feel good and my body allows that to happen.” When we start seeing our bodies as a vessel for connection, self-love, and pleasure, we can start being kinder to ourselves and ultimately more empowered. Your body is amazing and is built to feel pleasure. Even if you don’t believe it now, keep reminding yourself on your journey towards self-empowerment.

  3. Because you deserve pleasure (even on your own), and not to mention there’s lots of cool health benefits. A valuable lesson that every person needs to learn is that we all deserve to experience pleasure on our own. This message is not given to women enough, especially since most women’s first sexual experiences are with a partner, whereas most men’s first sexual experiences are on their own. Not only does it feel good, but masturbation can also help relieve stress and tension in your body, help with sleep, release endorphins in your brain (and remember Elle Woods taught us that endorphins make us happy), help your body with circulation of blood flow, boost your immune system, decrease menstrual pain, and can even help you live longer! Need I say more?

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It’s important to keep in mind that masturbation doesn’t always mean orgasm, and that’s OK. The goal of masturbation is to feel pleasure, to explore what feels good and comfortable for you, and to explore your body. When we place too much emphasis on “The Big O,” we aren’t paying attention to sensations in our body, and we end up putting too much pressure on ourselves (and then helllllo negative self-talk). If you are noticing that masturbation is difficult due to feeling shame, embarrassment, guilt, or anxiety, you aren’t alone and you can change your attitudes, feelings, and anxiety with the help of a sex therapist and lots of self-compassion and patience. Lots of women struggle with feeling self-conscious, afraid, and ashamed about masturbation, and it’s about time we change our attitudes and start empowering ourselves and the women around us. Bottom line: you deserve pleasure.

~Rebecca Hirsch, LMFT