Carolyn, a relationship counsellor in her fifties, told me she thought it unwise to positively encourage female masturbation. She did not give her reasons.
“Many women think of masturbation as unnatural and disgusting and a complete waste of time, and don’t understand why anybody does it and are unsympathetic to the view that people might continue to do it even though they have sexual partners. The majority of men, though they may keep their feelings to themselves, don’t agree.” (p52 Healthy Sex 1998)
It is often implied that for a heterosexual woman, sex is an emotional experience and that orgasm (if acknowledged at all) comes from simply loving her partner. The unspoken fear is that any activity as sexually explicit as masturbation might interfere with the more acceptable loving experiences that a sexual relationship can provide.
Carolyn knew that I masturbated and she asked me, rather tactlessly I thought, whether I had ever had any lesbian tendencies. It reminds me of the joke told by a character in the film ‘Flashdance’. A male chef asks, “What’s this?” and sticks his tongue out flat. The answer – “A lesbian with a hard on!”.
Lesbian women are seen to enjoy explicit sexual arousal (involving the clitoris). For heterosexual women, enjoying sexual pleasure is primarily associated with immoral behaviour. Within loving relationships heterosexual women usually settle for vaginal intercourse, which can be justified morally on the grounds of reproduction.
“Although 58 per cent of the females in our sample were masturbating to orgasm at some time in their lives, it was a much smaller percentage which had masturbated within any particular year or period of years. Because of the considerable discontinuity of most of the masturbatory histories, it is probable that not more than a fifth – 20 per cent – of the females were masturbating within any particular year.” (p143 Sexual behavior in the human female 1953)
We like to underplay the physical aspects of heterosexual women’s sexual arousal. Even though women do have ‘hard-ons’ we rarely acknowledge this fact. We prefer to attribute strong physical responses to male sexuality. I enjoy my own sexual arousal and orgasm but my focus is on what is happening in my head rather than to my body. In general, men are more tuned into the physical side of sex (genital focus) but a woman appreciates the sensuality of her whole body (her power to arouse a man).
When a man masturbates, he uses firm and sustained stimulation of his penis from the outset. When I first masturbated a partner, I was surprised by how vigorous I could be when stimulating his penis with my hand. A man can expect the reverse: he will need to use much more subtle stimulation on a woman’s clitoris than he is used to when masturbating himself.
When I masturbate I don’t even consider clitoral stimulation until I can feel some stirrings of arousal (by tuning into an effective fantasy). Even then I only rub my vulva (stimulating the clitoris through the surrounding skin) relatively slowly and gently with physical stimulation focused mainly on the peak of orgasm itself.
Our interpretation of women’s sexuality is faulty. We assume women are sexual if they support the view that intercourse is mutually orgasmic (despite the known facts). Women who masturbate are dismissed as sexually dysfunctional (pre-orgasmic). In fact such women are more sexual than average because they learn how to orgasm through genital stimulation as men do.
“Masturbation is a normal sexual outlet, which is most common in adolescence, but which is practised at all ages, by people with and without sexual partners. Masturbation is a healthy way of learning to explore your body, of developing your sexuality and your sexual fantasies. All of these are important for a fulfilling sexual life.” (p56 EveryMan 1980)
One disadvantage of masturbation and learning how to give yourself an orgasm early on in life is that your expectation is set much higher than a woman who does not know what an orgasm is. You are then sure to face disappointment if you assume that a sexual experience shared with a lover will necessarily be as easily pleasurable.
Excerpt from Jane’s book Ways Women Orgasm (2011)