As our bodies develop through puberty, young men and women become aware of themselves as very different sexual beings.
Boys have erections as early as 8 or 9. During puberty the penis increases substantially in size and becomes much more responsive to stimulation, both mental and physical. By the age of 12 or 13, most boys have learnt how to reach orgasm through masturbation.
There is no similar natural trigger for a girl to explore her own sexual arousal and discover how her genitals respond to physical stimulation. When girls reach puberty they get breasts and periods: body changes linked to women’s child-bearing role. So even today women often approach sex from the perspective of family and relationships.
“While women read romantic novels, men read pornography. While romance packages sex with love, fidelity and marriage, pornography packages sex with violence, possession and promiscuity. This means that women and men often have very different views of sex and what it is all about.” (p28 Woman’s Experience of Sex 1983)
Through masturbation boys learn how to use genital stimulation to bring a psychological state of sexual arousal to orgasm. Yet, against all logic, it is often implied that women can hope to orgasm during sex without the benefit of the same learning process.
Sometimes it is even suggested that there is some mysterious disadvantage to female masturbation. It’s not that women who do not masturbate have more success with sex but that, with no comparison, they have no reason to question their sexual experiences. Most women are not aiming for orgasm through genital stimulation so they interpret sexual relationships as ‘love-making’.
Female masturbation is relatively uncommon
The publicity given to women’s use of vibrators today leads many people to assume that every young woman masturbates. After ten years of talking to women in the UK, I now realise that female masturbation is relatively unusual. If female masturbation were common more women would empathise with men’s use of pornography because they would understand that anyone who masturbates needs to use a source of eroticism to achieve the kind of sexual arousal that leads to orgasm.
By the way, it’s never too late to learn. See how a woman can learn to masturbate. A woman needs the opportunity and privacy to explore her own body’s responses, usually during a period of being single. If they do discover masturbation to orgasm, women are typically in their twenties or thirties and often they have already had the experience of a sexual relationship.
Some women say that they find masturbation uninteresting or lacking in emotional context. I remember as a teenager occasionally experimenting by touching my body, in the bath for instance, just to see if anything sexual might happen. Of course it never did because women’s sexual arousal and orgasm are not automatic as a man’s tend to be.
Any ineffectual touching of a person’s genitals could be described as masturbation and little girls often touch themselves in this casual way. A better definition would be to describe masturbation as an activity where a person has at least the intention of enjoying sexual arousal and orgasm. Girls learn to masturbate later than boys because their fantasies are more complex.
On the positive side, female masturbation is an innocent pleasure that has no harmful side effects either for the individual or for the couple’s sexual relationship. Women can learn how to orgasm by combining a conscious mental focus on their sexual fantasies together with genital stimulation if they are provided with knowledge about their bodies and their sexual psychology.
Excerpt from Jane’s book Ways Women Orgasm (2011)