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)


  1. Jane,

    I just went to your website and read your personal story. I found it very interesting and enjoyed know that background about you. If it’s OK, I’d like to share my story.

    My mother was also mentally il. In the 50’s when the medical field did not know how to treat it, shock treatment was the only way. I was effectively motherless. My father was a good father but very strict religiously and sex was a taboo subject. I learned nothing about sex from him. However, the boys I hung around with learned about masturbation at a young age and taught me at the age of 9. As a result I became attached to masturbation and it made me feel good. Especially when I finally ejaculated at the age of 13. It made me feel like a man.

    This was back in the 50’s when I think masturbation for girls was probably unknown and probably taboo. So I am curious, why did it take you until age 17 to learn about masturbation? Was it still a taboo subject growing up? When you reached your first orgasm, did it make you feel like a woman?

    It seems to me young girls today know about masturbation at a younger age now than when I was growing up and probably the same for you. Is that true? Is it OK to learn to masturbate at a young age or does that lead to sexual promiscuity? My daughter shared with me that girls she knew in college struggled with masturbation and worried about it. So in the early 2000’s they were open about it. I never knew how to respond to her about it being OK to masturbate and not to discourage the girls who were thinking it was bad.

    Thanks for listening and interested in hearing your perspective.

  2. Rob, Thanks for commenting. Masturbation is down to individual choice. It is not an activity that anyone should be either encouraged to do or discouraged from doing.

    Basically if a person has the required responsiveness then they are highly likely to discover masturbation, whether they are male or female. But some people, many women and a few men, are not responsive enough to want to masturbate. This is quite normal and it is their right to feel ok with their personal choice.

    Some men discover intercourse first and so never masturbate because they prefer the real thing. Having a creative imagination is critical to masturbation. Women always masturbate (to orgasm) alone but some men enjoy masturbating (or being masturbated) with a lover.

    Our sexual decisions are private and only our own personal concern. It is not possible to encourage someone to be more responsive (experience orgasm more frequently) than their body & mind allows. Sadly most women are unresponsive but this is how they are intended to be.

    Masturbation usually involves a person enjoying their own sexual arousal and hopefully orgasm in private. There can be nothing wrong in this and enjoyment of masturbation is no reflection on a person’s feelings for their partner. Men will find that they have much more drive to enjoy their own sexual arousal than women do.

    Women do not experience spontaneous erections e.g. early in the morning as younger men do. Women also do not get turned on (to the extent that they could easily reach orgasm) every time they see an attractive person of the opposite sex.

    Given most women’s antipathy towards eroticism and explicit genital stimulation it seems highly unlikely that many learn how to masturbate to orgasm. I personally enjoy my best orgasms through masturbation alone so I have always masturbated regularly (but not as frequently as many men do).

  3. Jane, Thanks for your response.

    Do you think unresponsiveness is nature or nurture? Like I said before, it seems to me more women masturbate today than years ago and that it has been starting at a younger age. Is there any data to support my theory? Today, have more women/mothers been saying to women/girls, it’s OK to masturbate and now they feel free to do so? We see it more in movies as well where women are doing it solo and I would think that would have impact as well.

    I hope you don’t mind my questions. Thanks Rob

  4. Hi Rob, It is vital to differentiate between fact & fiction. We have the internet today so marketing & erotic fiction abound. The sex toy companies make millions out of advertising their products to women and claiming that they cause orgasm. Men don’t fall for such ideas because they know how orgasm is achieved.

    I have been talking about sexuality on the internet for nearly 20 years. Almost no women will ever comment on any aspect of sex or orgasm. Women have always been free to masturbate ( just as men are) because we usually masturbate alone.

    But most women do not masturbate. Most women refuse to make any comment about sex at all and appear to be offended even by any reference to sex, eroticism, orgasm, clitoral stimulation or female masturbation.

    Men are really lucky because you are able to mix concepts of love and eroticism. You love a woman and she turns you on. Women have a more difficult time because we don’t get aroused by the sight of a lover’s body in the same way that men do.

    Most women never make the connection between eroticism and sexual arousal. They do not understand why anyone would masturbate because they see sex purely in terms of their loving emotions and their relationship with their partner.

    Best Jane

  5. Even when masturbating women don’t always aim for orgasm. Research confirms this. Men tend to overestimate the incidence & frequency of female masturbation to orgasm. Mostly it’s simply a display to excite the male. Women’s responsiveness does not change much as they age. So this is evidence that younger women are simply trying to make themselves more attractive to men by talking about orgasm. It certainly works…!

  6. Jane, Wow, thanks.

    Have you heard of It’s like Facebook for those who enjoy masturbation. I have gone there to read stories of women masturbating and have also communicate with women about their sexual needs. I have had some interesting conversations about their masturbation habits but then they may not be the norm. You can search by age for women on that site who have opened an account and it is definitely a younger crowd. If I search for over 50, there are very few. If I search for under 30, most are in the group. But again, this is not necessarily a good sample.

    The other interesting thing I found with that site, they take out an account and after a while they lose interest and don’t check their account again. I’d love to get access to their data and do some analysis. I guess that’s the engineer in me.