I’m generally not one for women’s magazines, but I recently took a holiday which, from my home in Krakow, involved a 15-hour journey, split over two consecutive days. Preferring something light to read when I go away, I bought the October issue of Glamour magazine, primarily because there was an article on ’10 new things to do in bed’. (As an erotica writer, new ideas are always welcome.) On the first leg of my journey, I read an intriguing article by Jenny Mollen about masturbation, specifically about how it is still considered taboo to admit to masturbating, and that we need to shake off the shackles and be more open about the fact that we do do it.
I’m not sure how far I agree with Mollen. A couple of points she makes in the article are definitely true. For example, she mentions that if a man admits to masturbating six times a day, this is considered normal whereas if a woman declared the same thing she would be thought of as weird. This, I completely agree with: for some reason it’s still widely accepted that men have larger sexual appetites than women and that they have a harder time controlling them, despite evidence to the contrary.
Mollen also says that women don’t talk about masturbation with their friends. They may talk about owning vibrators, but won’t go into specific details. I agree with her on this point too. But do we need to go into specifics? I’m not a prude, I’m very comfortable talking about sex and, if anyone asks, I’m very open about masturbating. But that doesn’t mean everyone is that comfortable and it definitely doesn’t mean they need a blow-by-blow account of my masturbatory sessions, the same way they don’t need details about other aspects of my life; my periods, for example. If it was a partner, that would be different: I would most definitely go into detail then. But there is a time and a place for that kind of conversation and it’s not down the pub, saying to your mates ‘I had a cracking wank this morning.’
As for the whole reason for the article, I’m not sure how much of a taboo it really is anymore. Admittedly (as I said before) it’s still more socially acceptable for men to admit to solo play than women and there will always be those so prudish or so embarrassed about the topic that they’d rather scoff and criticise than just admit that they too masturbate (if you’re one of those people who says they don’t do it, I have one thing to say to you—you’re lying. Either that or a nun.) But generally speaking I think—especially with the rise in popularity of sex toys—female masturbation is really a non-issue. I’ve certainly never encountered any dodgy looks or snide remarks when talking about the subject.
Mollen makes one excellent point: masturbation is not talked about in sex education. We learn about the mechanics, we learn about contraception, we learn about saying no until we’re ready. But no mention of masturbation. Mollen believes talking about it will break down whatever barriers there are; I also think it’s a necessary part of sex education. How is someone supposed to pleasure you if you don’t know what you like in the first place?