This week, we have invited sexologist, University of Nebraska at Omaha professor, and Better Boink partner Dr. Sofia Jawed-Wessel to discuss female masturbation.  You can learn more about Dr. Jawed-Wessel here.

When you see the word “masturbation”, what are the first words you think of? How do you feel? Who do you picture? More than likely, you associate masturbation with men and depending on your gender you might feel more or less comfortable with the topic.  We talk about and see depictions of men masturbating in movies, TV shows, jokes, pop culture references. There is a near endless list of slang terms for men getting themselves off. We talk about young boys first fondling themselves and chuckle. We talk about teenage boys doing it and adult men doing it. Boys and men talk to each other about doing it. It might be embarrassing, but we talk about men masturbating.

When it comes to women masturbating, we hear crickets.

As with many topics related to sex, heteronormative and patriarchal (male-focused) perspectives dominate the conversation on women’s sexuality.  Women should give expert blowjobs, and feverishly enjoy receiving anal. They should always experience orgasms during penetrative vaginal sex and if they do not, please do a good job faking it so as not to hurt your partner’s ego.  The message to women is clear—be sexually aggressive about your partner’s pleasure, but not your own. Simply put, male sexuality is normal, expected, and encouraged, but female sexuality is stigmatized and fetishized.  Masturbation is no exception to this rule. That is, boys and men are expected to masturbate while girls and women are meant to feel shameful and dirty about masturbating.

Every semester I find myself holding extra office hours during the week masturbation is discussed, in order to accommodate the steady stream of women wanting to talk in private about how they have never masturbated, and are still not sure how to feel comfortable doing so.  These women are not alone – over 46% of women masturbate less than once a month (NSSHB, 2010). Almost all of these women leave my office with a sense of relief on their faces and a bullet vibrator in their bags.  Much of what I say to them in private is no different than what was spoken in class; it seems what they come to my office looking for is a green-light of sorts, an assurance that they are normal and masturbating (or the desire to masturbate) is okay.

After several semesters of this same pattern, I can’t help but wonder how many women are waiting for this same green-light, this permission to engage in a perfectly healthy behavior.  Of course, there have been allusions to women masturbating in mainstream media with Sex and the City and their infamous rabbit to the more reason recent season 1 of Girls features an episode of a sexually frustrated Marnie masturbating in a closet at work. But are these depictions reaching (and positively affecting) the many women who still feel too ashamed to masturbate or feel so guilty after wards that it hardly feels worth it? No person should need someone else’s approval to engage in self-pleasure, but in a culture that continually shames female sexuality, some women might need exactly that, not just from media, but from the people around them as well.

We need to talk about women masturbating.  We need to give ourselves and other women and girls “permission” to masturbate.  Masturbation is the first step in owning your sexual pleasure.  Sexual pleasure is good for you—with or without an orgasm and masturbation is sexual pleasure that is not dependent on anyone. This sexual pleasure is likely to lead to more pleasurable partnered sexual activity. It is vital for women to know their bodies and, dare I say, even more essential that they know they do not need anyone else to bring them pleasure.

As a proper professor, I leave you with some homework:  1) If you are a woman who feels guilty about masturbating, spend some time thinking about what that guilt is rooted in and who or what first planted that seed.  If you feel comfortable, tell us about it, we’d love to hear your experiences.  2) Find a way to give a girl or woman the “permission” to masturbate she might be waiting for.  Simply starting the conversation has the potential to open a new door of sexual possibilities.  Talk about your favorite vibrator, post this blog (or others like it), speak up when someone shows disgust or shame regarding female masturbation, start the dialogue and tell us how it went!