One of my earliest memories involves sexual shaming. I was small, maybe five or six years old, and my mom was kneeling in front of me in our kitchen. I can’t remember exactly what she said, but it was something along the lines of discouraging me from touching myself.
“But it feeeeeeels good,” I whined to her in response.
I don’t know exactly when I began masturbating, but I do know that I started very young. I must have stumbled upon it somehow, discovering that the sensation I got from rubbing my favorite stuffed animal, a cat named Nip, on my “private parts” was pleasurable enough to keep doing it. I used to call it “rocking the kitty,” and I even came up with a little song about it.
Problem was, I did it everywhere — I didn’t comprehend the gravity of what I was doing. Eventually, my mom found me enjoying this “good feeling” somewhere she disapproved of.
“Not on my bed!” she’d groaned, with a tone resembling the one she used when our family dog peed on the carpet.
For a while, I was undeterred in my masturbatory efforts because I still didn’t really understand why my mom thought I was doing something wrong.
But things changed when I reached middle school. My friends began talking in hushed tones about this mysterious thing called “sex.” When my older sister’s friends pantomimed my Barbie dolls having sex, I figured out that my old “rocking the kitty” move was also a sexual act.
Even though I didn’t feel ashamed at the time, I looked back at the conversations my mom had with me when I was younger and felt the shame wash over me. So then, the good ol’ Catholic guilt kicked in, and I convinced myself that masturbation was wrong.
Despite my best efforts, though, my urges won out. I would tell myself not to, but I couldn’t resist the wonderful feeling that came from reaching my hand down between my legs. Nevertheless, after I was done, I would berate myself and swear it was the last time. It never was.
Not until high school did I concede to myself that my horny habit was totally normal, thanks to the sex-positive support provided through online sex education resources I got “turned on to.”
It was at that point that I began hearing about something called “The Big O.” I researched to understand exactly what it was and how to know if you’d had one. Eventually, I realized during some “me time” that I actually had been having orgasms already, before I even knew what they were.
I’m kind of an unusual case. The fact that I started masturbating and orgasming at such a young age isn’t super common, especially given the cycle of shame I went through.
Many people with vaginas don’t start masturbating or orgasming until much later in life. Perhaps this is because masturbating with vaginas just isn’t as obvious as it is with penises — there isn’t much subtlety when it comes to penises.
There’s also tends to be a lot more stigma surrounding masturbation for people without penises, like it’s somehow uncouth to touch yourself if you’ve got a vagina. Just consider how many euphemisms there are for masturbating with a penis — jerking off, wrestling the dragon, beating the meat, choking the chicken, spanking the monkey and so on — compared to other types of masturbation. Masturbating with a vagina just isn’t talked about as much.
When people with vaginas do admit to masturbating, it tends to be romanticized. Rose petals, gentle music playing, candles lit as you slowly reach your hand downwards towards that precious pearl …
Because of this expectation, I actually still experience some sexual shame about my masturbation. The way I flick the bean isn’t this pretty, dainty thing that most people make it out to be. I’ve been a little embarrassed about showing partners how I get myself off.
The few times I have tried to explain it have been fairly awkward, because I orgasm most reliably when I’m clothed and essentially flopping around on my stomach. Most of my partners don’t really understand how that works for me, and when they’ve tried to mimic my method, they haven’t been able to make me orgasm.
So for this Lent, I gave up masturbation. I wanted to try to break my habit of how I orgasm from masturbation and get some sensitivity back so I could try to orgasm with a partner.
Yes, it was very hard. But like when I was younger and having all of these sexual awakenings for the first time, I learned a lot about how I experience pleasure.
Empowered with this knowledge, I intend to be more unabashed in the bedroom. What gets me off is what gets me off, and I’ve realized that there’s nothing wrong with me being explicit about it, even if it isn’t “pretty.”
And if my partners still can’t make me orgasm, I can always polish the pearl with them around — mutual masturbation exists for a reason. Who’s better to get you off than you?