“Euphoria.” “Big Mouth.” “Sex Education.” “Fleabag.” All of these are shows with healthy depictions of female masturbation, all premiering within the last five years. Although recent media portrayals have contributed to positive representation, the road to de-stigmatization is long.
With sex education lacking, many women grow up not fully understanding their bodies. Mainstream depictions of sex generally focus on penetration and disregard clitoral stimulation, while depictions of masturbation in the mainstream are rare.
“This is not a part of our body that has just somehow developed,” said Robin Mills, a University Health Services sexual health and wellness coach. “We have been equipped with clitorises and the ability to experience sexual pleasure since women have been on the face of this earth. The idea of experiencing sexual pleasure is not new.”
The fight to normalize female masturbation began in the 1960s with second wave feminists, according to Thomas Laqueur, the Helen Fawcett professor of history emeritus at UC Berkeley and author of “Solitary Sex: A Cultural History of Masturbation.”
“By advocating for the clitoral orgasm and for clitoral stimulation as a form of masturbation they were striking a blow against patriarchal norms and in favor of female self sufficiency,” Lacquer said in an email.
“What is more threatening to the rule of men than the ability to pleasure oneself without a man? It really is a form of liberation,” said UC Berkeley junior and GenSex DeCal administrator Ella Parker.
There is still a great stigma surrounding masturbation, however — in the bedroom, classroom and even the conference room.
Anna Lee graduated from UC Berkeley in 2013 with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. After some time working in Silicon Valley, she realized she could put her degree to better use in a different field: sex toys.
Lee realized how much the industry needed help after discovering that the industry standard comparison for clitoral sensation was to put vibration to the nose.
Lee is the co-founder of Lioness, a smart vibrator company. The vibrator connects to an app on your phone via Bluetooth and tracks orgasm data to help women with sexual self-experimentation. Her product is categorized as pornographic, however.
The pornographic label means that Lioness can’t have Instagram ads. According to Lee, the company also ran into issues with the Federal Communications Commission and Bluetooth clearances. Investors had trouble looking past the stigma.
“At the end of the day, investors are still predominantly a lot of male partners. And so when you come in … as these women with a vibrator … it becomes an uncomfortable topic for a lot of people,” Lee said.
So where does all this stigma come from? Generally speaking, masturbation is not included in public school sex education. California has been making changes in curriculum, however, according to Mills. Some of the curriculum that falls under the 2016 California Healthy Youth Act, including the Positive Prevention Plus program, has worked to start the conversation about masturbation.
However, progress takes time. Many women have still not been taught how it all works.
“When they don’t experience an orgasm from penetrating themselves, they assume that something is wrong,” Mills said. “That’s not to say that some women don’t actually experience sexual pleasure from penetration, but the majority of women … do require clitoral stimulation.”
In reality, there is nothing wrong. Each body reacts differently to different kinds of stimulation. For women who have never masturbated before, the task can be rather daunting. The first step is feeling comfortable with yourself and in your own space.
“In addition to including different types of sensation, I would also encourage them to not just touch their vulva directly the whole time, but also to explore what it’s like to touch their stomach, explore what it’s like to touch their hips, explore what it’s like to touch their thighs, so they can also get used to other parts of their bodies that might respond to sexual touch,” Mills said.
It’s about finding out what you like and what you don’t like, what feels right and what doesn’t. Not to mention, masturbation can contribute to both lower stress levels and improved partner sex. Both GenSex facilitators Parker and campus junior Frida Pavlova Torres also attested to this.
Benefits to female masturbation include stress relief, empowerment, understanding your own body and improving partner sex. The only drawback? It’s uncomfortable to face.
Destigmatizing female masturbation is something worth advocating for, and it starts by just talking about it. Take the power of the taboo away and take your power back along with it.