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Sex and the University: The great self-pleasure divide

By Imaani Cain
On February 5, 2013


I was about 13 when someone mentioned masturbation in my church's sex education class, but even then it was in relation to boys. The girls in my group all firmly insisted that they didn't masturbate, that it was "gross" and something that only boys did-with the exception of one girl, who openly admitted that she did, and was subsequently looked at with thinly-veiled disgust. It was somehow assumed that girls did not masturbate, or were just entirely incapable of doing so. For girls to admit that they masturbated was to reveal something ghastly about them, and promptly ignored. There was no explanation for "self-love" or the mythical clitoris. They were snubbed entirely, as if they had no effect on women whatsoever. 

Even in high school, girls didn't talk about it. A friend of mine admitted that she wasn't even sure "where that thing even is," but that she had never looked for it extensively because that would've been "odd." Although there's certainly nothing wrong with the exploration of the self, this speaks of a concept that's been around for years-namely, that for women to explore their sexuality and to rely on themselves for pleasure (as opposed to men) is something that shouldn't be encouraged. Although this could have been the result of catholic school's idea of 'sex ed,' the clitoris (along with condom usage and other things that actually had to do with sex) wasn't discussed at all. 

Most women feel like their masturbation habits is something that needs to be kept secret, because it has always been firmly categorized as a "masculine" habit. Boys are allowed to be in tune with their "baser" instincts, while girls are not (or if they do, they are under the pain of humiliation for doing so). There is a need for girls to hide their masturbatory habits from men (unless they're doing it for the male counterparts' sexual pleasure), or even from other women as a defense mechanism. 

Now, for the most part, the women in my life talk about their "alone time" openly, although I don't think it's regarded to be of the same "acceptable" level as male masturbation. This is connected to the belief of female anatomy being somehow disgusting-that vaginas and all of their corresponding parts are somehow dirty and should only make an appearance during penetrative sex. This can be seen through the hush-hush aspect of menstrual pad commercials, joking remarks of how "disgusting" vaginas are and the secretive names given to periods themselves (Tom, Aunt Dot, having the painters in, etc). 

Exactly why is female sexuality so feared? What about it is scandalous? True, there aren't as many negative masturbation myths connected with women (no threat of hairy palms or infertility),  but to blank it out completely is to betray a rather sinister view of sexuality and society's views of how it should be acted upon. 

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