Breaking news: women touch themselves sometimes

By Kate Leddy

 

(Collegian File Photo)
(Collegian File Photo)

First kiss, first “feel-up,” first hookup: they are new and exciting experiences as we get older, and often ones that we eagerly tell our close friends about when they happen.

Well gather around everyone – I’m going to tell you about my first time masturbating.

Just kidding, I’ll spare you the details. But I will tell you that I was 13 at the time and had absolutely no idea what had happened. I just remember having an almost instinctual reaction to a feeling I’d never experienced before (bring it on, puberty). I will also tell you that I’m not ashamed to talk about this, but I was for a very long time.

When I was in middle school, it wasn’t a question whether the boys masturbated – it was an assumption that every one of them did. The topic, when addressed out loud, was met with wide eyes and stifled giggles only because any discussions of sex were taboo and downright scandalous in the seventh grade. But quickly it became a normalized idea to us that boys masturbated, and we went back to being nonchalant (also because nonchalance was cool, and we all know middle schoolers must maintain the utmost image of cool).

I can’t pinpoint exactly where it started – TV, overhearing adults talk, learning from whatever my classmates had learned – but almost as quickly as I discovered how to masturbate I realized it was something I should be ashamed of. I was raised Christian, and I remember crying because I was sure that I would go to hell. I was also sure that none of my friends would like me if they found out what I was doing. At the age of 13, I’d found the first of many reasons to hate myself.

When my friends and I first broached the topic, it was the same sharp and wary answer from each of us: no, I absolutely did not masturbate. Years later, as seniors in high school, we would all look back at that moment and laugh at what an absolute lie that was.

I don’t see it as funny anymore, though. I look back at that time, when all of us were so young and scrambling to find a foothold as puberty disrupted childhood and we climbed towards whatever would alleviate the pressure to fit in, and I think about how each of my friends and I emerged primed and ready to become sexually oppressed women.

With little truly being taught to us in sex-ed classes, we turned to the Internet for questions we couldn’t ask each other. And as we got older and more involved in social media, our own objectification was right there reflected back at us: articles like “Her Deepest, Darkest, Sex Secrets Revealed” (which includes quotes like ‘I watch porn’ and ‘my boyfriend knows I have a vibrator but not how often I use it’), “6 girls answer the questions boys want to know about female masturbation” (‘Personally I think guys love it if you tell them you [watch porn],’ says one) and my personal favorite “Turns Out Women Have Really, Really Strong Sex Drives: Can Men Handle It?”

Once female masturbation actually is discussed in our society, it’s taken from us.

Rather than viewed as a way for us to explore our own bodies, it is something for men to speculate over as though we are some sort of foreign creatures that suddenly developed hormones and will either use our mystical masturbation powers to please them visually or spite them (never mind the fact that many women are not and were never into men in the first place).

When my boyfriend in high school learned I masturbated he looked at me like I was a rare gem he’d been lucky enough to score. It turned him on that I wasn’t the “prude girl” he’d thought I was before dating me. For the first time I felt okay with the fact that I was doing it, solely because it pleased him.

In freshman year of college, a friend of mine gave me a – not needed – reminder that sexism is alive and well when the topic came up one night. Immediately he became offended at the very idea that his girlfriend could ever do that, let alone any girl.

“It’s just weird,” he said, before adding the cherry on top: “I mean, like, girls just don’t do that.”

They do, though. And if you do, then it’s okay. Despite the myths and misconceptions over past decades, masturbation is perfectly healthy and nothing to be ashamed about. Your body is your own business, and your sexual preferences do not require the approval or opinion of anyone else.

I wish I’d known that when I was young. I wish there had been something that was not awkward shrugs, giggles and “I’ll tell you when you’re older”-type manifestos that could have let me know it was okay.

I am older and smarter now. My friends and I have matured (even the one from freshman year) and we are starting to recognize, both men and women, the sexism that all of us had internalized growing up. But that doesn’t erase the fact that many of us grew up hating ourselves because of it, and that doesn’t mean it isn’t still going on.

Why wait until girls are older to start teaching them to love their bodies in whatever way they please? Until we start talking about it ourselves, the silence will continue to be filled by a perpetuating false notion that young women must adhere to certain sexual guidelines. If I ever have a daughter, that is not something that I am going to allow her to grow up with.

Kate Leddy is the Opinion and Editorial editor and can be reached at [email protected]