May is Masturbation Month (yes, it's a thing) and it was created to honor U.S. Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders. After a speech at the United Nations World AIDS Day in 1994, an audience member asked Dr. Elders about masturbation's potential for discouraging early sexual activity. Her frank response, “I think it is something that is part of human sexuality and a part of something that perhaps should be taught,” got her fired by President Bill Clinton.
Why Is Female Masturbation Still Taboo?
Hello, sexual hypocrisy.
According to the Kinsey Institute, only 40-60% of people who identify as women masturbate, compared to 95-99% of their male counterparts. Sure, men have advantages when it comes to getting off. Society expects and encourages male masturbation, and it's much more obvious when someone with a penis comes. For women, masturbation is still a highly stigmatized topic – even in 2019 – and is often considered something “good” girls just don't do. We desperately need to shift this conversation and break the taboo.
There are 101 reasons why women don’t masturbate, from concerns about hygiene to worrying about what others may think. I don’t for a second want to invalidate anyone's feelings or experiences, but there are far too many arbitrary mindfucks getting between women and their happy endings.
Betty Dodson, aka The “Mother of Masturbation” has fought to liberate female sexuality for more than four decades. During her famous group-sex parties of the '70s, Dodson pushed the boundaries for women seizing power in the sack. And she never stopped. This woman has written books (the most famous of these is "Sex for One"), illustrated hundreds of erotic scenes, and hosts Bodysex workshops, where she teaches women to overcome sexual shame and connect with their orgasm. She’s a pioneer of human sexuality and a true feminist liberator. Her mantra? "Liberating women one orgasm at a time.” Can we have a moment of silence, please?
“Masturbation is a meditation on self-love,” says Dodson. “So many of us are affected with self-loathing, bad body images, shame about our body functions, and confusion about sex and pleasure – I recommend an intense love affair with yourself.”
It seems like such a simple concept, yet so many of us are wrapped up in stigmas and the barrage of negative messaging we’ve experienced and been taught. I hear it all the time from women. They have a hard time getting out of their heads long enough to enjoy what is truly their birthright – pleasure (self, partnered, or otherwise).
“There’s so much shame around women being sexual creatures,” says Angela Thurston, a holistic sexuality and relationship coach. “We are erotic beings and it’s OK to want sex.” She notes that a lot of the shame stems from childhood imprinting. “One wrong facial expression or comment when you were a child touching yourself and that just unconsciously informs how we move through life.”
It did for me. I have vivid memories of masturbating starting at the age of 6. I also got in big trouble for pleasuring myself, even though I was doing it in a bathroom, behind closed doors. I didn’t know exactly what I was doing or why it felt so good, but it did, and I escaped to the bathroom every chance I got to rub my vulva. For some reason, I had the awareness that it was something you did in private, but even so, my mother barged into the bathroom one day, found me playing with my clit, and yelled at me like I’d done something totally unforgiveable. I didn’t understand why she was so angry and it made me feel bad about something that had brought me so much pleasure.
For the next 11 years, I snuck around and kept my regular masturbatory habits a secret. And when my mother died when I was 17, I went out two weeks later and bought my first vibrator. At this point, I was having clumsy sex (at best) with my boyfriend, but I also recognized that the only person responsible for pleasing me, was me. So, without the constant shadow of possible shaming, I took matters, ummm, into my own hands. I’ve held onto that me-first mentality when it comes to my pleasure and orgasm ever since.
It's called “running the fuck” and it's, hands down, my favorite Bettyism (and trust me, there’s no shortage of them). The expression dates back to the 1970s, when Dodson hosted group-sex parties in the same space as her Bodysex workshops. The gist is for women to take charge during intercourse, and to do what needs to be done to get off. This means using lube (especially if a penis is circumcised), maybe introducing a vibrator (for clitoral stimulation), and getting on top (to establish how fast and deep penetration should be). It's like dancing, only the woman takes the lead. Betty says that you can also "run a fuck" from the bottom, but it takes more finesse. My advice is to get on top and make your neighbors know your name.
As women, it's high time to own our pleasure and do everything in our power to break the stigma. As Woody Allen's character Alvy Singer said in Annie Hall, “Don't knock masturbation, it's sex with someone you love.” So please, go "run the fuck" and get all the pleasure you rightfully deserve. And if anyone has anything to say about it, there's a special place they can go. We need to keep talking about women and pleasure.
Ryn Pfeuffer is a versatile print and digital writer specializing in sex, lifestyle, and relationship topics. Over the past two decades, her work has appeared in more than 100 media outlets including Marie Claire, Playboy, Refinery29, The Globe and Mail, The Washington Post, WIRED, and Thrillist.
She adopted a pseudonym and was AVN’s (Adult Video Network) first female porn reviewer – while penning children’s books at the same time. More recently, she is the author of 101 Ways to Rock Online Dating (2019). She lives in Seattle with her rescue dog, Mimi. You can find her on Twitter @rynpfeuffer or IG @ryn_says