What’s the Equivalent to “Jerking Off?”

Conversations surrounding female masturbation need to be destigmatized.

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Masturbation—the new he-who-shall-not-be-named. According to the 2019 Tenga Self-Pleasure Report, 91 percent of American men and 78 percent of American women have masturbated in their lives. Yet the act of masturbation is still incredibly taboo, especially for women.

When young boys begin to masturbate, it is often seen as a natural rite of passage. It is openly discussed and even taught by older relatives, parents, and siblings. On the other hand, masturbation among women is very rarely spoken about or portrayed in a positive light. Female masturbation is seen as unnatural, immoral, and even sinful. In fact, in certain African, Middle Eastern, and Asian countries, women’s genitals are still mutilated to prevent clitoral stimulation, a large part of female sexuality.

The stigma around female masturbation has caused people to develop harmful misconceptions about it. Some even believe that masturbation can lead to sexual dysfunction and relationship problems. In many communities, masturbation is seen as “impure,” further fueling the false belief that it is harmful and unhealthy. For women specifically, the stigma surrounding masturbation stems from the long-standing stereotype that women are not inherently sexual and are simply objects for men to have sex with. Women are taught that they should have sex for their husbands’ pleasure, rather than their own. This treatment of female sexuality has served as a way to exert control over women, causing them to feel ashamed of their own bodies. One particular research paper even suggested that one of the reasons why female sexuality is so suppressed is because men view women as “possessions” and thus want to keep them from falling into the hands of other men.

These stereotypes and misconceptions about female sexuality are further perpetuated by the lack of discussion on the subject. The notion that masturbation is only for boys is clearly demonstrated across social media, television, and daily conversations among friends. The caricature of a typical teenage boy is someone who’s constantly aroused and obsessed with porn. The caricature of a typical teenage girl, in relation to her sexuality, does not exist. Both stereotypes need to be lifted. This divide is further seen in the presence of a popularized term for male masturbation, “jerking off,” while there exists no such equivalent for women. Additionally, the dirty connotation of female masturbation for male pleasure has been popularized in pornography and pop culture. Mainstream pornography is extremely catered toward men and plays a fundamental role in masturbation. Much of heterosexual porn is solely focused on male pleasure and nearly ignores that of females. This portrayal pushes the belief that women exist simply for male gratification and further stigmatizes female pleasure, causing teenage girls and adult women to feel shameful about exploring their own bodies.

Despite what many people may think, masturbation actually provides various physical, mental, and sexual benefits. It helps immunity by increasing cortisol levels, improves mood by increasing dopamine and epinephrine hormones, encourages greater self-awareness, and can even strengthen muscle tone in the pelvic and anal areas. Additionally, masturbation is safer than any other type of sex and can help one learn what they like and dislike sexually.

In order for young teenagers to be properly educated and shielded from misinformation, the sex education curriculum in the United States needs to be improved. Abstinence-only programs solely instill fear of any type of sexual encounter, including masturbation. Abstinence is still taught as the main way to prevent unplanned pregnancies and unwanted sexually transmitted infections. Sex education can teach young teenagers that masturbation is a normal part of human development and that it is a way to learn more about their bodies and how they communicate. Self-pleasure for all genders, including women, should be taught in classes.

Masturbation is a private thing, but it is very natural. Women have been deprived of sexual freedom for decades, and to shun the subject of female masturbation further plays into the stereotype that women exist solely for male pleasure. It is not a sin for female teenagers to learn more about their bodies. There needs to be more open dialogue encouraging women’s sexual liberation, breaking down the stigma surrounding female masturbation, and allowing women to stop feeling selfish, guilty, or shameful for exploring their own bodies.