As May is International Masturbation Month, you may see an influx of articles about all the benefits of self-love. When I was younger this is not something I would have seen in the newspaper or seen on screen.
The first memory I have of female masturbation in pop culture is from when I was in my English class at school watching the movie Pleasantville. The act of masturbation was framed as a sin and is grouped in with the other acts of rebellion that is happening in the town.
Luckily, other depictions of self-love like Samantha from Sex In The City and even more recently Aimee in Sex Education and Sam in Dear White People, have helped show women be proud of their sexualities. I also want to acknowledge the masturbation scene in the Bollywood film, Veere Di Wedding, which was criticised but was important headway in a conservative country like India.
The sex positive movement has pushed for breaking down the stigma that surrounds women masturbating. It is because of the advocacy of the sex positive community that has seen the normalisation of talking about masturbation in mainstream media.
However, when I look at those mainstream articles about masturbation, it often doesn’t cover the diversity of experience. Maybe I am watching the wrong movies and shows, but I haven’t seen any representation of masturbation for anything that exists out of certain binaries.
A form of sex education can come from what we see on screens, in pop culture or in porn is part of what informs young people about sexuality, helps breakdown stigma and stereotypes. So, representing a wide spectrum of human sexuality through visual media is a way to normalise behaviour and identities.
Masturbation is something that looks and feels different for everyone.
Often marginalised groups that are not really included in sex positive discussion around masturbation and therefore there isn’t a lot of information about the diversity of masturbation experiences.
The most important part of including these groups in the conversations, is listening to voices from these communities, so I have tried to find some people within these communities to follow and learn more from.
People with disability
There is not proper sex education on sex and disability in general let alone, let alone the inclusion of the topic of masturbation. It is often that the people with disabilities, and a lot of other groups mentioned here, are not thought of to be sexual beings. It was also quite often that they can and will have great sex lives.
As disability can describe a myriad of conditions, masturbation can look different with individuals with the same condition hence why there needs to be more talk on what options are out there. There are things to consider like pain, fluctuating energy levels, positions, and medications possibly affecting mood or libido.
To include this group within discussion, we can think about accessibility. This can be in form of sex toys. There should be more discussion on designing sex toys with longer handles, ones that can be used for people with limited mobility, wedges or pillows that can decrease pain, ones that don’t require achieving or maintaining an erection for use, ones that have varying vibration intensities, and things with harnesses or mounts.
Check out: Andrew Gurza (@ItsAndrewGurza on Twitter) and Rachael Rose (@hedonish on Twitter).
Those who have had female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/c)
It is common that women that have experienced FGM/C believe that they cannot experience pleasure from any sexual acts, including masturbation due to their trauma. The coupling of physical and emotional trauma in FGM/C can be a massive hurdle to exploring sexual pleasure with a partner or by oneself.
As there are direct and indirect techniques of masturbation, those with physical trauma (and even gender dysphoria) may prefer exploring an indirect method such as tantric sex.
Tantric sex is a mind-body connection, increase of intimacy, intense, can do with a partner and by yourself. Tantric masturbation/tantric meditation/masturbation meditation is a technique of self-pleasure that is done through breathwork, meditation and touch. It is a more spiritual way of exploring sexuality.
Now I won’t give an in-depth explanation of this method, but there are no rulesand no goals (i.e. to orgasm). The focus is slowing down your journey with sex and enjoying each part. You may prefer a guided version to begin with and then can explore when you have a better grasp on how you like to masturbate/meditate.
This technique is known to be useful in helping those that have experienced trauma, low libido, psychological conditions, and medical conditions (including pain). This is not necessary a method that is endorsed by those that have gone through FGM/C but discussion on methods like tantric masturbation can open space for discussion on how to relearn pleasure and different methods of self-love.
Check out: For FGM advocacy, @TheGirlGen on Twitter and for Tantric Massage, @VickyVibrance on Twitter.
Trans people/nonbinary people
Masturbation can be a great tool to explore your body and your sexuality, but this is not always the case. Masturbation can be a trigger for people who experience gender dysphoria, who may not be comfortable with their bodies and how they look.
Touching certain areas of one’s body may not be pleasurable, instead bring up a feeling of distress about gender identity and the sex one was assigned at birth.
There needs to be more talk about how dysphoria affects masturbation and pleasure. Dysphoria is something that is unique to every person and it is not something that is easily explained and understood by cis people. However, the more information out there about how young trans/nonbinary people can navigate their journey with pleasure, the better. It’s all about giving young people the resources, formal or informal, to have a smoother journey with identity and sexuality.
Check out: @hellomynameiswednesday on Instagram and Jammidodger on YouTube.
Those you have been sexual assaulted
After sexual violence, it can be extremely hard to explore sex and pleasure again, even if it is with just yourself.
Masturbation can be used a tool to help in the journey of reclaiming you body and your power and help redefine your relationship with sex. It is completely within your own control and you can go at a pace that you want.
This is truly a group we need to listen to and learn from when it comes to masturbation. The sex positive community highlights the positive elements of sex and sexuality but there is almost need for more space for discussion on how to use masturbation to go from a more negative mindset about sex to a more positive or even just a neutral place about sex.
Hearing more about this topic could make people feel less alone in their personal journey with masturbation. It can be a process of relearning what feels good, what can potentially trigger you and where boundaries lie after trauma.
Orgasm does not have to be the goal but feeling good and feeling comfortable with your own touch. It may be that using sexy toys and generally just trying different things. It is all about learning new or undiscovered turn-ons and understanding your own pleasure before exploring intimacy with others.
Check out: Ladies, We Need To Talk with Yumi Styles Podcast (the sex after sexual assault episode: https://www.abc.net.au/radio/programs/ladies-we-need-to-talk/sex-after-sexual-assault/11575626) and Lena Griffin (@leahegriffin on Twitter).
Asexual is an umbrella term. It can encompass aromantic, demisexual/demi-romantic, grey-asexual/ grey-romantic and aceflux/aroflux. There are numerous identities that are found on this spectrum.
As it is a spectrum, there are levels to the attraction they may feel. They can experience arousal, have a libido, and feel sexual desire and attraction.
We need rid ourselves of the idea that all asexuals or people of the ace spectrum are repulsed by or have no desire to have sex. Many have a libido, some have sex, some masturbate. It is all dependent on the person and what they want.
It is often that they are left out of masturbation discussion because many think it is not applicable to this group. This misunderstanding can make the ace community feel excluded from the sex positive community.
Young people who are exploring their sexuality may be more confused about their identity if we don’t encourage this community to join the conversation. The overarching message of the sex positive ideology is that masturbation is for everyone regardless of gender and sexuality so that naturally encompasses asexuals as well.
Check out: Sounds Fake But Okay Podcast (@soundsfakepod on Twitter), follow on Twitter the Asexual Sexologist (@AceSexologist) and AVEN - Asexual Visibility & Education Network (@asexuality)
These are not the only groups that are left out of this conversation and we should seek out unheard voices and communities who deserve to talk about their experience with masturbation. It is important when we talk about masturbation to remove stigma around this conversation for everyone. Everyone deserves to feel pleasure and knowing more about masturbation, can’t be a bad thing, right?