Let’s talk about masturbating

I’ve been masturbating for as long as I can remember. I mean, I didn’t know I was masturbating. I don’t even know how it started. I was just Doing A Thing that felt nice. I might’ve been five, but I can’t remember for sure. At some point I discovered it was something you’re apparently Not Supposed To Do. But I kept doing it, not understanding what it was, or why it was bad, and feeling bad about it.

I remember sort of starting to tell a friend in primary school about it. I said to her that I liked to play games under my duvet covers. I’m not sure if I just wanted to be honest about myself or to find out if I was the only one. She said she played under her covers too, but I knew her games were different to mine.

Knowing that I wasn’t supposed to be doing it, I started telling myself every year, now you’re eight, nine, ten, twelve – it’s time to stop doing this. You’re old enough now to not do it anymore. Whatever ‘it’ was – I didn’t even know. But there I was, always back at it. I couldn’t help myself.

When I was younger my mum would catch me sometimes. She’d stand in the doorway to my room with a stony, disapproving stare. Not a word was spoken. Other times she’d come into the room and pull up my duvet cover to expose my nightie pulled up above my waist. I’d claim it just ended up there from moving around in the bed when sleeping.

I suppose sometimes that was true.

At some point I figured out that wetness in my underwear was a result of this Thing I Wasn’t Supposed To Do. I didn’t know why or what it was really, but I had at least made the connection. I don’t remember when I figured out what I was doing was sexual thing. At some point in my teens I definitely started imagining it as sex. But as I said in my first post, most of all my sexual knowledge was gleaned from magazines and whispered giggly snippets in school conversations or who knows where else.

Actually, I do know where else. I learned a LOT from being part of an online forum which was about relationships and sex. It was a safe, well-moderated community where people asked all kinds of questions and got all kinds of answers. It was probably the best sex education I’ve ever had. It was also the first time I had ever heard of the concept of child sexuality.

Even though now I still continue and really enjoy masturbating, I’m still sometimes left with an aftertaste of shame. Even though I know it’s a normal and healthy thing (masturbating I mean, not the shame), it wasn’t until I read Clementine Ford’s blunt and unapologetic account of her masturbatory escapades in Fight Like a Girl, that I really realised that I wasn’t the only one out there loving her body. Reading that was a revelation to me and more empowering than I ever would have expected.

And it seems that masturbation and positive sex content is starting to come up more and more in New Zealand now, with an article on why New Zealand women need to talk more about masturbation; the country’s first erotic literary journal, Aotearotica; Naked Girls Reading performing in NZ; and RNZ’s new podcast series, Bang! It might not be much, and there’s probably more out there that I don’t know about, but it definitely adds to the much-needed discussion on sex and sexuality and not being embarrassed by our bodies and, in fact, celebrating them. If we want. If you’re not into masturbating, that’s cool too. But I think conversation around it definitely needs to be there.

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