Consider this memorable moment in middle school history. It’s sixth period of sixth grade computer class, and the cool boys are making a joke we girls don’t understand. They’re making this back-and-forth motion with their right hands, as if they’re jabbing a big stick in and out of their guts, over and over again.
Peering over from behind our Apple IIE monitors, my fellow females and I are confused. Why are these cool boys pretending to jam themselves with big sticks? Should we laugh? Should we also pretend to jam ourselves with sticks? Until, from the girl who’s already out of her training bra, comes the whispered explanation.
And we begin to understand. But we stay silent. There’s not much to say, the consensus is, but “Gross!” The gender lines have been set and our roles made firmly clear. Boys may masturbate, joke about doing so, even joke in public, even joke in computer class. Girls may please hold their hands over their mouths and squeal.
It’s not that we females had never reached down between our legs and, you know, explored. I myself was quite the practiced masturbator by sixth grade, probably outdoing all of my male peers in the precocious department. I had started in elementary school, reaching between my legs during the sexiest moments of Saved By the Bell—like when Zack Morris finally met Kelly Kapowski’s lips. The habit quickly got so out of control that my mother had to ask me to please not do that when company was around.
My masturbating history may sound surprising, but—thank God—I am not a weird and twisted perv. I am in the company of many distinguished and sexually healthy women, including, as she has recently revealed, Britney Spears. I’ve even read that some baby girls have been known to masturbate themselves to orgasm while still in diapers.
But female masturbation, if fairly prevalent, remains taboo—so taboo that when Britney Spears admitted to doing it, she made the news. One can hardly imagine a similar surprise if Justin Timberlake scribed a song about the touch of his hand.
Leveling the Playing Field
What does this have to do with gender inequality? In a world where for women masturbation is discouraged and for men it is celebrated in major motion pictures (think “American Pie”), gender equality remains a wet dream women aren’t allowed to have.
As a consequence, today we are not as far from the time of Eleanor Roosevelt, when for women, sex was “an ordeal to be endured,” as we now imagine. The most famous survey of sexuality, the Kinsey report of the 1950s, recorded that 36 percent of women in their 20s and 15 percent of women in their 30s or older had never reached orgasm. More recent studies more or less confirm these findings, with only slightly lower numbers of women left in the orgasmic dark.
That female masturbation correlates directly with increased pleasure in sex is a fact so universally accepted that at age 12 I read it in my copy of The What’s Happening To My Body? Book for Girls. It’s hard for girls to get off, and the best way for us to learn how is to practice. Taboos around female masturbation, then, keep us further from that final goal. I know that I, for one, would be far less satisfied with my sex life had I not gone where no man had gone before first by myself, and then with a partner.
Forget higher pay or the right to choose. The final frontier of women’s liberation is making it easier for women to come—and not just onstage during the Vagina Monologues.
But I say to you, fellow enlightened Harvard women, this frontier need not be distant. We can make the elusive orgasm our own, if we only plunge our hands down our pants and, you know, work on it. If we only make masturbation acceptable, even encouraged, we can break new gender boundaries, take more control in the bedroom, orgasm more, earlier and better. But, like all revolutions, this one is easier said than done.
Spearing the Issue
The first impediment in the way of maximum liberation is culture. So why not take advantage of that force that reaches directly into the hearts and minds of the youngest girls? I’m talking, of course, about making Britney Spears the national spokesperson for the Female Masturbation Movement.
With understandable reason, the feminist movement has largely overlooked or dismissed Britney. She is more closely associated with male masturbation than female liberation. But with her November 2003 album, “In The Zone,” Britney came out of the closet as—if not a true-to-God feminist—a true-to-God masturbator, and that’s good enough for me.