by Jenny Block
“My son is 10 and I don’t think he’s masturbating yet,” a new friend told me across the dinner table. “Do you think it’s weird I’m thinking about that?”
“No. But I do think it’s weird that I wasn’t thinking the same thing when my daughter was 10,” I replied.
We talk about sex plenty in our house. Sex and bodies and periods and birth control and sexting and so on and so on.
But we’ve never, ever talked about masturbation even though she’s six weeks away from turning fifteen. And as I sat across from my friend that night, I realized that’s a problem. The thing is, I’m not sure how this slipped off my radar.
Perhaps it’s because I’m not sure what I would say that wouldn’t send her screaming and covering her ears.
Perhaps it’s because I feel a little embarrassed talking about the subject with my own kid, which is silly, but true.
Perhaps it’s because I don’t feel like I have any model for doing it. My mom didn’t talk to me about it. I’ve never read anything about talking to your teenage daughter about it. None of my friends have told me about telling their own daughters about it.
Or perhaps it’s far bigger than that. Far, far bigger than that.
Perhaps it’s because no one’s really talking about female masturbation, teenage or otherwise.
I’ve never talked to my daughter about masturbating, because, well, we simply don’t talk about female masturbation.
We talk about male masturbation. Movies, TV shows, jokes, pop culture references. There is a near endless list of slang terms for men getting themselves off. We talk about teenage boys doing it, adult men doing it. Boys and men talk to each other about doing it.
But when it comes to women, it’s near radio silence.
When I started masturbating as a kid, the only thing I knew was that it felt good. Period. I didn’t know it had a name. I didn’t know it was a thing. I certainly didn’t talk to anyone about it.
As I got older, I realized the silence around female masturbation was a problem. A big one.
One day I asked a friend for a tampon and she balked.
“I have a pad,” she said. “But no tampons.”
“You out?” I asked.
“I don’t use them.”
“Really?” I said, trying to hide my surprise.
“I can’t. I don’t want to have to touch…” she paused. “Down there.” She whispered it quietly the same way my family whispers the word cancer.
“How do you masturbate?” I blurted out. She turned beet read and, as if on queue, the buzzer for the dryer went off and I’ve never seen anyone so happy as my friend raced on to rescue the clothes from the dryer and herself from the conversation.
That very day I booked a sex toy party that weeks later proved to be the most successful one the party hostess said she’d ever held. Those girls were just waiting for permission. They were waiting for someone, anyone, to tell them that touching themselves was not just ok, it was a survival technique that no real should do without.
I can’t help but wonder how many women are waiting for permission. Sure, there was Sex and the City and all of their rabbit talk and Good Vibrations and all of their workshops and products. But how many women are still living in shame and either not masturbating or feeling so guilty about it, it hardly feels worth it?
If you’re wondering why any of this matters, I’ll tell you. Orgasms are good for you. And masturbation means no partner or drama required. Have a migraine? Masturbate. Feeling stuck creatively? Masturbate. Feeling blue? Masturbate. Can’t sleep? Masturbate. Mired in stress? Low self-esteem? Sex drive in low gear? Chronic pain? Masturbation is good for what ails you.
It’s also good for what doesn’t ail you. It feels good to slowly tease yourself until you can’t take it anymore. It feels good to rub or buzz or pound yourself into a frenzy full-steam ahead. It feels good to get off and it’s empowering to be able to do it for yourself. It’s your equipment. There is absolutely, positively, no reason not to use it.
Which brings me to my point – masturbation is really important. It’s really important for all women and it’s equally important for teenage girls.
It’s vital for them to know their bodies. It’s imperative for them to have a way to relieve stress. But more than anything, it’s paramount that they know they don’t need anyone else to bring them pleasure. They can “take care of business” all by themselves. No risk of pregnancy or disease or slut shaming or anything.
Think about it. If you’re all hot to trot, you make choices based on what your body is craving. But if you can please your body, you can ease your mind. What if teenage girls made decisions about sex not because they wanted to get off and instead because they wanted to connect emotionally and physically with a partner of their very specific choosing?
I know. I know. Generally speaking, boys use love to get sex and girls use sex to get love, and if it’s love that girls are seeking, no amount of masturbating is going to fix that. But hear me out.
If a girl is feeling empowered by being able to pleasure herself; if she is feeling strong and confident and in control of her own body; if her stress level is low and her level of self-esteem is high; if her serotonin levels are soaring, she’s going to be far less likely to give herself away sexually for acceptance or “love” from a partner because she already accepts and love herself.
It also frees girls up to date and take sex out of the equation. Or at least wait until they’re good and ready.
I’m the last person on earth who would sing the praises of abstinence. But I would be the first person in the world to hope that every young woman has a happy, safe, healthy, chosen first time when she is ready, emotionally, physically, spiritually, mentally, and otherwise.
If masturbating can make it easier for girls to wait, then why wouldn’t we be singing the praises of, as I like to call it, “taking care of business”?
I’m still feeling nervous about talking to my own daughter. Mostly because I’m afraid she’ll shut me down before I can even start talking to her. Experts (see Dr. Laura Berman) say giving her a small vibrator, something to be used externally, would even be a good idea at her age, which seems even more daunting.
My plan is to write her a note. Then she can digest the info at her leisure. She may act like she thinks I’m not cool or that my very existence is embarrassing, but the truth is, I know she listens to what I say.
She loves to travel with me. She loves hanging out on the sofa with me on a rainy day and watching a movie. She’s constantly asking me to take selfies with her for Twitter. She always wants to order what I order in a restaurant, and she wants my opinion on what she wears. And she is always telling me how lame it is that her friends think I’m “super cool.” That’s more than good enough for me.
So I know that even though it might be mortifying to hear it from me, she will listen. And this is something that she definitely needs to hear, because giving my daughter “permission” to masturbate just might be the single most powerful thing I could do for her and her sexuality not just for today but for forever.
Jenny Block is a freelance lifestyle and travel writer and the author of the Lambda Literary Award winning book “Open: Love, Sex, and Life in an Open Marriage.” She is currently working on her new book “O Wow! about female orgasm. You can find her at www.jennyonthepage.com.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.