Today we have a guest blog post by Psychologist and Educator Tamora Sita Dhanipersad. In her essay, she elaborates on the topic of female masturbation and expands on the issues presented in the article “The Ballad of the Lonely Masturbator”, she dissects every detail and addresses key issues such as rape and body image, traumas that, as women, we suffer continuously but we don’t talk about it. Like miscarriage, body image, rape and female masturbation are taboos. I must confess I cried inconsolably when I read it. Feeling insecure for actually posting this. What are people going to think about me? What am I going to have to talk about after I post this? Her bravery is unparalleled and I can but only take my hat off to her for this post. Here it goes.
This essay is a response to My Space Baby’s article “The Ballad of the Lonely Masturbator”, written by the ever-beautiful Rene.
Like women who have miscarried, women who have been sexually abused and raped feel a similar loss of trust in their bodies. A perceived loss of identity, womanhood and indeed humanity are frequent partners to both events. In either event our relationship with our bodies is deeply wounded.And in both events masturbation can take on one of two roles.
a) it can be another source of guilt and shame or
b) it can, as our lovely Irene argues, become “a form of fire that stifles self-doubt and empowers us to rise above” the perceptions of us as victims, women to be pitied, or somehow broken women.
I will go further in this essay to suggest that masturbation can be a deep form of healing for those with traumatised body images and images of the self. I will also argue that we are kept from using masturbation as an act of empowerment and healing by the structural oppression of women by institutions and western culture.
How Rape and Sexual Abuse violate Womanhood
Womanhood – the collective state or condition of being a woman. Contains the qualities considered to be “natural” or an inherent characteristic of being a woman. In the case of miscarriage it is easy to see how the event breaks this concept. Women are supposed to bear children as easily as the arrival of spring. In rape and sexual abuse, however, it is harder to see how womanhood is violated.
Firstly, the majority of rapes and abuses are ambiguous to the victim. To the observer the violation is clear. But to the abused? The abuser generally goes out of their way to gaslight the victim or otherwise minimise their actions…Many even turn them into acts of perverse love and connection.
And it works.
Secondly, there is the deepest of taboos. For some victims of abuse and rape, they experience arousal. Some may even experience something they mistake for love. Others may actually experience love and arousal.
Media portrayals of rape and sexual abuse make them look so traumatic its hard to imagine how you could be confused. But life is not so black and white….And usually your rapist or abuser is not a stranger, but someone known to you, someone you already have feelings about, many times it’s a friend or acquaintance, or family.
Lastly, there is the biological aspect of it. As much as rape is about power and control at the interpersonal and individual levels…At the species level… Rape is just a valid reproductive strategy. One we have lived with for all of evolution… one we have a reflexive response to…A response that no one tells you about.
Because society does not like it, they want you to fight back. If you don’t, its acceptance…Masculine toxicity transferred to our culture by male dominated systems. Handed to us in defiance of evolution. If you like it, we were right.
“Like” does not come into it. Sexual arousal is reflex. Experiencing violence or violation is tied into reflexes. Fight or Flight….And if you can’t fly, there is Freeze. I am one of nature’s freezers. When raped my body immobilises and I become aroused…And then my mind disconnects. I have no choice, its protective instinct.
And now you see the loss of trust in the connection to your body. Worse, it can persist as a trigger for arousal years later. “What is wrong with me?”, You ask yourself again and again…as years later you turn off a TV showing child abuse or rape, because, as violently sick and triggered as you are…you are also wet.
It becomes a source of such deep shame; “You’re sick. You’re a paedophile, they were right, you want to be abused… that is why you like BDSM, that is why you are a pervert.”
Yes, rape taught me I can be aroused, and even in love with my abuser…And I deeply, deeply distrusted my mind and body because of it. And because no one ever talked about it, Doctors, Psychologists and Counsellors, nor the Police…No one. I thought it was me. I hated myself. I hated my body. I was aroused, I orgasmed…but, at no point, did I want any of it. Either when it first happened…or the times I relieved it.
Not to mention additional complications of maybe being neurodiverse, or being an alternative sexuality and having less than mainstream tastes in sex. Then you add the likes of PTSD, Depression and Anxiety that follow this. Your life becomes a snowball of negative factors spiralling far beyond your perceived control and in many cases, your actual control.
Over time you can become so confused between the memory lapses, fraught emotions, the perceived “betrayals” of your mind and body to even respond to something like that, that you can find yourself completely alienated from your body… locked in your mind reliving your trauma. A condition that most things in society perpetuate through the silence that surrounds these topics.
Womanhood contains deep rooted ideas and beliefs of the nature of what it is to be female. Love, Sex, Children. These things are supposed to be natural to you, when you are traumatised, nothing is natural to you. There is no freedom in expression, there is only fear.
Masturbation as healing and the start of empowerment…
It started in St Thomas’s Hospital. I was with my consultant, a woman I deeply respect and who, if she abused her power, I would do anything for. Why? Because she diagnosed my vulvodynia.
She, along with the GP that referred me to her, in all the medical profession did not think I was a hypochondriac. They did not blame the abuse and rape for my “mental experience of pain.”
To be believed. Validated. I adored her.
She was a stuffy older woman, frumpy and a bit Germanic in her speech. Clipped, official. But her empathy was tangible. “Your experiences, are sadly, all too common.”
I had vaginismus as well. This is where you experience involuntary tightening of the pelvic floor and vagina, which makes sex very painful and difficult. It was she who worked out that I’d had vulvodynia since my teens. But I had only thought the pain unusual in my 20’s when the rape, the vaginismus and a change in pill, which brought on heavier periods made it unbearable.
For the vaginismus I started physical therapy with dilators. Or, what I recognised as a set of differently sized dildos. Starting from one as small as my little finger…going up to well, if a man whipped that out of his pants, I would be impressed…and fucking scared.
I did the “Exercises”. They were very simple. I found a needed a warm bath and some massage before, to make it comfortable. Then you lie down. Prop your legs apart comfortably and using a gentle pressure (and a bucket of lube) work the dilator in till you feel discomfort or tension, then stop. You use breathing and Kegel exercises to help work it in more and more. Then you work it slowly in and out of you, or in circles to gently stretch your vagina open. When it becomes easy, you use a bigger dilator.
At first, there was nothing enjoyable about this process. It was boring and uncomfortable. I watched box sets whilst I did it. But as it worked, and the pain lessened, one night the episode was randomly sexy…my brain, bored, started to wonder and before I knew it, I had come, hard. I was amazed. Firstly this was a very new fantasy – nothing like the others. I was not panicking, just happy! It became difficult to deny it was just prescribed masturbation…and, well, it was more fun to treat it as such.
I would never have brought this up to a Doctor… but I did to my consultant… because I trusted her; “I um, the size I am on now… well its ah, fun? I mean, its not that much different to… you know… sometimes has the same effect…” I giggled shyly.
And she did the most wonderful thing. She giggled like a school girl with me; “Nobody said the medicine *had* to taste bad!” she smiled at me. “Maybe go with it, only move up… not when it stops being painful and uncomfortable…but move up when it starts being enjoyable!”
And like that, this woman did more than cure my vaginismus. She started a long overdue series of acts of reparation between my mind, my emotions and my body. I gently moved myself from the physical and mental pain, working one step up at a time. Mentally exploring my fantasies…and tying them to pleasurable healing events.
I started to forgive myself for some of the darker fantasies that had nothing to do with abuse or rape. I also started to recognise automatic arousal and realise it had nothing to do with what I liked or wanted. As a bonus, I got a very lively imagination in that area… Well, if you feed and exercise a part of your brain, it will grow.
I am not the only woman to find masturbation accidentally healing. Go to a forum for miscarriage, vulvodynia, sexual abuse. There are a lot of us.
The only thing that I find in common when reading these accounts is that these were all women who were forced to:
1) Take a lot more time and make a lot more preparations for masturbating or sexual activity than most
2) Read a LOT more about female sexual arousal and generally do a lot more self-education around anatomy and physical function
3) Actually, take the time to explore their own sexual fantasies and ask the question… “Where does that really come from?” “Where does it belong in the story of me?”
4) Were supported by a partner, friend or significant physician/therapist to do so… But, when we do it, we are alone, there is no one else to consider.
These are the conditions under which masturbation becomes more than self-relief or recreation. More than a guilty pleasure.
If you look at these points it boils down again to two things:
a) Permission to take masturbation that seriously, as seriously as you take your sex life with a partner; especially in terms of time and self-education. Permission also to not feel guilty about doing so.
b) A growth mindset, not running from the trauma and hiding, but facing it with the will to turn it to something good…
For my part, being forced to lie there and take time over pleasuring myself, take the time to make up new fantasies rather than letting my brain lapse into old habits…To explore myself physically, mentally and emotionally…
…it saved me from a fate worse than hating sex. From never being able to physically connect to another human being again. From endless constricting shame.
Masturbation returned me to my pre-teen/teenage self…The one who found out she fucking loved sex and her body and the pleasure it gave her. Who adored fantasising and was not ashamed of her fantasies… and in that, it was deeply empowering. I was not a victim of abuse and rape. I was a woman in command of her own arousal. I was a woman who knew her mind and body.
But I cannot help knowing that this was an accident. The NHS does not value masturbation as an act of healing. Because our society does not. Even though we can see here it is an act that ties emotion, the body and the mind together in a way that is powerful to our sense of identity and belonging in society.
Masturbation as defiant womanhood in the face of capitalist individualism…
In her article Rene raises a tension that I believe we as women we go “Oh yeah that…” but we never explore and address in ourselves. It’s a feminist issue for debate, not a personal growth challenge. She places it in the well-known dichotomy:
The independent (barren?) woman who enjoys sex and demands her sexual needs are met vs. the woman who procreates via sex.
I would elaborate her dichotomy further:
The liberated independent sexual woman whose love is conditional vs. the dependant Mother who sublimates her sexuality into unconditional love.
The sexually threatening childless woman vs. the unthreatening Mother, devoid of sexuality.
The single individual in a society vs the corporate identity of a womanhood.
Rene identifies in her article then, something I had been struggling with and yet never given voice to.
Firstly, that having children had caused massive issues in my sexual identity that I had been ignoring. Because she is right. The independent sexually empowered woman is childless. If she has children, she is negligent, wild, out of control… damaging to her young. Selfish.
Secondly, that this is tied to more than just my sexual identity. But it affects my career decisions and strikes at the heart of my identity. Like Rene, I am facing the choice to finish my MSc and do my PhD… like her child issues, it mean I cannot be as mobile as an academic career demands.
It is also a major barrier to any question to live authentically as me…and, in that, it’s a major barrier to mental health.
Like her, I am a loud feminist, I want to be the independent woman. I want to defiantly clutch my batch of sex toys and take my sexual conquests with the same kind of pride men do. To take my sexual prowess with the same kind of pride as men do. To make my career decisions as men do.
But to do so would be seen as vulgar. Independent women go shopping for vibrators in bright groups of friends or with their sexy new FWB. Mothers order them quietly off the internet and wait till their husband is drunk and the kids are asleep to steal a moment to quietly pleasure themselves.
And every woman reading this goes, “Oh that.”
We all know it. You only have to look at advertising to see it. Pick up a copy of Cosmopolitan vs. Prima or Parenting Today. You only have to think about how hard it is to talk to a doctor about masturbation. How as childish British culture is about ‘having a wank’ or ‘sad lonely wankers’.
Do any of us need another explanation of how capitalism via media, advertising, its control over our lives via work is pulling us apart at our very core levels?
They sell us identities… like an individual possesses ONLY ONE… and that identity forms under perfect conditions of loving care, safety and nourishment. Very few humans experience that. They leave us to deal with the complex reality of a human with an identity they pieced together in an environment that was fraught with dangers and stressors. And identity negotiated with an imperfect and distracted mind.
Does anyone want another discussion of how polarising western society has become? Individual vs. Mother, you can’t be both. Leave or Remain. Pro Life vs. Pro Not being a fucking unreasonable dickhead and knowing that the world is more fucking complicated than that!
We know it. But we don’t acknowledge it as a personal growth issue…That it is something we need to challenge in places we dare not look too long. Like you know, why you like MILF porn so much. Or why you like it when you call him Daddy. Or why I never love my partner more than when I backhand him to the floor and take a flogger to his cock.
We are the ones who obey the social taboos of silence that make our own and others experience what it is. Our shame. Our guilt. Another’s nightmare of a life.
So, let me stand with Rene and say: when are we going to start doing something about this? Not just talking or acknowledging it. How much more do we have to see… environmental collapse? The mass murder of every black man in the USA? Every woman broken and traumatised by the mere misfortune to be born a woman who could not magic up a baby as easily as she sneezes?
We must learn to make the uncomfortable comfortable. The first place we do that is in ourselves.
Fuck Yourself and Fuck the White Capitalist Male Hegemony whilst you are at it.
So, let me commend to you the kind of masturbation and fantasising that will empower you…and that will realistically if everyone does it change something.
1. Take your masturbation seriously… and do some homework.Here are your primary resources: omgyes.com, Dr Jennifer Gunter’s The Vagina Bible & copies of Nancy Friday’s Women on Top and Justin Lehmiller’s ‘Tell Me What you Want’. Learn about your anatomy! (Sorry men, I don’t know male equivalent sources, bar Nancy Friday’s Men in Love & Lehmiller covers everyone).
2. Put as much effort into fucking yourself as you would a partner. Honestly, take out a whole evening. I do, think nothing of pleasuring yourself 3-4 times in one session. Why not? You’d spend all night doing that with a lover would you not? Dress up, please yourself with food and music, bath… whatever you’d do to a partner.
3. Explore your fantasies, push your own boundaries a little. You think you hate X, but is that just an unpleasant life experience that bars you. Is it inherited disgust from society? Have you just not really thought about it before? Or, is that just an authentic piece of who you are?
4. Make your friends your normal, not the mainstream media’s ideas of normal. Talk to close others, get over the embarrassment…find or make positive spaces, occupy them, talk about masturbation not only as recreation and release but as self-expression and healing. We should be able to chat to our partners about this easily and to others who are close and you trust.
5. Fuck shame. Well how do you do that? Realise that when you start talking about your self love life at all people are going to act like children or get very embarrassed… because that is the best society can do.
The majority of society has the self-awareness of a flea. Or more to the point a 14-year-old boy. Would you let a 14-year-old boy shame you about anything? No. why? Because he needs to grow up to see what he is doing wrong.
So does Western Culture about masturbation. It needs to stop seeing it as a product to sell as vibrators or porn. It needs to stop being so prudish that you cannot talk about your fantasies or desires to even your bedroom partner without massive anxiety… and it needs to get the fuck away from telling us how to inhabit the space that is our own bodies and minds.
What both need are understanding. Support others to open up. Practice being at ease. It won’t come easily at first, its all going to be super-awkward… but you will normalise it eventually!
Reclaim the curiosity we save for media! Everyone is interested in sex, fantasies and masturbation… we are adults, we want to know what is ‘normal’. Stop asking the media! Start asking people -shock horror- who you actually like and love!
In all these ways we oppose shame.
We are our culture. We can obey it or change it. The easiest way to change it is to change yourself. You be the person that normalises it, all you have to do is talk about your experiences of and think about how they are shaping you and those around you.
Normalise being a messy complex human.
So that when people get messed up, they don’t feel alone, victimised, blamed and judged…and even better they are not alone, victimised, blamed nor judged.
Nor are they doing it to themselves with just the hoarse whispers of society in their ear.
As a bonus, and if you believe none of what I say, at the very least you can agree that a joyous, exploratory, defiant, and accepting approach to your solo love life will make you an excellent partner in bed one day. Its also the easiest way to become multi-orgasmic. Men that means you too; go learn to edge properly and exactly where you have to tense/push to retro-ejaculate and your gold, promise