Looking at Bitch's archives, I know some people might have known—if not celebrated—National Masturbation Month, which was last month (and every May). But I has this nagging feeling that, as much as we talk about feminism freeing people from oppression's proverbial yokes to explore what turns them on, feminism isn't really discussing probably one of the first sexual acts that some of us have done beyond the basic, "We're doing it! An instant feminist move forward! Yay us!"
But I like to check my reality—especially concerning who "us" and "we" are--so I posed the question to my Facebook and Twitter crews: what do you think is missing in feminist conversations about masturbation? Some tweetizens said (and edited for clarity):
[I]t's okay to sometimes view it as a crotch maintenance & find it satisfying, whole, but not necessarily empowering.
[F]eminist discussion of masturbation often excludes genderqueer & transpeople.
That people with disabilities do it too!
[A] deep discussion of penetration. [S]eriously.
I can't say that I've really seen many identified feminist convos about jilling off. [C]an only say in general I would say that one thing missing in a lot of convos is basic anatomy and how to's.
A couple of people to whom I reached out on Facebook echoed PostmodSexgeek's response regarding the feminism's general silence about this, be it in print or online. Cat Mungcal said the only times she read about it were "A Love Letter from an Anti-Rape Activist to Her Feminist Sex Toy Store" by Lee Jacobs Riggs in the anthology Yes, Means Yes and my old (and soon-to-be revived, I swear!) blog, The Cruel Secretary.
My other Facebook friends responded:
I fucking love masturbation. Solo sex is absolutely a political issue because taking control of your own pleasure is liberating. Too often, when we talk about restricting women's pleasure, the topic turns to female genital cutting in other countries. However, our homegrown variety of no-whacking, abstinence-only education can be equally repressive. I want more of us-- women and men--to dialogue about access to healthy information about all forms of sex.
Mandy Van Deven had this answer--
Feminists who are reticent to or don't masturbate and/or use sex toys. I think there's an expectation for feminists to be all sexually liberated and uninhibited, but sex is complicated, even when it's solo. And masturbation isn't intuitive for everyone, particularly those of us who have been victims of sexual abuse. I wish the conversation about feminism and masturbation was broader and made more room for complex and uncomfortable truths about sexuality.
Thea Lim agreed with Mandy—
I guess I'll say what I always say when it comes to feminism and these things: I think it's vital for the conversation to be open to and supportive of all expressions of sexuality--as long as said expressions are not obstructing anyone else's right to their sexuality. That means including the entire spectrum women's ways of masturbating; from being full-on in love with masturbation, to not being particularly interested in it. That means respecting women's choices around masturbation, whatever they are, and whether or not they fit with conventional definitions of feminist or sex-positive attitudes towards masturbation…my belief is that it's important to remember that there isn't a "correct" relationship to masturbation, it's more about fostering healthy attitudes to masturbation, whatever the actual content of that attitude is. The way you do, not what you do!
Maegan La Mala Ortiz had this to say--
I don't think there is enough discussion about how to talk to young women of color about masturbation, sex toys, education and access. Alot of this comes from my own experiences growing up and now my experiences as a mami to a 12 year old.
I think building on what Maegan said there seems to be this divergence in talk of masturbation along lines of race where the assumption or focus for young white women is exploratory, sex-positive and nurturing that type of development verse young women of color who are considered a "problem," that needs a solution, generally not having sex and based on the assumption that they are too sexual so they must be first controlled, then "liberated."
I might be imagining that, but I do feel like there is this assumption that sexual self exploration is something relegated to "liberated" women, which are generally privileged and when women of color can reach the point at which they are no longer oppressed, they too can partake in this type of sexual self liberation whether it be through masturbation or other types of sex.
Hmmm….I could see Samhita's point. Here's what two other women of color said regarding it:
Tami Winfrey Harris--
From a black woman's perspective, I'm not sure that there is much positive conversation about our sexuality in feminism at all--certainly not in mainstream feminism and even in our own spaces, sexuality is a topic left on the shelf. There remains this women + sex = nasty and forbidden ethos in our culture, I think, in part, due to the strong influence of religion. Masturbation gets caught in that.
Patrice Elizabeth Grell Yursik—
Agreed with Tami.
I've tried in the past to include more adult topics on my blog, even hosting a giveaway for a popular sex toy company...I got the smallest response I've ever had for a giveaway before. Compared to my other friends of varied ethnicities who will discuss their fave toys and masturbation habits with just about anyone who'll listen (sometimes with anyone within earshot), I've had to learn the hard way that unfortunately, many black women are uncomfortable discussing their sexual interests, much less masturbation.
Sexologist Bianca Laureano looked at the question this way—
[I] think topics of body image, accessibility of having a space private or not to masturbate, disability, fantasy (and how fantasy does not always mean an ism is going to be present) so disassociating the pleasure from the theories on oppression (does that make sense?). [T]hen of course the issues of social location (im/migration status, race, class, ethnicity, age, primary language) and how the information we in the US provide is very much anglophone, heterosexist (or only [lesbian or gay] rarely bi, trans, or pansexual), geared towards late adolescents (what about when children masturbate because they do since infancy?) [W]hat about the youth who live in group homes? [A]re in kinship care? [A]re pregnant?
[I also think] access to toys, access to understanding the body (touching only the vulva when really any part of our body may bring us to a level of pleasure and/or orgasm); assuming that orgasm means the end of sex and masturbation; that orgasm is the end result of masturbation; of course this conversation around female sexual dysfunction and how biomedicine has constructed this ideology/diagnosis that many women of all gender expressions seem too often buy into [as well as] ritual and rites of passage for women who live in the US but are not of the US.
The floor is yours, Bitch readers/commentariat: what is feminism saying—or not saying—about masturbation?
Thanks to everyone who was gracious enough to respond to my question!