True Life: I'm 25 And Learning How to Masturbate
I was dating a man a few years older than me, we’ll call him M, when I realized for the first time that I didn’t love my vagina. He was feeling frustrated that I had not yet had an orgasm, more precisely that “he couldn’t give me an orgasm.” While he was earnest and gentle in his asking me what felt good for me during our sex, I myself couldn't tell him. Because I had no idea what felt good for me. Time and again, with M and with others, I found myself heated with anger at myself for being unable to direct my own pleasure. I would become frustrated at my partner for asking me to produce an orgasm by sharing with him my intimate secrets, the ones that I myself didn’t know.
I’m a 25 year old healthy female. I pride myself on living actively, passionately, and with an openness for people and experiences. However, one place that has been absent from my maturation process is sexual self- exploration. I grew up going to Catholic school, where family planning was part of the curriculum and the idea of sex before marriage wasn’t even addressed because it was so very out of the question. The only time I ever heard about masturbation was in the context of mortal sins, confession, and eternal damnation. Not intending to dramatize, but honestly sex of any kind was reserved for heathens and people who ended up on Maury and Teen Mom. My high school friends still remind me of the time I refused to go into Victoria Secret because that was where they sold “devil’s panties.”
And then I went to college and like what happens to many a person, my world was expanded. I met some of the best, most diverse people in my life and my eyes were opened to different perspectives. My allegiance to Catholicism wained, and I sought a more authentic spiritual connection through exploration of yoga and meditation. I entertained pledging allegiance to another religion entirely, and considered Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Quakerism. Even more important, I started to delve deeper into the relationship with myself, including acknowledging that I had this strong, womanly body.
My friends, who I liken to goddesses for their independence and personal strength, were shocked to learn that though I nurtured my body in many ways, masturbation was not one of them. Countless times I heard, “you’ve got to know what feels good for you on your own.” For many years I nodded along, it went in one ear and out the other. I didn’t want to admit that me and my lady parts weren’t well acquainted enough.
Since that first time that M asked me that question, laying naked together along with his feeling of waining masculinity palpable to us both, I had other relationships that hit a similar block. I would feel protective and angry and it would play out in a distancing between us as well as a compromising of what otherwise would have been pleasurable sexual experiences. After my most recent relationship ended, I made the decision to fully embrace every bit of me, including my sexuality. There remain echoes of guilt and shame resulting from my upbringing, a clumsy slew of first sexual encounters, and attempts for the past five years to preserve ego - to avoid admitting the lack of close relationship with myself. But my commitment to myself proves more important.
On my 25th birthday, I decided it was time to acknowledge and embrace that I didn’t know what I wanted when I laid down with a partner. I couldn’t be of help in fostering my own satisfaction. My friends instructed me to close the door, light candles, play music, and simply feel. See what happens without guidance or expectation. Like going to the gym, flossing, or making the bed, for me it requires commitment to it or else I simply push it aside. Masturbation becomes a to-do list item that is saved for a rainy day, one which never seems to come (no pun intended).
However, as a woman living in the 21st century in New York City, where orgasms and abortions are brunch conversations and female solidarity feels stronger than ever, I choose to recognize the beauty in connecting with my body and being the agent of my own pleasurable experience. There is something inimitably empowering about the ability to take yourself on a self-guided ecstacy trip. Tim Ferris, in his book The Four Hour Body acknowledges the truth repeated by friends, sex-tip websites, and previous lovers that the only way to know what you want from a partner is to know it for yourself. He instructs anyone looking to understand themselves more fully on a sexual level to treat masturbation as homework. To set aside time everyday and practice. If it is unnatural or non habitual, we will naturally find reasons not to do it, or to choose something else in its place.
I yearn to be in control of my own experience. I want to show my body an intense love that is independent of another person. I want to honor my femininity and acknowledge my profound biology. I see masturbation as a meditation, just as dancing, running, yoga or any other physical activity can become meditative through focus and intention.
Additionally, by naming a struggle we create open space for others to acknowledge and take comfort in knowing they are not alone. Female sexuality is a complex, messy-beautiful reality and even though there has been more openness towards it, both on a research level, as well as a broader social level, there is still much to be explored, learned, and, most importantly, talked about. Once the inquiry is given a name and an identity, it becomes less of a burden and more of a point of connection for women experiencing a similar struggle.
I’ve committed to the practicing of getting to know myself better, and I see masturbation as an avenue that can’t help but yield a deeper understanding of myself and my body. It’s not for M, N, O, P or any of the other men who have shook their heads in frustration, but for me. I’m not embarrassed or shamed by my lack of exploration thus far, rather I raise a glass of red wine to the possibility that lies still hidden, under the covers, with candles lit waiting patiently for me, and me alone.