I never liked how I looked when I was a teenager. But then again, who does? I always found myself too lanky, too skinny, too flat. My hair was too curly and every pimple was a disaster. My friends pointed out my flaws the same way I did myself, but I don’t blame them. My mom would comfort me when she saw me deprecating myself and call me the most beautiful girl she’d ever seen. But I was too stubborn to believe her. I knew I couldn’t love the way I looked till I had a bigger waist, clear skin, and a healthy pair of breasts.
I cursed my existence as a girl. My body remained pretty much the same as I grew up. I was afraid that I was going to become an adult woman without looking like one. I felt so unfeminine with the way I looked, I was afraid of being feminine. I would don a tomboy attitude, to convince myself that I’m better off without my femininity.
The summer before I turned 18, I did something new. It was subconscious and quite out of the blue; I started masturbating.
I didn’t think much of it first, but I realized how scared I was of my body. It felt sinful. I felt like I was being violated. But I liked how I felt.
I was curious about female pleasure and anatomy. I did some reading and made a few observations.
Sex education in school taught me about my ovaries, uterus, and periods, but never about the vulva. It was almost shameful to think that I wasn’t familiar with parts of my own body. But I’m not alone in this. On average, more than one-third of university-aged women can’t find the clitoris in a diagram.
In a conversation with a female friend, I asked what she thought about girls masturbating.
This may be traced back to linking the purpose of sex differently to genders. Men are taught to have sex for pleasure. Women are taught to have sex to reproduce. This means that organs that are specifically meant for pleasure are overlooked. For instance, anatomical textbooks omitted depictions of the clitoris until the twentieth century.
I also found out that no one talked about female masturbation, at least no one I knew. I’d find a few articles here and there about pleasuring oneself. But none of my friends or the women I knew were open to discuss it. In a conversation with a female friend, I asked what she thought about girls masturbating. Her reaction was a mix of disgust and surprise.
A study in the US shows that only 58% of female 14- to 17-year-olds masturbate, compared to 80% of males. It’s also very likely that girls aren’t comfortable with sharing their masturbation habits.
Society hides pleasure from young girls, but not sex. We’re shown sex that makes us afraid of it; violent pornography, widespread rape, and sexual abuse. Sex becomes pain, and so does pleasure. We teach our girls to be afraid of what their bodies possess. We teach them that the repercussions of wanting pleasure are painful.
Medically speaking, there’s nothing harmful about female masturbation. Contrary to popular belief, masturbation can increase sexual desire and sensitivity. It also releases built-up stress, helps you sleep better, relieves cramps, and boosts your mood.
For me, masturbation taught me to become comfortable with my own body. More importantly, it helped me accept my femininity.
Masturbation made me realize that pleasure isn’t synonymous with pain.
Looking back, I realize that I had confused femininity with desirability. The feeling that I didn’t fit into the ideal body type convinced me that I wasn’t desirable, that I wouldn’t be able to sexually satisfy anyone. I measured my worth by the standards that society had for an attractive woman.
When I took matters into my own hands (pun unintended), I realized that feeling good about myself was up to me. I had control over my pleasure and my body. I was a sexual being, who was built for being touched and having sexual intimacy.
Masturbation made me realize that pleasure isn’t synonymous with pain. It helped me embrace and understand what my femininity truly meant.
I found femininity in being a woman with sexual desires, not in the size of my thighs or my bra. I found femininity in my self-confidence, not in the validation from a society that preys over my body.
Masturbation made me a woman.
My hope for the future is women seeing their bodies the way they are; feminine, sexual, and unashamed.