Adding a feminine touch: Setting the record straight on female masturbation

By Arts and Culture Reporter

When freshman theatre major Winter Sherrod was younger, her male classmates often asked, “Do you masturbate?” 

Though she did, she did not feel comfortable telling them about it. She did not want to be publicly shamed for a natural act.

“Boys are totally OK talking about masturbation and how much they do it, and women don’t really get that opportunity,” Sherrod said.

Like Sherrod, many women have been embarrassed and shamed by the stigma associated with female masturbation. It is more socially acceptable for men to masturbate than for women, yet studies suggest women masturbate about as frequently as men do.

According to the 2010 book “99 Things Parents Wish They Knew Before Having ‘THE’ Talk” by doctors Pierre-Paul Tellier and Chris F. Fariello, it is likely that 80–95 percent of men masturbate at some time in their lives, but about 70–92 percent of women do, as well.

Rena McDaniel, a Chicago licensed professional counselor who specializes in sex therapy, said one of the main causes of the social stigma surrounding female masturbation is biology. 

“People who have penises can look down and see their penises and what they respond to,” McDaniel said. “They’re taught that it’s OK and appropriate for their penises to respond to sexual stimuli. People who have vulvas aren’t taught that.”

Because vaginas are internal sexual organs, people cannot look down and automatically see what they are responding to. Instead, they are taught what is appropriate for vulva response. “If we look at history, women have historically been oppressed and one of the ways that we have historically been oppressed is by fearing our sexuality,” McDaniel said.

Korey McWilliams, a sex therapist and an adjunct professor in the Humanities, History & Social Sciences Department who teaches “Human Sexuality Seminar,” said the stigma surrounding female masturbation is really a stigma attached to female sexuality itself. Women are often sexualized and objectified by mainstream media. When they embrace their own sexuality, people think something is wrong with them, according to McWilliams.

“Women want sex as much as men do. It’s bullshit to think otherwise,” McWilliams said. “They’re just not allowed to have sex, so they can’t talk about sex and they can’t express their sexual desires. They can, but they risk being slut-shamed.”

Elizabeth Rudacille, a freshman theatre major, said she thinks the stigma derives from women being viewed as “side tokens” for men.

“I guess the stigma stems from people not wanting us to do things on our own,” Rudacille said. “It’s like men see us as ‘You need us to please yourself,’ and obviously we don’t.”

McDaniel said schools should encourage a better understanding of sex education, and McWilliams agreed.

McDaniel added that parents should “normalize” sex to their children.

“I think on a personal level, people who have vulvas have the right to explore their bodies and their own sexuality and to take the time to get to know their own bodies,” McDaniel said. “A lot of people who were raised as women don’t ever do that.”

Sherrod said the media needs to take the initiative in talking about masturbation to increase awareness among both men and women on the subject.

“If you don’t see anyone talking about it through media, which is where a lot of the system puts things then you’re not going to feel comfortable talking about it by yourself,” Sherrod said.