By Lauren Brande
The Golden Girls were chronic masturbators.
All right, maybe there’s no definitive evidence, but it’s certainly plausible. Masturbation is a healthy practice, with countless benefits like stress reduction and skin rejuvenation — but female masturbation is still a hush-hush topic.
Ph.D. sexologist Betty Dodson said that the taboo nature of female masturbation, and its awkwardness, goes hand-in-hand with sexism. From holding New York City’s first erotic art exhibition in 1968 to 23 years of Bodysex groups — where women learn about orgasms and how to see their genitals as beautiful — Dodson has been a pioneer in the sex-positive feminist movement for the past 40 years.
“Due to sexual repression and the double standard, women are supposed to be fulfilled by intercourse alone,” Dodson said.
Like Dodson, modern sex activists are adopting a feminist stance in the current sexual revolution: encouraging women to empower themselves through masturbation.
Like a Virgin
Psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud said that the libido is the single most important motivating force in life, yet most sexual education focuses on precaution and leaves gratification out of the dialogue.
“[Current education] is about how to help you learn the basics to prevent pregnancy and prevent sexually transmitted conditions, but not necessarily as a precursor to the kind of pleasure that adults in intimate relationships can have with each other,” Ph.D. sexologist Carol Queen said.
She believes that society goes mum when it comes to the topic of masturbation because it is considered inappropriate to talk about.
“There’s a silence around it and the silence speaks volumes,” she said. “It carries its own message.”
In 1998, Heather Corinna founded the first young adult sex education Web site, Scarleteen.com, the “no-spin zone” of adolescent sexuality.
The site, which receives over 100,000 hits per day, unabashedly covers a variety of topics including homophobia, sexual abuse and sexually transmitted infections.
Corinna described what she sees as a common attitude among girls toward sex.
“One thing we see that’s troubling, at Scarleteen, is a lot of girls will kind of walk into their sexual life, and the first thing on the table is that someone is going to take their virginity,” Corinna said. “It’s ‘take’ or ‘I’m gonna give them.’ It’s always passive.”
She explained that this submissive type of language implies that the women are not in control of their own bodies, turning an act of connection and joy into one of obedience and passivity.
“A lot of girls won’t masturbate before they have a partner, and so they’ll kind of walk into these relationships with this dynamic that the partner is the person that teaches them about their sexuality,” Corinna said.
Many women, including the adamant sex activists, have struggled with sexuality at some point in their lives. Jamye Waxman, author of “Getting Off: A Woman’s Guide to Masturbation,” reflected on her first enlightening experience with a vibrator.
“I didn’t have my first orgasm until I was 21,” Waxman said. “I was sexually active from the time I was 16, but I didn’t even know my own body. I was really amazed when I understood what an orgasm was and felt like I couldn’t have been alone in feeling this way.”
Her epiphany led her to consider the reasoning behind this longtime lack of self-pleasuring orgasm, which ultimately related back to the social idea of womanhood.
“If you think about what is femininity, or what is female, often times you associate it with words like ‘giver’ and ‘doer’ and ‘nurturer,’” Waxman said. “People see [female] masturbation as a selfish act, because you’re giving and doing and nurturing yourself.”
Waxman’s book encourages women to love their bodies and their sexuality. The chapters cover the history of self-pleasure and how it has evolved, unravels myths related to masturbation, and provides details about vibrators and popular sex toys out on the market today.
“There will always be a need, every few years, for a new voice on the subject of sex,” Waxman said, “because the subject doesn’t go away, but our perceptions and the way we speak about it change.”
Amy and Janis Baldwin complete the sex-savvy mother-daughter duo that founded Pure Pleasure, a female-focused sex shop in downtown Santa Cruz. The shop hosts sex classes such as “How to Eat a Peach,” “Art of the Lap Dance” and “Anal Play for Him and Her.”
The shop opened in June 2008 and has drawn in the burning eyes of everyone from hot-to-trot college kids to middle-aged married folk who want to explore their sexual options.
Amy Baldwin described some encounters she has had with men in Pure Pleasure.
“Guys will walk into [the shop] and be like, ‘This is all for women, what am I going to do here?’” she said. “But the whole rest of the world — the media and everything sexually based — revolve around them. This is the one place where women can go and actually have everything be more about them.”
This unconventional family business was inspired by Good Vibrations, a worker-owned co-op in San Francisco run for women by women.
Good Vibrations looks more like it would sell mobile phones than dildos and vibrators. The shop is clean and bright — nothing like the sleazy, raunchy stereotype that has come to be expected from sex shops.
It holds numerous sex education workshops and free community events, embracing this newfound sexual freedom and helping women overcome their fear of their own bodies.
Queen is an owner and employee of the San Francisco shop. She publishes a sex and relationship advice column for the website GoodVibes.com and directs educational workshops for the staff.
Queen organized a live Masturbate-a-Thon event for San Francisco put on by Good Vibrations and the Center for Sex and Culture in 2000. At the 24-hour event, participants masturbated to raise money pledged by friends for every hour they can smack their taffy.
Since then the event has grown significantly, setting world masturbation records. In 2004, the record for most female orgasms in one day was set at 49 by one lucky (and very satisfied) woman. In 2006, the record for most male orgasms in one day was set at six. The record for most transgender orgasms in one day has yet to be set.
This orgasmic marathon takes place annually in the month of May, dubbed “National Masturbation Month” by Good Vibrations. It raises money to benefit the nonprofit organization Center for Sex and Culture, which is dedicated to providing nonjudgmental, sex-positive sexuality education in San Francisco.
“I was, and am, completely convinced that when women have access to good information to help them understand sexuality and have sex that is healthy, safe, comfortable and positive and pleasurable, that circumstances for women will change rather radically,” Queen said.
In 2007, Washington D.C. hopped on the hanky-panky bandwagon with its very own live pledge wank. Events such as this maintain the healthy expression of sexuality and allow the sharing of experience among communities.
In tune with this morphing conception, Joseph Kramer, professor of somatic sexology at the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality in San Francisco, has suggested a new introduction to intimacy for couples.
“If I were the ‘big daddy’ of the universe, I would suggest that before any boy and girl had intercourse that they masturbated in front of each other three times,” Kramer said. “It would dispel shame and get rid of all kinds of stuff before coming to an actual relationship.”
One of the courses offered at the New School For Erotic Touch, founded and directed by Kramer, touches on masturbation as a means to meditate.
This video, entitled “Medibation,” features Annie Sprinkle, a former sex worker, professional sexologist and erotically artistic author, who just so happens to be the first porn star to earn a Ph.D. Annie Sprinkle has done it all, and then some.
Her wide range of sexual experience and knowledge has helped her define her sexual needs. Through what she refers to as “medibation,” or masturbation as meditation, Sprinkle can enjoy a good tearing up when she reaches climax.
“You can masturbate to get in touch with your feelings. I like to have a little crygasm sometimes,” Sprinkle said. “It’s similar to having a nice margarita, a joint, a good swim, a hot tub or a sauna. Different people find different things pleasurable.”
Let’s Talk About Sex
The new sexual revolution is one of choice and understanding, and students at college campuses nationwide have recently begun taking control of their own erotic education.
“Making [masturbation] part of your normalized conversation gives the people who hear you more space to understand that they’re not alone in masturbating, or in thinking about it,” Queen said. “It helps to make it a more natural thing for people to consider. It helps to put it in its rightful place in our sexuality.”
Christine Fawley is a 2003 graduate from Vassar College, a liberal arts college in New York. She was on a committee that organized the campuswide erotic sex education and exploration magazine, Squirm: The Art of Campus Sex, only the second of its kind.
The magazine includes selections of erotica, ranging from prose and poetry to photographs — all created by and for the student body.
“Each campus has its own sex culture that wants to be expressed, and it’s really about the students harnessing that particular culture on campus,” said Fawley, currently a sex educator at VideoSexGuides.com. “What do they want to create and what can their campus hold?”
Squirm began circulation in 2000, and it has since inspired the creation of numerous new college sex publications including Sex Week at Yale (Yale, 2002), H-Bomb (Harvard, 2004), and Boink (Boston University, 2004).
“Sex is happening on campuses. College campuses are cauldrons of human sexuality,” Fawley said. “A lot of people are still creating their sexuality. We need the tools of sexual expression.”
Although it does not yet have a magazine, UCSC has numerous programs and organizations that inform students about sexuality.
The Condom Co-op, currently located in Kresge College, provides tools and information for safe sex.
“Slug Love,” put on by the Condom Co-op, is a workshop that covers sexual health, what it means to be a sexual being, and how to communicate sexual desires.
Porter and Kresge colleges also sponsor the “Sex and Sexuality Game Show” on the first Friday of each school year. The event includes interactive pieces such as demonstrating positions, who can fake the best orgasm, and putting a condom on a banana with one’s mouth. In addition, students win erotic prizes like fur-lined handcuffs, vibrators, whips, and lubricant.
“It takes [sexuality] out of the closet,” said Pam Ackerman, college programs coordinator at Kresge College. “It’s something that they can then feel free to discuss with their roommates and friends.”
Professional sex activists and students alike promote the fight against sexism, in sexuality and masturbation, with increasing frequency.
“I think the closer that we get to gender equality, period, the closer we can get to a comfort level with women’s sexuality,” Corinna said. “Which absolutely includes masturbation, and things kind of seem to be on an even cue with that.”