Writing by Alana Cole // Photographs by Violeta Niebla
The working day is winding up and I am slumped at my desk, watching the clock inch its way to 5pm. I have a grand post-work plan to shake myself out of this office-induced lethargy. I have the house to myself and am planning to do all the loud obnoxious things I can: dance vigorously to Taylor Swift; a set of 20 burpees; sing a bad cover of Beyonce; eat rice cakes on the kitchen floor naked; and… masturbate. I am putting together a program for the “Festival of Nancy,” as I like to call it, and masturbation is a key fairground feature.
I was not always this comfortable with making a conscious decision to masturbate. The concept of solo self-love used to fill me with shame. The very idea of planning and looking forward to it would have struck 11-year-old-Nancy as perverse. It would be like planning to seduce someone’s husband or baking your least favourite teacher a faeces laced cake. Sick, almost sinister.
Rewind to 1998. My mum is having a daytime nap and I have two hours of lounge room privacy. I am reading an Enid Blyton novel about nocturnal soft toys, my hand strays down there and suddenly, I am distracted from my book. I don’t know what is happening, but I know it feels really, really, really good.
I had made a secret discovery, a new activity for my long days of self-entertainment. My mum had chronic fatigue, and no social life—I had a lot of time to kill.
This discovery was not added to the 11-year-old iteration of the “Festival of Nancy” with ease, however. Whenever I felt the urge, I was stopped in my tracks by nagging guilt and feelings of disgust—surely this is something only boys do, I thought.
I wondered whether boys feel any guilt associated with masturbation. From what I gauged from listening to boys’ conversations at the time, the answer was no. Masturbation was something to be proud of; a sign of sexual prowess, manliness, strength, and thirst for life.
This is not so for women. Traditionally, women would stay sexually innocent until they were given to a man by their father, when they would have sex for the first time on their wedding night. Their bodies and sexuality were owned by men, passed between them like a commodity. This perception of women’s sexuality has since been challenged, and perhaps those traditional customs were not the experience of women lucky enough to be encouraged to explore an assertive and unique sexuality. However, traditional gender roles and stereotypes are not banished in an instant; they leave a trace. When examining societal attitudes to female masturbation, it seems that women discovering their sexuality alone is shameful; we are supposed to wait for a man to show us how to enjoy our bodies.
Perhaps women who talk openly about enjoying masturbation present a threat because they are straying from the feminine ideal of passivity and innocence. Women who create sexual pleasure without men’s input refuse to let their sexuality be owned or directed by others. They are a threat to the societal status-quo.
This is why both talking about masturbation and masturbating are often considered feminist acts–masturbating being an extremely enjoyable one at that!
Further, knowing what you want sexually puts you in great stead to enjoy healthy sexual relationships in the future, where you are not waiting to be shown what turns you on, but will bring something to the experience. The best sexual experiences I have had were an equal exchange of ideas, preferences, and styles, where your sexuality grows and evolves as a result.
My own journey to develop my sexual style has been lengthy, often emotionally taxing, but mostly fun, and I now enjoy many a “collaborative” orgasm.
However, sometimes the most fun and enjoyable sexual experiences still occur when I take my sexuality, ahem, into my own hands.