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September 16, 2013 | by  | in Features Homepage |
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Flickin’ the Bean

Among the downsides to having a vagina (periods, hello?) there is one faithful saviour, that comes (pun most definitely intended) in the form of the clitoris. That wee gem contains 8000 nerve endings just waiting to rock any girl’s world—that’s more ammo for orgasm than guys have packed away in their beloved schlongs, and everybody knows how much they love to play with those.

Why, then, is there this weird discomfort surrounding the idea of flicking the bean? It is a widely accepted fact that men spend disproportionate amounts of time, wang in hand, fapping furiously, and subsequently congratulating each other on their manliness. Conversely, the idea of a woman daring to touch her own box is regarded as smutty and embarrassing; very few women will admit to it, let alone take pride in it.

Granted, women’s masturbation habits are probably never going to make acceptable dinner-time conversation. Nor should any woman ever be deprived of the right to keep her fingering habits to herself, should she so choose. However, the skewed perception of female masturbation prevalent in our society is unhealthy and outdated. In this day and age, it shouldn’t be a shameful and dirty topic, only ever discussed after several wines at a particularly outrageous girls’ night.

From the outset, having to refer to masturbation as ‘female’ masturbation is both a symptom of and a reason for this blatant double standard. Creating a separate subcategory for women reinforces the idea that female masturbation is abnormal. It implies that masturbation is a male-dominated activity which I, for one, can assure you it’s not. Women everywhere, of all shapes, sizes, colours and creeds buff the beaver. And why shouldn’t they?

For one thing, masturbation has been linked to several health benefits for women. According to studies, diddling the skittle can aid in building resistance to yeast infections; combating pre-menstrual tension and other physical conditions associated with menstruation such as cramps; improving insomnia through hormonal and tension release; relieving chronic back pain; improving cardiovascular health; and lowering the risk of type-2 diabetes.

For many women, masturbation can also be a means of empowerment. It signifies that they are not dependent on a partner to find pleasure and satisfaction—they have ownership over their own bodies and the freedom to explore and experiment, discovering what they enjoy on their own.

Plus, it is one of the most natural things that a human—male or female—can do. And it feels good.

Really, really good.

The way in which female masturbation is portrayed in popular media often reinforces the idea that it is acceptable for men to masturbate, but women who indulge in a little self-lovin’ are abnormal. A talk show titled ‘Talking With: Women Who Masturbate’ is one example. As one YouTube commenter pointed out, no one would ever host a segment about men who masturbate. The very idea seems ludicrous because it is accepted that men will wank and wank often; they are almost encouraged to do so. The same acceptance and encouragement does not exist for women.

In movies too, the inequity is prominent. Film critic Anne Billson was asked by The Guardian to cite any mainstream films that she could think of featuring women masturbating or the appearance of a vibrator. The only one that came to her mind was Parenthood, in which a ‘torch’ located during a power cut transpires to be a vibrator. Cue intense embarrassment for its owner.

“Conversely, on the male masturbation front, [she] quickly rounded up Ben Stiller’s jism in hair shot for There’s Something About Mary, Vince Vaughn jerking off as he spies on his victim in the remake of Psycho, and pretty much all of the dysfunctional male characters in American Beauty and Happiness.”

The idea even permeates popular vernacular. In the highly reputable source that is Urban Dictionary, there are screeds of alternate terms for male masturbation: ‘buffing the banana’, ‘yanking the crank’, and ‘siphoning the python’ to name a few. There are decidedly fewer for female masturbation, and these are mostly then defined as something that a man does to a woman rather than what a woman does to herself.

The double standard when it comes to male and female masturbation is also related to other, wider issues, such as the disproportionately high levels of sexual dissatisfaction in females. As women are not encouraged to investigate their own vaginas, they have less of an opportunity to find out what brings them pleasure and sexual fulfilment. Only 25 per cent of women consistently reach orgasm through heterosexual vaginal intercourse. Masturbation, or lack thereof, is linked with this, as women typically reach orgasm through clitoral stimulation, which will usually happen during masturbation. Basically, if you don’t know your way around your own box, your partner hasn’t got a shitshow of figuring it out either.

Another issue is that of the degradation of female sexual empowerment, and a sexism of sorts. When it comes to heterosexual couples, the taboo surrounding female masturbation can contribute to the idea that women can only get off courtesy of a man. Dr Petra Boynton, a psychologist who has studied the depiction of women and sex in the media, believes that women traditionally fill the role of nurturer in the bedroom, and that this causes difficulty in adjusting to the monomaniacal pleasure that masturbation offers. Boynton’s view is that most women still see sexual activity as something done in order to pleasure a male partner, and that “women don’t have the strategies” to attain pleasure for themselves.

Admittedly, there have been significant advances made in the way that society views female masturbation. Women everywhere are reclaiming their right to their vaginas, and demanding a greater acceptance for female masturbation. Salient spoke to Haylee Paige, Sales Assistant at D.VICE Wellington, who believes there has been a “significant” change in views on female masturbation. She said that people have become a lot “more open to it”, as evinced by the “DVDs, books, blogs and shows about it” that now exist.

“It’s like women [have] realised what they are missing… We have seen evidence of this through… the fact that we have a lot of women from 16 to about 70, maybe older, coming in and buying our products,” says Paige.

She admits, though, that it is an issue that many female customers, particularly the older ones, are still overcoming.

“[Customers tell us] about how they have never had a vibrator etc. and have always wanted to try them, but they were taught that masturbation is wrong. I did have a customer tell me that when she was growing up she was told not to do it; it’s wrong and dirty, and that she would go to hell.”

But the means for women to overcome the taboo are becoming increasingly varied and widespread. Just take Love Joule, a recently established bar in the Shibuya district of Tokyo in which “dildos and vibrators sit side by side with liquor bottles”. Love Joule functions as a “safe zone” where women can talk freely about masturbation without fear of embarrassment or social stigma.

An app entitled ‘Happy Play Time’ further serves to break down these walls. This app encourages women to touch themselves regularly, by providing anatomy lessons and techniques demonstrated on an anthropomorphised vagina, and through doing so tries to “free the world from a silly social stigma”.

But, there is still a long way to go in the fight for masturbation equality. So take up your vibrators; flick your beans with pride. No more should women be denied the gloriousness of orgasm while men spend their lives in glazed-eyed bliss. When the mood strikes, for the good of your lady bits, for the good of women everywhere; refute the shame, shrug off the silence and scratch that itch.

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