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Masturbation: It’s Uni-sex

Individual sexual activity is normal for both genders

February 24, 2020


As junior Harlie Mills sat on her bed engaging in conversation, her friend, quite nervously and timidly, brought up the topic of masturbation. A subject discussed countless times by her male peers, sometimes juvenile and often jocular, was the same one her companion was so nervous to speak about. While Mills was caught off guard, as masturbation was something she had never discussed with another person, she was quick to assure the girl sitting beside her of the normality of her behavior.

For junior *Caleb Edwards, interactions involving masturbation have been very different. His friends talk about it often, and the conversations tend to be casual and light-hearted. He’s never dealt with fear of being judged and his own attitude about masturbation is quite relaxed. 

Among young men and women, there’s a disparity in the perceptions of masturbation. Female masturbation is often seen as an incredibly private, and even shameful activity. It’s not commonly regarded as a light topic of discussion, and it’s not commonly discussed in the first place. The nature of boys’ conversations about masturbation, laid-back and nonchalant, parallels the attitude towards male masturbation had by many; it’s extraordinarily normal and incredibly common.

According to Lindsay Walden, a certified sex therapist who has been in practice for more than 12 years, there are many misconceptions surrounding masturbation, which tend to perpetuate the stigma faced by people who masturbate. 

“Masturbation is not wrong or dirty, and it is a way for a person to learn about themselves in a sexual way without feeling that they have to engage in partnered activity,” Walden said. “I truly believe that sexual self knowledge is a basic human right, and I wish there was not a stigma associated with exploring it.“

Walden adds while this stigma may affect anyone who masturbates, it is particularly intense when it comes to women.

“There is a stigma that often says it’s okay for men to explore themselves sexually, but our society often sends a message that it’s not okay for women to do the same thing,” Walden said.  

From Mills’ perspective, the shame surrounding masturbation is something many women face, and she sees a big difference in how men and women are viewed for engaging in the same activity.

“I think for guys, it’s [seen as] more… normal than for girls and I feel like people will kind of put down girls if they do it,” Mills said “I feel like more guys kinda come after girls with that stuff trying to say it’s, like, gross and whatnot.”

Edwards agrees that interactions involving masturbation are different for men and women — men tend to be more casual and relaxed about the topic, and women more reserved.

“A guy might joke around how he masturbated before he came to a party or while he was in the bathroom. It’s usually always in a comedic sense, whereas I don’t see many women joking about masturbating,” Edwards said. 

Though people choose to abstain from masturbation for religious or personal reasons, or simply because it’s never sparked their interest, Mills believes it is a completely natural and normal thing to do.

“I think we can just all agree that it’s a human thing to do, and we all don’t have to bash each other for it,” Mills said.

Though Mills doesn’t personally associate any shame with masturbation, she knows that others do. For Mills, a good way to help others with this shame is to simply start a conversation.

“Talk to your other girlfriends,” Mills said. “You can’t give in to [the stigma]… Don’t let other people’s stupid words get to you.”

According to Edwards, the best way to break down the stigma associated with masturbation is to simply not give the shame any power in the first place.

“I believe ‘shameful’ topics and words get their ‘shame’ from the perspective we place upon them. So the best way in my opinion to overcome that stigma would be to stop giving it the vulgarity we want it to have,” Edwards said. “It’s a natural thing that a lot of people do. It doesn’t have to be disgusting.”

While the shame that comes along with masturbation often comes from the pressure of others, those who deal with extreme guilt or shame may want to more closely examine the reasons for their negative feelings.

“Nobody has to know your business, you know, if you are engaging in some sort of you know sexual activity, first of all… I think there’s a lot of pressure sometimes to kind of share those experiences,” Walden said. “If you’re really truly feeling shame over something it’s worth looking at the reasons behind it.”

When counseling clients, Walden finds that a helpful step is to simply ask them to think about whether or not their sexual activity is anything to be ashamed of.

“If the answer is really no, then we start to try and let go of some of that shame that kind of gets in there,” Walden said.

Through helping people with their own personal issues about masturbation, and any kind of sexual activity for that matter, Walden has become optimistic about the direction our society is headed regarding feelings about masturbation.

“I am hopeful that we’re moving towards a kind of a place in our society where teenagers do feel more comfortable to talk to their parents about these things so that it doesn’t feel like this shameful thing,” Walden said. “It’s almost a message as much to parents as it is … to teens that it’s like this is a normal, natural thing.”

*The use of asterisks indicates pseudonyms used to protect a source’s identity

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