By Nishtha Relan:
I have faint memories of my mother telling me, when I was a kid, to not touch my privates unnecessarily. Like a lot of my friends I have discussed this with, I don’t remember when exactly I realised that touching the clitoral area could be a very pleasant act. I only remember knowing that it wasn’t something I could talk about, to anybody.
I used to subscribe to the male-dictated stereotypical ideas of the ‘uptight behaviour‘ in school, which was considered ‘proper’ for young women, even by my father, so much so that I was arrogant about not wanting to talk to the other gender. I didn’t have male friends or boyfriends who could ask me anything intimate, let alone suggest indulging in something remotely sexual. Just the thought of talking about one’s body was embarrassing and shameful in the teenage years; the female friends I had picked for myself were quiet about their bodies too, except for talking about menstrual cramps. So it was not until the end of 10th standard when I first watched a variety of porn, that I finally understood how the act of sex works, along with that of pleasuring oneself. And to wait patiently to experience an orgasm for the first time, and that too with one’s own hands! I think it was the one miracle I could believe in. I realise how misinformed my first ideas of masturbation were, having learnt about it from a source like porn, which tends to be far from reality and mostly dedicated to serve male fantasies. I wish I had some close, non-judgemental friend or a teacher to discuss it with. Also, I must clarify that in no way am I blaming porn for my sexual exploration.
Of course it was my little secret back then, which sent me on several guilt trips every time I would stop to judge myself. I was afraid of going to the gynaecologist for a regular check up because I thought she might get to know, by looking at my vagina, that I was masturbating and would inform my mother. It never occurred to me that other people could have a healthy attitude towards the act since I had never heard it being mentioned in the 19 years of my life. I never had the courage to bring it up in front of anybody, not even my best friends. A year into an all-girls college and I was fortunate enough to find some wonderful friends who were absolutely fine with discussing anything under the sun, from masturbation techniques to its effects, from a friend’s coming out of the closet regarding her bisexuality and being comfortable with it to talking and seeking comfort about the most disturbing incidents. Only after that was I able to be happily in sync with my vagina and its needs.
I realise how big a taboo this topic is. It is considered a much bigger revelation, and a much more demonised act for women than it is for men. Myths, like the one of men going blind if they masturbate, or that of losing their virility in the form of ejaculated semen, reflect the conditioning of a society that defines masculinity as all-capable, emotionally stoic, physically strong, and sexually charged virility. Women are always expected to either never recognise or to easily overcome their desire (unless they are married to a man who may then dictate their sexual needs). Pleasure for women so often comes with the baggage of shame, which further dictates the categorical dichotomy of women as the ‘mother’ or the ‘whore’. A woman who enjoys her sexuality and is able to talk about it would be too scandalous for some people, inviting labels of ‘she’s a slut’, which reinforces the stereotype of female desire being ‘abnormal’. To think that so many women deny themselves the relief of sexual satisfaction due to the guilt of desiring it is terrible! Furthermore, considering masturbation as merely a second alternative to sex, is a gross undermining of the powers of human sexual capability. It would then mean the denial of the ability of a healthy sexual release for the human body. Sexual intercourse and masturbation are two very different activities, and either one does not entirely compensate for the other. To add to this, many women may not even realise the presence of the clitoris; after all, the word is not heard of often even in ‘sex-education’ conversations, since sexual fulfilment is often only connected to the idea of penetration.
Trust me, I am not making it a men vs. women agenda here. Of course, the society is skeptical and mostly dismissive when it comes to sexual enjoyment removed from the process of procreation, for people of all genders, but never in equal measure. I might have been more comfortable with exploring my body without having to deal with the guilt if I had somebody to talk to earlier on, or somewhere to learn that what I was doing/experiencing was not ‘wrong’.
IMPACT: Nishtha’s article broke the taboo around female masturbation, and started a conversation that did not exist. Mainstream media outlets started sharing similar stories, and was widely quoted in the media.