May is International Masturbation Month, and we’re wondering: is polishing the pearl still taboo? Although it is becoming less so, female masturbation has not yet reached the level of normality that male masturbation has in society. Guys joke about “jerking off” (or, if you’re British, “wanking”) and it is generally accepted as a healthy expression of sexuality. However, we don’t often hear about women touching themselves in the grand spectrum of popular culture, unless Lady Gaga is singing about it. “But don’t guys like to see girls touch themselves?”, some readers may ask. That is the crux of the issue: they do. But, as far as Internet porn culture is concerned, only in a certain setting – that is, only if they can watch. This is the major difference in perspectives about male and female masturbation: women’s should be private (both in practice and in conversation), but a man’s can be public.

The Catholic Church is largely to blame for the negative attitude towards masturbation, especially with regards to women. This segregation of sexual expression stems from ideas embedded in Western culture for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. It’s the age-old double standard. Men can do basically whatever they want sexually, but women can only have sex with their husbands, however their husbands like it, or else be branded a whore. A woman’s sexuality, from this standpoint, is simply reactionary – she has to be desirable, but not have any sexual desire of her own that is unconstrained. This specific attitude thrived in the Victoria era, when women claimed to live off of nothing but air and flower petals, and it seems to have survived in modern culture today. Almost everywhere you turn you can find a picture of a desirable woman promoting something, but good luck finding a picture of a woman expressing her individual desires through self-gratification. Gasp! Now that would be dirty, wouldn’t it?

In popular culture the role of female sexuality is exploited to either sell a product and/or entice males in some way. Female masturbation is not a culturally prevalent idea because it involves a woman saying “I am sexual, I have desire, and I want to express it”. The misogynistic society we live in is not interested in that idea, but through art and self expression, people can move towards a more open-minded society that sees human sexuality, not just male sexuality, as normal and healthy.

Danielle Kral
Images from W*NK by Sophie Crow