Written by Jessica Bo, a blogger and women’s rights advocate with a special interest in reproductive health and sexuality
The topic of female masturbation can still kindle conversational sparks, arguably because it is still taboo for some. Messages of empowerment come into direct conflict with cultural and religious views, especially as the act of masturbation is seen as purely for self-serving sexual satisfaction.
In itself, there seems to be an air of discomfort or misconceptions surrounding the action, and this often overshadows its scientifically proven benefits. It’s critically important for women of all ages and backgrounds to have access to information on their own sexual and reproductive health. This global need to allow women access to sexual and reproductive health and rights has been researched by human rights lawyer Kerigo Odada, as discriminatory values and laws are still in place due to the stigma of female sexuality. We break down world views and scientific benefits below.
How the World Views Female Sexuality
Though sexual liberation and freer structures are thought to be associated with a supposedly liberal Western world, the United States still sees a lot of sex negativity. In fact, data reveals that many Americans don’t get tested for STIs because of the shame that surrounds it. A 2018 article from The Atlantic on the “healthcare gas-lighting” of women also cites the Journal of Law, Medicine, and Ethics as having noted that “women are significantly more likely to be undertreated”. A lot of this reticence—specifically towards female sexual activity—can be linked back to a culture of “slut shaming” that even trickles over into private time. Women feel like they are being “dirty”, even for something as natural as masturbation.
This isn’t to say that men aren’t affected by these rigid ideals. A survey on masturbation by TENGA revealed that over half of American men feel that traditional views on masculinity prevent them from having fulfilling sex lives and relationships. Globally, it revealed that 78% of adults engage in self-pleasure, but most people underestimate how many actually do it by an average of 11%. This is mostly because of gender stereotypes and the misconception on both masculinity and femininity.
That said, different global studies also reveal other ideas tied to female masturbation. In Germany, a study conducted revealed that a large number of German women don’t actually see masturbation as a “partner substitute” or a means for sexual pleasure, but merely a way to destress and relax. On the other hand, in more ancient times, Asian, Mediterranean, and Arabic texts showed a freer and more robust attitude towards sex and masturbation, though male satisfaction was still the lens in which this history is told. Today, largely due to Western religious influence, masturbation has been subject to cultural stigmatization.
Benefits on Reproductive Health
In and of itself, masturbation has been shown to be of significant benefit to female reproductive health. This has especially become more accessible in an era that sees a plethora of tools readily available for women. In Pretty Me’s guide to bullet vibrators, we see products that are created with safer materials like silicone while being built specifically for better nerve stimulation of the clitoris, making it easier to achieve orgasms and their health benefits. However, as is the case for most things connected to self-pleasure, sex toys are seen as kinks and fetishes to be ashamed of rather than tools that could actually improve your overall wellness.
Countless studies, like those from noted by Forbes, support the mechanisms that make orgasms so beneficial, such as their effect on regulating menstrual cycles, boosting fertility, fighting off sick cells because of increased T cell activation, and alleviating various pains such as cramps or headaches. A previous Rutgers University study on orgasms even showed that it can also alleviate stress and increase brain activity. Some skin care experts in the US and India also swear by orgasms as a key component to good skin thanks to the increased blood flow.
Another pervasive misconception is that masturbation can dull intercourse with a partner or can cause decreased sex drive. Despite this belief, an article on Healthline notes how masturbation can actually increase sexual desire and sensitivity. This has especially proven helpful for women who experience sexual dysfunction. As it improves libido, many women who engage in regular masturbation find themselves satisfying themselves and their partners—even if the latter may have a sexual dysfunction of their own. Furthermore, according to OB-GYNs featured in Romper, masturbation can also aid fertility as the sexual satisfaction it provides encourages women to intimate more often. improve reproductive health by keeping one stimulated while boosting the mood. It also releases sexual tension, which can be key in maintaining one’s internal rhythm.
In conclusion, it is an exciting time to be a woman. The outdated and sexist barriers built against female masturbation are slowly falling away. In just a few years, there has been a subtle but solid sexual revolution—though a disclaimer must be stated that this is coming from a Western perspective. Women are becoming more comfortable talking about sex in direct regards to themselves and not just in terms of gratifying men. However, it must be noted that in this blog, though we do use the terms “men” and “women”, we understand that gender and sexuality can be expressed differently, and thus it is fair to say that non-binary, trans, and intersexed individuals have different experiences than those outlined here.
More scientific circles have been voicing out their support of female masturbation, further adding credibility to its beneficial role. Of course, just how long it will take before masturbation is normalized remains to be seen, especially in more conservative countries. But through extended efforts in social media, schools, and even within families to educate women on healthy sexual attitudes, it is likely that we will soon see self-pleasure more widely accepted as self-care.
Please note that blog posts are not peer-reviewed and do not necessarily reflect the views of SRHM as an organisation.