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Personal Essay: The Blurred Lines Between Femininity & Masturbation

When I was in 5th grade, something became obvious—the boys in my class were discovering their bodies. I would hear classmates laughing and teasing about getting boners during class, sometimes realizing it when they got up to sharpen a pencil. I even remember one time seeing a kid run with embarrassment to the bathroom, failing in his attempt to hide the activity in his crotch.

For me and my female friends, these changes were more subtle. While I remember having slightly obsessive conversations with my girlfriends about the daily dose of relationship gossip, we never openly talked about our vaginas and physical arousal. Looking back, it was intentional that we stayed away from the topic of masturbation because none of us knew anything about it. Not only were we taught that it was immoral due to the religious dogma we were fed from a young age but we were literally deprived of sex education. Based on what we heard from our peers, we had a comprehensive understanding of male genitalia and masturbation habits and little knowledge about our own. Could this simply be a lack of education, or was this was a product of something more?

Of course, proper sex education is absolutely essential, though still greatly lacking in the United States. My classmates and I would have tremendously benefited from an anatomical discussion about the human body, female sexual desire, and the reproductive system. Personally, I could have saved myself the time and distress by learning about the physical and emotional experiences of a female orgasm, how it differs from a male orgasm, and how hormones influence the way we perceive and communicate with the world. Not only did our teachers fail to provide my peers and me with the essential health information, we were also conditioned to believe that the role of women in society is inferior to men. Gender roles that confine individuals to specific behaviors and beliefs are oppressive in more ways than one.

For example, why is masturbation viewed as an act of masculinity? In many religious traditions and social circles, self-pleasure is oftentimes portrayed as either morally deficient or something dirty that should be kept a secret. Not only is the act of masturbation perceived as shameful, but we also tend to excuse men more readily for this type of “wrongful” behavior, attributing their flawed judgment and lack of self-control to their overwhelming amounts of sexual desire. But when we learn that men are hyper-sexual beings and women exist as pawns for male pleasure, we are teaching women to disown their own sexual, physical and emotional needs.

The narrative that men naturally contain higher amounts of sexual energy is scientifically false and socially divisive. We are telling women than their sexual needs are unimportant, having no place in the conversation. Before I even got a chance to explore my sexuality, my culture taught me that my body was not for my own pleasure. I remember trying to fall asleep as a kid and I would place one hand over my vagina, just holding myself and trying to find comfort. I might have tried to masturbate unknowingly but I experienced no release, no completion. I had no concept of what that would even look like and I didn’t understand it as something that was even part of my feminine reality.

While I couldn’t bring myself to orgasm, I still contained a wealth of sexual energy that spilled out all over everyone. I attracted sexual partners at a young age, yet I had no concept of what I was doing. Over time, I learned what I liked and what I didn’t like and my confidence grew with me. Having made multiple mistakes and poor decisions, I learned to clearly communicate my needs and desires. But it took me years to face the fact that I had been relying on men all this time to experience pleasure.

I’d talk to friends who would rave about their favorite vibrator, and how often they used it. But my face just fell blank as I thought about my lonely vibrator sitting forgotten in my underwear drawer. Whenever I attempted to masturbate, it felt like a chore. I was tired and bored, and I wanted an actual person to share my experience. At the time, I was feeling frustrated in my relationship and asking my partner for more sex, and I got to a point where I really started to wonder - what’s stopping me from getting myself off?

I finally told a friend that I’d never given myself an orgasm, and it was something that I really wanted. She was so sweet and immediately encouraged me that it was totally possible. I remember feeling excited and even motivated while we were talking, like someone had just given me a mission and I was set on completing it. Almost as soon as I arrived home, I got right to work.

I pulled out all the stops. I lit candles, ate chocolate, played some sexy-time music, put on my favorite panties and poured a shallow bowl of coconut oil. I began by watching a few tasteful and informative videos, and then I tried practicing the techniques. At first, I was closing my eyes trying to visualize… something. Right? That’s what people do, I thought. It didn’t even feel very good at first and I started getting that same bored and restless feeling, and the negative cycle of thoughts returned telling me this was just impossible.

The music was distracting and with my eyes closed, and it felt like I was pretending that I wasn’t alone. It seemed as if, in order to experience pleasure, I had to imagine myself in a position that was more appropriate, such as in the presence of a man. But I stayed strong. I turned off the music, and I opened my eyes. I looked at my naked body, and I watched as my own hands touched myself all over. It felt strangely exciting, so I kept going and continued to give myself the greatest gift of all.

Afterwards, I felt on top of the world, and I laughed off all the years I had sat around wondering what was wrong with me and why I couldn’t masturbate in peace. Although I was seriously tempted in the moment, I refrained from publicly announcing my latest success. Yet, here I am, telling you the story in detail.

But I’m not recounting my experience because I am proud of myself, which I am. Nor am I writing this because I want other women to practice self-pleasure, which I do. I write this to shed light on the distorted views of human sexuality, as it not only hinders individual health but also the advancement of our society. Instead of feeling shame or guilt surrounding our sexual needs, perhaps we can start to see them as a vital, unique and beautiful part of ourselves. We can better educate each other and our children about sexuality and healthy relationships by understanding the intersectional nature of gender differences. We can actively work to prevent sexual violence in the world by embracing our own individual desires.

Because time and time again, it’s proven true: ask and you shall receive.


Maria Borghoff is an artist and Tantra Yoga teacher. She shares the secrets of sexual energy and the practice of harmonious living by combining alignment-based Yoga, meditation, art-making, and nutrition.


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