Feminism / Health / Sex / Sexuality

Don’t Knock Masturbation – It’s Sex With Someone I Love

In incense scented rooms all across New York, eager women are getting it on – with themselves. They’re spreading legs and thighs, hearts and minds in a bid to rid themselves of one of the most harmful taboos still surrounding female sexuality.

Mast 2The belief that women don’t, or shouldn’t, masturbate is very old indeed. In fact, we’ve been hearing this nonsense ever since the fifteenth century when the Church briefly acknowledged the existence of female masturbation, only to roundly condemn it as a sin against God. From this point on, women faced a war of attrition on the enjoyment of their softest, fleshiest parts – a war that still rages on.

In 1965, fine artist Betty Dodson found her calling. She divorced her husband of six years, abandoned her studies and held the first one woman show of erotic art at the Wickersham Gallery in New York City. It was to be the beginning of a long and fruitful relationship with female sexuality – Dodson is widely considered to be one of the most influential sex educators and authors in the world. Her book, Sex For One: The Joy Of Self Loving has sold over one million copies and been translated into eight different languages.

Yet, it’s not her book that got people talking. For fifteen years, Dodson ran a series of instructional masturbation classes – the BodySex classes. In the early 1980s, she even hosted a cable television programme that featured a dozen or so women discussing and practising masturbation techniques. These classes stopped in the late eighties, as third wave feminists turned away from the personal and started to focus on race, economics and gender violence.

I’m delighted to say, however, that the inimitable Betty Dodson is back. At the grand old age of eighty three, this sexual pioneer has revived her revolutionary BodySex classes. She believes that contemporary feminism is failing women – that modern ladies might be watching Sex & The City, but they still have no idea what their vaginas look like. They balk at the notion of examining their bodies in the mirror. They’ve read everything that there is to know about the female Betty Dodsonorgasm, but they’re still too frightened to do some hands on learning.

I’m with Betty on this one – it doesn’t matter how many books or magazines on female sexuality you might have read, there’s no better way to learn than to get up close and personal with the most mysterious and exciting part of your body. It’s not only the most reliable way to orgasm – it can be as quick, clean, filthy, prolonged, intense, kinky or run of the mill as you want. There’s no partner to impress, no crazy positions to master and no rules dictating how and when to do it.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s a quick five minutes before you pick the kids up from school, a cheeky treat as a reward for finishing that assignment, or a long and drawn out joy session on a slow Sunday afternoon – as long as it feels good, who cares? It’s been suggested that regular masturbation can be a cure for everything from insomnia to stress. Plus, women who get down with themselves on a regular basis are three times as likely to keep up with genital exams and gynaecological appointments. In other words, ladies who care about their own satisfaction tend to be a lot safer and a lot more practical when it comes to checking for things like for breast and cervical cancer.

The notion of arriving at an unfamiliar apartment, stripping off, and then practising your favourite masturbation techniques in front of eleven naked strangers, is an appalling one for most. It takes a very brave woman to step into a Betty Dodson BodySex class, that’s for sure. The question is, why? Why does it take so much courage not only to admit that we enjoy masturbation, but that we’re interested in how others do it too? It’s funny to think that group masturbation is almost considered to be a rite of passage for boys, whereas it’s almost unthinkable for girls.

It’s funny, because we’re the ones who are known for sharing – we’re the ones who learn through collective experience. The reason that the BodySex classes have been, and continue to be, such a huge success is because they help women to learn from one another. The vagina and its accompanying pleasure buddy, the clitoris, is a shady and mysterious place only because its mechanisms are internal. In order to reach them, there has to be direct interaction. A man can play with his genitals under the table of a restaurant or at work, without undoing a single button or zipper.

Mast 1A woman, however, has to have made a conscious effort to be in flagrante with the wonders of her heart shaped box. It could be that this is where the fear lies, in the knowledge that our actions can’t be explained away or misunderstood. If you want to play the sitar, so to speak, you’ve really got to play it. The instrument has to come out of the box, even if it’s only for a quick tune. If women could only see masturbation in the same way that they do manicures or facial scrubs, perhaps our perceptions of it would change.

You wouldn’t think twice about putting aside a dedicated hour or two for a manicure, so why not pencil in fifteen minutes for a bit self loving too? It costs nothing, it’s a lot more enjoyable than most beauty treatments and it involves a lot of the same motivations. You want to look good, you want to feel good and you want to exercise your right to be a strong, modern woman. In fact, fuck the manicure – who needs perfect nails, when you can have the perfect orgasm?

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