“Masturbation is a primary form of sexual expression. Not just for kids or those in-between lovers or for old people who end up alone. Masturbation is the ongoing love affair that each of us has with ourselves throughout our lifetime” - Betty Dodson, from her book Sex for One
I’m going to close out this series with my #1 DIY tip for closing the female orgasm gap.....masturbation. I intentionally saved this recommendation for last because I first wanted to highlight the broader sexual norms that contribute to the orgasm gap rather than placing the responsibility for solutions exclusively on individual women.
To set the context, it’s important to know that there is not only a female orgasm gap but there is also a female masturbation gap. Of men in their thirties, 93% report having masturbated at any point in their life whereas only 80 % of women report the same. Yet, multiple studies show that women are infinitely more likely to achieve orgasm during masturbation than in partner sex, making it a more accessible way for women to explore their orgasmic capacity. While I can’t prove this, I’m convinced the female masturbation gap has a lot to do with the orgasm gap.
In a culture that has historically sought dominion over female bodies, it isn’t surprising that female masturbation isn’t encouraged. Women who are tapped into their bodies amazing capacity for pleasure and can access it at will, without male assistance, are a huge threat to the status quo. In this way, taking ownership of your sexual energy through masturbation is revolutionary and flips the script on the sexual narrative women are fed. The female body and sexuality are traditionally valued through the lens of the male gaze, leading to an emphasis on appearance and sexual objectification. If internalized, this can lead to a sense of disembodiment and disconnection from felt experience. This can remove women from the glorious fact that we are all sovereign sexual beings whose sexuality is first and foremost an amazing gift for each individual to enjoy and cultivate for the sheer joy of it----rather than just of value for the pleasure it can endow on a partner. In this way, it is revolutionary for women to know their bodies’ pleasure potential deeply and to enjoy it for themselves frequently. The way to do this is through masturbation, or as I prefer to call it, self-pleasuring.
So why, is there a masturbation gap? Unfortunately, there is still a lot of shame and taboo surrounding female masturbation. Language reflects the culture it exists in and it’s telling that there are myriad common phrases for male masturbation but no equivalent for females (somehow “jilling off” never really caught on). It’s common to hear about young boys discovering masturbation but not as much for young girls, which frames it as a normal developmental process for males but not females. Also, from a young age women are force fed a narrative around love and sex where prince charming swoops in and offers security, happiness, and lots of orgasms. As a result, many women expect men to give them their first orgasm. Unfortunately, this is not realistic as most men are not prepared with accurate knowledge about female bodies. If women are faking orgasms, their sexual partners aren’t given the opportunity to learn, and the cycle persists. The tendency to “outsource our orgasm” can be seen when people talk about whether or not someone “gave them an orgasm”. It’s essential that we start owning our orgasm. We are all responsible for our own orgasm - for learning how we have them, and how to communicate what works best for us to our chosen sexual partners.
Another reason that many women may not masturbate is shame. Shame can be a result of a sex negative culture/parent/religion/trauma etc. It’s normal to feel some level of shame around your sexuality and consequently, masturbation can be a shame trigger. So, in order to combat shame and get comfortable with solo sex it’s imperative to surround yourself with sex positive content and information. If you still feel a bit awkward about masturbation, it can also be useful to get some specific instruction on how to begin a masturbation “practice” (top resources: Emily Nagoski’s nuts and bolts of masturbation article here and Betty Dodson's instructions for first-time orgasm here). The “Mother of Masturbation” is the feminist artist and sex educator, Betty Dodson, and I can’t recommend her work highly enough. She wrote a masterpiece book on the topic called Sex for One and has tons of resources on her website, including a masturbation technique that is designed to translate into easier orgasms during partner sex (if you’re interested click here). Dodson considers solo sex an act of meditation and extreme self-care and will make you feel all giddy, empowered, and feminist about being a ‘self-lover”. Shame thrives in isolation so hearing others talking openly and positively about masturbation helps dispel lingering shame.
If you need additional motivation to prioritize masturbation consider it an essential part of your wellness plan. Masturbation (orgasm) releases a cocktail of positive endorphins and hormones that create less stress and greater health. As a result, orgasms are associated with endless health benefits including stress reduction, increased mood, pain relief, improved sleep, and even increased body confidence (more on all of that here). Another benefit is that it stokes your sexual fire as sex energy begets more of the same. Since many women today suffer from low libido, this increase in desire can benefit your current sexual partnership or fulfill your sexual needs if you’re single. Also, masturbation offers a safe way to explore your fantasies and turn-ons, which helps you more intimately know your sexual desires and preferences. This knowledge empowers you to more clearly share your needs with your partner. And last but not least, masturbation is one the best way to increase your orgasmic capabilities whether you’re seeking a first-time orgasm or looking to deepen your repertoire. You can then bring your orgasmic virtuosity to any partners that are lucky enough to play with you.
I believe the orgasm gap will be closed by individual women who know their bodies and pleasure pathways and communicate that knowledge to their sexual partners. Self-pleasuring women, who take ownership of their orgasms, are less likely to settle for bad sex that exclusively prioritizes male pleasure. This will change sexual expectations in our culture and finally make reciprocity and mutual pleasure the norm.
*I want to be clear that my intention with these articles is not to imply that orgasm is the ultimate goal of sex or put any pressure on women to have orgasms. In my view, orgasm isn’t the goal of sex but rather mutual pleasure. Instead, my goal with this series is simply to encourage a context where female orgasm is more viable and accessible and placed in equal importance as male orgasm.