Why Don't We Talk About Female Masturbation?

by Daniella Fleischer
female masturbation taboo
nesharm / iStock

Jerking off, whacking off, whippin’ the bishop, spanking the monkey, walking the dog, shucking the corn, beating it, badgering the witness, jerkin’ the gherkin’, bashing the candle, beating the meat, choking the chicken. And those are just the ones I could think of offhand—the lists I found on the internet are endless (and often disturbing, in case you’re wondering). One site boasted a list of 1,000 different ways to refer to a man playing 5 on 1.

But when I tried to come up with euphemisms for female masturbation, there was nothing but crickets. I literally could not come up with a single one on my own, and the longest list I could find was about 80 entries, 95 percent of which I’d never heard of. (My favorite one was “impeaching bush,” while the most offensive was “polishing a bald man in a canoe.” Why would I be polishing a bald man when I’m buffing by myself?)

So why the discrepancy? Why are we at such a loss for words when it comes to women touching themselves, while for men, there are literally thousands of terms at their fingertips? (See what I did there?) Why is it that we’ve made it so easy for men to articulate themselves when it comes to sex, but so difficult for women?

It’s no secret that as a culture we allow men to be agents of their own sexuality, while women we prefer as objects to be consumed by those agents. It’s sexual politics 101: Men are the aggressors, the sexually empowered, the horny ones, and women are generally relegated to playing defense. If a woman asks a man out, she’s “aggressive,” or worse, “needy.” Women are approached, and men do the approaching.

And for those of you with teenagers: How do your conversations with daughters compare to those with sons? My guess is that while you warn your boys not to knock anyone up, you teach your girls to vigilantly protect their virginity that all those dirty boys are coming to take from them. It’s culturally assumed that a girl is giving something away when she has sex for the first time, rather than owning anything. We teach our girls that their sexuality is to be feared rather than possessed.

I consider myself to be fairly comfortable with my sexuality. I’m not afraid of it, and I have no problems telling my partner what I want and where I want it. And yet, I don’t talk about sex that much with my girlfriends. In recent years, I can only remember one conversation (with someone other than a sexual partner) that was specifically about masturbation. I’d never really thought about it until I began to write this piece, but for someone in her 30s who likes to have sex and has mostly liberal, feminist-minded friends, I actually find it a bit shocking that in the last 15 years, I’ve discussed female masturbation once.

Now I ask you, male reader, how many times in your lifetime have you talked with your male friends about jerking off?

You’re probably thinking at this point, “But Dani, what about all the women in pop culture today who talk so openly about sex? Surely, the popularity of women like Lena Dunham and Amy Schumer reflect our growing comfort with women owning their sexuality, right?” (I’m sure that’s exactly what your thoughts sound like.)

Well, while I will admit that women like Dunham and Schumer are opening up a much-needed dialogue, I submit that part of what makes them so popular is that they’re outliers—they talk about sex in a way that most women don’t. Part of people’s fascination (and disgust) with them is precisely their uninhibited sexual natures, which then get them labeled as deviants in some way. Amy Schumer has been called a “sex comedienne” while Dunham has been accused of being a sexual predator.

I don’t think anyone can deny that there is an ease with which we allow men to own their sexuality that is denied to women. Women who like sex are noteworthy at best, perverted at worst. But men? Well, they’re just men. Boys will be boys, right? And it’s dangerous to let a tenet like that go unchallenged—it explains or justifies a boatload of behaviors, from sexual dialogue to masturbation to full-on rape.

So in the name of ending sexism forever and saving civilization entirely, here are some creative ways to refer to a woman getting herself off. They are not Dani-originals. I wish I was that creative.

– Jilling off

– Womansplaining

– Menage a moi

– Paddling the pink canoe

– Getting lost in the deep end

– Fanning the fur

– Polishing the pearl

– Curtain twitching (don’t really get it)

– Rubbing one in

– Driving Miss Daisy

– Diddling the skittle

Do your part people. Learn them. Love them. Use them.