Ask Professor Foxy: I Masturbated, Is There Something Wrong With Me?

This weekly Saturday column “Ask Professor Foxy” will regularly contain sexually explicit material. This material is likely not safe for work viewing. The title of the column will include the major topic of the post, so please read the topic when deciding whether or not to read the entire column.
Dear Professor Foxy,
I am a sixteen-year-old girl who knows very, very little about anything sexual. Up until recently, I thought sex was just plain gross. Not morally wrong or anything, just gross. I’ve stopped thinking of it that way now, and have thought about it more seriously. I still find it all very awkward, though, so, I’m sorry for the weirdness of my letter. I’m just really confused and in need of help.
Today, I had what I think is my first experience with masturbation. It felt… odd, but good. Afterwards, I felt good for a few minutes, but then I started thinking that maybe what I did was wrong. My parents were never very open about sex- I’ve learned everything I know on my own- and they aren’t deeply religious or anything. Aside from the regular “YOU WILL GET PREGNANT” speeches, they haven’t ever said that sex or masturbation wrong. I don’t have any moral or religious qualms against it, either. I still feel like what I did was wrong somehow, though, and now I’m kind of scared to do it again. I’m scared I’ll do it accidentally. I’m scared what I felt wasn’t pleasure, it was pain.
I guess, I’m just confused. I don’t understand why I feel so guilty, and why I’m afraid that it will hurt next time. It might be ignorance I also remembering reading something about bleeding because of masturbation- can that happen just by muscle-clenching, or only with penetration (Which I didn’t use)? Are there any websites where I can find more information masturbation? Can it be painful, or am I just being neurotic?
Thanks for reading,
Awkward and Scared

Hey Awkward –
There are no absolutes in this world, but there are close to absolutes and here is one: many, many people (especially women) are uncomfortable about sex and masturbation when they are 16. Many people are uncomfortable with these topics their entire lives. You are normal.
Sex can be gross and awkward. Eventually, people who are comfortable with sex find these things to be funny. Bodies make weird noises, release odors, and many sexual positions can be a tad bit ridiculous. Laughing during sex is a wonderful thing to do.
First consensual sexual experiences, with ourselves or with partners, often feel odd, but good. Our bodies respond with excitement and, often, our minds shut down and focus solely on the body. When the mind kicks back in afterwards, judgment can ensue. “Why did I do that? Was that normal? Omigod, I should not have touched myself.”
Masturbation is normal – for every gender. Masturbation is healthy. It is stress release, it is learning what feels good for your body, and it is learning to be comfortable with your body. If you have sexual experiences with a partner, masturbation will likely make you a better lover because you will actually know your pleasure places and how your body feels.
It is hard to block out the messages that society sends us (men are uncontrollable horny fools and women are chaste and sweet or they are unredeemable whores), but part of maturing can be blocking these messages and listening to ourselves. Listen to your body and when you are done masturbating, tell yourself how good it was. If you bleed during masturbation, it is likely not a big deal. It can be for numerous reasons: you may have been about to get your period and the orgasm caused some blood to be released, your nail may have been jagged and got caught. Penetration makes this more likely and, again, completely normal.
I very, very rarely tell personal stories in my column, but I think your question warrants one. When I was 16, I went to an all girl, Catholic high school and we talked about sex all the time, especially around the lunch table eating Kahlua cake. One day at lunch, masturbation came up and the table went silent. We all knew our guy friends did it; they talked about it constantly, but to admit as a woman/girl that you would touch yourself????? Finally, someone (it may have been me, Kahlua cake is quite strong) said, “well, I masturbate.” One after another, my friends – some experienced, some not – said “me too!” All at once, this freaky, shame-filled experience was normalized and I still remember it 15 years later. It is normal, you are normal.
Here are some articles on great web sites that discuss masturbation: Scarleteen and two wonderful ones on Sex Etc. The first is about masturbation and health and the second on women being pro-masturbation. I hope you enjoy them.
Professor Foxy
P.S. Thanks to Hilary for the courage in the Kahlua cake.
If you have a question for Professor Foxy, send it to ProfessorFoxyATfeministingDOTcom.

Join the Conversation

  • Heina

    My mother told me that masturbation would cause me “problems with my husband later on.” To this day, I wonder what she means. I am not married, but I have had lots of sex, and the fact that I masturbated and knew my body helped me, not hindered me. I’m at a loss in terms of even guessing at what she meant.


    Heina: I suspect that she had heard the Freudian idea, which was commonly put around in books only thirty years or so ago, that there are clitoral orgasms and vaginal orgasms, that if a woman masturbates she is training herself only to be able to have clitoral orgasms, and that as I think one book put it “marriage may thus be a disappointment to both husband and wife” (because there’s nothing involved in marriage other than PIV sex).

  • MLEmac28

    Another reason nobody should read Freud anymore.
    My very first orgasm (which was quite a surprise) was when I was 11, and it was vaginal. I have had maybe 2 or 3 vaginal orgasms in the 11 years since. After my first experience, I kept trying to recreate it, and I couldn’t. Eventually, I found my clitoris and had a great time thereafter.

  • Heina

    My mom is a Muslim who grew up outside of the US and hasn’t read any Freud or psychology of sexuality, as she believes such reading is trashy and immoral. It could have been transmitted to her via another source, though. I still wish I had the balls to ask her what she meant.

  • Jesus Christine

    I grew up in a similar situation as the young woman here. My parents told me about puberty, “your breasts will grow, you will need to buy pads, and don’t have sex until you’re married.” They never said anything about masturbation or the specifics of sex or my genitalia. I never masturbated until I was 20, 2 years into my first sexual relationship–and mostly thanks to being with someone who wanted me to explore myself. I think the way I grew up damaged me in a way, in that I want to experience my desires, kinda, but I’m so shy sexually. I have a feeling that the future may be something like that with this woman.
    When you haven’t even fathomed the things that present themselves in masturbation, it’s scary. I hope she can relax, just take a deep breath and let it go, because that helps ease awkward feelings, no matter how inexplicable they seem.

  • South

    If her worry was future problems with your husband then she may have been concerned about you breaking your hymen somehow.

  • Honeybee

    I wonder if some of this is another consequence of abstinence only education. Because the letter write indicates she “knows very, very little about anything sexual” and says she thought it was gross and she is 16! I’ve seen on these forums similar experiences from other young girls and it puzzles me.
    This is totally outside of my own experiences. By 16 I knew ALOT about sex. Granted I had comprehensive sex-ed in school, but regardless I remember me and my friends were interested in sex from a young age. I started masterbating when I was about 10 years old and have pretty much masterbated or had sex every single day since then (I’m in my 30s since then). I can remember hiding under my bed while my parents were calling me for dinner and I was masterbating. So maybe I was even younger then 10 when I started.
    By high school I remember looking at porn and talking really dirty with friends and sharing sexual experiences (not that I had many myself at this point but I like hearing about others). I never felt ashamed about it though obviously I did hide alot of this from most people. But still by 16 I was already extremely sexual and loved every minute it.
    But sometimes I feel like a freak admitting this here. Because it seems so counter to what alot of women have experienced. I feel like somehow I’m a freak or different because I’ve always been so interested in sex. On the flip-side I really think the current situation is not healthy and I want desperately for other young women not to feel ashamed or grossed out or embaressed, or even worse, unknowledable about the subject.
    Hopefully this column today will help – thanks for posting.

  • Athenia

    I started masturbating when I was 11 or so. For awhile, I was scared that I was hurting myself too (like I would damage my vagina or something).
    I’m not sure how I got over it, but vaginas are pretty tough. If vaginas were meant to handle penises, then any dildo, pillow, finger or whatnot will be ok with your vagina too.
    Although long nails still freak me out. :)

  • Comrade Kevin

    I have a different perspective as a man, but based on listening to women who have been brave enough to discuss this topic with me, as well from my own personal observations, there is no one single means by which orgasm is achieved for every woman across the board.
    I think if more women, particularly more young women were aware of that, along with the realization that masturbation isn’t just for the guys or is somehow shockingly indecent behavior, then it would go a long way. Having summoned the courage to engage in masturbation, one then of course has to undergo the process of self-discovery.

  • goldaries13

    My parents never really gave me any sort of talk at all. My mother was too embarrassed, and my father… He tried, but ultimately, my sexual learning was very much left to myself. Yet, despite the lack of information from my parents and other adults (raised in the abstinence-only era FTL), the internet and books filled the void nicely, and helped me become sexually confident.
    The first time I actually masturbated was when I was 12, and even then, it was out of curiosity. I had had an orgasm before, but I managed to have it without touching myself at all (just by thinking sexy thoughts), so I was curious what touching myself would do. I guess, even then, I was pretty confident in my body, despite my limited information and experience.
    Years later I found out, via the Kinsey Reports, that only about two percent of women can have an orgasm just by thinking sexy thoughts. I felt very proud of my twelve year old self- and slightly miffed, because I haven’t been able to do that since!
    To the young woman: Sex is awkward when you have no real knowledge and are just starting. As time goes on, I encourage you to learn about your body. Sex is normal and natural. And it’s fun. ;) Good luck on your journey!

  • Kim C.

    “I think the way I grew up damaged me in a way, in that I want to experience my desires, kinda, but I’m so shy sexually.”
    That’s me, right there.
    My parents were neither pro-masturbation nor anti-masturbation; they just didn’t tell me anything. Not a thing. I don’t think I ever had “the Talk” with them about sex, and I think that not talking about anything made me feel really nervous and awkward about masturbating. I wanted to ask “Is this okay for me to do?” but I never could because I interpreted their silence to mean that they didn’t want to talk about it.
    That, and I’m not GOOD at it: the phrase “hand falls asleep” fully applies to me, and any spot that ought to provide me with pleasure (breasts, clitoris, penetration) just…doesn’t. So because of that, and my sexual shyness/feeling awkward about masturbating, I don’t try it often.

  • paperispatient

    Perhaps I’m in the minority, but my parents were relatively open about masturbation. I remember a discussion with my mom about how touching certain places felt good and was fine as long as it wasn’t in public – I believe this was after a girl in my preschool class kept masturbating in the playroom.
    I discovered masturbation around preschool age and have been a huge fan ever since, regardless of whether I’m single or having partner sex too. It has definitely been a factor in the satisfying partner sex I’ve had, and I’ve also found that discovering new ways of having orgasms with a partner has improved the orgasms I have on my own.
    I also think masturbation can be quite liberating. I have a few friends who don’t masturbate for various reasons (don’t like it, think it’s wrong, etc.), and some of them feel like their sexual satisfaction is 100% tied to if they have a partner and how good the sex is with their partner. As someone in a serious relationship now but who did not start having partner sex until partway through college, it was really empowering knowing that although I loved having partners, I didn’t NEED one in order to explore and enjoy myself sexually.

  • blue

    I need some advice. I was reading this girl’s post and all I could think about was, “Well at least you know what to do.” I would like to know how to masturbate because I hear people go on and on about how it relieves stress. This might be a little too much TMI but I don’t care. I can stick fingers up there but I don’t feel anything. I’m starting to wonder if I have a clitoris. If anyone could give me some advice that would be great.

  • paperispatient

    I think it’s a pretty common misconception that everyone just automatically knows how to masturbate. It’s quite like partner sex in that it involves a lot of trial and error and figuring out what works and what doesn’t. And what works in one context may not in another – I find penetration during PIV sex extremely pleasurable, but I masturbate with hardly any penetration at all; my partner can reach my G-spot easily with his fingers and penis, but I feel next to nothing when I penetrate myself with my fingers. Conversely, I enjoy when I rub my clitoris but I usually don’t like it when my partner does.
    There’s DEFINITELY no way that will work for everyone all the time. You may find a book like What Your Mother Never Told You About S-E-X helpful – there are chapters on the anatomy and on masturbation, and they could help you figure out what you’re looking/feeling for and give you some ideas for what kinds of stimulation to use once you’re there. The Guide to Getting It On is another great book – it’s somewhat comprehensive and has tons of illustrations and descriptions as well as quotes from people of all different ages, experience levels, and sexual orientations – and it’s got a nice sense of humor, which I appreciate in a sex book.
    You could also post this question on VaginaPagina. It’s a really great safe-space, kink-friendly, queer-friendly LiveJournal community about sex and sexual health, and your question would fit in perfectly there – it’s one I’ve seen asked numerous times, so you’re definitely not alone. :)

  • Kim C.

    Same here, when it comes to penetration: I know the finger’s there, but…where’s the pleasure? Perhaps it’s because I’m a virgin and so (probably) still have a hymen, but it still aches a little with even one finger.
    And whereas I do get a response when I touch my clitoris, it’s not pleasurable, really. :/

  • dirtybird

    Yeah, I used to be the same way. Through my early teens I was able to think myself to orgasm, and I was also very proud of myself for it.

  • aleks

    It’s your body and you’re not doing it (or anyone else) any harm. So whether you do or don’t is entirely up to you.

  • Lily A

    Check out that Scarleteen article that Prof Foxy recommended! It has lots of helpful suggestions.
    I’d also recommend checking yourself out in a mirror! If you’ve got a decent diagram or photo of female anatomy to compare, you should be able to find your clitoris fairly easily. :)

  • paperispatient

    For me personally, it’s all about HOW I touch my clitoris. Directly on it? Oh no, get away! Indirectly, using the hood or the skin around it as a buffer, or around it? Yes please. And the motion makes a huge difference as well – small circular motions work really well for me, whereas straight rubbing does nothing and often feels uncomfortable.

  • Hypatia

    Same here! I can never feel anything. Well actually all I feel is my vagina throbbing with pain to the point where I have to stop because it is so painful. Advice, anyone?

  • paperispatient

    Were your parents very open with you about sex? Mine were, and my growing-up experience sounds rather similar to yours. I recall masturbating around age 5, and although I definitely went through a period around age 10 where I thought sex sounded gross, I was always very sexual with myself. And I’ve always enjoyed talking about these kinds of things with my friends – in junior high and high school (and even undergrad) I was usually the one answering people’s questions because I found sex really interesting and read a lot about birth control, sexual health, etc. I was a nerd from a young age. ;)
    (I do think too, though, that some people are just more sexual than others and that lack of interest in and of itself is not a problem unless it’s a symptom of something else [I have a friend whose libido disappeared while she was struggling with depression, for example] or unless it troubles the person. If it’s the result of judgmental and shaming education, that’s a completely different story, like you said.)

  • beth

    @ Awkward:
    Professor Foxy is right–there are many societal messages that dictate that women don’t masturbate or only do so for the pleasure of male viewers. Props to you for writing in about it. When I was 16 (5 years ago) I also felt very shameful about masturbating, because of messages I had received in church. We were taught that there was only one sex position (male superior, of course) and it was to be done after marriage only. No masturbation. However, it is untrue that masturbation is going to ruin you or stretch you or make you in any way less desirable or valuable. You are learning about your body and what you are comfortable with. I might suggest going to your local Borders or Barnes and Noble and picking up a good book about sex that focuses on or has a section about masturbation. Although I never talked to my parents about sexual topics, there may be other individuals you can talk to in person about the subject. I once spoke to a doctor about some sexual problems I was having at the end of the appointment–they can also recommend sources. Finally, if and when you choose to have partnered sex, masturbating can help you communicate your sexual wants and needs. You know what feels good, and it can help you feel confident.
    As far as the pain goes, just be relaxed when you touch yourself. There have been times when I tried to insert my vibrator too soon and it was painful, or got it at the wrong angle and it hurt a little. Not a big deal, but don’t rush yourself.

  • Lily A

    You are normal and awesome!
    Or to be more specific… I think your experiences fall within the range of what is healthy for young women, AND within the range of what is common. Rock on.

  • Joce

    I started at the same age, and i was convinced that i was stretching my inner labia by playing with it and it would keep getting longer unless i stopped. I also thought that my clitoris being a bit extra-sensitive immediately after masturbating meant i had damaged it somehow.
    Now, with 10+ yrs of masturbation experience, i can safely say my fears were unfounded. :P

  • Nerdette

    I’ve masturbated for as long as I can recall – I believe my grandmother once commented that my mother had worried about it to her when I was five. I was never a penetrating type – it was all about pressure on the clitoris. I’ve always used a pillow, and by my teenage years, I had one specifically for that purpose.
    While I never really had a full-blown ‘discussion’ about masturbation, I did confess my act to my grandmother when I was 11(immediately following my confession that my father had molested me – I suppose it was a free-for-all chance to talk about things I felt guilty about). Up to that point, it was a guilty pleasure, but I didn’t know why. Perhaps it was because only I was experiencing it and it left me so incapacitated afterward. Fortunately, my grandmother was very progressive about education, and informed me that it was normal and healthy to masturbate, and I went away from it feeling accepted.

  • Thomas

    I’m glad to see a woman say that she is sexually self-confident but didn’t have partnered sex until well into college — not because it’s a particularly valuable set of experiences, but because I think it’s an underreported one.
    I just think there is a set of stereotyped generalizations; that women who are at peace with themselves and enjoy their sexuality necessarily start with partners earlier and that women who start later much have issues. That isn’t necessarily true, and I think it’s important to say that women’s (and anybody’s) sexual history doesn’t have to follow a prescribed timeline or progression.
    The important thing about our sexualities is that our sexual behavior ought to work well for us — to give us the pleasure we want, work in the relationships we have if we want and have them and generally make us happy. If that’s the case, is anything else important?

  • Athenia

    Ohh!! I remember how I got over it. I finally realized what I was doing was masturbating and I was all like, “Wait. I’m doing what guys do? I’m normal! Whee!”

  • Athenia

    I recommend rubbing against a pillow.
    Also, remember there are three ingredients to an orgasm–pressure, directness and pace. In other words, how hard you press against your vagina, how close you are to your clit, and how fast you’re rubbing. Do whatever makes you feel good.