Feminism and Masturbation

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Andrea Plaid has a piece up at Bitch on feminism and masturbation with a series of quotes from feminists (including myself) about what feminists aren’t talking about when it comes to feminism.

Twanna Hines–
I fucking love masturbation. Solo sex is absolutely a political issue because taking control of your own pleasure is liberating. Too often, when we talk about restricting women’s pleasure, the topic turns to female genital cutting in other countries. However, our homegrown variety of no-whacking, abstinence-only education can be equally repressive. I want more of us– women and men–to dialogue about access to healthy information about all forms of sex.
Tami Winfrey Harris–
From a black woman’s perspective, I’m not sure that there is much positive conversation about our sexuality in feminism at all–certainly not in mainstream feminism and even in our own spaces, sexuality is a topic left on the shelf. There remains this women + sex = nasty and forbidden ethos in our culture, I think, in part, due to the strong influence of religion. Masturbation gets caught in that.
Samhita Mukhopadhyay–
I think building on what Maegan said there seems to be this divergence in talk of masturbation along lines of race where the assumption or focus for young white women is exploratory, sex-positive and nurturing that type of development verse young women of color who are considered a “problem,” that needs a solution, generally not having sex and based on the assumption that they are too sexual so they must be first controlled, then “liberated.”
I might be imagining that, but I do feel like there is this assumption that sexual self exploration is something relegated to “liberated” women, which are generally privileged and when women of color can reach the point at which they are no longer oppressed, they too can partake in this type of sexual self liberation whether it be through masturbation or other types of sex.

What do you think is missing from feminist conversations of masturbation? Or better yet, what is missing generally from conversations about masturbation?

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11 Comments

  1. hopita
    Posted June 4, 2010 at 10:43 am | Permalink

    I find it interesting that the graphic used for this post is of a masturbation kit that appears to be designed for men (“masturbater’s condom,” anyone?)

  2. kisekileia
    Posted June 4, 2010 at 11:43 am | Permalink

    I would love to see more feminist awareness and outrage at what some conservative religious groups teach about masturbation, and applause when religious groups handle the issue in a healthy way. Feministing did a fantastic post on this last year, but I’d love to see it come up in discourse more often. When women and men are taught abstinence before marriage, it’s often not just about not having PIV sex–it’s about repressing the entire sexual side of your being. Sexual thoughts are “degrading” to yourself or to the person being thought about. Masturbation is “violating yourself”. People who can’t abstain completely from masturbation are “sex addicts”. It’s a really toxic way of thinking about sex, and I’d like to see more feminists confront it head-on.
    On the other hand, I’ve heard that some churches such as the Unitarian-Universalist faith can have very healthy teaching about sex, and I’d like to see feminists promote that.

  3. kaje
    Posted June 4, 2010 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    “Too often, when we talk about restricting women’s pleasure, the topic turns to female genital cutting in other countries. However, our homegrown variety of no-whacking, abstinence-only education can be equally repressive.”
    Otherwise oblivious white feminist calls bullshit. Cultural taboos are nowhere near equal to culturally approved mutilation in repressivness.
    A victim of sex shaming ab-ed can overcome taboos and discover jilling off on her own (yo!). In comparison, a victim of FGM can’t excuse herself to the bathroom for 20 minutes every day and grow her clitoris back.

  4. Allegra
    Posted June 4, 2010 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    This is such an important issue!!! So glad to see it being talked about, i truly believe that a lot could be solved if we taught people that masturbation was an important part of sexual growth and an important part relationship growth as well. I totally believe it should be apart of sex education, like i believe sexuality and abuse should be apart of sex ed. But first we have to get the ball rolling by talking about it here and with those around us. So lets keep the dialog going :)

  5. Comrade Kevin
    Posted June 4, 2010 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    I will say that, as a former UU, that they do an excellent job of sex education. The program used to be called About Your Sexuality and is now known as Our Whole Lives.
    That a faith groups will intervene and educate young people in ways that public and even some private schools are unwilling to do is a very good thing.
    But as for masturbation, I use it as a form of sexual release and have since puberty. I know, however, that as a man the cultural attitudes are very different to that of a woman. I certainly can see how masturbation would be empowering. The key is, I think, to remove the taboo that still exists.

  6. cattrack2
    Posted June 4, 2010 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

    Its not just “conservative religious groups”. Its most religious groups actually. At least most Christian religious groups, not sure about Islam & Judaism here.
    Frankly I’m not sure–as a religious matter–how I feel about this. Much of Christian thought is concerned with how to deny the flesh. Drunkenness, sex, gluttony, lust, etc are considered things which need to be restrained. In an American era of over indulgence & over consumption I can’t very well argue with that. The Bible says your body is a temple. Of course sex gets more emphasis here in America than say gluttony but I do like the Biblical attitude which discourages our sometimes singular focus on physical pleasure.
    As far as the doctrinal specifics are concerned I’m not sure. Personally I think the Biblical case that masturbation is sin is a *little* weak. But sincere people make it.

  7. cmb
    Posted June 5, 2010 at 8:56 am | Permalink

    i’ve heard of women putting condoms over insertional objects so that they’re clean and lubed.

  8. naomi1978
    Posted June 5, 2010 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

    Um, what’s missing from those masturbation discussions is that some people don’t enjoy masturbation that much and that should be respected. That some people can spend years masturbating in every way possible without getting an orgasm – or even just feeling good.
    This is true for men as well as women.
    Feminism has worked so hard to remove coercion into sex – so now going back and claiming masturbation is a feminist issue is a step back, in my opinion.
    Sure, people shouldn’t be made to feel ashamed of masturbation, but sex education should be value neutral – some (or many) people like to masturbate, some (or many) people reach orgasm, others don’t. I don’t see the difference between making a teen feel shitty for masturbating and making a teen feel shitty for not having an orgasm. Either way, you learn to be ashamed of yourself.
    (Please treat me as an adult and don’t ask me if I tried using a vibrator. Or give me advice of whatever sort. Also, for the record I am not asexual. Guess what? I am human, and complicated).

  9. woodgrained
    Posted June 5, 2010 at 10:31 pm | Permalink

    I came here to say this. I’m so glad someone already had. Abstinence-only education is in no way comparable to cutting that is permanent and can kill girls.

  10. Broggly
    Posted June 6, 2010 at 1:55 am | Permalink

    I know it’s a bit of a joke product, probably intended as a buck’s night present or the like, but if someone’s actually going to use a rubber glove for masturbation it would probably be women. Us men don’t have to worry about pointy fingernails during the act.

  11. Lydia
    Posted June 6, 2010 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

    But how can you over-consume masturbation? American over consumption is worthy of critique because it means others are under-consuming. We consume a large part of the world’s resources, which means that people in other parts of the world don’t have enough resources and often, our consumption negatively affects the environment and even our own health. (As in “gluttony.)
    Masturbation, and sexual pleasure in general, is different. It’s not a zero-sum game. More pleasure for you does not mean less for somebody else. It does not rob the earth, or a disadvantaged population of something it needs. It is not bad for your health. (There’s plenty to support that it’s actually GOOD for your health.) The only way I can ever see anyone over-consuming masturbation is if they’re doing it so much they never leave their room, but I don’t really think that’s an issue for most people.
    There’s a difference between limiting indulgence because your pleasure comes at the expense of somebody else’s necessity and limiting indulgence just because you inherently mistrust pleasure.
    And, yes, it is conservative religious groups that object to masturbation because the understanding of the Christian teaching against over-indulgence as anti-masturbation is a conservative interpretation. Other, more liberal Christian churches have no problem with masturbation and they are just as Christian as the conservative ones. As for Judaism (I can’t speak for Islam), Orthodox Jews do teach that masturbation is wrong, although there isn’t nearly as much cultural emphasis on that teaching as there is in, say, the Catholic Church. Once again, other more liberal sects of Judaism–which constitute the majority of practicing Jews by far–have no problem with masturbation, and we are just as Jewish. I don’t like it when the conservative wings of various religions are assumed to represent the entire religion, because it impugns the validity of the more progressive movements within that religion. So I like that kisekileia specified that she was talking about conservative religious groups and if she’d just said “religious groups”, I’d have probably said something.

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