Despite the general belief that women are the predominant buyers of sex toys, there remains a stigma around women and masturbation. As unfeminist as it may sound, my introduction to sex toys was thanks to a man. I was 19 when my then-university boyfriend bought me a beginner vibrator, in a lovely shade of puce. The vibrator, in turn, led me to my first ever orgasm. I ran the batteries dry within a week. Alas, I didn’t keep it long. After moving back home, I’d have to wait to use it when my parents were watching Antiques Roadshow because the intro was loud enough to mask the buzzing. But, paranoid that my mum would find it during some day-to-day snooping, I binned the glorious pleasure-giver to avoid the risk of mother and I being in an awkward silence for the rest of our lives. Both knowing what the other has seen/used. I did consider hiding my vibrator at work to save throwing it away. But HR told me I’d get a warning if I tried to bring it in again. 

My other experience with sexy playthings was during a friends-with-benefits-situation not so long ago. I was curious and he was experienced. I became the Anastasia Steele to his Christian Grey- if Christian Grey was Liverpudlian and had a fishing rod instead of a helicopter. It was in his company I realised I can be both a strong feminist outside the bedroom and submissive who gets turned on by being tied up and ‘punished’ in the bedroom. We started small with blindfolds and gags, and then worked our way through his Toys-R-Us scale collection. I learned what turned me on, such as having a small, secret vibrator in my pants in public, while he used the controller to up the intensity whenever he wanted. This usually occurred while I was mid-convo so he could watch- once, at a friend’s wedding, I had to tell people I suffered from Tourette’s. I also learned what turned me off- it turns out, when I get whipped, I just end up with an ass that wouldn’t look out of place in a David Attenborough documentary on Baboons. 

My relationship with Liverpudlian Christian also allowed me to discover things about myself that I had no idea I’d enjoy- like when he bought me a fish-net onesie as a surprise. “How tacky”, I thought to myself as I squirted whipped cream into my mouth from the tin. “Just try it first,”’, he said. So I did. It was then I learned never to judge a fishnet by its cover. If I wasn’t afraid of going back to jail, I’d wear that fish-net onesie out and about: on lunch dates, to job interviews, at business meetings, to the gym. The fish-net onesies make me look and feel sensational. 

Discovering masturbation and being introduced to sex toys, to use either by myself or with someone, liberated my sex life. If my university boyfriend hadn’t enlightened me all those years ago, prioritising my sexual pleasure probably wouldn’t even have crossed my mind because I’d have known no different and if it did. I wouldn’t have known where to start in finding out what makes me bite my lip and grasp the bedsheets in pleasure, which can be hard to do if you rely solely on a partner to discover this for you. And yet, there’s still a lot of judgement around female masturbation. The patriarchy has had women feeling guilty and ashamed about pretty much everything since the dawn of time – Eve knows – and this includes our sexual pleasure. I’ve seen women react to the mere mention of masturbation like someone has come into their house and shit in their blender. It’s been deemed as gross. Unladylike. This shame and embarrassment hold women back from discovering what could make them have a much healthier, fun, and satisfying sex life.

Our masturbation has even made some men feel bad too. The positives that come from a woman using a sex toy or masturbation during sex are often overlooked. Using sex toys highlights good communication, mutual respect and a desire to want to make the other person feel as good as possible. Instead, if a woman whips out a vibrator during sex or starts going solo, many see this as a failure on the man’s behalf because he is unable of satisfying his woman. But again, this perspective takes women’s pleasure out of our own hands and puts it into men’s. It makes our pleasure their responsibility. They have the power over our orgasms. This can give guys an undeserved sense of insecurity or an undeserved sense of arrogance. Either way, out of the eleven guys I’ve slept with, only two have been able to make me cum. Which clearly, isn’t good enough. The days of ‘Lie Back and Think of England’ are done. The power to our sexual liberation is in our own hands. Literally. But by believing we have to rely on men to do it for us for so long, it’s no wonder women feel bashful about giving it a go themselves.

As there’s so little to be seen of women’s masturbation and sex toys in mainstream media it doesn’t help. For years men have been able to see themselves wanking on screen. From There’s Something About Mary to Jay from The Inbetweeners, blokes have had permission to feel good about masturbating. They’ve been shown that it’s normal. Even when Jay is caught wanking with Tesco-brand ham in a snorkel, mask, and goalkeeper gloves there’s barely an eyelid batted. The same can’t be said for women. Our masturbation scenes are few and far between. The less we see of them, the more inclined we are to feel as though there’s something wrong with us if we flick the bean frequently. It’s as if it’s something to hide, when, in reality, loads of us are doing it.

There are a few scenes that jump to mind for female masturbation on the silver screen. In The 40 year old Virgin, Elizabeth Bank’s character uses a showerhead to get off. In turn, Black Swan, Natalie Portman masturbates because her male dance coach instructs her to. Neither are great representations of female masturbation, and both films are directed by men. I can’t think of nor have I seen a film where a woman just masturbates of her own free will because she’s bored, or stressed, or has had Legolas randomly pop into her head during the day (the main reasons I masturbate on a pretty much daily basis). Booksmart is the only mainstream film that references masturbation brilliantly. In one scene where the two main girls in the film, best friends Amy and Molly, talk about how Amy uses her childhood teddy to get off. And I loved it because, I don’t know about you, but that’s something I’ve definitely tried before. My relationship with my Cheshire Cat teddy has been strained ever since. Then, of course, there’s 50 Shades of Grey. Sex toy sales soared when 50 Shades came out because women had finally been given permission to prioritise their pleasure and not feel bad about it. Both Booksmart and 50 Shades were written and directed by women. We need more of this for the stigma to erode.

People’s attitudes towards masturbation and sex toys do seem to be evolving, having only took a global pandemic to act as the catalyst. According to a survey by WIRED, sex toy sales have skyrocketed during lockdown. The opinion is shifting from one of disgust, shame, and “oh you use sex toys? Do you also bathe in goat’s blood? You weirdo” to acknowledging the health benefits of masturbation in isolation. It’s a rough time at the moment and we need as much self-care as possible. Masturbation falls under that umbrella. We kick ourselves in the tits so often in an endless psychotic loop of ‘Tired? Eat cake. Feel bad about eating cake. Starve the next day. / Sad? Have a drink. Get drunk. Feel bad the next morning. / Stressed? Smoke. You can try and quit again at the start of next week.’ Exercise is a great way to feel better but most of us can empathise with the feeling of dread in the lead up to going. There are days when I’d rather eat a desk than find the motivation to go. But you know what you can do that is medically proven to boost mental and physical health, that won’t make you feel bad or sickly and doesn’t take a load of effort? Masturbation. All you have to do is lie down- and that’s something most of us do every single night. 

So, why is there still a stigma around something that can make us feel so good? The sex industry is for everyone. It doesn’t judge and caters to all appetites, be them practical, like a classic dildo, or something slightly kinkier, like a bondage kit. I understand sex is a very personal thing. It’s not the ideal chat for Sunday church or while you’ve stopped for a chat in Strand Street- however, we can choose to not talk about it in comfortable silence rather than ashamed silence. 

If you’ve never masturbated or used sex toys before, it can feel intimidating. While an 18-inch dildo might be fun for some, Sinsations have some smaller treats available- at some affordable price points. Shopping from the privacy of your own home can be fun: have a little exploration and see what catches your eye. There is a whole world designed to make us feel good.

Masturbation changed my sexual life for the ‘ohmygodthatfeelsamazing’ better. I wank pretty much daily and use a vibrator frequently. I know what makes me feel good and I find that knowledge empowering, which makes me feel sexy and confident telling guys what I want from them. My advice is, give it a go: whether you’re on your own or with a partner. You’ve literally been given medical permission to wank until the cows come home as a form of self-care. I know I will be. 

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