I’ve wanted to write about sensual masturbation for a really, really long time. This rant has taken about three months to percolate in my mind, and eventually boil over – I estimate that’s roughly 2.5 months longer than the total time I’ve spent wanking in my entire adult life.
When people talk about female masturbation, it’s often described in the same language as you’d use to talk about a nice hot bath at the end of the day.Women who wank the way I do – vigorously, functionally, and above all swiftly – have probably noticed this. Much of our cultural narrative paints female masturbation as sensual. Soft. Gentle. It’s often exploratory – as if we wake up each day not quite sure what to make of our genitals, and have to dedicate a few hours and a couple of scented candles to finding out.
Sensual masturbation isn’t the only way
The other day Girly Juice asked for suggestions of things that make sex bloggers angry.
For a post I’m writing: what missteps get sex bloggers furious? (e.g. mixing up vulva & vagina, having an “orgasm guarantee,” etc.)
— Girly Juice (@Girly_Juice) May 8, 2016
I don’t think her post is live on her site yet, but keep an eye out or subscribe to her blog here. When I spotted her tweet the first thing that sprung to mind was this narrative oddity – the way in which female masturbation is often framed as a ‘sensual’ treat.
First thing’s first: if you’re a sensual wanker (that title alone makes you sound infinitely cooler than me) you need to know that I am not dissing your frigging technique. While I’d prefer to be done in 60 seconds, I appreciate that speed wanking isn’t to everyone’s taste, and moreover that some people physically need much more build up. Do what works for you – you’ll hear no critique from me unless you happen to be doing it in my living room. Even then I’d probably just ask you not to get quim on the carpet.
However, looking at a lot of the discussion around female masturbation, you’d be forgiven for thinking that this was the only way women ever wank.
Sensual masturbation: him versus me
“Did you have a good night in?” I asked him, as I came home and took up my customary ‘drunk’ position – face down on the living room carpet.
“Yeah, it was awesome. Played Xbox, got some wanking done. You know.”
“How many wanks?”
“Oh, just one. But you know the ones where you really take your time, and stop occasionally for a bowl of cereal, then resume later? Then stop again briefly, then resume?”
He does this quite a lot – he is an expert in the languid, sensual evening wank. One which starts at 7 pm and doesn’t come till midnight, and has room for a varied and interesting tour of the porn library, and a broad selection of interesting toys.
I have never ever done this. I have tried many times. But, like a child trying desperately not to eat the sweeties even though they’re sitting in a bowl labelled ‘EAT ME I AM A PILE OF DELICIOUS SWEETIES’, I cannot hold back for more than a couple of minutes before I think ‘fuck it’ and rub myself to a quick, grunting climax.
I have tried edging, and I get why people do it. But when I do it I’ll get to the ‘edge’ three or four times before hurling myself over it like a base jumper who’s had too much RedBull.
What’s more, wanking has rarely felt like a ‘treat’. It is not ‘sensual’ – that word which conjures up soft focus and candles and rose petals strewn over the bed. Sensual masturbation is the kind of masturbation I imagine people have in the bath. With the door locked and a glass of red wine to hand that they can sip classily when they’ve finished.
Why is masturbation ‘sensual’ when women do it?
It’s not the word ‘sensual’ in particular I object to, nor even the way it’s combined with masturbation – of course lots of people indulge in sensual masturbation (‘Indulge’? See? Like wanking is a box of Ferrero Rocher and the Ambassador’s just popped round). What bothers me is that the way in which people – and by ‘people’ I am mostly laying the blame at the feet of media outlets, and the odd sex toy company or two – use coded language like this to imply that masturbation for women is a luxury. We ‘treat ourselves’ to a bit of ‘me-time’. What do men do? Oh yeah, they jerk off. Whack it. Beat the bishop. Crack one out. Wank. And so the converse of the ‘sensual masturbation’ problem is that male masturbation is relegated to a grubby corner somewhere – treated as if it’s a necessary yet vulgar act – somewhere between having a piss and sniffing your housemate’s panties without asking. That, in turn, feeds into gross articles that imply men who use sex toys are somehow shameful, when in fact using a male masturbator should be exactly as useful, sensual, delightful – acceptable – as me getting off with a glass dildo.
I’ve definitely been guilty of this kind of writing before – not least because I’ve done copywriting, which often requires you to echo the tone of the brand you’re writing as. Besides, I suspect that my use of more functional terms for masturbation – which focus on aggressive need – may well turn people off if they prefer something softer. What’s more, our narrative also feeds into the things that people seek out – so there are plenty of copywriters frustrated with being pushed to use blunt instruments like ‘sex toys for women’, or ‘male masturbators’ which ignore the existence of trans and non-binary people. Likewise this narrative, given that it’s so biology-focused, implies that the shape of your genitals dictate the style in which you want to get off – hard or soft, fast or slow, ‘sensual’ or ‘functional.’
I have a longer (and very different) post at some point about use of language in copywriting – particularly when you’re selling sex toys – because there are lots of hurdles to overcome. To a certain extent you have to play a game you don’t want to play just to get the right people to find you and learn about something new. This narrative is the same.
That’s why I’m not going to give any specific examples here, although I know I should. But I’m wary of picking out any one publication or company (although I have written before about my frustration with the word ‘klittra’ – a term coined in Sweden to refer to female masturbation, which combined their words for ‘clit’ and ‘glitter’. Because all women adore glitter). But I hope now I’ve pointed it out you’ll start seeing it in a few places, and questioning whether the same language would be used if the genders were flipped. And ask: why is masturbation for men seen as a ‘necessity’ while for women it’s a ‘luxury’? What message is this giving to people who haven’t yet masturbated, and don’t know what their own style is?
I don’t think anyone should feel bad if they’ve been presenting it this way – it’s really hard to break out of it, because it’s all around us. We then feed into it, and the cycle continues. But I think it’s important to be aware of it, and hopefully question it where it arises. For all the girls like me, who feel like we’re a bit weird or broken or wrong because the way we wank feels greedier than the ‘sensual masturbation’ we should apparently be ‘indulging in’. And for the men who enjoy a three hour ‘treat wank’ evening, or an hour long exploratory session in the bath.
Where there is sadness, let us bring joy. Where there’s despair, let us bring hope. And where there’s a suggestion that women all wank gently, let us bring an anecdote about this one person we know who frigs herself like she’s gobbling sweeties.