CUMMING TO A SCREEN NEAR YOU


CUMMING TO A SCREEN NEAR YOU

The positive normalisation of female masturbation

 


By Anna Stacey

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Illustration by Lauren Drinkwater

‘Flicking the bean’, ‘buttering your muffin’, ‘stroking the beaver’ are just a few of the euphemisms for female masturbation that a quick google search provides.

Yet these expressions are rarely used in everyday conversation, and it seems most languages lack any established terminology for women masturbating (apart from in Sweden, where, as usual, they are ahead of the game and held a competition in 2015 to invent a new word for it – the result ‘klittra’, a combination of the Swedish words for glitter and clitoris, has received a somewhat mixed reception).

Whilst ‘having a wank’ is something we commonly hear men discussing, it is also something we see alluded to in popular culture all the time, be it music, TV or film. In contrast, female masturbation, a largely undiscussed taboo, has rarely been depicted in popular culture, and when it has been, it is presented as either an exceptional event or a faked experience (think the When Harry met Sally orgasm scene). Authentic female pleasure, presented as an ordinary, even unremarkable event, has been almost entirely absent from our screens.

Thankfully, some trailblazing new TV shows and series have come to the rescue and are setting a new precedent for empowering and realistic representations of female masturbation in popular culture.

Whether it is ‘Big Boo’ masturbating with a home-made screwdriver dildo in Orange Is The New Black (2015), or Phoebe Waller-Bridge touching herself to a Barak Obama speech in Fleabag (2016), women getting themselves off is becoming gradually more normalised on our screens. Yet it is recent Netflix shows Sex Education and Big Mouth that stand out as the most recent examples of this, both dedicating whole episodes to explorations of female sexual pleasure in a refreshingly honest way.

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Whilst female masturbation has not been completely absent from TV and film in the past, it has more often than not been depicted as something sexy, clean and quick, usually featuring some lacey underwear or performed in a bath with candles (picture Sharon Stone in Silver, 1993). Such scenes are typically constructed through a male gaze, placing viewers in a voyeuristic relation to the female body. Or female masturbation is depicted as simply the prequel to the main event, which usually ends up being penetrative sex, which, predictably, presents women as reliant solely on men for their sexual pleasure.

Sex Education provides a counter to these generic, unimaginative and male-centred portrayals of female pleasure in one of the show’s most memorable scenes, in which popular girl Aimee Gibbs teaches herself how to masturbate.

This is not a classic scene of seductive female masturbation that we have seen before; instead, clad in her stripy unicorn Monday knickers, Aimee contorts herself into impossible positions, grunting and groaning while she masturbates with anything from a cushion on her windowsill to her hairdryer, until she finally flops down exhausted on her bed, announcing, “I want a crumpet”.

Whilst we’ve previously seen Aimee having loud, melodramatic, porn star sex with her first boyfriend Adam, and seemingly reaching climax, her new boyfriend actually asks her what she wants. This prompts main character Otis, as the school’s self-appointed sex advisor, to encourage this vigorous episode of self-exploration. Following this, Aimee feels able to tell her boyfriend exactly what she wants, where, at what speed and for how long, sending a strong message to young female viewers that masturbation is key to knowing what you want sexually.

In a similarly progressive manner, last year the widely-popular Netflix adult cartoon Big Mouth, presented us with some crude yet candid storylines centred around female masturbation.

In the episode entitled ‘Girls are Horny Too’ from Season One, sarcastic teenager Jessi is introduced to her vagina (literally – it talks to her!), in a hand mirror, whilst her voluptuous hormone monster Connie encourages her to experiment. And in Season Two’s final episode, which tackles the shame of going through puberty, nerdy late-bloomer Missy unwittingly humps her cuddly-toy worm in because it gives her ‘glitter tummy’. Through the characters of both Jessi and Missy the show portrays female masturbation and self-exploration as something completely normal, commonplace and a crucial part of female sexual development.

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Thanks to series like these, female masturbation is getting more exposure and screen time, and gradually being normalised. Making it visible in diverse and witty ways gives women’s self-pleasure a place in everyday sexuality, so that it can become an ordinary part of women’s relationships to their bodies, rather than an exceptional event. Whilst popular culture is there to entertain not educate, these new shows seem to be shifting the register and genres of female sexuality and contributing to a significant cultural move towards recognising women as subjects and not only objects of sexual pleasure.


Art by

Lauren Drinkwater
Words by
Anna Stacey

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