As our once-upon-a-time land of Kamasutra reawakens to talking about sex, a question that still brings on the blush is masturbation. Especially in connection with women. Look up the Intertubes and you’ll find educational videos targeted at Indian men and boys. Female self-help? …crickets. Case in point: two AIB videos about sexuality, one for men and one for women. Man’s Best Friend is about male masturbation; A Woman’s Besties is about unsafe sex and periods!
Ask an Indian girl if she pleasures herself and you will get a) a gasp followed by a horrified ‘NO’, b) a noncommittal shrug, c) an embarrassed ‘Yes’ tinged with fake bravado. We are a long, long way from a simple, “I do.”
In the West, as understanding grows and shame diminishes, more women are willing to talk about their self-pleasuring routines. 92% percent in the US now say they take time out to masturbate, up from 74% in the last survey conducted in 1979.
The only Indian statistics I found went like this: Researchers studying first-year college women who self-identified as virgins found that 30% of those who masturbated described feelings of guilt, anxiety and shame associated with masturbation.
Echoing this statistic, Dr Avani Tiwari, Psychiatrist and Sexologist with Metro Hospital, Noida [Please link to her profile on Bono], says that the frequency of masturbation in women ranges from 20-70% in various studies. Lack of awareness, embarrassment and cultural taboos play a decisive role in underreporting.
Related reading: History of Vibrator
The keywords are guilt and shame. In a culture where saying you have sexual needs automatically proves you are morally debased and undeserving of respect, admitting to self-pleasuring is fraught with even greater risks and is a huge no-no.
But perhaps the situation was not this sad in ancient India. Sample this poem from Gatha Saptasati, compiled sometime between 200 BCE and 200 CE
With her eyes closed
She brought him to bed in her mind,
Then did all the work with her hands
Till her jingling bangles fell slack.
According to Dr Tiwari, our country has a very rich ancient history in literature, sculpture and other arts depicting female self-satisfaction. It was lost in the Middle Ages with all the social taboos and restrictions coming up as political scenarios changed. And female masturbation seems to have been one of the worst victims of politics-driven changes.
But the tide may be turning. Dr Tiwari reports awareness levels are up, thanks to media exposure. Women are beginning to ask questions. They are exploring their bodies and discovering the joy of self-love. On sexuality forums, questions like Do women masturbate? How? pop up regularly.
Here’s the lowdown on the basics of female masturbation from a scientific paper (Sathyanarana Rao T S, Nagaraj AM. Female sexuality. Indian J Psychiatry 2015;57, Suppl S2:296-302)
Typically women use their hand and finger to make circular, back and forth or up and down movements against the mons and clitoral area.
Most of them avoid direct stimulation of the glans of the clitoris because of extreme sensitivity. Some women thrust the clitoral area against an object such as bedding or pillow, others orgasm pressing thighs together and by teasing the pelvic floor muscles that underlie the vulva. Contrary to what is depicted in pornography, vaginal insertion to reach an orgasm is not common. Some women can reach orgasm by pressing the breast alone and a few women (2%) by fantasy alone. Some people use vibrators for added enjoyment and variation. Women typically need less than 4 minutes to reach orgasm while masturbating.
Dr Tiwari adds that women are known to use all body parts and all senses as well as fantasising to achieve orgasm. One of the pioneers of sexology, Alfred Charles Kinsey, stated, “Among all types of activity, masturbation is, however, one in which the female most frequently reaches orgasm.”
But masturbation is not all about enjoying the La La Land by oneself.
Research shows women who masturbate regularly experience a reduction in menopausal symptoms, enjoy improved mood and have a better body image. Self-esteem and overall sexual satisfaction also get a much-needed boost.
Plus it’s safer and practical too. Safe, because you can’t get infections enjoying by yourself (unless you’re using toys and don’t keep them clean). Practical, because being totally dependent on a partner to get off is setting oneself up for frustration. When the partner is not up to it, is travelling, or a generally a selfish moron, your finger can do the magic and keep you sane.