Q: A lot of public rhetoric appears to demonize female sexuality. Growing up, I would get rather embarrassed when I masturbated and, as an adult, seem to have internalized a lot of that embarrassment. Would you discuss the health and emotional benefits of female masturbation?

Dear Reader,
Thank you for reaching out! First, I want to say how much I agree with you about women’s sexuality being demonized. Yes, sex is everywhere in our culture and media, but it’s often represented in a really sex-negative way. Think of all the TV shows in your Netflix queue, and ask yourself how sex is shown in them. Who gets to have it? Who gets ridiculed for wanting it? Whose sex becomes a punchline? When we dig a little deeper, we start to uncover some troubling views about women and sex.

Unless you’re on a strict Shonda-Rhymes-only TV diet, it’s likely that the women you see on TV – and in real life – are being demonized for wanting. Wanting all kinds of things really, but especially for wanting sex. As soon as there’s a hint that a woman might have a full, strong desire, all sorts of people rush in to beat it down. We’re told to make it smaller, keep it inside, swallow it whole. We’re told to box in our desires and shape them to please other people. We’re told that too much desire makes us demanding, needy, high-maintenance; make us whores, makes us sluts, serves us right for giving away the cow for free. We’re told that good girls don’t want.

These are deeply misogynistic ideas, and it’s so common for people to internalize them. This happens even when we know, intellectually, how hateful they are. The idea of masturbation tends to bring these messages out in full force, because it’s all about your own wants and desires, solely for the sake of your own pleasure. So no wonder you (and many others!) feel embarrassed about masturbating – there are an awful lot of people telling you that your desire to masturbate is wrong and shameful. So one incredible benefit of masturbation is that it’s a giant “screw you” to all those sexist ideas. It can be incredibly empowering to own your desire and take matters into your own hands.

Practically-speaking, masturbation gives you a chance to experiment while learning about your own body and fantasies in a very low-pressure setting.When you can tell a lover what you want, it often leads to better sex all-around. Knowing what turns you on is key in helping your partners get you off! If you need more reasons to masturbate, there are a ton of health benefits. Masturbation has been shown to decrease stress, improve your mood, ease menstrual pain and headaches, increase blood flow, strengthen your pelvic floor muscles and help you sleep.

And the final, most important reason of all? Because you want to and it feels good.

This article was first published in the Leveller Vol. 9, No. 3

Send questions you want answered to editors.the.leveller@gmail.com, or direct to Sam at education@venusenvy.ca.