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Breaking news: women masturbate

By Megan Haf Donoher

Image courtesy of Pittstone

Masturbation is a choice. But whether it is a regular part of your sex life or you don’t give it a second thought, it is something that all women should embrace as normal and healthy.

There are certain topics that spark outrage within me and this one really struck a nerve. I first saw the headlines ‘Zoella removed from GCSE media syllabus’ and ‘dropping Zoella’ last week, and I was naturally intrigued as to what she may have done, having grown up with her being a huge influence for young girls. I was stunned when I saw that those words were followed by ‘for covering sexual topics’ and ‘after posting sex toy article’.

It has been speculated that the decision to remove Zoe Sugg’s content from a GCSE Media Studies syllabus came after parents made complaints that Zoe’s website Zoella contained adult content inappropriate for 16 year-olds. And yet alongside discussing the best sex toys of the year, the Zoella website contains content that covers subjects such as periods, fertility, sex, and revenge porn. This decision only reinforces the idea that female pleasure is shameful and something that young girls and women should be discouraged from being exposed to.

From menstruation and breast feeding to the female orgasm, female hygiene and pleasure are too frequently scandalised. Female pleasure is rarely acknowledged, while the male counterpart is regarded as a fact of life. A common counterargument is we know women do it too, there is no need to be so explicit. But surely that’s the case for sex and male masturbation? Why does it remain socially unacceptable for women? Why shame them for something men are often applauded for boasting about? The notion that a woman can be sexually liberated contradicts the belief that women’s sexuality is something to be repressed. This explains why pornography remains legal while prostitution is not.

Though not aware of her content being used in schools, Zoella addressed the so-called scandal on Instagram, writing: “we want to talk about taboo subjects” and “inspire or make people feel less alone”. She reminded her audience that such a controversy like this is the “VERY REASON WE WRITE ABOUT IT IN THE FIRST PLACE”. The exam board acknowledged in a statement that whilst sex education is important, the subject is unsuitable for GCSE Media Studies.

Although 91% of women masturbate, and 54% of those do for stress-relief, only 14% think that society deems it acceptable and 53% of women feel too ashamed or uncomfortable to talk about it, according to Womanizer and Glamour, respectively.

What is often brushed over is that it remains perfectly natural to become curious about your body as you grow, and so, I think that parents would be incredibly naive to assume that their children are unaware of such topics. As Emily Clarkson touched on, “[women] grow into adults with cloudy views of consent, of little respect for ourselves, and the ability to only view our bodies and our sexuality through the male gaze”. Surely it is far safer and ethical for teenagers to learn about this from women who are actively combating the stigma, as opposed to pornography, which can cause detrimental standards and expectations. Clarkson also notes that parents “know their teenage boys are watching porn” and care little, but grumble about “taking innocence away” when their daughters might be doing the same.

As well as enabling women to feel sexually liberated, research has proven that self-stimulation can relieve stress and cramps, improve your sex life, better sleep, and generally boost your well-being. Sex Education itself leads to increased sexual health, less domestic violence, and healthier gender-dynamics. Young girls in particular are often given a disturbingly uncomfortable and rushed talk in which we’re made to watch somebody drop a tampon into a glass of water. We’re told that we’ll bleed and most likely have children—before being hurried from the room so quickly that we’re left wondering whether it’s okay to ask further questions. Unfortunately, such mental and physical benefits remain unknown to countless women as a consequence of the societal stigma that is perpetrated by cultural taboos and a lack of education. Although Zoella’s website isn’t explicitly aimed at teens, I personally don’t think this is something they should be prevented from reading about.

Fundamentally, the outpour of debates and backlash regarding the Zoella headline is only proof that female masturbation is still far from becoming a normalised component of women’s sexual repertoire. Despite vibrators now being marketed by condom companies and apps being launched specifically for female masturbation, it frustratingly remains a conversation that is hugely trivialised in public discourse.


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