Women And Self Pleasure: It’s Time We Talked About Women And Self Love

self-pleasure

As a journalist, I am often offered products to test and write about. So I have gotten a toothbrush, food, candles – the works. And while occasionally it be personalised, this time, I got something personal. I knew there was a device in there about self pleasure so I obviously didn’t extravagantly unbox it in front of my parents. Lest they collapse dramatically at the very idea that their adult (well into her 20s) daughter is sexually active.

We might live in 2022, where we’ve dealt with a pandemic, crazy bosses and painful periods, but when it comes to sex, all parents believe their kids are virginal beings unaware of carnal desires. We might have the Kama Sutra but sex a topic discussed by a husband and wife in a private bedroom. So when the floor is opened for discussion on self-pleasure and masturbation, especially, female pleasure and masturbation, expect some nervous giggles and awkwardness around it.

 

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Sex is taboo but you know what’s absolutely not talked about? Women’s pleasure. Talk about orgasms for women and most people pretend this an unheard of concept. Ask about the clit and most men will embark on a journey where they are likely to find new land (Was Columbus looking for the clit?) before they find this pleasure spot. Which is why even when women’s pleasure is showcased in movies, it’s mostly penetrative sex? Self pleasure scenes garner attention but mostly flak. Swara Bhaskar’s scene in Veere Di Wedding and Kiara Advani’s masturbation scene in Lust Stories both had everyone up in arms.

Stark reality it that most women don’t orgasm after sexual intercourse. According to a 2016 study from the Archives of Sexual Behaviour that looked at over 52,500 adults in the USA (including those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual), 95% of heterosexual men reported they usually or always orgasmed during sex but 65% of heterosexual women were least likely. This says a lot about the already prevalent orgasm gap. It is now through progressive shows and films such as Sex Education, Lust Stories, or Lipstick Under My Burkha that the media is attempting to normalise female pleasure and masturbation as well as the use of sex toys, and educate people about clitoris stimulation.

So Where Does The Taboo Arise From?

“There are two layers here,” says sexuality educator Karishma Swarup. “Female pleasure and masturbation both aren’t normalised. So when we talk about female masturbation, we’re getting a double layer of stigma. In our culture which is largely patriarchal, sex itself is a taboo, so pleasure instantly becomes taboo too unless it is in the context of a man wanting sex or pleasure, and that is also when the man is only cisgender/heterosexual/young/married. Female masturbation is a big taboo because women are often talked about in the service of men or treated as objects of desire as opposed to people who want to engage in sex and pleasure.”

“This taboo comes from two places–one is that female pleasure is not considered important or applicable, and two, a lot of people tend to think that masturbation is wrong morally or health-wise. Both are untrue. The first step of normalisation is to get the right information out there making sure what’s healthy or unhealthy and how these social norms affect this aspect as well,” she adds.

 

It Is What It Is

On the contrary, Anushka and Sahil Gupta, co-founders of intimate wellness brand, MyMuse say that Indians actually want to talk about it. And this prompted them to start their business to create a space that not only sells sex toys but also shares experiences and learns new things about sex. “Through our newsletter, our blog, our social media, videos and guides, we’re constantly working to create reliable and relatable information for people, empowering them to have more honest conversations in their own lives,” they share. And that’s great! We need more platforms like that.

 

And while I do agree that many Indians are much more open to these conversations today, it still happens among close friends and those who you are more comfortable with. Normalising it with everyone will take time.

We may be absolutely comfortable buying sex toys from a website or even walking into a sex toy shop. But if we stay with our families, we will hide it in our bag or wrap it in a different paper bag and not tell them what it is if they happen to question us about it. And just like us, the packaging is also inhibited and often surreptitious. Vibrators are advertised as body massagers, although their advertisements will make the steamy puns and include sexual innuendos which are not subtle at all. Whereas condoms are advertised for promoting safe sex and contraceptives are advertised to encourage family planning very openly. While it is very important to indulge in safe sex and I’m glad it’s spoken about candidly, the conversation on sex gets limited to just that. The common link between the two is reproduction. Sex isn’t only about reproducing, and that’s a common notion among many people even today. The conversation should also get extended to linking sex to pleasure (and its importance) with or without a partner.

Self Pleasure = Self-Love

Pleasuring yourself only makes you feel great! It’s also important to realise there is so much power in owning yourself and your sexuality. “When it comes to cisgender women who have spent their whole lives thinking that only men can provide pleasure or pleasure only exists for them, exploring how to give yourself pleasure can be a huge learning journey. Normalising and understanding how your body and genitals work, even something as basic as looking at your own vulva, is not considered normal. People think vulvas are gross. But it’s a part of your body, just like any other body part and there’s nothing to be ashamed of. So the moment a person gets used to the idea of touching themselves or understanding that they can experience pleasure on their own and don’t need anyone else, that can lead to self-esteem, self-love, and self-confidence,” Karishma adds.

 

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Sexual Wellness Is As Important As Any Other Wellness

First, we need to understand what sexual wellness means. “It is about taking the time to know your body, your desires, what works for you, and what doesn’t. It means taking care of yourself, and whoever you choose to share yourself with,” Anushka and Sahil add.

“We talk so much about health in the context of eating right or working out but we ignore a whole aspect of our health which is sexual wellness and pleasure. Being more aware of your sexual wellness and pleasure allows you to be more aware of your body and understand your needs,” Karishma shares.

Using A Sex Toy Is Not Embarrassing

People still shy away from using sex toys. And we get it, trying a sex toy for the first time can be super intimidating. “Mostly because of the guilt and seedy feelings associated with them, and how they typically look and feel (who actually wants to stick a bright pink neon toy up there?). Knowing where to look and choosing the right toy can also be confusing,” shares Anushka.

But sexual wellness products are meant to help you facilitate your self-care journey. “We invest so much of our time, effort, and money into our physical health and emotional wellbeing. But being a happy, healthy, positive person means thinking about all aspects of our human experience. And let’s be real–what’s more integral to that than sex?” she adds, and we agree!

How To Go About Choosing The Sex Toy For You

So the first step in shopping for a sex toy is to be curious, honest and open. If you’re able to accept your own desires as something normal and exciting, you can let go of any shame associated with them. If you have a partner, then being open with them is crucial too. You have to make them understand that this is something to enhance your journey and relationship together, not a substitute for your personal connection.

self-pleasure
Photograph: MyMuse

“Choosing your first toy is an exhilarating experience. Go for trusted brands that list the materials (for intimate toys, lead-free and non-toxic materials are key). To start off with, choose a product that’s simple and versatile. You don’t necessarily need 10 speeds and functions, because even one can be explored in myriad ways. Sex toys open up a whole new world of pleasure and exploration. So enjoy the ride…literally!” adds Anushka.

How Can We Break The Stigma Around Satisfying Yourself?

The awkwardness around talking about it does not go away overnight. “It’s a huge process of unlearning the shame in our minds for our whole lives whether that’s come from our teachers, parents or culture. Start by educating yourself. Read books, consume sex-positive content on social media, and watch shows that talk about it (for instance, Sex Education). The more you start consuming content that talks about pleasure and masturbation in ways that make it normal, you start unlearning some of that awkwardness or shame. It might still be super awkward depending on who you are talking to. So the other piece of advice I would give is to pick your audience. If you know that talking to a certain person in your life is going to be nerve-wracking or embarrassing, don’t start there. Start that conservation with someone who’s more open about it. Test the waters. If they’re spreading the existent stigma then they’re not the right people to talk to,” Karishma says, while also reiterating that education on pleasure for women needs to start at a very young age and should be included in the school curriculum.

Homegrown Sexual Wellness Brands To Bookmark

On the journey of exploring yourself? From vibrators to lubes and everything in between, here are some sexual wellness labels from India to bookmark.

1. MyMuse

2. That Sassy Thing

3. The Sangya Project

So go ahead, friends! Don’t be shy and flick the bean. Explore yourself and your needs. You’ll feel happy and more confident about your body and express yourself better.

 

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Thumbnail image: That Sassy Thing, Lead Image: Instagram via O.school 

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