There must be a million and half adjectives that can be used to characterize sex. There's passionate sex, tender sex, steamy sex—but by far the most intriguing is the one we are all secretly desperate for: dirty sex. "Dirty" is deliciously taboo; "dirty" beckons to us from porn magazines and movies, from dim, neon-lit sex shops. Let's face it: "dirty" is the reason you started to masturbate. And yet, "dirty" never fails to make us uncomfortable. No matter how much we joke about it, how, when and where we masturbate is everyone's biggest secret.
Few people know it, but masturbation is good for your health. Not only is it a great source of stress relief, but it also acts as a natural sleeping pill and can even relieve menstrual cramps. Recent sex research shows that eighty-five percent of women and ninety-nine percent of men masturbate. Although single people masturbate more frequently, attached and married people don't shy away from the art of self-loving. So why are so many of us so uneasy about it?
It is impossible to deny the multiple differences between the masturbation behaviors of men and women. On many levels, you men have it much simpler than women. All you have to do is reach down and unzip your pants—it's hanging right there in front of you. Society has traditionally characterized men as endlessly horny; no one's going to call you out on masturbating.
On the other hand, there's only so much you can do with two hands and a penis, and finding different means of pleasuring yourself can prove difficult. It doesn't help when the woman you are with is hand-job challenged—you might as well be working with your own limited resources. You're always wondering how many of your friends are busy self-indulging and if they're masturbating as frequently as you are.
The do-it-yourself technique isn't so easy for women; many women are too sensitive to rub their clitoris directly for too long, and they have trouble achieving the desired effect from finger penetration. Society traditionally characterizes women as wholesome, reinforcing apprehensions a woman might have about masturbation's being too "dirty." These apprehensions are further complicated by the more recent development of men turning themselves on by watching women get themselves off. On the one hand, we're told that masturbation spoils our "purity;" on the other hand, that it's that "dirty" quality of masturbation that men find attractive. How the hell do we make sense of that?
Contrary to popular belief, the vibrator is not the be-all, end-all solution. Some women are entirely uncomfortable with it. One friend of mine confessed that she would feel like a "dirty whore" if she used one (though she calls me, all excited, every time she sleeps with somebody new). Other women may be comfortable using one in theory, but not in practice: a friend of mine who had been dying to buy a vibrator for years finally got one, only to discover that she couldn't orgasm from it.
I'm by no means suggesting that masturbation is a hopeless pursuit for women: sex researcher Alfred Kinsey found that it takes women less than four minutes to have an orgasm from masturbation—something partners rarely achieve for us. What's more, many women learn exactly what makes them orgasm and can help their partner learn to get them off.
People are uncomfortable with masturbation for multiple reasons. Much of it has to do with how they were brought up: they may have been taught that masturbating is a sin, or they may have had the traumatizing experience of a parent walking in on them. Too much encouragement on the masturbation front can be equally damaging. Furthermore, talking about sex and masturbation has only recently become acceptable. In fact, in many parts of the country, it is still considered taboo.
Everyone has their limits—be it with sex or otherwise—and everyone draws their comfort line somewhere else. The trick is determining exactly where your line falls. When I first thought of writing this column, I figured I should go buy myself a vibrator—how could I write about masturbation without having experienced the infamous "rabbit"? The thing is, I don't want to own a vibrator. I'm comfortable with almost all things sexual, but that just isn't one of them. That's ok, just as it's ok for another woman to have one and love it.
There is absolutely no reason why anyone should be secretive or feel guilty about masturbating. It may be different strokes for different folks, but there is no denying that we all do it. Know your comfort line and push it to the limit. Orgasm away.