Intimacy With Self: Masturbation and Self Pleasure

Masturbation is an activity that is regarded negatively, in general. However when it comes to women, it is a common belief that women don’t masturbate or feel ‘pleasure’. The word “Masturbation”, itself conjures up such discomfort. How the volume around self-pleasure is reduced and talking about it with one’s friends and colleagues might make one feel unpleasant. Hence, it is talked about indirectly. So, our therapists, Nida Mir, Swetha Turlapati and Aarathi Selvan, came together to discuss and possibly deconstruct dominant discourses around pleasure, why we do that and how we can talk more openly about it. 

The words ‘masturbation’ and ‘sexual intimacy’ are, to a degree, hidden or are associated with one specific gender, or not at all. So, what are your views about it?

Nida talks about what she has witnessed about self-pleasure and things like that. Back in her college days the term “going solo” was the word used when talking about maturbation. “Even when talking about it we were hidden and closed about it because of the ideas around what masturbation means, the shame and stigma associated with it”. 

Aarathi says that when she was growing up, there wasn’t really any language around it. She remembers that in school it was spoken about something that was shameful and people were teased about it. Being in a very cis/het normative culture, for a woman of a certain generation as her, there is no language around self-pleasure. There is so much language around relationship escalators, like the idea that intimacy is only sought in another person and that whatever you then get as a result of seeking intimacy in a relationship, is all you get. “For women penetrating sex is not actually pleasureable. Then, questions like: ‘What is pleasure?’, ‘How do I seek pleasure?’ and ‘How do I explore my body?’, just becomes issues of identity all together”. 

This conversation reminds Nida that there are so many ideas around the word pleasure. For her, growing up, there was so much hesitation in saying the word ‘pleasure’. There was, and still is, the idea that women don’t ‘do it’ or don’t ‘do it’ that often. “It was so gender biased as well. If you ask yourself those questions (referring to Aarthis’s questions), it really unpacks a lot of things like: what is pleasure for you? And what is pleasure for your body?” 

Swetha is reminded of her college days, how she knew what masturbation was but due to the lack of language around it, there was no conversation about it. “We have these words that we sort of use to talk about it but not genuinely communicate on what it really is or are not really able to explore that.”

What makes the stigma awfully evident or really present when talking about maturbation?

For Aarthi, the biggest thing she is seeing right now is this idea of how sexual stimulation is something that one finds only when in an intimate relationship with another person. “There are so many stories of experiences where a partner/s feels upset that their partner/s are self-stimulating, going solo. So, there is this feeling that like ‘if I go solo, then my partner might think that they are not good enough’. Whereas, even in intimate relationships there are so many possibilities and opportunities for exploration. With pleasure, there is this discovery of ‘my body’ and what happens in my body……… When there is gender dysphoria, when one doesn’t feel like themselves in their own body, pleasure often becomes intertwined with shame of who they are in their own body. That requires so much unpacking.” 

Like your body knows something; it knows what is pleasure, what is pain, what is making it stressed out or even when it feels chronic pain; in spite of the dysphoria that is the result of what this system is putting on people. Our body knows something about who we are and what feels like pleasure and what feels safe. “This is taken away and erased because the world doesn’t allow me to just rest in what I believe about myself.

This conversation reminded Swetha, how for a few there’s very little space where they can talk to their bodies, understand their bodies and really explore what is pleasure for them within their bodies. That there are so many ways one can seek pleasure for their body and the idea that having a partner is not the only way one might be able to seek pleasure. This notion is in place only because the system sees that one is supposed to seek pleasure only when they are engaged with their partner and not by themselves. That this act of self-stimulation is a ‘wrong’ thing to do. 

There are certain ideas that are considered to be wrong according to certain religions, self-stimulation of one of them. Nida expresses that it is something which can take one away from their own body. “I didn’t know what comfort and pleasure looked like in my own body. In a relationship, if we don’t know what our body needs or wants for pleasure, then how are we supposed to say or ask for it?”  This reminded her of her friend who was getting married. She was worried about being intimate with her partner and scared of being in that intimate state. They started to talk about how she can become intimate with herself, with her body and see what it feels like to be intimate, maybe then she can allow for intimacy in the relationship. “I think it becomes important to know your own body, to feel your own body, to actually be in your body when it’s happening”. 

Feeling pleasure or wanting to feel pleasure is a natural emotion. It only goes to show that one is in touch or at least is trying to be in touch with their emotions and feelings. It is not something to be ashamed of. In this episode of Little More Closer: Intimacy with Self, listen to our therapists discuss how the system, religion and gender plays a role in discovering one’s sexual identity and exploring one’s body. Our podcast ‘Little More Closer’, is a series of conversations where our therapists talk about issues or problems faced by people from a systematic lens and not from a very individualistic lens. 


Written by our writer Insha Fatima