Reclaiming Our Sexual Desire, Part II: Self-Knowledge: The Key to Female Sexual Empowerment

“Masturbation is a primary form of sexual expression. It’s not just for kids or those in-between lovers or for old people who end up alone. Masturbation is the ongoing love affair that each of us has with ourselves throughout our lifetime.” Betty Dodson, “Sex for One: The Joy of SelfLoving.”

The incomparable Betty Dodson rocked the world in 1974 with the publication of her book, “Sex for One: The Joy of Selfloving,” which advocates that masturbation is a primary and essential way for humans to learn about and enjoy their sexuality. Masturbation isn’t an easy subject—even today, in 2015!—the subject is taboo, with the notion that people who masturbate are lonely/pathetic, or addicted to porn, or addicted to sex, or incapable of getting sex from a partner, or…. the list goes on.

Though I was raised Catholic (need I say more?) and severely shamed over masturbation, I completely agree with Betty Dodson: masturbation is healthy, attunes us to our own sexual responses and gives us mastery over our own sexual pleasure; masturbation enables us to discover our own eroticism, and most importantly, helps us know how we like to be touched sexually, all of which builds our sexual self confidence. With this awareness and comfort with our own bodies, we can communicate our sexual needs and desires to our partners, or enjoy perfectly safe and wonderful sex with ourselves!

I also agree with Betty Dodson’s assertion:

 “Our cultural denial of masturbation sustains sexual repression. From childhood through adulthood, we feel guilt and shame over masturbation. Deprived of a sexual relationship with ourselves, we are easier to manipulate and more accepting of the status quo. I believe masturbation holds the key to reversing sexual repression, especially for women who think they’re “frigid” or aren’t sure whether they’re having orgasms in partnersex.”

As if on cue, Monday morning’s “Dear Abby” column contained the perfect letter to exemplify my point:

Dear Abby: I’ve been married more than 20 years and have three children. What I haven’t had is a real desire for sex—nor have I ever had, as far as I know, an orgasm. Before my wedding, my mother warned me that sex was overblown, uncomfortable and messy, but she said I had to put up with it if I wanted kids and a good marriage. …Am I a freak? Are there others like me? What do I tell my girls as they grow up?

If ever there was a woman who needed permission to touch herself, to explore, to experience her own sexual responses, it’s this woman! Sadly, (and predictably) Abby’s response did nothing to empower her and instead suggests that it is her husband’s responsibility: “If you have never experienced an orgasm, you may have married a man who was also sexually inexperienced.” Abby also (amazingly) suggests to this woman that she may be “asexual” and recommends that she see her gynecologist. While a gynecological exam can help determine if there is anything that can be managed from a medical standpoint (hormones, occluded clitoral hood) and is a good first step, most gynecologists are not trained in sex therapy or sex coaching and are not comfortable talking with patients about sexual satisfaction issues. The better referral is to a sex coach, so “Waiting in Wichita” can unlock her own sexual responses and learn how to experience an orgasm. She can then teach her husband how to touch her—and as importantly, teach her girls the benefits of sexual self-knowledge and confidence.

Rather than relying on cultural myths—that all men know how to sexually satisfy all women—and that woman should be sexually naïve and inexperienced—we would be so much better off allowing masturbation as a normal, healthy, safe, and empowering way for both sexes to develop confident sexual self-awareness. Imagine a world where people make no assumptions about one anothers sexual responses—and instead, come together with a sense of respect and reverence, openness and curiosity.