As an Indian woman navigating the dating world, I often find myself dodging unnecessarily pretentious ‘woke’ boys, vo nakli feminist types; some bholi soorat, dil ke khote ones; and those who recently have recently discovered polyamory and are unapologetically fasaao-ing women through their puppy eye lens. Ye toh kuch bhi nahi, most of these men, with cringe-worthy confidence, happen to claim they know ‘exactly’ what women want. Matlab kitne show off! Looking for ‘the one’ in this naam badhe aur darshan chote pool of men, can be really exhausting. So I sometimes pull myself away from all this drama, and push my finger(s) in to experience the kind of ecstasy all of these men promise like it’s a money back guarantee scheme you can avail if not satisfied, but fail to because they rarely explore the terrain of pleasure and satisfaction for their partners. And oh the uninhibited, custom-made pleasures I receive!
From where do I begin to tell you about the absolute pleasure that it is to meet yourself? Maybe by acknowledging (and hurray-ing!) to the day I discovered the moments of beauty that my fingers can make me feel once they attune to my bodily desires. Once upon a time, my fingers went down to check something mundane and came out only when they had caused a feeling I wanted to last for the longest time. I don’t really remember the age at which I discovered masturbation but since the day I did, I couldn’t stop. That rushing to the bathroom after watching a hot, romantic scene unfold on my television screen whose channels, in my conservative family, were changed even after a kiss; the sneak-outs to the empty guest room in the night while reading a tactfully written erotica; the noiseless, watchful explorations when sleeping with my grandparents; and so many times in my hostel room in spite of the initial fear of my roommate walking in on me and my set-up. Although I didn’t know what it was called until I was older, I kept looking for newer ways of stimulation. As I was learning about the act and alongside my body, the word finally made an appearance in a hushed, almost disgusting manner.
Years ago, a friend walked up to a group of us to warn us of the horrors that unfolded on our school rooftop. A male student, older to us by a year, was caught masturbating in front of his alleged girlfriend by a teacher on the rooftop. Since the girl denied sex, the boy began masturbating in front of her and both, once found, were ‘dragged’ to the principal’s office. There were rumours later that the boy got away with a warning because he had a rich father but the girl, without any fault of hers, was suspended. And she was, for a week. As much as I was angry at the principal’s decision, I also became cautious about having my own adventures. The fear of being ‘caught in the act’ hung over me like a knife. I thought that, if a boy caught masturbating was dragged to the authorities, what would punishment for a girl like me be? What if my parents found me and asked for an explanation? That incident made sure that I didn’t touch myself for a long time after.
Years later when I found places to masturbate without being walked in on by someone and my knowledge about it grew (thanks to the World Wide Web), I started thinking about the taboo that masturbation is in our society, a no-no, especially for women. The incident that happened while I was in school kept replaying. Why was that girl suspended from school? Why did I feel scared of being walked in on? What would the allegations put on me once found masturbating be like? Why don’t my ‘liberal’ friends discuss it when they can chatter away theses on sex positive feminism? It wasn’t until I started attending college, a women’s college, that I realised certain things not only about masturbation, but a woman’s sexuality in general that explained the anxieties, the nazarein chupana, the sharm associated with women’s bodies.
I realised that there is a fear of women who are in charge of their sexuality. You fear us for the agency we have over our bodies, our lack of dependence on the repressive structure of heteronormativity that require us to scratch off our boundaries of consent and eat it to pleasure the male desire. The binary of private and public which has forced us to work hard enough to keep it intact fails to exist when women assume matters of desire in their hands. Once we move out from the domesticity that the society relegates us to by controlling our sexuality, there will be guaranteed turbulence in the uneven scale of power. So what do you do to prevent this fear of women’s agency from taking over? You conveniently label women who masturbate as “bad women”. You call them porn stashing, morally corruptive, sex hungry, bad women who do not have control over their own desires. Women who smear the purity of the category ‘woman’, who pollute the chastity of good, tameable women. These are women who have learnt the nuances of pleasuring and who know their bodies so well that they might not ‘need’ the heterosexual romance to chain them into feeding the only socially acceptable form of desire; a heterosexual man’s. Because how many times do you shush your male friend when he jokes about jerking off to some bad porn?
Talking about masturbation is more of a taboo than it is to talk about sex, I feel. Recently, I was discussing female agency exerted in sexual intercourse with a female friend who was listening patiently as I explained why sex scenes in films from a feminist perspective are important but jumped out in no time when I dropped the big word, masturbation. Uncomfortable, she asked me not talk about anything near the periphery of it, ever. I was surprised because she is someone who I thought would try to understand my perspective about female masturbation. And this is just one example from the pile of many where throwing the M-word is enough to make people want to change topics. Which is why I argue for masturbation positive conversations. There is so much information, good and bad, about sex. When it comes to masturbation, especially female masturbation, informatory sources are less and even if there are, many of them are esoteric. When there is so much blah blah happening about satiating your husband in bed, why isn’t there some real talk about satisfying yourself? I never thought I’d say this but Karan Johar’s short film in the Netflix original Lust Stories, where a sexually dissatisfied married woman uses a vibrator to pleasure herself, hit home. Although stereotypical in many ways, it did question the assumed space (or lack thereof) for the articulation of female desires. The fact that I am using a pseudonym for this article should tell you about the lack of such spaces.
Among women too, masturbation is a difficult topic to discuss without some of them checking out for ‘signs’ that you masturbated. I think the lack of knowledge about the issue is what makes people feel such a level of discomfort. Popular culture is picking up on this and series like Lust Stories is one, commercial example, but we have a long way to go. Exploring our bodies within or outside relationships and deriving pleasure out of it is beautiful. What we need is to make conversations around it happen. Begin from sharing personal experiences of masturbating, talk about it with your friends, read about it. Creating safe spaces to decode the open mystery that female masturbation is, is crucial for women to realise the functioning of their own bodies. Not only does the act give you agency but also so much pleasure! So maybe instead of swiping right to that hatta-katta sapiosexual tonight, swipe right to yourself?