How Masturbation Helped Me Accept Myself as an Intersex Lesbian

It’s Masturbation May! This month we’re publishing a sticky handful of articles celebrating the art of self-pleasure. Stay tuned for more.

It’s difficult to be honest about who and how I am as an intersex female. I rarely use “intersex” as an identifier, instead describing myself using other terminology, such as “female” and “lesbian.” I have only recently come to understand how the term “intersex” accurately defines my life and body.

As I have learned more about the LBGT+ community, it’s clear that the people grouped together into the “+” are often forgotten about. The stigma around intersexuality and its validity is deeply harmful to the large portion of the population that is affected by it, with my condition alone effecting 1 in every 100,000 people, and leads to many of us feeling lost, without a voice and shamed for bodies we had no input in creating.

The course that I’m on to self-acceptance and self-love has never been clear or easy, and the radical acceptance I need often seems far out of reach. But my journey had a radical shift when I learned — and succeeded — at masturbation and self-exploration. The beauty I have found in my body as I have grown capable of pleasing it outshines the negativity I’ve received from doctors, friends and former partners. Masturbation has truly changed my life and has allowed me to take steps towards finding myself.

From the beginning, it was clear that I wasn’t “normal,” and that was never going to change. I was born with a genetic hormone condition, a DNA mutation that left my female body coursing with testosterone during fetal development. After birth, that mutation led to masculinized features, including excessive and coarse body hair; a low, raspy voice and “ambiguous genitalia,” a broad and technical term used by doctors to classify differences in sexual development. For me, having “ambiguous genitalia” means that I was born with a small, almost non-existent vaginal opening and urethra, prominent extra erectile tissue leading to my clitoris and a very enlarged clitoris.

I received corrective surgery to reshape and normalize my vagina, subjecting my nine-month-old body to vaginoplasty, labiaplasty and clitoroplasty. Post-surgery, my life has included frequent and invasive medical appointments with endocrinologists, urologists and other specialists. I have been poked, probed, touched, tested, examined and questioned about every aspect of my body and every part of my life, all in hopes of getting my hormones and symptoms to a manageable baseline, understanding that no matter what medication I take or what additional surgeries I could have, I will never live a perfectly “normal” life. I was conditioned to only give importance to the quantifiable parts of my diagnosis; the hormone levels, the medication dosages, the number and time of appointments. The ways I might struggle with self-worth and self-love were never discussed.

For many years in my adolescent life, the word “normal” was a haunting term that I truly truly yearned to feel and achieve. In my young and naïve brain, the girls I considered “normal” didn’t struggle with the body dysmorphia and shame that I suffered from and didn’t have to face the dilemma of constantly hiding the true shape of their bodies. To me, everyone had a “porn-pretty pussy,” and I was the black sheep of vaginas. At that point of my life, I was still closeted and had only been with male partners. I was of the belief that the shame, rejection and pain that I faced regularly during intimacy were as good as things were going to get for me.

My initial attempts at pleasuring myself were unsatisfying and difficult to say the least. Around the age of 14, I tried to get to that ultimate release using my hands and penetrative sex toys with or without vibration, not knowing that my pleasure required different methods altogether. I explored all consistencies of lube and all shapes and sizes of dildos and vibrators. Still, I couldn’t figure out how to make it work for me. My small vaginal canal makes large sizes painful. Clitorally-focused bullet vibrators or rabbit-style toys are unable to reach the clitoral nerve head underneath my enlarged anatomy. I ultimately became internally and emotionally frustrated at what I believed to be my shortcomings

When I had my first female partner who accepted the most vulnerable version of myself and showed me how to explore and pleasure myself, I finally understood that the “normal” I was seeking was mythical and that my body was beautiful and precious the way it was. My newfound confidence led me to the exploring of less conventional clitoral vibrators that accommodate different sizes of clitoral anatomy, and those are what I use today.  I have come to accept that penetration is a pleasant aid for orgasm, but most often, it’s not effective in achieving climax alone. Penetration is something I appreciate during partnered sex, but it requires significant foreplay and confidence to avoid discomfort. Learning to self-pleasure has helped me break down the walls of shame I built for so long, believing my body was incapable of love, satisfaction and, frankly, orgasm. Masturbation has given hope on my journey to fully accept the parts of myself that I cannot change. It has shown me that my body is worth the time and effort to achieve the incredible release that comes from patience, understanding and kindness.

Today my life is basically as “normal” as possible, despite me no longer searching for that unrealistic goal. I live healthily with daily medications and semi-frequent doctors’ appointments. I have a loving, understanding partner who encourages open communication in the bedroom and never judges me for the differences that are outside of my control. I masturbate regularly for much of the same reasons anyone else does: stress relief, boredom and (obviously) horniness, and yet having a body that allows me that joy is not lost or taken for granted. Having the ability to create my own pleasure has opened my eyes and heart to accepting myself for everything that I am.

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  1. Appreciate you sharing your experience! I learned about intersex individuals in a sex/gender/culture class in undergrad. I was shocked that no one had taught me and my generation about such a common thing.

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