Masturbation Memory Lane: Roundtable and Open Thread

all images by Georgia O’Keeffe, via Wikipaintings

As mentioned, it’s officially Masturbation Month! A whole month dedicated to talking about (and practicing!) masturbation in order to take the stigma out of it. At Autostraddle, we really like talking about masturbation, and we thought maybe you might too. So we’re going to talk about masturbation, but we’re not going to use names because many of us still like getting hired other places and not scandalizing our Grandmamas.

We asked a bunch of Autostraddle Editors, Contributing Editors, Writers and Interns to write a small thing about when they started masturbating, and also to feel free to cover any other masturbation feelings they might have, because seriously, how often to we get to talk about jilling off in a public internet forum for ideas of wonderfulness? Not very often, is the answer.

Which is why we thought you might want to talk about it with us! Read our stories, and please feel free to write your own in the comments.


Reading Above Age Level

By Georgia O'Keeffe

By Georgia O’Keeffe

My first memories of masturbating are around 11 or 12, which was a golden period of scheduling in which my school let out an hour earlier than my younger sibling’s elementary school and neither of my parents came home from work until the late afternoon. I had an entire hour of the house to myself in which I could raid the candy jar, make myself sick on microwave popcorn, and use our ancient PC to go to literotica.com and masturbate in front of the computer. That site had everything, from super-specific fetish-based stories to “romantic” ones that were ostensibly aimed at women, all topped off with terrible web design. Looking back on it, those stories were a) terribly written and b) probably deeply problematic representations of sex, but reading stories instead of looking at porn (or just trying to imagine what could be happening in the movie scenes my parents fast-forwarded) went a long way towards teaching me some important things anyway: that imagination and fantasy were important (and really enjoyable!) parts of a sexual life, that sex could be a lot of different things either in or out of a relationship, and that you should always clear your browsing history before your parents got home. Exploring fantasies was how I was able to figure out that sex wasn’t as clinical as school health class made it seem or as gross as my peers seemed to think it was. And masturbation meant that I knew what an orgasm felt like and how to make myself have one in 5-10 minutes before I got to high school, where I was able to try to show boys how to do the same (with very limited success). When I reached college and talked to people who were totally in the dark about both of those things, I felt incredibly grateful.


 “It’s Perfectly Normal Behavior for an Infant”

Blue Morning Glories by Georgia O'Keeffe

Blue Morning Glories by Georgia O’Keeffe

I remember starting to masturbate when I was 3 years old. Some of my earliest memories are of masturbation (my very earliest memory is of a dream where my house filled with snapping turtles, but these two things are unrelated). I had a favorite blanket that I’d hump until I saw stars. When I asked my mother if she remembered this particular behavior of mine and asked her how she felt about it, she said, “Oh honey, you were, like, the queen of masturbation when you were little. You started doing it as an infant in your crib.” She followed this statement with an impression of infant-me masturbating, which, my friends, is a thing you cannot un-see for as long as you live.

I put my hands over my face. “Mom, stop, I don’t want you to know that about me! Please un-know that about me. Ugh, STOP.”

“What?” She asked. “It’s perfectly normal behavior for an infant. And I can’t un-know that about you: when you were maybe five or six, you told us it [your clit] was your light switch.”

And that’s the attitude I grew up with surrounding masturbating. My parents were not uncomfortable about it, and they did not make me uncomfortable about it. Or rather, they didn’t make me think that it was wrong. They still occasionally make me uncomfortable in the way that parents make kids a bit nervous when they talk about sex or drop you off at school with curlers in their hair. But that’s their god-given right as my parents to embarrass me just a little, because they created me. And it’s certainly not the worst thing that could possibly happen. Basically what I’m saying is masturbation was a-okay in my childhood culture, which was strange because I grew up in a very conservative area. So my upbringing was weirdly balanced between liberal parents with conservative islands of thought, even within my own family.

There was only one instance in my early childhood that suggested anything other than masturbation being totally normal, and I am kind of thankful for its occurrence in a weird way.

At the time of my upbringing, day care in New Jersey cost about as much as having an au pair. Unusual for the area, I came from a family where both my parents worked full-time jobs (gasp!), so we had a series of lovely British au pairs that helped raise my brother and I. For the most part, I loved these women. But I did have some complaints that included being put down for a nap when I was way too old for naps, or so I thought. (Man, what we wouldn’t give for naps now that we’re adults, amIrite?) I would hump my blanket during the times of the day where I was supposed to be napping, because I was shut in my room and essentially bored. Masturbation seemed like the perfect thing to do when you’re shut in your room and you’re bored. But my au pair heard me, and she burst into my room and yelled, “Stop that this instant! We do not sleep like that!” And then she slammed the door so hard I thought the house was going to fall down.

My first thought was, duh, I wasn’t sleeping. But then the shame washed over me. And I laid in my room, far from bored, just worried. What had I done wrong?

This incident taught me a few lessons, or rather, my mother taught me a few lessons following this incident. One, that not everyone feels like that behavior is normal, so keep it private. Don’t talk to other people about it, only talk about it with people you trust, and only when you’re older (“like when you’re 15. Or 30”). And the second was that what the au pair did wasn’t okay, because I was in my own space and I was keeping it private. It’s not like I was out on the playground touching myself, after all. And that my mother would have a long talk with the au pair about keeping my private space just for me. I think she may have also told me to watch my noise level so as not to scare the lovely British woman into switching jobs, but I could be adding that detail in as an adult looking back.


Not Masturbating

Light of Iris by Georgia O'Keeffe via Wikipaintings

Light of Iris by Georgia O’Keeffe via Wikipaintings

When my two best friends informed me that orgasms were not, in fact, random moments of pleasure here and there during a sexual experience, my head exploded. I was 16 at the time and when prompted, I’d told my partner I probably had 5 or 6 orgasms per sexual encounter, and although he seemed quizzical and certainly mine were not so definitive as his, he wasn’t a female anatomy expert so he kinda went with it. But what my friends described to me wasn’t what I’d felt, not at all. “When you have one, you KNOW,” they told me. What I’d felt was getting wet and having fun. But there were no big moments, no crescendos, no rush of pleasure, nothing more intense than the general sensation of being turned on. There was nothing KNOW-able.

Although we didn’t talk about it then, we have talked about it since, and of course both of those girls had been masturbating for years before ever having sex. Me, meanwhile? Nope. Not once. Nada. Never. I was too grossed out and confused by my own body to consider pleasuring it in the absence of a partner. What turned me on was being wanted, not wanting.

I grew up in an extremely liberal, sex-positive environment. I had accurate and helpful sex ed, I was well-versed in birth control, and I was told that sexual feelings and bisexuality weren’t abnormal. My parents were comfortable with nudity and sex on television. But despite all that, nobody had ever told me about the clitoris!

At 18, a friend talked me into buying my first vibrator. I stuck it inside me and laid there for about 30 seconds before getting bored. Everybody I dated found my inability to orgasm annoying, to be sure, but I was still young, and usually so were they (which means, for teenage boys at least, it was almost a relief for them to not have to stress about how quickly they “finished”), and I compensated by attempting to be everything else a man could ever want in bed, hoping my skills and willingness would distract them (and it worked!). During dry spells of no sexual partners — nine months, I think, was the longest after becoming sexually active — I never felt an urge to masturbate or get off, I never had sexual fantasies or explicit dreams about men or women.

The summer I was 19, my roommate went home most weekends and one of those nights I went to a sex store and bought a thing called a butterfly, a thing which apparently did not go inside you, but outside you. I went home and cranked it up and about 40 minutes later, I thought I’d felt something exciting and my clit was completely numb. OH MY LORD SO THIS IS WHAT EVERYBODY IS TALKING ABOUT. I kept on experimenting with this machine throughout the summer, whenever she was gone, and although I found it often took up to two hours and 18 batteries to feel “that thing,” I felt like I was finally getting somewhere! On New Year’s Day, when I was 20, my boyfriend was able to get me off with his hand, the first time that had ever happened with a partner. Still, he only succeeded 10 or 15 additional times before we broke up a year later, but by then I’d learned how to fake it.

Masturbation remained a head trip throughout my early 20s and my practice of employing really intense sex toys meant i’d often tense up before I could get off, or tense up mid-getting-off, and I’m not even sure that I had complete orgasms that way, ever. But I was a slut nonetheless. I liked sex. I liked being sexual. But even now, I have a hard time surrendering to pure pleasure for myself.

Then I started sleeping with women, most of whom told me stories about masturbating from a really young age. I realized that if I wanted to be a good partner to women (and compensate for my non-orgasmic inadequacies), I could probably start by learning something about my own body!  Lots of my female partners didn’t like the intense pressure I’d become accustomed to, it was easier to get them off through a lot of teasing and light pressure. So, at 24, when my vibrator was out of batteries, I actually touched myself with my own hand for the first time! It was awesome and continues to be.

But now… I feel about five years old in masturbation-years.


“Well, fuck.”

Canna Red and Orange, by Georgia O'Keeffe

Canna Red and Orange, by Georgia O’Keeffe

I started masturbating when I was thirteen. I was also in Catholic school when I was thirteen, where we learned within the same paragraph of our religion textbooks that homosexuality and masturbation were huge no-no sins. I reread that page a few times and thought to myself, “Well, fuck.” Even though thirteen was my year of wearing Converse sneakers with my uniform as a rebellious measure, it was really hard to shake the thought of what I was doing as a sin. I continued to feel guilty even though I simultaneously felt like a badass for doing something that I was explicitly told was not allowed. At the same time, I remember the distinct feeling of superiority to my male classmates when I found out most of them were sexually active. I literally thought to myself, “I know how to give an orgasm better than you can, and I probably get off better than you do.” I carried this thought as a silent point of pride in my war against boys who dated girls that I liked in an intense adolescent way. Ugh, I was so gay that it hurts.

A really fun fact about me is that my masturbation routines are very, very cerebral. I have never used porn to get off. That’s not to say I’m against it or don’t think it’s a cool thing we should get behind, but it’s never been my thing. I also don’t use sex toys. Again, not a moral thing or a weirded out thing, just a thing. I’ve never even owned a vibrator, shit you not! My masturbation practices echo my sex life in that I get off on getting other people off with nothing but my own skin, so I’m getting myself off fantasizing about that lady getting off and using my own hand to do it. I used to feel really awkward and strange because I didn’t use porn or vibrators or any other form of artificial assistance to get off. As a result, I didn’t really talk to my queer friends about masturbation because I felt like they would either think I was weird, or think I was a prude because I didn’t own a million vibrators or nipple clamps or something. I just really get off on thinking about doing stuff to other people, and not really doing stuff to me! I’m weird! JK, I’m not weird, and whatever you do for you is not weird either because it’s totally awesome.


The Book, the Back Massager and the Best Friend

By Georgia O'Keeffe

By Georgia O’Keeffe

I was 12. It was almost summer and I’d been wandering around the public library after school when I found The Book. The [sex] Book. (It wasn’t titled that, it’s just what I called it.) I flipped through it, freaked out, and then wondered if I had the guts to actually check out The Book. After vacillating in the farthest corner of the library for what felt like forever, I decided yes. Yes I did have the guts.

I defiantly hoisted the stack of eight or so books onto the counter: a couple of Babysitter’s Clubs, some American Girls, a cookbook, a thing on bikes, and oh um this book on the female reproductive system and sexuality no big deal. BAM. I stared down the librarian and silently dared her to give me a weird look or say something about The Book. I was fully prepared to let her know that she could call my mother if she wanted to, that my mother was 100% aware of my interests and would support me checking out this book and, not to mention, it was my constitutional right as a citizen of this county to check out any book in this library! Something about taxes and freedom!

She never made eye contact.

I read The Book for weeks — in my room, in my yard, in the porch swing, in the bathroom. My favorite section was on masturbation, obviously. It was complete with a super clear diagram and helpful tips to get you started. “It may not feel good at first,” it said. “Massage the clitoris in a soft, circular motion. You can even massage the skin around it.” For whatever reason, that was the most intriguing: “the skin around it.” As if my mind hadn’t been fully blown with news of a clitoris (whatever that was) between my legs, I could also do stuff with the skin around it?? I was totally used to that skin; I’d been looking at that skin for years. This made me feel a lot calmer about the whole thing. The Book also said that masturbation was totally normal and that I shouldn’t be worried about wanting to do it. Thanks, Book!

My mom had a back massager — an actual back massager though, I’m serious — and it was around this time that I’d been instructed to use it on the low setting on my thigh, because of an annoying muscle injury that was likely all in my head. Thighs, you’ll notice, are right there beside your vagine. I thought, “the skin around it” and nonchalantly slid the massager over to my clit, then promptly pulled it away again because it was a lot like what I imagined electrocution would feel like. This went on for a few more minutes until I eventually had my first orgasm, right there in my bedroom floor in broad daylight.

Obviously I had to tell Lisa.

Lisa was my best friend and when she came over I explained that she had to try this thing I’d sorta accidentally figured out. I wasn’t exactly sure if what I’d done counted as masturbating or if I’d broken some rule because I’d used the massager. The Book hadn’t mentioned a massager.

“What is it?”
“I think it’s like sex? I don’t really know.”
“What do you do?”
“You put this here and hold it there until you feel like you’re going to pee on yourself, but you won’t.”
“…ok…”
“I’m serious, you won’t pee on yourself.”
“Alright.”
“Lisa, I really think this is what sex feels like. I mean, if this is what sex feels like, I can’t wait. I cannot wait.”

She did as instructed.

“Ok oh my god I’m going to pee on myself!”
“You’re not going to pee on yourself just wait!”
“…..
…….. oh… my god.”
“RIGHT??”
“Oh my god.”
“Told you so. Ok my turn.”

The rest of the summer was one giant sleepover, and when we weren’t comparing boobs or asking for second opinions — “Is this a pubic hair?” — or imagining out loud what it would be like to have our periods, we were humping pillows and secretly being the reason my mom’s back massager went missing for days at a time.


I Believe In Pool Noodles

by Georgia O'Keeffe

by Georgia O’Keeffe

I started masturbating at age 4. I had no idea that there was a name for what I was doing, but I would rub up against any surface I could find and I knew it felt really, really good. Some of my favorite surfaces included chairs, tables corners, the edge of my bed, pillows, rugs, and pool noodles. Basically wherever I was at any moment of my tiny four year old existence, I could be getting myself off. The world was my oyster.

I sound cavalier about this, and I guess it’s because I am. I’ve noticed this weird trend in the world where people and the media often try to paint kids as virginal, complete unsexual, blank creatures, and that is just not my experience with childhood at all. I 1000000% do not believe that children should be the victims of unwanted sexual attention, OBVIOUSLY, but I think to pretend that children are asexual or have no sexual compulsions is to paint over the truth to create a fake world that makes adults more comfortable. I know that not all children have sexual urges — a very close friend swears she had absolutely no sexual desires until she was 15, and I believe her — but my own childhood was very tied up in masturbation and making myself feel good and I do not think that is wrong or bad or that there was or is anything wrong with me. I think I was just a horny little kid who didn’t know any better, and I’m okay with that.

So, let’s walk down memory lane! My favorite way to do what I did (which I did not know was called “masturbating” until I read Judy Blume’s Deenie and was like OMG EVERYONE DOES THIS WILD AND CRAZY THING WHY AREN’T WE ALL DOING IT RIGHT NOW I DON’T GET IT) was definitely in the pool. Oh, those noodles you thought were completely harmless and just existed to hold you up so you could float on your tummy with your head out the water? Well, if you were a certain kind of adventurous kid, you know that you could turn those noodles into “horses” — (auto)straddle them and “ride” them all around the deep end! Yeehaw! And if you went the extra mile, guess what else you could do as you rode your, ahem, horse? Yes, it’s true…during many innocent playdates, I was totally rubbing myself against a pool noodle, feeling reallyyyyy good about pool time. I don’t know what to tell you. Childhood! So innocent.

For real though, I guess the weirdest thing about masturbating as a kid is that I did it in public and I didn’t think/know it was a problem. This is interesting because we’ve spoken a bit in the past about how appropriate or inappropriate it is to force someone to be in the presence of your sexual activity, and the general consensus seems to be that one should not force someone else to be a voyeur in their sexytimes, and yet, as a kid, I wasn’t purposefully trying to do anything bad, nor did I know that what I was doing could be construed as bad at all. I just didn’t have any impulse control, and I’d found this thing that made me feel good, and I wanted to feel good all the time. So. I no longer masturbate in public, FYI, and I no longer use those pool noodles as horses when I go swimming. I believe this is called “growing up” and also “no longer wanting your mom to find you frantically rubbing yourself against the bathroom counter while your friend is playing Barbies in your bedroom and wondering why it’s taking you so long to pee.”

As for the present, old habits do die hard. I still prefer to rub up against things when masturbating, rather than insert anything inside me, though I enjoy a variety of different methods when actually having sex with a partner. I sometimes wonder if I taught my body to orgasm in a very specific way as a child, and if I’d have an easier time orgasming via penetration if I hadn’t masturbated the same way for so long (literally a couple of decades and then some at this point) but I don’t worry about it too much because sex is fun whether you orgasm or not (for me) and I like masturbating the way I do and I am very sex-positive and no-one ever made me feel ashamed for masturbating or like I was doing anything bad or dirty or wrong and I believe that is part of what made me such an open, sexual, comfortable being today, and for that I am thankful.

I believe strongly in masturbation. I believe in the radical possibilities of pleasure, babe. I believe in pool noodles.

Staff Writer for Autostraddle, Part-time Faculty at The New School (teaching digital storytelling), Managing Editor for Scholar & Feminist Online at Barnard Center for Research On Women. Follow me on Twitter @AEOsworth or on Instagram, also @AEOsworth.

A.E. has written 542 articles for us.