Masturbation: Breaking The Gender Bias


By Rachele Di Francesco, Doctor in Psychology & Sex Counselor

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May is one of the most liked months of the year. And it’s no wonder why. May is International Masturbation Month, which celebrates the “right to masturbate”, promoting it as a healthy and natural practice in hopes of breaking the stigma. If you are thinking that the thought that “masturbation is a dangerous topic to discuss” may be exaggerated, rethink about it once you acknowledge that this idea has cost people their careers. In 1994 Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders was fired by President Bill Clinton for suggesting that masturbation might be taught in sex education for young people. The outrage following this firing led to the creation of International Masturbation Month.


Officially, masturbation is defined as “the manipulation of one’s own genital organs, typically the penis or clitoris, for purposes of sexual gratification. The act is usually accompanied by sexual fantasies or erotic literature, pictures, or videos. Masturbation may also include the use of mechanical devices (e.g., a vibrator) or self-stimulation of other organs, such as the anus or nipples.” Definitions are important and needed, but so is being flexible and open-minded. A definition doesn’t include all the variables and characteristics that the practice of masturbation may assume for each individual.

So let’s stop and think about this for a second. Ask yourself: What does masturbation mean to me? And, is the meaning and relationship to masturbation the same for everyone regardless of their gender?


Gender aside, your external genitals, general health, your socio-cultural background, the family values you may have grown up with, your lifestyle, religious affiliation, and abilities are just a handful of the many factors that come into play when experiencing masturbation. These factors - and many more - have an impact on the way you perceive yourself, touch yourself, and with your relationship with sex and sexuality overall.

Regardless of your gender identity, the sex you’ve been assigned to at birth has created social expectations on your behavior and thoughts on your relationship with sex and sexuality. If you were raised as a boy, you have probably been taught that it’s normal to masturbate as long as it's done in the bathroom or in your bedroom. And that’s about it. Your family and peers may have made jokes about  the act of masturbation, but there’s usually no shame, no guilt, no mystery around it.

If you were raised as a girl, things may have been quite different: you may have found or will find yourself having your first sexual relations with a partner without knowing much about your own genitals, how they can be touched and what touch you like and dislike. What we are facing is a double stigma: not only with masturbation itself when it relates to one’s perceived gender identity, but also with women’s own relationship with sexuality and pleasure. Why should girls and women be raised to feel afraid and ashamed to explore self-pleasure?

A 2011 study done amongst college peers highlighted that gender has been found to be the most dividing factor in coming to terms with the contradiction of stigma and pleasure regarding masturbation. Most of the girls in the study were still struggling with the contradiction or accepting it as normal and healthy behavior, while the majority  of the boys recognized its beneficial aspects. All participants identified differential sexual scripts as contributing to the double standard. Due to traditional gendered sexuality scripts or gender role expectations, men are more likely to have permissive attitudes towards pleasure and sex and to freely live experience their sexuality, including the practice of masturbation.

I’ll give an example of something I recently came across in the media. In the first season of the Netflix series Bridgerton, there’s a scene in which the Duke is shocked once he finds out that Daphne, a grown woman, has never experienced or even knew about masturbation, he takes this opportunity to educate her. Saying,“When you’re alone, you can touch yourself; anywhere on your body, anywhere that gives you pleasure, but especially… between your legs. And when you find a feeling you particularly enjoy, you can carry on with that until the feeling grows and eventually you reach a pinnacle, a release.”

Understanding that Bridgerton is a fantasy TV series that takes place at the beginning of the 1800s, I couldn't help but reflect that how closely this might relate to some people's experience when it comes to masturbation in the modern day. How common is for both Millennials and Gen-Z vulva owners to not have the space to learn and talk about self-pleasure and how society often ignores the importance of masturbation as a girl or woman. Why does this gendered double standard exist even in the modern day?

This Masturbation Month - let's celebrate pleasure! I challenge you to fight the stigma. Have the #MasturbationConversation and talk about and embrace the importance of self-pleasure. No matter your age, gender identity, or sexual orientation. Masturbation is human, it is healthy… and it feels good.

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