Life&Style Writer Lois Borny discusses attitudes towards female masturbation at university

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Images by Lois Borny

Other than typing ‘porn’ into YouTube on my family computer at age 11, I always saw it as a dangerously seductive zone not meant for my eyes. A force field also encircled my pelvis, the nether realm where I ought never to go. Any moments of curiosity when I was sure my parents were asleep resulted in a deep embarrassment that made my cheeks flush and my palms sweat. This only solidified the idea that I was a sexual anomaly amidst all other girls my age. Once or twice someone at school would ask ‘do you…?’ but the question was always dismissed by the shaking of heads in unison, faces aghast.

Once or twice someone at school would ask ‘do you…?’ but the question was always dismissed by the shaking of heads in unison, faces aghast

In my experience, female masturbation became more heavily loaded with age. Around the time when exchanging numbers at the school disco had turned into nudes being sent and drinking straight Glens at the weekly rich kid’s house party, it was still very hush-hush. For boys, an interest in their penis seemed to be a kind of comical inevitability, and touching it was a necessity that need not be questioned.

Like a mutually loved hobby, it was a source of jokes, bonding and outwardly expressed desire that just didn’t appear relevant to me. It seemed my own sexuality was only legitimate if a boy was involved, or if it was as some kind of spectacle – and if I were ever to talk about it, it was seen either as an invitation or as a statement about how rebellious and free-spirited I was.

‘Before you realise how programmed are you to be woman hating, if any other girl says they finger themselves you automatically think they’re trying to get attention, whereas a boy is seen as just being honest’  Molly says, when asked the about pre-university attitudes to female masturbation.

For girls it was seen as self-indulgent rather than natural instinct, a view which lingers at the back of my mind even now, despite knowing it is completely unfounded. When asked about their early orgasms, the general consensus among my female friends at university was that they used to keep it to themselves, and that the whole thing was generally a source of guilt. This sense of shame all seems so distant from sleepover masturbation and the soggy biscuit challenges of puberty described to me by my male friends.

Like somehow my flatmates could sense it, and that for them to know would be a terrible humiliation

For me, coming to university was like having a long conversation with a reassuring experienced friend. But she brought with her a confusing message: a lot of girls own vibrators, and they use them often. This was such a sudden change from the messages I had been given through school and sixth form, and I was confused as to why. Even in first year, under the shroud of 2 am when the clinking from the kitchen and the sound of footsteps in the corridor had finally stopped, I would still feel odd about doing it. Like somehow my flatmates could sense it, and that for them to know would be a terrible humiliation.

‘There’s a stark change in attitude towards girls masturbating at university compared to school. Suddenly, it’s completely acceptable for girls to own sex toys, speak freely about using them and even give each other tips’ my friend Isabel says, who tells me she never spoke about masturbation with friends before coming to university.

Of course, for many girls this wasn’t the case, and if it was, these feelings likely faded.

‘When I got to year 10 I became close with a girl who was really open about that kind of thing and she would tell me funny stories that had happened to her. It made me more open’ says Anna. ‘It definitely became more obvious to me as I grew up that it’s nothing to be ashamed of and it’s perfectly normal’ she adds.

‘I know that a lot of girls feel uncomfortable talking about masturbation and usually deny that they even do it, but that hasn’t been my experience because I was close to my friends at school and they were open minded about it like myself. At university masturbation was just so normal that it wasn’t an exciting thing to talk about anymore’ says Maddie.

The abrupt break in the silence on female masturbation upon coming to university seems unnecessary, and although it isn’t an experience shared by the entire female student demographic, the internalisation of these ideas amongst a lot of us is undeniable.