Childhood masturbation and the origins of sexual shame

The very first time I had sex, something unusual happened. I came. They say that the fumblings of two 16-year-old virgins do not always result in female orgasm. It happened for me, I think, because I already knew my body.

so many orgasms – you will never catch up to me

In fact, I can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t know what it felt like to have an orgasm. Maybe I was one of those randy fetuses who started masturbating in the womb (nothing else to do, after all), or perhaps I discovered it as a toddler. I’m not sure, but I do know that for as long as I can remember, I’ve been getting myself off.

I didn’t do it openly – I was always aware that it was a private activity, and in my innocence, I thought that my parents didn’t know. Looking back on it now with the eyes of an adult, I think they must have noticed at some point – sudden flashes of movement when they opened my bedroom door, the way I hung around jets of water in Queensland pools, that kind of thing… (LOL) If they did notice, though, they never said a word to me about it.

Interestingly, mum has since told me that she too was a childhood masturbator, and that her own mother mocked and punished her for it. Apparently the whole family knew about it, and one of my aunts, my mother’s younger sister, used to threaten to tell on her whenever they had fights. This wounded my (slightly mad) mother deeply, and today she has even bigger mother issues than I do. In contrast, if my parents were aware of my penchant for self-pleasure, they tried to spare me this kind of embarrassment by saying nothing. Actually, they were so liberal that they had told me the facts of life before I could find them embarrassing, and never once suggested that sex was bad or even unusual.

cosmic punishment

And yet, I was embarrassed. Not just embarrassed – I was deeply ashamed. I was terrified of being found out and I tried over and over – actually, for the duration of my childhood was always trying – to give it up. I was scared that I would be punished, not by any person, but cosmically.

The shame and fear was so powerful that it overrode knowledge, logic, and contrary messages. At some point I came to know that in the bad old days, young boys had been told they’d go blind if they masturbated. Even though I learnt this in a ‘and nowadays we know that’s ridiculous context, I still worried that perhaps I would go blind, or otherwise fall ill. Like many women, I have somewhat uneven inner labia*, and I was utterly convinced, right up until my late teens, that I had caused this to happen – that I had broken my pussy! – by masturbating.

As I got older I heard more and more often that masturbation was normal and harmless, but my shame was impervious to this. I was probably about 12 or so when I read the Judy Blume novel Deenie, whose female teen protagonist touched herself in a ‘special place’. Obviously, I knew precisely what this special place might be, but I was so confronted by the non-judgmental portrayal of masturbation that I actually convinced myself that Deenie was just touching a special place on her wrist. Her wrist! That’s ridiculous!

from whence my shame

Even though I was raised by atheists, I think religion did its little bit. When I was very young I knew that my parents didn’t believe in God, but that other people did. I’d picked up, here and there, the gist of Christianity with its all-seeing God. I distinctly remember laying in bed at night, worrying that if God did exist, he’d be able to see me all the time, even when I was doing that.

I had stopped worrying about a possible God by adolescence, which is about when friends kicked in. If masturbation ever came up in conversation – which didn’t happen that often – it was as a mocking reference to something gross and embarrassing that none of us did. Even at 16 and 17, when many of my friends were having sex, masturbation remained taboo, and while rationality was beginning to creep in, I was still deeply embarrassed.

A god I didn’t even believe in and a few off-handed remarks – it doesn’t seem like enough to create all that fear and shame, and then to sustain it for so long in the face of a liberal parental influence, Judy Blume, and a not-too-crappy sex education. I find the whole thing quite puzzling.

happy ending

Obviously I’m over it now. BOY AM I LIBERATED. AM I EVER HA HA!!!

* I was also very distressed about the appearance of my labia for my entire childhood and well into my adulthood. Again, I don’t have much idea where my concern came from, although I can say with certainty – not porn. It started long, long before I had ever seen or even given any thought to porn. Seeing other women’s pussies in porn has actually, I think, made me much more comfortable with my own. Which is not at all to say that it mightn’t have a different or even opposite effect on other women.)

15 Comments

Filed under Introspection

15 responses to “Childhood masturbation and the origins of sexual shame

  1. Les

    I just read your old post on the lives and voices of highly sexual women and started looking at the rest of your blog. This is the first time I’ve heard another woman talking about sex in a way that actually sounds familiar. I’ve had other hypersexual female friends, but usually the best sex conversations I have are with men, which is still fun but not quite the same. So this is probably going to end up being a dual response (and quasi-confessional).

    I was raised by atheists too, but a lot of that puritanical embarrassment still colored my perceptions of sex. I also can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t know how to orgasm. My parents caught me when I was in kindergarten and told me not to do it around other people but didn’t explain why or what it was. I ended up being ashamed to talk about sex or do anything with other people, but privately I pretty much embraced every part of it.

    I never had any sex ed (wasn’t even sure if the word “masturbate” applied to what women did until my late teens), and I remember being really confused when women would talk about orgasms like they were unicorns or say that they weren’t sure if they’d ever even had one (then I became sexually active and understood the second one – and also the meaning of the seemingly oxymoronic “bad sex”). All of these discussions about “teaching” women to have orgasms actually made me start wondering if I was really having them, since I seemed to climax so easily while everyone else made it sound so labor-intensive. I still feel a little weird when I read masturbation stats, like the average woman doing it only a couple of times a month or taking 15 to 20 minutes to orgasm even when she’s on her own (I take about a fourth of that time). Or the implication that you’re supposed to masturbate less when you have a partner. My sex drive is through the roof when I’m with someone, and I’m definitely not waiting days just to do it with them.

    I’ve only come across one other childhood masturbator, and she told me that she didn’t actually orgasm when she did it. Even though intellectually I know there are plenty of us, it’s always a personal relief to actually find one. All of these sex-positive, find-your-clitoris, love-your-vulva dialogues are really great, but sometimes they feel very marginalizing (and a little patronizing for the women they’re directed at). I can’t sit through the Vagina Monologues because it’s so focused on “learning” or “acquiring” or “recovering” your sexuality. I’ve already got mine, but somehow that seems to signify an abnormality or doesn’t earn me a place in the discussion of female sexuality. It really does make you feel invisible. And sometimes I even feel like I’m “wrong” for getting it right.

    • anniceris

      Wow, Les, thank you so so much for leaving this comment.
      “This is the first time I’ve heard another woman talking about sex in a way that actually sounds familiar.”
      Similarly, almost every single thing I read about female sexuality ESCEPT YOUR ACTUAL COMMENT LOL feels foreign to me, and I sometimes feel like what I have is a gay male sexuality transplanted into a female body. I’ve had quite a few comments/emails etc. from men since I started writing this blog but v. little from women, and since I have this weird persistent urge to identify with other women, reading your comment is really wonderful.
      “All of these sex-positive, find-your-clitoris, love-your-vulva dialogues are really great, but sometimes they feel very marginalizing (and a little patronizing for the women they’re directed at).”
      Absolutely. I think they are wonderful because they clearly do reflect the experience/interests/needs of a majority of women and it would be ridiculous of me to want the discussion to focus on people like you and me when we’re apparently a small minority. Nonethless, I still also feel patronised, *bored* and marginalised by those discussions. Just the other day I was readng the agenda for a workshop/discussion-based ‘Sex Camp’ in my area and you know, it has on the agenda a “genital show and tell” for women only, and while I honestly am all for that existing in the world, to me it’s like: I have zero interest in anything like that – I already know, enjoy, and feel absolutely secure and confident in my own pussy! But nobody, even in the sex-positive community, seems to expect or want you to feel that way.
      If you have or ever start your own blog on this stuff then please let me know as I would love to read it!

      • Les

        Thank you for giving me a place to leave it. :) I actually started thinking about making a blog right after that comment because I read through some other sex/orientation blogs that just added to the “Internet, y u no show people like me?!” feeling. I found a word that I thought reflected my way of thinking about sex (one of those epiphany moments where you feel like you finally found the hole you fit in) only to Google it and see nothing but negatively phrased definitions that painted it as a hindrance to sex, rather than just a different way of being attracted to people.

        In case you were curious, the word was “demisexual.” My interpretation (not based on the etymology) was that your desire is very dependent on knowledge of the person, because people’s personalities play a big role in how I see them and whether or not I’m attracted to them. Other people characterized it as a type of asexuality or something “requiring” an emotional connection, which just pissed me off because you wouldn’t say that your preference for brunettes is a “requirement” to have sex (or that you’re suddenly asexual because you’re in a room full of blondes). That characteristic just makes your desire considerably stronger. I can be attracted to a stranger, but I most likely won’t be comfortable (i.e. desirous) enough to do anything with them until I’ve got a feel for who they are, which has nothing to do with emotion. It doesn’t make my sex drive any lower. It just makes me selective in a different way. Maybe there are people who fit that exact definition and I was misidentifying with it, but it felt ridiculous to presume that someone isn’t a sexual person just because their attraction is based on non-sexual criteria.

        You mentioned one of the participants in that highly sexual women study referring to her sexuality as a blessing, and I totally relate to that. It’s so strange for me to read about what my sexuality is “supposed” to be like and know that I am pretty unapologetically happy with what it actually is.

  2. anniceris

    Yes, I feel it’s a blessing too, actually, and wouldn’t *personally* want to be any other way….
    At least if I’m understanding you right, though, we are pretty different in terms of what attracts us sexually because I am perfectly happy with physical attraction alone when the circumstances call for it! Hehehe! But I certainly agree that the way in which one is attracted to other people is a totally separate matter from sex drive…. One of my biggest analytical peeves is the way things often get grouped together and seen as one phenomena when they’re actually multiple separate things (e.g. sexual orientation and gender identity)

  3. LOL – fully sympathise with the notion of patronising sex-ed type workshops, especially when they try to commercialise the supposed “revival” of sexuality for adults. Heck – you either have it or not, there is no way of forcing it. I know, I have been trying with my wife for years :-) Sexy is not a look, it’s an attitude !

  4. Childhood masturbation: I started trying to ‘hump’ (read genital contact no penetration) my female friend when I was 3, my male friend when I was 6 and no I was NOT sexually molested (at least not as a child or in my teens but thats another story) and yes they both happily did it with me. I performed cunnilingus for the first time when I was 5 and she was 8 though I didn’t perform felatio till I was 14 or 15. I lost my virginity when I was 14. Okay enough of the facts. I started masturbating regularly around 8 years old while reading penthouse forum. I remember clutching my hard life size baby doll’s foot against my vulva and feeling such an intense sexual rush- though not an orgasm and blurting out out-loud “I can’t wait till I grow up so I can have a ‘real’ man (instead of a doll- nothing to do with a male who cries or doesn’t cry or anything like that)” and instantly feeling shame. I questioned the guilt and looked at my doll and thought “well the only thing I did wrong was not ask her (jesse the doll) first” then I cried and apologized to her. Ridiculous that I would hold on to that guilt. For years I continued to masturbate to stories in penthouse- generally always grabbing one out from under my mattress as soon as I heard my step-moms familiar giggle that meant her and my dad were getting it on, because I knew the noises would turn me on and I didn’t want it to be connected to my own family members. As soon as I had a long term boyfriend I sorta gave it up and it took me WAY too many years to start again and finally bring myself to orgasm. Something that really turns me on is the idea of mutual masturbation- of sitting across from someone while both of us masturbate- male or female. A fantasy I can barely wait to come true but most people I meet seem to still be self-conscious of masturbation. Why are we so free to afflict pain on ourselves and eachother and not pleasure?

  5. Anonymous

    I thought I invented masturbation at 14. I had a religious family that taught me nothing. When I orgasmed and stuff came out everywhere I was terrified. I promised myself to never do it again. I tortured myself because I thought what I was doing was wrong. Glad I’m an atheist now.

    • Nev Erworry

      Anon – my story was the same except my family told me all about sex – how bad it was and I should not even think about it (which made me think about it more). I’m a closet hedonist now ;-)

  6. jtgw

    I’m surprised to hear about feelings of guilt over masturbation as a child whenever you were never taught explicitly that it was wrong. To me that suggests an innate component to sexual shame, contrary to my suspicions that shame had to be learned and was essentially a cultural construct with no biological underpinnings. Rather than shame having to be learned, and lack of shame being innate, it seems that shame is innate, while lack of shame is learned. It’s an interesting topic, though, and it will be exciting to see what comes out of research into childhood sexuality on this matter.

    • anniceris

      Hmm. You know, the explanation that such shame is innate certainly crossed my mind, but I doubt it. Or at least, I’d need a lot more evidence than my own single experience. Someone suggested – and it’s another possibility that had occurred to me – that it might happen simply because we notice that nobody does this publicly, and the fact that it’s private and no-one even mentions it to you (when you’re very young), creates the impression that it’s embarrassing. But I don’t know!

      • SomeGuy

        As a child, you do it because you enjoy it. And, if something is so enjoyable, why does nobody talk about it? This is a much more extreme indicator to children that an act is “dirty” or “shameful” or even “abnormal” than you seem to think. Frankly, I’d be very interested in finding out what kind of people didn’t find these acts utterly shameful as children.

  7. Pingback: An illustrated update | ultra-hedonist

  8. Sami

    that is like my story exactly but now I have found out that I can’t organism during sex… why? if makes me deeply sad.

    • Lots of people, especially women, can’t or only rarely come from intercourse alone, so at least know that it’s nothing unusual or abnormal. If it’s bothering you, maybe you could try working toys or even the way you normally masturbate *into* the sex your having?

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