We Need To Change The Way We Talk About Masturbation

Photographed by Savanna Ruedy
The following is an extract from The Big O: An Empowering Guide to Loving, Dating and F*cking by Oloni (HarperNonFiction, £20)
I used to work in a sex store, so I saw different people come in and out daily – no pun intended! I remember speaking to a lady who was probably in her twenties and had popped in with her friend. I asked if they needed any help.
‘I don’t need sex toys, I’ve got a man,’ she told me.
I had the most perplexed look on my face, because this woman thought that a toy was a replacement for her boyfriend. It isn’t. But it gave me an insight into how some people saw sex toys. Why was she defensive over a bit of plastic?
I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard men say, ‘My girl doesn’t need that, she’s got me’ – giving off strong vibes of jealousy and insecurity. I’ve also heard guys say, ‘If she has a toy, she won’t want to have sex with me.’
There’s this misconception that people who masturbate have no one to enjoy physical intimacy with, but sexual pleasure isn’t just about being with another person; it can also be about being at one with yourself – no different to enjoying a movie on your own as well as wanting to enjoy one together with your partner.
Part of the issue, I think, stems from misunderstanding what penises represent in sex. Men have been told all their lives that their dick is all that is needed to make cishet women climax. They ran with this assumption so hard that some still find it unfathomable that we’d need extra assistance, therefore making it about their masculinity. They have run with it so hard that people do not understand the concept of sex that isn’t centred around dicks. If we want to experience better sex, better orgasms, better foreplay, then we need to understand what else sex can consist of and change the script we’ve adopted, because it’s clearly not working for many of us. Masturbation can be a wonderful addition to your life, either as a single person OR if you’re in a couple. It’s not something you have ‘instead’ of partnered sex; it’s its own separate activity and can be enjoyed alongside the sex you have with other people.
Today when I see people talk about masturbation it’s categorised with wellbeing, alongside exercising, meditating and eating well. They’re not wrong either. Masturbation has been shown to have significant health benefits, including my personal favourite, which is better sleep. Oh, how I enjoy a wank just before bed! Orgasm also releases feel-good hormones such as oxytocin, prolactin, dopamine and serotonin, which help reduce stress – one reason why I rush to bring out my favourite suction toy when I’m under a lot of pressure. Other benefits have been said to include reducing period cramps (and other kinds of pain), boosting concentration and lifting mood.
I look for any reason to masturbate whenever I feel like it, because it makes me feel happy after that dopamine kicks in. I feel alive and it also challenges me to look for new ways to enjoy sex with myself. Sometimes I use ethical porn to help when enjoying self-pleasure as the visuals help stimulate me; other times I use audio erotica, but most times I enjoy just closing my eyes and fantasising about some of my most pleasurable sexual experiences or intimate moments that I’d love to tick off my bucket list.
Photo Courtesy of Oloni
If I’m honest, though, sometimes I get tired of seeing articles listing the ‘101 health benefits of masturbating’. I feel like it can be overdone to the point where we almost feel like we need to use health benefits to justify masturbation instead of championing it for what it is: a pleasure activity. But I think, again, this is linked to stigma. By focusing on the health benefits, we can avoid accusations of being perverted or abnormal. There’s a reason why brands advertise their sex toys and lube as ‘wellness’ products – because it’s more socially acceptable to pay attention to your health and wellbeing than to your sexuality.
I understand all of that, but it shouldn’t be something we constantly need to defend. When you or your friend get a new haircut or hairstyle we know it’s done because you like it and it makes you feel good! We don’t have endless conversations about the health benefits or what a new hairstyle can do for your wellbeing. Instead, we might talk about the latest hairstyle trends. Perhaps we should do that more: talk about the latest masturbation trends!
I mean, I understand why it’s done, but we shouldn’t be wasting our energy trying to convince people who have absolutely no desire to understand something that is very natural. Enjoy what makes you feel good. The fact that it also comes with a raft of wonderful health benefits is just a bonus if you ask me!

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