Despite how taboo the idea of sex-related conversation is, somehow, the idea of masturbation manages to be just as taboo – if not worse. Masturbation, the act of sexual self-stimulation, has managed to be a word that results in strong feelings of embarrassment and guilt just by being mentioned. Though pop culture has been trying to address sex more and more in order to normalize the subject and encourage necessary conversation, not as much has done to normalize masturbation.

After all, as Britney Spears once sang in her song, I Wanna Go:

I’ve been told who I should do it with
To keep both my hands above the blanket
When the light’s out

While discussion about topics such as sex and periods has been referred to as necessary for parents to have with their daughters at some point in their lives, there has rarely been such an emphasis on masturbation. Because of the lack of discussion and attention paid to the topic of masturbation, many young women are thus led to believe that masturbation is something to be ashamed of. For some, the idea of masturbation is something even worse than the idea of sex.

With the many references to male masturbation in pop culture and across the internet- with the popular “your girlfriend is your hand” joke being one of the most common occurrences – the topic is something so ‘normal’ that most people might not even bat an eyelash when they see discussion of male masturbation disguised as jokes and memes. But the uncomfortable silence surrounding masturbation for women speaks volumes: people seem unwilling to approach the idea at all.

There are likely more than a couple of reasons for this, but one of the main ones revolves around women being autonomous and having control over their own bodies. People who argue against women masturbation – such as the folks who run the Chastity Project – often refer to sex as a ‘gift’ between a man and a woman, and to masturbation as something that degrades and pollutes this gift, taking away from how special it is. The problems with this idea- there are a few- are that firstly, it almost always refers to some sort of heteronormative relationship at the base of the argument against masturbation for women. Secondly, it amplifies this idea that sex is something that is only precious if it hasn’t been ‘tainted’ by masturbation when in reality, the act of masturbation doesn’t affect sex between partners. Finally, it claims that masturbation even after marriage will ruin the sanctity of the marriage, as sex with a partner won’t be as fulfilling as fantasies related to masturbation, and a woman will quickly become addicted to masturbation over sex with her partner. Also, this doesn’t even begin to cover other lifestyles- for example, women who choose not to get married.

While yes, there is such thing as an addiction to masturbation, addiction resources note that there is a significant difference between masturbating a healthy amount and an addiction, even noting benefits- such as relieving sexual urges and to reduce the risk of sexually transmitted diseases -of masturbation. In the case of an addiction, it is important to seek help. However, once again, there is a difference. And normal, controlled masturbation should not be treated the same as an addiction. A benefit of masturbation is that a woman might very well learn more about herself as far as what she might be seeking in a sexual partner, or she might learn more about what types of things arouse her. This is seen as something terrible because it makes it seem as though a woman will ‘destroy her marriage’ through masturbation, but in actuality, masturbation could lead to self-discovery and help a woman figure out exactly what she wants and how her current relationship caters- or doesn’t cater- to those needs.

Ultimately, all of these issues with masturbation seem to link back to how much others want to control what a woman does with her body. If a woman does seek self-stimulation, then she shouldn’t be degraded, humiliated, or looked down on because of this. She definitely shouldn’t be told she is ruining the sanctity of marriage and virginity, which are in and of themselves outdated concepts that continue to form the base beliefs for why masturbation is seen as wrong.

Sexual urges and the desire to relieve them come in all different forms; for some women, relieving sexual desires boils down to sex with a partner or multiple partners. However, this cannot be said for everyone; some women do want to indulge in self-stimulation, and these women should not be shamed for their decision. Masturbation has proven time and time again to be a topic usually swept under the rug in conversations about sex, and it is about time that it, like the famed ‘birds and bees’ talk, should also be discussed. Young women should be informed about the benefits of masturbation, and any preexisting notions about masturbation being something evil should be broken. Only if this happens can women seek the benefits of masturbation without being ashamed of seeking personal sexual satisfaction?