By Tanya Manglik
There’s nothing a slumber party and a game of “Never Have I Ever” can’t reveal. This is where stuff gets real, where nobody is afraid to talk about anything, and where I learnt that a majority of my friends either don’t know about masturbation or don’t do it out of fear. And I was shocked out of my wits. “So have you never been curious?” I asked, incredulous, and the answers are “Nope!” or “I’m scared,” or “I’ve heard bad things can happen if you do it.”
I imagine this stems from a culture where we’re not allowed to talk about our bodies, let alone explore them. In Indian households, sex-ed almost never comes from the parents, and mostly happens with us being approached by the ‘mature’ friend who knows everything, and stumbling across pictures on the internet. So while it was a surprise to me at first, I later realized that this would obviously be the case in households where talking about sexual activity is a strict no-no, and very few people would even think that there are ways to touch oneself.
I decided to look further into the issue, and why some people haven’t come across the prospect.
Vasundhara, 22, told me that she doesn’t know what masturbation is, and after I explained the concept to her, she said “I don’t know, I mean, wouldn’t it take your virginity away?” Another friend, Ankita, says she’s heard of masturbation but doesn’t want to do it because she’s been told it can turn someone into a lesbian. Shikha, 20, says she feels disgusted because of how it’ll feel and because of the pubic hair.
It’s not just single people who have preconceived notions about masturbation. Ishika, 23, feels that since she already has a boyfriend whom she is sexually active with, she doesn’t need to masturbate because it might hurt his feelings and it would mean she is dissatisfied. Sameer, 20, has been in a relationship for a year now, and says that he likes to ‘preserve’ himself for his girlfriend, so he doesn’t see why masturbation is necessary.
And this isn’t the case with just women. Dev, 21, tells me that he feels it’s a perverted act and is selfish. Aryan, 24, heard that masturbation reduces sperm count and increases infertility, and so it is an unhealthy process. Rohan, 22, doesn’t like masturbating because once he starts, he can’t stop, that it becomes a sort of routine and a hobby to take up if he’s bored, and a habit that’s difficult to break out of.
But there’s another angle to all of this. Sharanya from Bangalore, who was sexually assaulted when she was younger says, “While I was recovering from it, the sexual intimacy in my subsequent relationships took a toll. I couldn’t feel confident about myself anymore, I was insecure and I didn’t think I could have pleasure again. It was a sick feeling, because I felt like I wasn’t entitled to it, like I was…dirty. But all of my insecurities translated into masturbation. I slowly learnt to love my own body, and I could feel beautiful and confident again.” Sharanya’s story is an empowering one, and echoes the concerns of many people who suffer from self-esteem issues and the trauma of sexual assault.
The truth is, masturbation is just science, simply a biological process. Research shows that masturbation can have positive results. It can relieve stress and help one sleep better. Studies have shown that for women, it can help prevent infections, ease menstrual cramps, and even reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. The myth that men become less fertile is false too, because masturbation instead helps increase fertility, increases sex drive, and improves sexual intimacy in couples.
Even after so many scientific findings, a large taboo looms over the concept of masturbation. But it’s time we create a body-positive environment and stop looking at a masturbator as a sex-crazed, pornography-obsessed, devil-worshipping sinner. The bottom line is that it’s okay to love yourself. So go forth and indulge! Just make sure to lock the door so you aren’t interrupted.
Names have been changed on request.