#LetsTalkAboutIt: Klittra and The Conversation Around Female Masturbation

#LetsTalkAboutIt: Klittra and The Conversation Around Female Masturbation

In preparation for this piece, I thought I’d watch that episode of Sex and the City where Charlotte becomes addicted to her vibrator. She was unconvinced at first, claiming that it wouldn’t “call you on your birthday or send you flowers the next day”, but soon she had to have it confiscated by her friends as she was cancelling on plans just to stay home with her Rabbit. With TV representations like Charlotte’s and everything from West End plays to magazines reviewing sex toys, masturbation isn’t quite the taboo it once was but are women really more open and comfortable with discussing it in this day and age?

We’ve all heard of “flicking the bean” and “polishing the pearl” (there are some really hilarious and bizarre euphemisms for it if you have a quick Google search), but it wasn’t quite so widely discussed by our foremothers. In the mid-19th century, a physician declared one in four women as suffers of hysteria. Diagnosed based on symptoms as broad as shortness of breath and muscle spasm to nervousness, the cause of it was thought to be the woman’s uterus wandering throughout the body. It sounds utterly ridiculous, especially now that we have come so far medically, but these beliefs were around for centuries before being proven wrong. A recognised cure for the condition was masturbation, particularly with the recently invented steam-powered vibrator. Doctors were thrilled with it now that they were relieved from the tiring process of making women reach “hysterical paroxysm”. The 2011 film Hysteria and the play In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play) by Sarah Ruhl have both examined the history of the vibrator and its inception in treating hysteria as well as highlighting the Victorian ignorance of female sexuality and desire.

It goes without saying that conversations about female masturbation began to emerge alongside the development of feminism. Following the release of her bestseller, Sex for One in 1973, Betty Dodson was hailed “the godmother of masturbation”. For Dodson, “masturbation is the foundation for all human sexuality.” Dodson ran wildly successful workshops for women teaching them about their genitalia and inviting the group to masturbate in a circle. Definitely not for the faint-hearted, they were certainly characteristic of the Sexual Revolution they were a part of. They have however, received a surge of interest from Girls generation women who may be too shy to attend a “bodysex” group session but have yet to experience orgasm.

With an Ann Summers on every high street, it seems odd that there are still women who can’t quite reach climax both alone and with a partner. Of course, a positive relationship with one’s body doesn’t apply to all women, particularly those who have experienced trauma or have suffered FGM. The concept of masturbation as a dirty or repulsive activity also has a damaging effect on the ways in which society treats female bodies and their sexuality. Writers such as Caitlin Moran have written extensively about how “girls are awakening their sexuality” and the introduction of an app called HappyPlayTime encourages education as well as the elimination of the stigma surrounding female masturbation. Just as Charlotte was charmed by the Rabbit’s pink colour and cutesy features, the app hopes to have a similar effect by targeting teenage girls with its twee graphics and game structure.

Aside from apps, workshops and discussion in the press, seeing women masturbate on TV and film is probably the most influential medium for breaking the taboo. Indeed, music plays a huge part in the expression of female pleasure and with recent release of Hailee Steinfeld’s single ‘Love Myself’, celebrating the positive effects of solo sex is as prevalent as it was when The Divinyls released ‘I Touch Myself’. Yet, depictions of characters intimately exploring their bodies confirm that it’s a normal thing to do regardless of circumstance. While most people are aware of American Pie and The Inbetweeners showing teenage male masturbation, female masturbation can range from Big Boo using a screwdriver in Orange is the New Black to Betty Draper sitting on a washing machine in Mad Men. A particular episode of Girls caused a furore for featuring Marnie masturbating in a public toilet cubicle, garnering reviews of its “shocking sex scene” and questions on how Allison Williams prepared for it. Co-creator of Lifetime’s UnREAL, which has a scene showing its protagonist getting familiar with a vibrator, Marti Nixon claims that the shock of seeing female masturbation on screen is largely due to male discomfort. “I think [female masturbation] makes men uncomfortable,” said Noxon. “I think there’s something really scary about the idea that [sex is] not always romantic for us, and that it’s not always about needing a man there to take care of our needs. I think it’s scary for guys to see that, and be confronted with this in-your-face idea of ‘yeah, we’ve got it.’”

So where exactly are we now with female masturbation? With statistics showing that 52% of British women admit to using sex toys (presumably for masturbation, although they could have been with a partner) and the growing number of on-screen portrayals, the conversation has never been more widespread. Swedes have found themselves talking about it so much that they’ve introduced the term ‘klittra’ (a cross between the Swedish for clitoris and glitter) and are now campaigning to have it accepted into the official dictionary. Instead of solely being covered in women’s magazines or a source of titillation in porn, wanking is finally being recognised as formative to developing a happy and healthy relationship with one’s body and sexuality. While centuries worth of women have been shamed about masturbation, it’s important that teenage girls are taught about female pleasure and encouraged to explore it for themselves rather than focusing on giving it to others. Especially when they’ve got their right hands and a couple of minutes to spare.

Written by,

Victoria Rodrigues

Sub- Culture Editor


Images none of our own/via SATC, Girls and HappyPlayTime.

Klittra #1

Klittra #2

Klittra #3

Betty Dodson in the 60s

Klittra #5