The results of the 2014 Pipe Dream sex survey surprised us. No, we’re not talking about the numerous students who reported an interest in pterodactyl porn. The survey, which was taken by over 800 students, revealed that 42 percent of men and 40 percent of women masturbate two to four times a week. These numbers reflect a reality far from typical conversations among our peers. Instead, many young women stay silent on the topic or outwardly deny their masturbatory behavior altogether.
It’s expected that college-aged men are in a constant state of sexual arousal and act accordingly. Male masturbation feels so widely accepted that the crusty sock at the bottom of the hamper has become cliché. Conversely, our female friends shy away from the topic except in the most intimate of social settings. Most media portrayals of female masturbation are taboo or intended for male amusement. The way that popular culture frames this discussion, masturbation is only the domain of males — women should not even think about it.
Yet these notions are at odds with our data. Clearly, both men and women masturbate at least somewhat regularly, and have no problem admitting it in an anonymous survey. If both sexes enjoy masturbation, it should follow that both sexes talk openly about it without fear or embarrassment. But the numbers drop drastically for females when anonymity is removed. This discrepancy between anonymous responses and the social attitude toward female masturbation is puzzling.
We think this incongruence stems from a broader problem of how we accept sexual expression. We’ve all heard and seen that a man who hooks up with girls regularly has bragging rights, while a woman engaging in those same practices is a slut. Whether it concerns sex or masturbation, we view men and women’s sexual expressions differently. With sex, men are the actors; women are the passive vessels. They are the object of the sexual act. Being merely recipients, women are precluded from speaking about their sexual experiences. It seems unearned. Men, however, can brag about their conquests, and this transfers into masturbatory practices. Sex is for men — women’s pleasure is only secondary. Since they’re not participating for their own pleasure, but simply to service men, female masturbation doesn’t make sense.
The consequences of this taboo treatment of women’s sexuality extend to relationships. If women are not permitted to take ownership of their sexuality, then women are unable to express their desires to their partner; it is assumed she doesn’t have any. In a 2012 survey conducted in part by Binghamton University faculty, in their last relationship, 85 percent of men and 68 percent of women reached orgasm. We have many female friends who would confess to never having reached climax in college hook-ups.
We need to be more public about our privates. While men have a million terms for masturbation, it says something that women only have, well, “flicking the bean.” And if you’re not going to change your ways to fight gender norms, do it for the orgasms.