Why It Took Me Until My 50s To Feel OK About Masturbation
I started masturbating when I was five.
Before I fell asleep, I would lie in bed on my stomach, my yellow cloth doll between my legs. I'd grind on the head of the doll, fantasizing about a giant ice cream cone (really), until a mysterious, magical feeling radiated up and out from my core, warming my entire body.
In my sepia-toned memories, I recall masturbating every night, but I don't know if that was the case. I do know, however, that at five, I already felt shame about my nocturnal ritual. I remember freezing on top of my doll, feigning sleep when my mother peeked in through the door. I grew up in a religious household and was told I shouldn't touch myself. Not that I shouldn't touch myself in public. But that I shouldn't touch myself, period.
The doll -- whose name was Daffodil -- developed a head perpetually squashed and frayed from my nightly ministrations. When the seams would split open, and her face would hang loose, my mother would stitch her up. This went on for years, with my mother laughing about how much I loved Daffodil because I squeezed her stuffing out, and me, blinking innocently.
Daffodil and I continued our evening rendezvous until I left for college, at which point I swapped her out for T-shirts and sheets.
I'd heard about vibrators, but never imagined getting one. It seemed that they were intended for tawdry women, and besides, I'd have to go into a sex shop -- a sex shop!! --to get one.
Eventually, I did. When I was in my late 20s, a friend dragged me to The Pleasure Chest. She was stunned that I'd never used a vibrator and took it upon herself to remedy the situation. I assiduously avoided eye contact with everyone in the store, gazing uneasily up at walls of latex suits, chains and floggers. Finally, I found myself in an aisle lined with vibrators and dildos in various sizes, shapes and colors. To my deep chagrin, my friend chatted up the salesperson, explaining -- loudly -- that I was getting my very first vibrator ever, and we needed to know which one did what.
I left with a large, flesh-colored vibrator. I used it immediately when I got home and was amazed by the intensity of my orgasm. It was almost like losing my virginity. I discovered a new position (on my back) for masturbating, and a new way of touching myself. I discovered what it was like to penetrate myself, as a lover would do. My years of self-pleasuring with Daffodil and T-shirts paled in comparison to five minutes with a vibrator.
I became so fond of my battery-operated phallus that I found myself passing it around the table after one too many Mimosas during a girl's brunch at my home, where it was handled with equal parts bemusement and reverence.
Unlike my friend, who often used her vibrator with her husband, I never dreamed of introducing mine to my partner. Because my ex-husband and I were never able to communicate about our sexual desires, we remained methodically vanilla in bed. The raw, primitive side of my sexuality only emerged in private, when I removed my vibrator from the back of my lingerie drawer. I have no idea if my ex ever discovered my secret. Together for almost twenty years, we remained barely more than strangers.
Only after I left my marriage was I able to fully explore my sexuality. And so I found myself a few months later in yet another sex shop -- this time with a new lover. My beloved phallus had stopped working, so the man I was dating took me to find a replacement. I left with a sleek, ridged, purple wand and showed him how I used it that night. That relationship is long over, but the purple wand is not. I keep it in a red and black brocade box, along with an assortment of lube, on the top shelf in my closet.
Now I can't fathom why any woman wouldn't have at least one vibrator. And while I've used one with lovers, I prefer using mine by myself. I love luxuriating in my private ritual, the same one that began almost five decades ago in my childhood bed. My sexuality has evolved through masturbation. I no longer feel shame when I lie back on my pillows for an electronic interlude. I no longer feel that I'm betraying my mother when I touch myself. I know now, at 52, that masturbation shouldn't be a guilty pleasure, but rather a regular part of self-care.
My journey through masturbation has taught me to take care of my own needs. It's allowed me to celebrate my exodus from repression. And it's enabled me to understand and claim my sexuality, in all its fierce, raw, and sensual wonder.
Photography by Nick Holmes
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