First of all, let me express my distaste at having to refer to masturbation as 'female masturbation'. It suggests from the offset that masturbation is a predominantly male activity, which, ahem, it's not. But when was the last time you heard someone use the phrase 'male masturbation'? Exactly. The banter and joviality with which 'having a wank' is normally associated is restricted by and large to male masturbation. Gender stereotyping sees the menfolk (particularly of the teenage variety) portrayed as furious and dependent masturbators, unable to go more than a day or two without polishing the silver, hitting the ham (!) or bashing the bishop (and yes, I had to Google those). And while it's not necessarily something to chat about over high tea at Fortnum & Mason, I'm quite convinced that most men will (sheepishly) admit they do it. The world knows men masturbate. It echoes loud and clear.
But what of the womenfolk? Well, that's where this story really begins. A few hours ago, while mooching about on Twitter, a friend of mine posted the following: "Bringing up female masturbation with the girl on your course you don't know that well is always slightly nerve wracking #truthsoflife." I smiled at first, because yes, discussing masturbation with a near stranger is one of those awkward things university seminars occasionally demand (...I definitely did the wrong course). But then I was annoyed, because why should 'female masturbation' be any more awkward than male masturbation? Male masturbation is waved aside flippantly because it's to be expected. You'd be surprised if a man told you he didn't masturbate (particularly if you're in the middle of a discussion on the Eurozone, the NHS or similar). We expect men to masturbate, so why isn't there that same freedom for women?
As a child of an all girls boarding school, sex was the bread and butter of our conversations. We would gather around our bunk beds in our dormitories, whispering and wondering about sex. And it was only a matter of time before the ultimate question of 'do you masturbate?' rolled around. Never one to be coy, I would nod sagely and proffer my sexual wisdom (age 14 and never been kissed) to my fellow students. Some girls would stare open mouthed, some would agree and some would dismiss it altogether, blushing furiously and saying adamantly that they never, ever masturbated. It was all very funny to see my prudish friends when we were kids, and I assumed that as we grew up, everyone's attitudes to sex would naturally change. I didn't think masturbation was taboo any more. I assumed it was a given.
But then I got to university, and STILL the whispered conversations of masturbation occurred. And while I was a hair's breadth from becoming an Ann Summers demonstrator, some of my peers maintained a strict code of never (or at least never admitting to) masturbating. Now let me set one record straight - I have no issue with people wanting to keep their private lives private. Of course I wouldn't demand sexual secrets from my friends and roommates. It's a women's right etc etc. What shocked me was that women still treated masturbation as a big taboo. It was STILL shameful, still dirty and still only ever discussed after the third or fourth gin and tonic on a particularly juicy girl's night in. I couldn't believe it. Hadn't we moved on?
So when Twitter brought up the age old debate, I couldn't help it. A highly amusing and heated exchange sprang up, with some tweeters explaining that none of their friends EVER discussed masturbating, and others delightfully espousing the wonders of lovehoney.com. The divide was incredible. Some were religious, others just prudish and some just wanted to keep it private. I asked, is it taboo for women to masturbate? The first reply? 'It's taboo to ask about it on Twitter.' I think that answered my question fairly succinctly. In the world's biggest conversation, in which we've discussed everything from fake baby bumps to Gaddafi's mutilated corpse, it is still taboo to discuss women masturbating. We really haven't come much further than giggling teenagers sat around a bunk bed.
And really, this is just one tiny part of a much bigger conversation about female sexuality. But for the sake of women everywhere, for whom masturbation is a healthy part of their sex lives, I'm begging the world to get a grip. To the women of the world, I say this: reclaim the rights to your own vaginas. Masturbation is a healthy and happy part of sexuality. It's a headache cure, a muscle relaxant and an instant high. It's like cake with no calories. And let's be honest, if you don't know what's going on down there, an inexperienced man hasn't got a hope in hell. So please, take ownership of your sexuality and let's stop subscribing to this strange and damaging notion that masturbation is anything other than brilliant.
Follow Ashley Fryer on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ashleyfryer