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I used to get a familiar feeling of dread whenever the subject of self-pleasure came up in conversation. I am not a conservative Christian, nor am I embarrassed to talk about my sex life. I just grew to hate talking about masturbation because, well, I had never done it.
I have a vivid memory of being fifteen and talking about porn for the first time with my school friends at a sleepover. ‘Wait... so you just... watch it?’, came the stunned unanimous response. This was the start of my masturbation FOMO that would last for many years.
It was not until recently that I started to question why I had never masturbated. The only plausible reason I can think of is that I have always been a very clean person. My mum has never had to ask me to tidy my room, and I can’t wear makeup unless my brushes have been washed in the past week. I once even brought a guy home and refused to come to bed until we had cleaned the entire kitchen (including hoovering and mopping the floor) at 3am.
I think this obsession with cleanliness was the main barrier to my self-pleasure. I knew I would enjoy the feeling, but the overwhelming desire to wash my hands or take a shower every time I tried made it physically impossible.
At 23, with two boyfriends and multiple sexual partners behind me, I still had never masturbated and had long ago given up trying. I had also mastered the art of avoidance whenever the topic came up in conversation, too.
“As we all got drunker and the chat got louder, my friends started talking about what vibrators they use. Suddenly, I became interested in a subject that I had spent years hating.”
Then, last year, I finished university and moved to London, making a whole new group of girlfriends. One night, between a small group of us the dreaded topic was inevitably brought up. I knew I would be the only person who had never masturbated before, and I was not about to shamefully admit this to a group of women who I had only known for a few months. I lied and waited for the conversation to move on.
As we all got drunker and the chat got louder, my friends started talking about what vibrators they use. Suddenly, I became interested in a subject that I had spent years hating.
I’ll be honest, sex education in my religious Irish school was pathetic, and until that night I thought sex toys and vibrators did not exist beyond the realms of OnlyFans and porn sites.
I then started dating someone and seeing them quite frequently, and I put the vibrator conversation to the back of my mind.
When the new national lockdown hit, I ended things with the guy I was dating, and I came back to London on New Year’s Eve with the daunting prospect that I would likely have no physical contact with the opposite sex for at least three months. So, while some people made banana bread and others took up running, I decided my new lockdown project would be to learn how to masturbate. Using a vibrator like my friends would, I hoped, help me overcome my hygiene complex.
“For ten or fifteen minutes each day, I can rid my mind of negative thoughts by focusing only on myself.”
After several glasses of red wine and an evening spent reading Amazon reviews and watching explainer videos, a black silicon battery-powered contraption was on its way to my flat.
Two days later, my new toy had arrived. I was a bit sceptical at first and I felt nervous, like I was 17 and losing my virginity again. To my pleasant surprise, the vibrator worked well and took minimal effort to do its job. In fact, it did a far better job than many of my previous sexual encounters – plus, I didn’t have to worry about what it was thinking or if it’s going to ghost me afterwards.
In the time since I lost my masturbation virginity, self-pleasure has become something I am consciously incorporating into my daily routine – and I’m already seeing the benefits.
Meditation is often described as emptying the thoughts from your mind and focusing only on your breath, so that you learn to do this in real life. Alongside pleasure, this is something masturbation has effectively allowed me to do. For ten or fifteen minutes each day, I can rid my mind of negative thoughts by focusing only on myself.
Perhaps these are novelty side effects from a life-long dry spell, but I noticeably feel less stressed and anxious about lockdown. I am more productive during the day, and I definitely sleep better at night.
I imagine my post-lockdown standards for men will also be higher, as my sex life is no longer exclusively reserved for them. Turns out, vibrators are magical weapons for women.
I just wish I had known that sooner.
Bethany is a journalist, writing under a pseudonym
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