At last, masturbation!

Article published on July 2, 2008
Article published on July 2, 2008

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

The clitoris: a non-reproductive organ that helps to transcend secular images of the Woman and the Mother. For centuries, female masturbation was condemned by moralists, but today the practice is becoming less stigmatised.

“Clitoral masturbation is a gesture of purity, for it is practiced innately. The foetus will masturbate in the stomach of the mother” confirms author Rosemonde Pujol. The ‘young woman’ of ’87 has gained the nickname ‘Mademoiselle Clit’ since her book, “Un petit bout de Bonheur” (A small piece of happiness) was published. Whereas today masturbation serves as a standard for a new level of femininity, historically it was outlawed and demonised and this makes it a divisive topic. Such condemnation seems somewhat strange, since we know (as stated by the old lady clitoris specialist) that even the new born and animals masturbate. Diogenius even practiced it openly in the streets of Athens! Yet a mix of religion, science and ignorance turned such caresses from what Baudelaire described as the, “ripened fruits of a girls coming of age” into, according to the entry in a 1765 Encyclopaedia, “an infamous custom born out of idleness and sloth”. 

The human species ‘in danger’

The ‘war of five against one’,’ playing the mandolin’, the ‘gods’ pleasure’, ‘to clitorise oneself’ – are just a few of the modern day euphemisms for female masturbation. These demonstrate the ambiguity that has surrounded the act for centuries, as people found themselves torn between the wrath of moralists, the admonishing sermons, and a practice free of complexes. Its stigmatisation is built largely on a certain interpretation of the biblical myth of Onan, the second son of Judah, who was condemned after having spread his semen on the floor rather than in his wife’s womb), and Dutch microbiologist Leeuwenhoek’s discovery of sperm in 1677. From that moment on, masturbation became an attack on life, a loss, in reproductive terms. It endangered the family, the social body and even the future of man. 

Feminine introversion

But even if masturbation has long existed in a clandestine fashion, its masculine version seems to have become more of a natural phenomenon, debatably banal in our contemporary societies. It is so ubiquitous in our modern societies, from the amusing incident in American Pie to the masturbatory tales of Bukowski or Philip Roth, the former featuring a telephone (Memories of a Dirty Old Man) and the latter a ‘superb joint of purplish raw meat’ (Protnoy and his Complex). 

Yet the same can not be said for female masturbation, who because of their history of unjust domination, have cultivated a certain modesty and introversion. Therefore in recent years, being more open about it has become a means to move towards a greater equality between the sexes. Pujol’s book is just one example of a new, emerging sexual vision of the female body that intends to end the culture of silence definitively through an active and reactive over-portrayal of it.

Meetings such as the ‘masturbate-a-thon’ follow the same logic. This masturbation marathon, open to both men and women, was held in Copenhagen in May, after previous events in London and San Francisco. Similarly web pages like or which display videos of (mostly) women recorded whilst they masturbate, thereby advocating a less inhibited approach towards female desire.

The clitoris as a hedonistic organ

Both the female orgasm itself and the importance of the clitoris represent the logical separation between pleasure and reproduction – and this is an idea galvanised by the persistent image of a Reproductive Woman throughout the centuries. For such women, having rights also means being able to fully delight in their own bodies. Because of its functional redundancy and practical freedom, the clitoris has become the perfect symbol of post modernity. In the face of the modern tendency towards usefulness, high performance and efficiency, in the clitoris women have an organ that is essentially hedonistic.

This is what makes Pujol think that, “the clitoris is a poetic organ, for it is one of the few that has no productive function”. Misunderstanding of the role of female masturbation, and the complexities of human desire have, in the past, led the likes of Freud to write (in his essay ‘Sexual Life’)such silly statements as, “masturbation of the clitoris is a masculine activity and eliminating the sexuality of the clitoris is a condition of female development”. In writing this he is defending the kind of phallocentric vision seen in previous characterisations of the clitoris such as ‘in contempt of men’. 

Happily, the innovative and essential works on sexuality of Masters and Johnson have shown the equivalence of both ‘types’ of orgasm and have certainly updated the incredible variety of techniques and positions for feminine masturbation – thereby challenging the dull, perfunctory (typically masculine) ‘come and go’. Such initiatives allow women to reclaim a richness and sexual subtlety still unknown to men.

Women of all nations, rejoice!