Why Is Female Masturbation So Offensive?

Katherine Kelly, lead character in ITV’s Cheat

Katherine Kelly, lead character in ITV’s Cheat

If you’ve seen ITV’s Cheat you’ll be hard pushed to forget the scene where Katherine Kelly’s character masturbates in the loos at work after an encounter with a male colleague. According to TV ratings, around half a million viewers tuned out after that scene which beggars the question, why is female masturbation still such a dirty word?

In fact, it applies to all masturbation if we’re honest, it’s just that we see females masturbating less on our TV screens. The men we see masturbating are usually painted in a negative light - lonely, dark, predators or arrogant players rejected by women - or it’s done for comedic effect a là There’s Something About Mary, or any of the American Pie films. Masturbation is never portrayed as just being a ‘thing’, something that you do on a lazy Sunday morning when you’re having a lie in or in the bath when you’ve finally managed to extricate yourself from life and hidden behind a locked door for a few minutes.

Masturbation is natural. It’s one of Mother Nature’s gifts to us although it’s purpose isn’t entirely gratuitous. Masturbation allows us - men and women - to explore our own bodies, our own desire, our own preferences before we have to do that within the context of another human. Many of us end up delaying the discovery of our own bodily pleasures until it’s too late. We find ourselves in an encounter with another human being and no one knows what they’re doing, what they like, what the other person likes and, because we’ve never been encourage to masturbate, we can’t even tell them what we like. We’re not empowered to ask for what we want and, as a result, our approach to sexual pleasure comes from what we think it should look like according to whoever happened to be there the first few times.

The message regarding masturbation is still that it’s something to hide, to be ashamed of. I’m not suggesting we all start wanking on the bus home, but I would suggest that we start talking about masturbation without a veil of shame with our kids. Explain what it is, why it is and why it’s perfectly healthy and normal to indulge in masturbation in your own private space. The masturbation scene in ITV’s Cheat shows that we’re still uncomfortable with accepting, acknowledging and understanding sexual pleasure for it’s own damn good. The fact that half a million people felt the need to turn off or turn over and exit the situation entirely shows their level of intense discomfort.