A part of me doesn’t feel right contributing to this conversation. I mean should I really be sharing my own story when I squirm to even type the word …masturbation? I’m worried someone might walk behind me as read this, I’m worried that anyone I know might ever possibly read this. I still don't think I want anyone knowing that I do … it.
I grew up in a christian home. Sex was unspoken, or rather hidden. Any mention of it in movies was fast-forwarded. Or tutted at so loudly I didn’t understand what was going on. Any time any one actually spoke the s-e-x word out-loud was in church, and I probably don’t need to detail what that was like. Even so, I decided to refresh my own memory. I went back on my old diaries. I’ve been journaling since I was maybe eight or nine years old and stopped when I was about nineteen. Let me tell you, shit gets fucking real in those books. But I do not ever mention masturbation by name, not once. Not in a decade of diaries. And I know I was tormented by masturbatory shame throughout my teenage years. There are a few entries that I think may hint at it but they’re always stand alone entries, and they’re never more than a few words:
God Forgive me.
Jesus I’m sorry.
Why am I like this?
There are also pages which I have physically glued together, I tried un-peeling them, to no avail, 13 year old Amie and her glue-stick clearly didn’t expect me to be writing this article a dozen years down the track.
I had no qualms telling my diary that I wanted to kill myself because Mark from the bus thought I was weird, but I couldn’t admit to the world, I couldn’t provide any evidence that I might just think about touching myself.
I can't recall when I first did it. I’m getting shower head vibes but I’m not sure. What I do remember is the disgust. I became revolting because of what I had done. The hangover from it was so icky it would stick on me for days. And this shame isn’t exclusively religious shame. It’s a female shame. I have a memory of sitting with my ‘girl group’, all drunk on a singular shared cruiser declaring that we ‘would never’ and ‘have never’ done that thing and it wasn’t Christ making my friends blush. As I’ve gotten older and I’ve let go my allegiances to the biblical god, the question of: What would god think of me if he could see me doing this? Has changed to: What would a man think if he saw me? There’s a lot to be said about the overlap between the god gaze and male gaze, but it’s for another blog. Today, right now, If I masturbate, I view myself with a male gaze. I literarily imagine what men in my life would think of me, and I shift my hips this way, or bend over that way, to make sure that it appeases their imaginary view. Or sometimes, I just stop touching myself altogether, because maybe that random guy I used to know from school might think it is disgusting. That I am disgusting. What ? I can’t even comprehend this, but that’s what I do.
Right now, I don't feel far enough away from my own shame and pain to be able to see its intricacies, to understand exactly what I feel and why. But I have been taking small steps away from the embarrassment and my own disgust through education and reading. I spent my undergraduate studying medieval sexuality. It was with study of the past that I have began to understand that the shame I feel is historical, I carry not just my personal history of sexual repression and shame, but the history of millions of women from the past. Through my studies I have met the women who were made to parade the streets in bed sheets for having a threesome, the girl who had to confess and be punished for doing it in a style that wasn't missionary or the teenager dragged to see the priest for touching herself. I see every single woman who has ever entered a medieval church and had to witness the carvings of Eve with evil eyes and a snake coming out her vagina. I see the agony of sexual shame in my own life and all through-out women’s history and my heart aches for us, and yet at the same time I feel a little less alone. For a lot of my life, I thought I was the only woman in the world who had sexual urges, I did not know that I was sharing experiences with a sisterhood that has existed for millennia.
History has made me feel less alone, and it has also given me hope. Throughout my studies I’ve found glimpses of the true female gaze, like teeny tiny pinpricks of light in a huge mess of male dominated, religiously clouded sexual gaze. If you look hard enough, you meet women with sexual agency, with sexual pride and autonomy. There will always be, no matter how hard the phallocentric patriarchy tries to stop it, a female gaze. Allow me to introduce you to a few of my favourite finds;
First up, sixteenth century ‘I modi, the Sonnet Lussuriosi’. A set of sonnets where the women are presented as sexually liberated and dominant, their pleasure is the centre of the poetry, the dick doesn’t exist unless it serves and pleasures the woman,
“Put your finger up my behind, dear old man / thrust cazzo (The D) in a little at a time / Lift my leg, manoeuvre well”.
She is directing the sexual experience to her own liking. The male then asks,
“Where will you put it? Tell me most kindly in the front of behind?” To which the female replies, “Why will I perhaps upset you if I threw it in my behind?”
The woman is in total control of the phallus. He doesn’t have a choice where his own penis goes, because the woman is the master of sex. Scholar’s like to say this sort of poetry inverts gender roles, but the word invert annoys me, really it just confirms that the world still thinks that the Peen is King. For me, this poetry tells the story of females as the owners of their pleasure and desire, and I love it.
Then we have ‘The Secret Life of Nuns’, where women take back the ownership of sexualised language, here we have two nuns talking to another in this 16th century text:
“Nanna: Speak plainly and say 'fuck,' 'prick,' 'cunt' and 'ass' ... why don't you say it straight out and stop going about on tiptoes?”
I can almost hear that Nun looking me in the eye and saying,
“Amie, Speak plainly, and say the word masturbate.” There is also evidence of Nuns who hid their makeshift dildos in their Nunnery’s libraries, and the first actual use of the word dildooccurred in the late 16th century, telling the story of a woman who was not pleased by her lover, so used her glass phallus instead.
I’ve become fascinated by these precious fine threads of underground female sexual culture that have existed throughout time. My sisters who lived 600 years ago who took up sexual space without concerning themselves with the man, without feeling disgusting, without apology, these women inspire me today and slowly, painstakingly, I unpick the pain of shame.
If nuns in the 1500’s can carve a dildo out of wood, polish it and then hide it in their library then I can write this blog, and I can type the word masturbate and maybe even say it out loud from time to time.