My friends say masturbation is gross, but I know it's not. What should I do?

May
asks:
Hi guys. I don't know if you have addressed this question before so I am asking now. I am a 15 year old girl who masturbates regularly. I know this is perfectly fine and health but that's not the problem. At my school, we receive reletively good sex ed which does mention female masturbation but does not go into detail. Us being weird teens, we chat about "sex stuff" sometimes and there is usually a variety of responses. However, whenever the topic of wanking comes up, all but one of my female friends start to speak about it like it's gross and weird. The only one who doesn't start ranting, about how gross it is, makes sexual jokes that make people more uncomfortable. I feel ashamed when I know there is nothing wrong with me. I also feel that these girls are setting themselves with a negative/harmful mindset about self pleasure and pleasure in general. I don't want me or anyone else who may have masturbated, wanted to, thought about it or even self explored to feel like it's wrong. So my question is how do I stop or even help the situation? Thank you.
Mo Ranyart replies:

This is a great question, and it's great that you're asking it. Stopping these comments altogether might not be possible, but there are things you can say in response and ways you can help change the tone of the conversation.

First off, I want to talk a little about why your friends may be responding so negatively to the idea of masturbation. The sad fact is that a lot of cultural messages that girls and young women receive tell them it's inappropriate for them to masturbate, or that it's rare for women to masturbate at all. It's often much more common for people to discuss — and even make jokes about — teenage boys masturbating than to acknowledge that girls of the same age will often masturbate as well. There are also some religious traditions and communities that discourage masturbation. If your friends have picked up on some of these messages, they may indeed think it's not ok to masturbate, or that it's not appropriate to discuss it openly.

Your friends may be comfortable talking about sex in general, when you have these chats as a group, but if they're uncomfortable with their own sexual feelings, or don't like the idea of being sexual at all right now, that discomfort can emerge as jokes or expressions of disgust. Maybe they feel pressured to be sexual or perform sexuality to an extent they just don't feel ready for, and being openly grossed out by masturbation feels like a safe way to say: "I don't want to do any of this right now."

It could also be that they worry other people might think masturbating is gross, and that it's safer to act grossed out by it than to risk being the "weird" one who admits to masturbating or wanting to masturbate. You may even be in the middle of a group of girls who all masturbate and are all too self-conscious to admit it. If you've ever hidden an unusual hobby or favorite band from your friends because you worry they might laugh at you, you can probably understand this impulse. It's not the most mature response, but if you're worried that someone will accuse you of doing or liking something "weird," one way to keep that from happening is to pre-emptively distance yourself from it in some way. With a topic like sexuality that might feel both exciting and intimidating to your friends, they may just want to avoid the misstep of saying the "wrong" thing.

As for your friend who makes inappropriate jokes, humor is another common response to some of the feelings I mentioned above. Jokes can be a way to release tension around an awkward or uncomfortable subject, or to send a signal that you aren't taking something seriously. Sometimes, too, sexual jokes or comments can be a way to test a group's boundaries or norms around sex; it's a way to see what feels like going too far and what's generally acceptable.

So. We have some potential reasons why your friends are talking about masturbation like it's extremely gross. You know it's not. How can you help make the situation better? I think the approach to take here depends on how personal you want to be.

If you want to keep your own habits out of the discussion, you could take a more educational approach; it sounds like your school's sex ed curriculum hasn't gone into a lot of detail about masturbation, so you could try to fill in some of the gaps left by that class. You can point out the benefits of masturbation that you mention in your question: that it is a great way for people to learn about sexual pleasure and what sorts of thoughts and sensations are most arousing to them. You can remind them that it's common for people of all genders to masturbate and that it doesn't negatively impact one's health in any way. Maybe they've never thought about how knowing which kinds of touch feel good to them can make it easier to have a pleasaurable sexual relationship with future partners. It's important, though, to remember that not everyone is going to be comfortable with masturbation and it's never required: you don't want to tell them they must masturbate any more than you want to hear them say it's gross.

If you're comfortable with it, telling your friends that you masturbate and being really clear that you don't feel that it's wrong or shameful could have even more impact. It might feel like a higher-risk conversation, but I think it's potentially a higher-reward one as well. How much you share, if you go this route, is up to you; remember, though, that sharing the details doesn't have to involve what you do, exactly. You could focus on how it makes you feel about your body and sexuality, or what you hope it might help you get out of partnered sex in the future. Again, this isn't something you have to share, and you'll probabaly have a decent sense of who, if anyone, in your social circle you feel comfortable having this talk with. But even if you aren't up for talking about this with everyone who makes negative comments, it might help to start with just one person you trust.

I hope this doesn't happen, but if saying you masturbate does make some of your friends turn around and tell you how weird or wrong that is, or make fun of you for it, it may be time to re-evaluate those friendships. It's ok for them to feel uncomfortable with masturbation or sexual topics. What's not ok is turning their negative feelings towards you for admitting that you do something they're uncomfortable with.

It's important for people to remember that their words can have consequences, even when they don't intend it or don't realize they're talking about people who can hear them. Whether you change anyone's mind about masturbation or not, you shouldn't have to hear your friends making disparaging comments about your private sexual life. You can tell them: "When you say masturbating is gross, what I'm hearing is that you think I'm gross, and that's pretty hurtful." Even though it might feel awkward, it's ok to step in when someone is saying something wrong or hurtful and challenge it. You probably don't want to feel like your new job is to be the Sex Conversation Police; if you don't speak up every time someone makes a comment about sex that makes you uncomfortable in some way, you haven't failed somehow. But I think trying to say something in the moment, or one-on-one with friends later on, is likely to eventually change how these topics are discussed in the group.

As a final reminder, in case it helps to have one, masturbation is healthy and normal, no matter what anyone else around you might say about it. Hopefully, you can nudge your friends towards being a bit more masturbation-friendly, whether they choose to do it or not, but do remember that nothing they might say can change the fact that your decisions around masturbation are perfectly valid. Your choices about sexual behavior, whether it involves a partner or not, are your own; I hope you can soon find yourself in a friends group where those decisions are discussed more positively.