Why is there still a taboo against female masturbation?

The Swedish Association for Sexuality Education (RFSU), a swedish reproductive rights non profit, have now unveiled a brand new Swedish word for female masturbation in an attempt to normalise the act. This is after a nationwide competition where over 200 words were considered. The of aim of this was to promote an “open, positive view of sex and relationship issues”. According to RFSU Spokesperson Kristina Ljungros “Women are not expected to have desires and be turned on in the same way as men, which is reflected in the lack of words [for masturbation]”. It is therefore vital that issues of female sexuality are reflected in public discussion and in public vocabulary.    

After much debate, the RFSU decided on the word “Klittra” which I particularly like due to the obvious focus on the clitoris. Also, I like that it also sounds, well, glittery. Other shortlisted words were “pulla” and “selfa”, which sound a little bit too masculine to my ears. Klittra will be the first accepted Swedish word for female masturbation, which is really quite astounding when you think about it. Men on the other hand, ahem, have long since had a number of words and phrases with which to speak loudly and proudly about yanking the crank. What this campaign has brought to many people’s attention is the severely limited language, an issue that appears to be universally true, when it comes to speaking about female masturbation. This is of course crucial. After all, how can we speak about something that we do not have the words for? For example, the common slang term for masturbation in the United Kingdom is “wanking”. Now, to my mind this doesn’t linguistically reflect the female experience of masturbating.        

It is not so very long ago in our shameful human history that women were believed to have no sexual desire whatsoever. In fact, women who exhibited signs of arousal or orgasmic activity were often considered to be insane or unnatural. Although that mindset now seems so very alien, we can still see more than a few traces of it in modern British society. Female arousal is still seen as somewhat less real, less tangible than male arousal. Take social perspectives regarding masturbation. This is something that every adult human being does whether they will readily admit to it or not. However, it is often spoken about primarily as a male activity that women can’t quite relate to or understand. It is seen as somehow more necessary. I believe that this is partly the reason as to why we have such an inadequate vocabulary to draw from when discussing Klittra (which I will now totally call it, swedish or not).     

It is now more or less understood that women do have sex drives which they have full ownership of. It is, reluctantly by some admittedly, understood that a woman is able to be as promiscuous as she likes, copulating with one hundred partners a day if she so wishes. In fact, we are somewhat more built for this kind of rampant resilience with our magical ability to enjoy multiple orgasms and to recover much more easily after a session between the sheets. However, despite rocketing sales of viabrators and dildoes in all shapes and sizes, I’m not entirely sure that all men entirely believe in it. Or if they do, then they see it as an act that is done with the main aim of titillating men.    

Increasingly, vocal declarations of womanly alone time have become a somewhat subversive thing to do, linked closely with the burgeoning feminist movement. In 2013, an educational app called HappyPlayTime was launched to teach women about their anatomy and how to touch themselves. Great idea, but I didn’t like the slightly infantilizing insinuation that us girls don’t know our way around our lady garden.  2014 was the year of the transgressive, proud, public declarations of lady self lovin’. Pop culture was brimming with feisty ladies who weren’t shy about admitting to flying solo. Miley Cyrus made a masturbatory gesture on stage and the tabloids were, fantastically, disgusted. Rihanna wore a top, that I actually really want, with the slogan “DIY” and an image of a ladies hand slyly slipping down her pants. Now, this was an attitude I liked much more.

According to Elle  Journalist Alice Pfeiffer, today’s Klittra loving Pop Stars are of a much more feminist breed than controversy seeking breed that Pop Stars of wanking past. Pfeiffer argues that: “unlike the riotous, feminist rock stars of the ’80s—such as Blondie and Madonna, who simulated masturbation during performances of “Like a Virgin”—modern provocateurs are presenting self-service as an intimate practice. Instead of seeking out the male gaze, it seems like they’re building an allegiance with womankind”. It does indeed seem that by creating a modern dialogue about Klittra, contemporary cultural icons are reclaiming female sexuality as being something that is primarily for the pleasure of the woman rather than the man.                

I for one have been greatly inspired by our Swedish sisters. We still don’t have a properly recognised term for female masturbation in the English dictionary; which by the way includes terms such as “twerk” and “selfie”. This are currently culturally relevant terms but why are they prioritised over a term given to something that has always been relevant and always will be? As a Writer, words are pretty important to me. What could our new word be?  


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