I couldn’t believe that I was talking to another human being about this.
Raise your hand if you remember 6th grade. 6th grade was rough, it was so rough, it was the roughest thing that had ever happened. I am right about this.
6th grade was my first year of middle school, and basically everything about it was terrible in all of the expected ways.
I had to find my locker and remember my combination. I had to find my way to and from all of my classes for the first time. I suddenly had the worst acne that has ever happened to a human person. I had a bullying, abusive, gym teacher who literally looked like one of the martians from Mars Attacks! (I am not even joking about that, ask anyone who went to my middle school!) and pretty much everything sucked.
And furthermore, I had to wait until stupid school was over to lock myself in my room and masturbate until dinner.
When I was 11, I was obsessed with masturbation. It was this new superpower that I had recently discovered that I had, and I didn’t even have a name for what I was doing, and sometimes I suspected that I might have invented it.
Even so, I deduced from the fact that it involved my genitals that it was probably an activity that should be kept hush-hush, and I worried that maybe I was doing something wrong.
Or worse, I worried that maybe there was something wrong with me.
Every day, I looked forward to the time that I would spend alone in my room, figuring out what my body could do. And every day, I would sit in the silence afterwards and wonder if I should be ashamed.
I wondered if I should ask someone, but I was in 6th grade. Life was brutal, and even the smallest things could be used against you. I had seen people get viciously bullied for even admitting that they might have maybe one time had a thought about sex.
I elected to worry about it all alone.
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My friend Liz was six months older than me (which was a pretty big deal in 6th grade!), had a single mother, and knew considerably more about the world than I did.
She had gone on actual dates with boys. She had seen an R-rated movie. She even had a cousin who was two years older than us, who had seen a penis, and described it to Liz. I was just a sheltered, innocent, clueless child, compared to her.
So I never expected that I would be answering her question about anything.
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“I really need to tell somebody, but I don’t even know if I can say it!”
Her voice over the phone sounded so panic-stricken and scared, I didn’t know what to say. So I just tried to be comforting.
“It’s OK,” I said. “Whatever it is, you can talk to me about it.”
“I’m scared that I’m a freak!”
“Well…” I thought for a long time. “I don’t know what it is yet, but I’m pretty sure you're not a freak.”
“And you won’t hate me?”
“I don’t think so…”
“I just have to tell someone about this weird thing that I do!”
I don’t remember the details of her description, but I do remember the light bulb going off over my head. Everything that she was saying was something that I was intimately — and I do meant intimately — familiar with.
I couldn’t believe that I was talking to another human being about this. I couldn’t believe that my cooler, older, more worldly friend was on the phone, describing the very secret that I had sworn to take with me to my grave.
I must have been quiet for too long, basking in the joy of my isolation being shattered.
“Sorry!” I said.
“Do you think I’m a freak? Do you hate me? Do you think I’m a monster?”
I took a deep breath. “I don’t hate you,” I said. “I, um, I think that I do the same thing.”
My ears were ringing. It sounded like rushing water.
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We talked for half an hour, both of us totally over the moon to discover that we weren’t the weirdest people in the entire world.
It was like how you might feel if you thought you were the only person who liked apples. Maybe everyone else just thought apples were for decoration, but you liked to eat them. And then one day you found someone else who also ate apples, and you got really excited about that! And then suddenly, it hit you…
What if everybody secretly ate and enjoyed apples, only we were all too afraid to mention it?
Then, something I did not expect happened.
“OK, well, let’s both go do it really quick, and then call each other back and talk about how it went!”
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This isn’t a porno. I’m not going to go into any detail about what it was like to actually masturbate as an 11-year-old girl.
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So began one of the weirdest routines of my life. For several months, at least twice a week, Liz and I would exchange “technique” ideas on the phone, always talking in code in case a parent was listening (they totally would have been able to crack our code).
After chatting for awhile, we would both hang up, go try out whatever we had been discussing, and then we would call each other back to make a full report.
It was all very businesslike, but it was also strangely intimate. The few times that I let myself consider the possibility, I realized that it was way more exciting to touch myself when I knew that she was touching herself at the same time. But honestly, mostly I didn’t think about it.
It never even occurred to me that I might be queer.
Until the day we decided to try to masturbate at the same time… in the same room. That day, I realized that I wanted to kiss her. I think she must have realized it too. We were both so embarrassed and ashamed.
It was like a part of myself woke up, but it was a part of myself that I was sure was dirty and wrong; a part of myself that I was sure I could squish down if I just tried hard enough. I was certain that all of my earlier fears about masturbation — that it made me gross, that there was something wrong with me — were true.
We never spoke of it again.
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None of my sex ed classes, though some of them were better than average, even mentioned masturbation. When I got into high school, I was surprised to find that most of my friends believed that masturbation was something that only guys did.
By that point, I was already blossoming into an angry feminist, and I was no longer afraid to talk about it. I talked about it with everyone I could, in fact.
I talked to guys who wished their girlfriends would masturbate. I talked to girls who were afraid to touch themselves. I talked to girls who touched themselves every day but were afraid that it made them gross.
These days, I am a 30-year-old married homosexual. I won’t lie to you and say that I’m always perfectly confident about sex, or about anything else.
But I am thankful that, once upon a time, I learned how to talk about masturbation. Over the years, it has made it so much easier to discuss my likes and dislikes with partners, to be comfortable talking about my body, and to finally lose the weird shame our culture puts on self-love.