I think I must have been 13 years old when the thought of masturbating first occurred to me.  I was sent the strangest emails of cartoon characters performing various sexual acts (I wish I could remember who sent that to me, weirdo!) and one of them was Princess Jasmine, her hand moving back and forth on her vagina, looking quite bored.  At this point the whole history of my sexual experience included me and a hand mirror after an interesting guidance lesson in Grade 7, and I couldn’t even remotely fathom how this strange mess of flaps and folds could give anyone any pleasure at all.

In the years that followed I had a few isolated vaginal experiences.  I had no idea what I was doing but really wanted to know what sex felt like, without actually having sex, so I poked and prodded and am embarrassed to say I even used the back of a hairbrush once in the hopes of knowing what all the fuss was about (the hygiene-freak I have become is queasy at the thought).

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By the time I got to 15 and started dating, sexual exploration had become something naughty, and I started buying into the idea that boys are rabid, oversexed beasts and girls are disinterested but reluctantly compliant.  My vagina and myself got disattached – it wasn’t something for me and my enjoyment, but something I could use to get boys to like me.

After a while I learned that boys liking my vagina is actually very different to them liking me and I started to respect my body and myself.  When I was 18 I met a boy and fell in love and had sex for the first time.  We had a lot of sex: excellent, good, average, and ugly.  Sometimes I loved it and sometimes I hated it, but I felt like it was something we had to do.

My friends and I spoke about sex quite thoroughly, but somehow masturbation was never mentioned.  In fact, the only time the topic was ever raised was when men were around to bring it up in a drunken game like “truth or dare?”.  It was always vehemently denied.  “Yuck!” said my friends, and they still do.  I think it’s something to do with the word “masturbation”.  It conjures up images of dirty sex shops or shady men wanking in their car in public places.  It’s for perverts and 12 year old boys.

It was only very recently, some years later, that I gave it serious consideration.  I had been single for a number of months, and was beginning to get frustrated.  I dreamt about sex almost every night and woke up pining for a man to put me out of my misery.  I knew that that was out of the question (something to do with my innate fear of God and gonorrhea) so I started considering this masturbation thing, but was still reluctant – it was masculine and dirty and I probably wouldn’t be able to do it right anyway.  Luckily I came across an article in a magazine about orgasms being good for your health, and one morning after a particularly vivid dream, I decided it was time to give it a go.

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I wasn’t sure where to start in having sex with myself – I closed the curtains and took off my clothes, but then thought surely some kind of ceremony was required.  Should I light candles?  Should I bath first?  No, I decided, I should probably bath after.  I got back into bed and concentrated on reviving the dream I had been having as I tried to work out the mechanics of the clitoris.  When there was no immediate sensation and I couldn’t even remember the dream, I almost gave up.

But I had put my mind to this now, and was determined not to fail.  I was soon fully aroused and I realised that a little bit of light rubbing can go a long way.  I couldn’t believe how easy it was; it was the most natural thing in the world and I didn’t feel dirty at all.  In fact, I felt totally liberated.  I now see it as a way of looking after myself, like healthy eating and exercise.

It is so empowering to know that the thing that makes me sexy is me, not how I look or what I wear, and certainly not because a man decides that I am.