Female masturbation in your early twenties
Self-love, masturbation, wanking, getting off, having an orgasm. Whatever you want to call it; there is no right way of doing it, and as singer/songwriter Anna B Savage has discovered, it isn't always something that comes naturally.
Whilst we all possess the ability of being captivated by the catchy chorus of a pop banger or to become engrossed in the mechanics of an orchestra, the true magic of a song lies in the intricate sense of empathy that its creator possesses, and how they’re able to transpose fundamentally human experiences into a composition of sound. It could be said that magic of a song is in its ability to sneak up on its percipient; to assimilate with their innermost feelings on an almost subconscious level so that the more they listen to it, the more its meaning is revealed. But sometimes, it’s the blatantly obvious ones that make a lasting impression.
“I guess now’s not the best time to tell him / I also don’t know how to please myself”, muses Savage on “Chelsea Hotel #3”. As the song swells in a flurry of effervescent strings, eventually mimicking the build-up of an orgasm, Savage reflects on an unsatisfactory sexual encounter and offers vignettes of the steps she took in order to unlearn a lifetime of suppressed sexuality. “Taught that it was secondary to P in V / so I first came when I was eighteen”, she continues, and it’s an interesting thing to contemplate... Were you ever taught about masturbation, or was it a clandestine pleasure that you just happened to stumble upon? When did you have your first orgasm and were you blessed with the experience by someone else?
When I meet with Savage for a conversation about masturbation, self-love and sex-positivity, it quickly becomes apparent that whilst there are elements of sex and sexuality that can be taught, the most important discoveries are seemingly always those that you make on your own. There is a fatal flaw in the educational system that generally focuses on the reproductive side of sex, with women often being referred to from a functional perspective. Being the providers of a womb or the giver of life. There never seemed to be any mention of sexual desire or pleasure, and more often than not, to think about these two aspects was to reduce the subject of sex into the category of taboo.
But when did the act of self-pleasure from a female perspective, become reduced to something that should be shameful? Ancient civilisations all over the world celebrated this libertine attitude in all of its forms. There is a wealth of Greek poetry that describes women masturbating; German archaeologists have unearthed a dildo that dates back to the Stone Age; there are countless sculptures and works of art that depict the female form in an onanistic way; and Cleopatra was known to indulge in the pleasure derived from an empty gourd filled with bees. In fact, masturbation is so inherently linked to specific cultures that for Taoists, it was vital that women were stimulated before the act of sex – it wasn’t simply just about the pleasure of a man.
It appears that modern society is to blame for the commodification of sex and the repression of female sexuality. Perhaps these are ideals that have been trickled down from generations that were brought up on the notion that sex was simply for reproductive purposes, or that women rights, and therefore desires, were not deemed as important as their counterparts. Despite divisive opinions on the matter, we are now fortunate enough to live in a time where female pleasure is a topic of conversation that people are willing to indulge in. There are many people, like Savage, who are using their own experiences to try and normalise the fact that most women – just like men – really enjoy wanking.
As Savage suggests in “Chelsea Hotel #3”, she had always been under the impression that her own pleasure must come from the powers of a man. It had never crossed her mind that she could explore herself sexually on her own terms – even thinking that it was impossible to do so. Whilst sex education lessons teach you how babies are made, or how to put on a condom to prevent that from happening; what they don’t teach you is that you can satisfy your sexual urges without actually having sex. They don’t teach you that an orgasm doesn’t have to be the pinnacle of a sexual experience, or that your self-worth shouldn’t be inextricably linked to another person. These are all things that you have to work out on your own, and as Savage eventually learned; it’s one of the most satisfying methods of self-discovery that you can embark on – both figuratively and literally.
BEST FIT: It’s interesting to have this kind of conversation with a stranger, because sometimes it's easier to talk about things that are a little too close to home with people that you don't know. Let’s start from the beginning… Do you remember when you first discovered masturbation?
Anna B Savage: I didn’t masturbate until I was honestly, like 20/22. I definitely knew it was a thing when I got to my mid-teens – I’m talking specifically about women masturbating – and I remember when I was 17 or 18, playing ‘Never Have I Ever’. There were three girls, and there were nine boys, and one of the boys said: “Never have I ever had a wank”, and everyone drank except for me and one of the other girls. It was just one girl who drank and she just looked at the two of us and was like: “Do you not masturbate?!” We were like: “No, oh my god no!” and I genuinely hadn’t. I was being serious – and I think my friend also hadn’t as well.
Thinking about that now, it’s fucking miserable! I mean, massive props to my friend for drinking and being like: “Are you fucking shitting me right now, do you really not?” because that is intense when 11 friends are sat around you… I always thought that I just couldn’t, because I'd never tried. But also, when I had sex for the first time I assumed that I would come, and then I assumed that as soon as I started touching myself, I would orgasm and there was no absolutely no nuance to any of it. There was no idea of the concept of build-up or foreplay with myself or with anyone else. I feel really pissed off about it now! I think I have felt pissed off for quite a long time.
That’s why I wrote “Chelsea Hotel #3” because I just thought that this is fucking annoying and I want to talk about it. It’s slightly hypocritical because I didn't really think that anyone would hear the song. I played it to someone when I was still writing it, and he was like: “That’s really brave” and I thought, "what are you talking about ‘brave?'” I didn't think anyone would hear it, on one side, but then I also thought if someone does hear it, I would really love it if someone had that tiny bit of shame taken out of the idea of masturbating – just the tiniest bit of shame taken out of it – because, for me, as a woman, the idea of shame was inherently mixed up in masturbating. That game of Never Have I Ever felt like a really perfect encapsulation of that, because this guy asked the question to kind of try and catch out the girls. That’s fucking bonkers!
Florence Given did an Instagram poll last year and asked her followers how they masturbate. It raised the discussion of things that women would do when they were younger that they didn't realise was actually masturbation. Do you remember your first experiences of acknowledging sexuality?
It’s interesting because I remember reading all of the Florence answers… I think it might be Caitlin Moran; she talks about discovering masturbation when she was eight or nine, and then there's another person who wrote a memoir and said that they used to hump their teddy. I just remember when I read Caitlin Moran's book, which I think was in 2014, I almost felt like that corroborated my theory of me not being able to masturbate or me not being a masturbatory person – I never discovered my sexuality, so it makes sense to me that I never masturbated, and it makes sense that this has taken such a long time because I didn't have any of those experiences.
A little voice like that came up when I was reading the Florence answers and it was like: “What were these awesome sleepovers that everyone was going to?! Everyone was snogging and actually talking about shit and discovering who they are”. I felt like the only sleepovers I went to, people would read my diary and then everyone would laugh at me and I’d be like, this is rubbish… I still feel like I'm trying so desperately to understand my own sexuality because it was so far away from me for so many years. It's like I need to make a concerted effort to do this. When I started masturbating, I had to schedule it into my diary because it was so far out of my brain. Even the idea of it, I had to be like, “Okay, I'm going to have at least four wanks a week” and I would tick them off in my little diary because otherwise I just wouldn't think to do it because I spent 20 years not doing it.
That almost makes it seem like a chore, which is so interesting when you think of the benefits of masturbation. When you were growing up, did you read magazines such as Sugar, Kiss, and Glamour?
I was never allowed to buy them but my friends had them, so I read their ones. I was just like: “What is this? What fucking world are they talking about!?” It was so alien to me. There were a couple of people from my school who had boyfriends – I went to an all-girls school – and sometimes they would be outside the gates and everyone would just be like, “What the fuck is happening, there’s a boy outside!” That side of me was so quiet, and obviously, it's all of my learned experiences and societal shit, but it's just interesting to think that it was so repressed and small that I had to schedule it in. It does sound like a chore, but it wouldn't cross my mind otherwise, because it had been so completely squashed and I can't remember a time when I actively was squashing it.
"I was too scared to get a vibrator so I started by using the lid of a Mac lipstick. For some reason, I just thought my hands won't work."
Did you have any family figures that would talk to you about sex and dating?
My sister is like my best friend in the entire world, and she is nine years older than me. She told me that when I turned 14, she actively decided to start talking to me like her friend rather than like a little sister. From that point on, we would talk about stuff but before that, I'd never talked to her about anything. I don't think we ever talked about wanking… I don't think we ever talked about anything other than external pleasure or external validation through boys? Oh, that makes me sad!
The Jada Pinkett-Smith quote totally blew my mind. What a fucking gift! What an incredible, powerful gift to give a child who is in your care – the knowledge that you can satisfy and look after yourself, and you can find out what works for you, and you are allowed to do that. Because ultimately, in telling her about it, she was taking away the shame element of it. I think that's so important. For some reason, I read quite a lot about parenting kids who are going through the more sexual stages, and the idea that when kids are playing with themselves, you don’t reprimand them and tell them to stop it! You say: “You do that in your private room. You save that for a private time” – not having any kind of shame attached to it, and just making it more of a situational thing. “This isn't the right situation to do that but you're more than welcome to do that somewhere else”; I feel like the Jada Pinkett Smith thing feels like, not only am I giving you autonomy and an understanding of yourself, but I'm also giving you permission to not feel ashamed of it.
Do you recall any situations as a child that you might have had which related to a suppression of your sexuality?
My parents are quite old school, so I feel like the more difficult stuff wasn't necessarily talked about that much. I don't have a recollection of anything because I don't think it would have even come up with their mates for me to overhear, which is also wild!
In which case, do you remember much about sex education at school? From my memory, there wasn’t much of a focus on sexuality or pleasure…
I only remember totally functional things, and I don't remember being told about anything to do with women's pleasure ever in my entire life. I don't even think I remember being told about a clitoris except for just ‘this is a clitoris’. It was not about what it does, it was just like, that is what that thing is. I remember being told in detail about wombs and ovaries – I say in detail, but I think until I was 15, I thought that Tampax were tampons, and tampons were pads; just linguistically, I was like Tampax are those small ones and tampons are the long ones – but the idea that women could experience pleasure was so far removed from anything I ever was taught.
I went to a girls’ school so I don’t know if that is weird – I think that it’s probably of the time – but it feels fucking weird now to think you had all of these girls that were learning from everything that you were saying and you didn't think to once say anything about pleasure. I remember my sex-ed teacher would play us a video of a scenario and then she'd be like: “What does everyone think about that? How do you feel about this?”, and it was a scenario where a guy had said to a girl: “If you really loved me, you would do X, Y, and Z”. I was 13, and my teacher asked the question and I said if that was me, I would have told him to fuck off, and she laughed…
But again, in my PSHE lessons, there was never anything about pleasure. It was always about fear and about how to stop something happening; how to handle yourself if you're in danger, or how to deal with a scenario like that, where someone's trying to coerce you into something. It’s been pretty amazing learning curve for the last eight years or whatever, because when I was at university, I was talking to my mates and they were like: “You've never masturbated so we need to help you… You’re gonna get a vibrator; you're gonna be absolutely fine”, and I was too scared to get a vibrator so I started by using the lid of a Mac lipstick. For some reason, I just thought my hands won't work. Then I got a vibrator, which was a terrible vibrator, and was like, “well, this is shit!” And then it took me another couple of years when I got a good vibrator, and I was like: “Oh, okay – now it starts to make sense!”
You’ve said that you had to teach yourself how to masturbate... Aside from the actual experience of doing it, where did you get most of your information from?
The internet! So, I signed up for OMGyes. I can’t remember how I heard about it, but when I did, I was like, I want that; I have to do that. I got it when it was the first season, which was all about self-pleasure, and kind of worked through that. I also found a couple of workshops online that were kind of like newsletters that were sent to my email inbox, which is kind of weird, but they were really great. I think every time I saw an advert being like, “This thing will teach you how to come in 10 minutes” – it was always a quick thing like, ok how do I do it? I want to know now; I want all of the tricks – let’s fast track it! There was also stuff on Tumblr which I found really helpful. I feel like Tumblr was a really good place for sensuality as well as sexuality. I didn't really watch porn until recently, so luckily, I wasn't trying to learn from porn.
I remember when OMGyes was blowing up in mainstream media because Emma Watson was promoting it. Can you talk me through the way it works?
It’s one long page, and on it, there are different ways that have helped people to reach orgasm. There’s like lots of different techniques, and basically, I think what they're doing is saying: “Here's a smorgasbord; you could try all these things and see what works for you.” By the time Emma Watson had started talking about it, I’d been using it for a while and it was interesting – I thought that maybe now I could talk to someone about it or maybe I could be a little bit more open about it. On the website, they have illustrations and text, but then they also have videos with women demonstrating it. Most of the time they'll do the demonstration with their hand, but then actually, they do demonstrate properly in videos as well.
Did you speak to your university friends, who said they’d help you on your masturbation journey, about your discoveries on Tumblr and OMGyes, or was it a personal process?
Weirdly, they were completely separate – I never spoke to them about that. I always felt like I used the internet way more than my friends when I was younger. Obviously that's not true now, but I had four different Tumblrs and lots of my friends didn't even know what Tumblr was. There was a real element of difference between my real physical life and my real online life. That’s interesting – I haven't really thought about that. I mean, after a while, I just wouldn't shut up about it, I would tell everyone about it which was potentially quite a shock for some of my friends, but it's great. I know so many women who now have Womanizer’s and other sex toys, and they've asked me for advice. Being able to share this is sick! It makes me so happy. I have a friend, and I was speaking to her partner; he bought her a Womanizer as random present. I feel so chuffed about that. Or people being like: “I haven’t told anyone else but I wanted to get your opinion on this. What kind of thing do you think I might like because I'm into X, Y, Z, or this kind of simulation does it for me…” That’s been a really fun thing over the last few years.
I feel like when you bypass the shame aspect of it, you just want to tell as many people as possible what they've been like missing out on…
The clitoral air suction ones especially! I've told so many people about them, because I never thought that I could have multiple orgasms – because it’s not actually on the clitoris, you don't have the same sensitivity. So, I've been just throwing them at anyone who would listen or look at me! I love learning in all facets of life. I totally am a nerd, and I get really fixated on stuff and I'll learn as much as I can about it in a short period of time. This an incredibly joyful one with really good rewards.
There’s a bit of a preconception that masturbation isn't something that you should do when you're in a relationship; that it's unhealthy and offensive to the other person. How open are you and your friends about discussing, and doing this?
The last long-term relationship that I was in was not a great one. He definitely was like, “You shouldn't need to masturbate because you're with me”, and he would be offended if I told him that I was thinking about it. That was also part of my kind-of sexual awakening after I broke up with him, because I thought that's fucking bullshit! It’s attitudes like that, that have stopped me from exploring myself, because I have been in long term relationships before and it has been expected of me to not do any wanking when they're in my life, which is just totally bonkers and not fun and doesn't make for a good developing of self. It doesn't make for a great relationship either.
Having gone through that, would you say that you’re now more vocal about telling people how to please you, and putting your foot down when it comes to masturbating whilst in a relationship?
I feel like I am so much more vocal about all of the stuff but that's not to say that it hasn't been a really steep learning curve, because it really has, and I'm still learning all the time. I am not at a final point, and I don't know that I'll ever be at the final point, but I'm gonna continue learning. For example, during lockdown, and for the last year or so, I have had zero sex drive at all – I haven’t even really wanked – and I think it’s a symptom of being fucking anxious and sad. It’s just gone; just absolutely gone. It’s weird because there feels like a responsibility to keep talking about this stuff because I have talked about it in the past and people have kind of expected me to be sex positive and talking about sex toys all the time on Instagram, because I did do that a lot.
When, actually, what is also a facet of being a sexual person is that it's fucking dependent on your emotions, and it's dependent on your life, and right now, I have absolutely zero – well I'm just coming out of it which is really nice – but for a really long time, like a good six, seven months, it was just nothing. After I broke up with that guy, I had a long period of just questioning myself. I didn’t know who I was and I was so low and I was just reading on my own loads and not going on any dates – I just was not interested in that.
"I've been in situations where I didn't realise I fancied that person until I envisaged sitting on their face... until that moment when I was masturbating over them."
When I started going on dates, I remember having an experience with a really wonderful friend of mine who I had fancied for like, 10 years. He, A) started talking dirty to me, and B) he was like, “What do you like?” I was like, shit… I don't know. “I have no idea what I like. I cannot tell you right now what I like, because I've never thought about it.” That was such a sobering moment because I’d been having a lot of fun, but no-one had ever asked me that question and to have someone ask me that question at the age of 26 and be a bit like, “Fuck! Sorry, can you just give me like 20 minutes and I’ll get back to you?” That was quite an experience and kind of became a real thing where I wanted to think about that for myself, but I also wanted to check with all my friends that they knew what they liked. My sister was saying that her mate, when she was like, 27 or something, started badgering her about getting a pension. For some reason, it feels like a similar thing in my head, where you need to look after yourself and it needs to be a practical thought-out thing that you need to actually have at the forefront of your mind rather than just being like, I don’t have to think about it…
You’ve mentioned that when you were younger, you were sexting someone and despite being really horny, the thought of masturbation didn’t cross your mind. Now as somebody who is into masturbation, what’s your approach when it comes to sexting. Is it based on real-world or fantasies?
Because I haven't had any sexual desire for quite a long time, it's quite an interesting one, I think. Broadly: very realistic, but that's also because it still feels like baby steps. I'm still discovering this stuff. A lot of my mates have been sexting loads because of the pandemic and not being able to go out and see people, but I completely lost my sex drive, so that all kind of went to the side. The occasional times that I have sexted, it’s very much based in reality; it's more about things to come…
“I want to text you / but it’d mean I’ve thought about you” as a lyric is incredibly relatable for those in complicated dating situations. Have you ever masturbated over someone that you know that you shouldn't have been, or used masturbation as a tool to work out your feelings about someone?
Yes, very much so. Personally, I don't feel like there's anyone that you shouldn't masturbate over… That's not true – definitely not my family – I have masturbated over people who are in relationships, but that's why I'm masturbating over them and not doing anything about it – it gets rid of that thing. I've been in situations where I didn't realise I fancied that person until I envisaged sitting on their face. It’s great – I hadn't clocked that I quite fancy that person until that moment when I was masturbating over them.
“Baby Grand” was about you reconnecting with your ex, and the confusion of platonic feelings maybe turning into something more. Can you tell me more about the story behind that song?
It’s weird because I feel like the song acts as a kind of microcosm of the whole experience. As you say, the song is about reconnecting with an ex of mine and having these continual moments of feeling like you were getting closer and closer to each other, but then pulling away right at the last minute – whether that's because of him having a partner or there being too much emotion involved, or it being too complicated – that dancing around each other kind of thing. But also, I feel like a really important part of “Baby Grand” and the experience of working with my ex, and all the stuff in the song, is that we didn't talk to each other about any of it. The last line is, “We haven't spoken / so I can't be certain”, and that feels exactly right. There was no communication about this kind of stuff. For a really long time, there was no: “I'm feeling these things, and they're quite confusing”, it was just like you had to try and figure it out on your own, because there's so much riding on it; because you have already been in a relationship. It felt like it was almost taboo to try and bring that up. I don't know, a part of me thought I was making it up all the time. And, you know, having two kind of vulnerable people who are both feeling the same thing, but are unable to communicate, is just a shit show.
Sometimes it feels like masturbation can be similar to meditation; it's like a clearing of the mind and entering a new space. I get this feeling sometimes with hotel sex or hotel masturbation. Do you have any experiences with this?
God hotels are a thing! I totally remember that… There was actually a time, years ago when I was first with Jem, the guy who “Baby Grand” is about. I was 18 or 19, and this is my favourite story in the world, but we were literally and figuratively trying on different costumes, sexually. I bought some lingerie, and we were on holiday, and I wanted to put it on, but we were staying in an apartment with his family, so I couldn't leave the room that we were staying in. In order to put on the lingerie, I got in the cupboard, and then I smashed out of the cupboard [to surprise him with it]... That's one of my favourite memories in the world. You just get license to be a different person, don't you? Being in a hotel, you're like I can be whoever the fuck I want to be. Maybe I'm the kind of person who doesn't wear clothes ever! Maybe I'm the kind of person who doesn't sleep all night because I’m wanking, or maybe I'm the kind of person who gets in a cupboard to put on lingerie and then smashes out of it!
With the idea of trying on different identities in mind, in the song “Dead Pursuits” you say: “I don't remember how to be me / I'm not the same”; can you elaborate on that lyric and the ways masturbation has brought you to having more of an understanding of yourself?
It’s so strange; being in a relationship where I felt I was inherently wrong and bad in all different ways, and then coming out of it. I wrote “Dead Pursuits” pretty soon after coming out of it; maybe a few months or so, and I just remember thinking that I literally do not understand how to do all the things I enjoyed or how to be who I thought I was. I always thought I loved music; I always thought I loved dancing; I always thought I was gregarious and friendly, and open and chatty, and by the end of this relationship, I didn't know how to dance; I didn't really listen to music; I hadn't really seen my friends in ages, and I was fucking terrified of everyone. My anxiety was so bad by the end of that relationship that I carried an extra pair of pants around with me all the time, because I constantly thought that I'd wet myself. Obviously, I didn't think that was anxiety, I just thought my fucking bladder wasn't working. I never wet myself, but I felt like every single thing in my life needed to be re-discovered. I spent an entire summer and I read a lot of books to do with sex – there was a lot of stuff to do with sex – I basically just read for an entire summer, and just really listened to myself and tried to work out who I was.
Masturbation was quite a big part of that, but I still had to think about it. It still didn't come particularly naturally to me, especially because after that relationship, that bit kind of felt like it had been taken away from me by him; or given to him. Being able to realise that it was never his; it was never about him; it was something that should have been enjoyed together, but instead it had become like completely him-centred and him-focused… In some ways, I'm really grateful for it because it led me to a real realisation that I don't know if I would have had if I'd been in a good relationship. I think I still would have been way more like performative and way more outward facing than I now would be.
It took me many years to realise that masturbation can serve a purpose as meditation, therapy, and pain relief; almost like a form of self-care. In heteronormative relationships, we’re taught that orgasms are the end-goal with sex, but masturbation helped me unlearn that. Have you had similar struggles in having to unlearn an idea that centers around masturbation?
I mean, I've struggled with every part of everything to do with sexuality. I think I still struggled a lot with the mindset that I want to come when I have a sexual experience, and I understand that it's not the be all and end all, but I think I feel resentful if I'm with a dude and he’s come and I’m like: “Have you not heard everyone complaining about this?” So, maybe it’s more reactionary. It's pure resentment, when I’m like: “Fuck you, mate. I want to come too”, but maybe also, that speaks about some of the sexual encounters that I've had where because I haven't been in a relationship – I've only been sleeping with people very irregularly, if repeatedly at all – is that the space for intimacy isn't really there.
I guess that's the bit that I’m still struggling with hugely, is the intimacy part, because I think that relationship is quite bad for me. I think that I'm only now coming to realise that actually, the intimacy is a real thing that I haven't been looking at, but I do need to look at, because intimacy is really fucking hard and so is making yourself vulnerable. Being in a sexual encounter with someone and being like, “I have toys!” is really great, but it's a real shorthand, and it means that I don't have to necessarily feel bad about taking too long to come, which was always a thing that played in my head. Having those instances of real intimacy; I think that's my hurdle now. But I don’t know how to get there and I don’t know if I will!
Some people introduce toys into relationships to spice things up, but I like the idea of it just being another element of the sexual relationship becoming more inclusive for someone that does struggle to have an orgasm. It takes away the pressure of the performative aspect. Instagram has been a great tool for normalising sex toys and promoting sex positivity. Who are some of your favourite sex-positive influencers?
Ruby Rare – I loved her right at the beginning. She was one of my gateway self-love people, and I think she's wonderful. She talks about all of the different facets of sex and sex toys, which makes me really happy. For example, she talked about a lack of sexual desire during lockdown, and how she hadn’t been feeling very sexual and how she's been feeling kind of conflicted about the fact that she is a sex educator, she is a sex positive person, and she felt like there was some responsibility to feel sexual all the time. She admitted that it's not true and it's not realistic. She was the first person who I saw with a Womanizer, and she had her arms full of different toys… She's always just really positive but she's also really real, she doesn't sugar coat it, and also it hasn’t been a monetary thing for her all the time. She has had some affiliate links, but it hasn't always been like, “Have a wank because these toys are great and also you get 10% off if you use my link”, it was more just like: “I want people to explore themselves, I want them to the have this kind of discovery aspect of their lives, and I want them to do it for them”.
I really enjoyed Wild Flower Sex but then after the first controversy, I stopped following them, and then after the second controversy, it was not even a question mark in my head anymore. When I wrote “Chelsea Hotel #3”, it wasn't so much of a public conversation on social media, and now I have an affiliate link for a sex toy shop… You’ve got Cara Delevigne who's an ambassador for Lora DiCarlo; Lily Allen doing her own sex toys and Megan Barton Hanson talking about sex toys all the time, it’s just great – especially Cara Delevigne and Lily Allen, the mainstream celebrities, talking about masturbation and female pleasure and female desire.
It definitely a conversation that more people are open to talk about but there's also still elements of backlash from mainstream media; Zoella being removed from GCSE curriculums for writing sex toy reviews, for example. What would be your method towards normalising masturbation and changing its taboo nature?
Definitely in school…That's why this is, in my mind, so distressing. I don't understand why we don't teach kids to do taxes; I don't understand why we don't teach kids first aid every year; I don't understand why we don't teach kids about their own sexual pleasure and desire, and how to explore that in an age appropriate way. I feel like there are so many people my age and older, and probably quite a few younger, who just have been told for so long that it is shameful, that it is inherently bad, and it's embarrassing or it’s not something that should be spoken about, because it's not proper or good. I feel like it's much harder to reverse that than it is to encourage people in the right way. That’s how I feel about Jada Pinkett Smith and Will Smith and how they parented their kids. I think both of them have done some incredible things. I remember when Willow shaved her head, and some reporter asked Will how he felt about that and he was like, “If I told my daughter what to do with her hair now, she would just look for another man to tell her what to do with it later.” That’s fucking genius and it seems really radical, but it's not. It's just not a dialogue that is open in broader spheres all the time. Young people are like sponges, and they learn from older people. If older people are funnelling shame, embarrassment and being tight-lipped into them…
"I don't understand why we don't teach kids about their own sexual pleasure and desire, and how to explore that in an age-appropriate way."
We've all been afforded so much time to be with ourselves during lockdown, and whilst you were saying that you've lost your sex drive, there are some people who are potentially being more active in their self-love and sexuality. To backtrack on what you said earlier about having to schedule in masturbation, I think it’s quite healthy to schedule self-love into our routines…
There are little techniques that I am still only just learning that are so important to me, that are ways in which I show myself that I love myself. They feel like very rudimentary adult human being things, but to my mind, they're quite new, exciting and radical. It will sound really silly when I say them, but I never used to buy candles and then I bought myself a really nice €10 scented candle – which is a fucking stupid amount of money to spend on a candle – but there was something about the act of doing that for myself in the first place. In doing that I'm creating an environment for myself to be in and do things like a HIIT workout or yoga and not thinking about it in the sense of wanting to get toned or fit and ripped, then not seeing any results and being like, “Fuck it, I'm just going to eat until I can’t really move and be really sad about it for days”. If I put on a candle and I do a yoga class in the evening, I know that my brain will feel better for it.
I never used to have baths, and unfortunately I don’t have a bath here, but where I was living beforehand, there were a couple of nights where I thought: “What will I do now to show to myself that I like myself. What will I do that's not sitting with my phone right next to my face, scrolling and feeling inadequate and feeling shit?” I'm going to turn my phone off, I’m going to run myself a bath and I’m going to put some candles on and have a candlelit bath. It sounds really rudimentary and basic, but if you haven't been doing these things for yourself forever… I found it really moving for lack of a better way of putting it.
There was a Reply All episode five or six months ago where at the end of it, they talked about this kind of thing. If you are buying a candle for yourself, knowing that you're going to use it in the future to create an environment that's nice; in a way, you're kind of saying I love you to your future self, and it’s just kind. I feel really emotional about that, and I’m still working out other ways of doing that myself – maybe making myself a really nice meal that I can have for the next couple of days. I couldn't cook until a couple of years ago and all of these things feel like new experiences. They’re all woven in. I feel like masturbation is quite a literal kind of self-love – and it's fucking great – but having all of these new different facets of learning what I like just feels really powerful.
It’s the idea of investing in yourself… Are there any funny stories that you’d be willing to share about this journey into self-love that might promote the funny side to masturbation?
100%. When I first got my Womanizer, and discovered that I could have multiples, I wanked so much that I gave myself thrush which was quite impressive. I was like I can just keep going and going and going? Ok, I probably should stop now…
Sometimes when people talk about masturbation, they don’t often go into the funny details that can make less scary for people. To be able to normalise it, I think focusing on humour is a good way to go.
Absolutely! I find it so bizarre if I've been courting someone – because I'm quite giggly and I like laughing – one of the things I find most attractive is if someone can make me laugh. Then to get into bed with that person and suddenly be met with this really intense steely thing that doesn’t laugh or doesn't want to talk, I’m like, what is going on? Why is there such a weird divide and why is this such a separate thing? What if I queef!? What if I put a finger up your butt and it has a bit of poo on it!? Are we gonna find that funny? Are you going to be super embarrassed about that? That’s not really my jam… I find that for some people, there’s this definite split and it's always a bit sad.
What would you say is the biggest misconception that you've learned since going on this journey of self-exploration via self-love?
The idea that there’s always an element of coercion – not active coercion – but in the societal public sphere where it’s like: “Ok, I'll have sex with you on Wednesday after you've unloaded the dishwasher”, or as if it is some sort of bartering thing – which is just fucking grim – the idea that it is some sort of prize. Actually, the way that I lost my virginity, it really did feel like I was giving [away] a prize and I feel really strange about it now… I don't want to say the commodification because that's something else, but the idea that it’s a kind of bartering system where it's anything other than just a connection. I guess it can be used in lots of different ways, but the prevalent idea of when people have been in long-term relationships, or they're married; that sex becomes this thing where it has to be for a purpose, or it has to be because of the purpose, rather than the purpose: just being together. That, and also that men don't like having fingers up their bums!
The greatest thing about sex is the act of discovering yourself, and another person at the same time. Pleasure can be limitless, and it's fun to try and reach those boundaries…
I remember someone telling me about ‘the pops’, which are a thing if you’re a marathon runner where it feels like a mini orgasm every once in a while when you’re running. I thought that was fucking cool, so I went running and I don't think I'd ever realised that before but I definitely got a very small feeling of that. That’s an idea that five years or so ago, I wouldn't have even thought was a pleasurable thing, I would have just been like, “this feels weird!” The idea that I can now add that into a pleasure scape is just so exciting…
An orgasm simplified is a massive release of endorphins, and who doesn't want an endorphin rush? I like the idea of chasing pleasure and being completely unashamed in those pursuits.
One of the things that the email newsletter told me about was basically foreplay with yourself – doing things like stroking my own arm, playing with my own neck, and stuff like that. When you first start, it seems a bit like hammy, but in the pleasure scape; it's just another thing that is really fucking nice. Obviously when someone else tickles you it’s marginally nicer just because you don't know where it's gonna go, but tickling your own arm is pretty fucking nice. Those kinds of little things that you can add in and it doesn't have to lead to anything, it's just being just nice to yourself.
I think we forget that quite often – especially in a time where we're lacking in human interaction – just to focus more on yourself and making yourself feel good is such an important thing. What made you decide to include a vibrator with the physical copies of your album A Common Turn?
One reason is that I have wanted to make a sex toy line for a really long time, so that was a really good excuse to be able to do that. There’s a real want to spread that kind of discovery... With me putting it with my vinyl, and with my CD, there's an element of me taking away some of the embarrassment. It’s like you didn’t have to buy a vibrator; it just happened to come with this album! It’s a really sneaky way of it not having to be that specific purchase – it doesn't have to be so thoughtful. I'm very earnest with the things that I am excited about and the things that I want to share, and I feel very strongly that it could help people. Also, they’re just really cute and my logo is slightly based on the clitoris, so there's something beautiful in my mind about having my logo on something that might be used to pleasure a clitoris!
How do you feel about people masturbating with your vibrator whilst listening to your album?
I mean… fair enough! It’s the same kind of thing of working stuff out, isn't it? Masturbating is totally for the person who's doing it, so if they think that would be a pleasurable experience for them, that's great. I don’t know if that’s weird – people can do what they want!
I don't think it's weird. You being open about your experiences via music, and providing a tool to help people, is actually quite a beautiful symmetry.
Totally. The only weird thing I was thinking is if someone was scrolling through my Instagram or something. Then that’s a step too far, but they’ve put on music that they like, which happens to be my vinyl, and they happen to be using my vibrator – that's fucking great. I would feel very proud about that – I don’t necessarily wanna know about it – but I’d feel proud.
Some things are better left unsaid…
I'm not very good at leaving stuff unsaid, but definitely some things are!