Like many women, I was afraid to delve into the world of self-pleasure, embarrassed at the thought of spending money on something so personal and intimate.
Prior to lockdown the thought of buying a vibrator felt humiliating, yet would often pop up into my head. I’d think about how great owning one would be – as a highly strung and highly stressed student, I had hopes that it would relieve some of the pressure.
I’d open up my laptop, search through the millions of options, and add whatever looked simplest to use to my cart. Then, once I’d get to the payment I’d suddenly go flushed with embarrassment, slam my laptop shut and carry on my day without a second thought.
I was embarrassed about exploring my own self-pleasure and sexuality. I’d never learned about masturbation and female pleasure – either in sex education or talking to friends. Yet, I had millions of questions. What sex toys are good? Is it a normal thing to want? I had no answers, and felt incredibly alone.
Then the first lockdown hit in March. Like the rest of the country, I was bound to my house; my university exams were cancelled, and I was furloughed from my job. My boyfriend was isolating an hour or so away from where I lived, so we knew sex would be off the cards for months. I thought that perhaps this would be the perfect time to make that purchase that had been on my mind for a while.
“Before the package arrived I was afraid of judgement. What if my housemates would decipher what I had bought and think I was weird?”
I didn’t know where to start with the countless options on the internet but decided that something that was discrete and easy to use was most important. For the first time I felt like I had the space to explore my body without the embarrassment.
Before the package arrived I was afraid of judgement. What if my housemates would decipher what I had bought and think I was weird? The constant worry I had about buying this sex toy feels crazy now I’m looking back, but I know this anxiety is borne of our entrenched ideas about women’s sexuality.
In particular, female masturbation has a stigma of awkwardness. It is not a topic that many people feel comfortable talking about, and is often sidelined in favour of centring male pleasure.
Even Zoella, one of the most powerful beauty and lifestyle influencers, was decried for daring to upload a post on her blog recommending sex toys for her readers. If an influencer with such a huge following like Zoella can’t escape harsh criticism for talking about her sexuality, what hope does that leave somebody like me?
“All these entrenched ideas stem from misogyny in society, and the awkwardness I felt was a response to an outdated taboo.”
Nevertheless, seeing prominent women in the social media sphere open up about their own self-pleasure really inspired me to normalise it in my personal life. It helped me to understand that by criticising myself so much for desiring pleasure in this way was creating a prominent barrier in my sexual expression.
I was relieved from a lot of this embarrassment after I bought my first sex toy and realised just how normal it is. All these entrenched ideas stem from misogyny in society, and the awkwardness I felt was a response to an outdated taboo.
Lockdown, for me, and I think thousands of other women, provided time and space away from reality whereby this experimentation was possible. Now, I’ve decided to be more open in normalising women’s self-pleasure, which has brought experimentation, relaxation, and entertainment into my life.
Instead of feeling uncomfortable about sex and masturbation, I feel free.
Ruby Wood is a student and journalist