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I remember that first wave of puberty, my sexual awakening. It was little things like having crushes on actors, musicians and, yes, even Tom Jones. My mother, being the traditional yet quirky Nigerian mom she is, had a few conversations about what was going on with my body as far as her comfort would allow and provided me with a heap of books for references. We talked about sex and the mechanics therein, but it was always within the context of a mutually exclusive loving marriage. We never discussed self-pleasure as part of that, but I’d read enough to start experimenting anyway.

I must have been 13 or 14 years old when I had my first orgasm. It was one of the more liberating sexual experiences I had growing up. Realizing the power I had to give myself that feeling gave me a certain sense of ownership over my own pleasure, one I can’t really ever see myself giving up.

There’s a stigma surrounding female masturbation. I blame cultural bias, patriarchal constructs and the way we are socialized to see women and sex. According to a survey of sexual health by the University of Indiana only about 63% of women aged 30-39 masturbate. The number is higher for men of course, and I’m pretty sure even lower as it pertains to casual conversations about self-pleasure among women.

I’ve been in a few sexually satisfying relationships over the course of my adult life, but in one previous relationship with a man I was very in love with, the fact that I masturbated became an issue. I learned this during was our first trip to the Museum of Sex in New York City. As museums typically do, there was a store attached to the building and I recall walking in there feeling like I was Charlie at the Chocolate Factory. The colors, the toys…everything made me excited in anticipation of the wonderful gizmos we’d find as a couple. I was sadly mistaken as I was dragged out of the store the second I laid my hands on a paddle and clamps. My boyfriend at the time mumbled something about being tired and that we’d come back, but I wasn’t convinced.

Later, I revisited the topic with him in a different way. I started off with a simple inquiry about his adult video viewing habits, you know, trying to get a sense of what my partner was into. He denied ever watching porn (even though his browser history and a suspiciously placed bottle of lotion would indicate otherwise). I pressed a bit further to understand his denial and apprehension which is when he told me, “Why would I need to masturbate if I have you?”

Apparently, he’d grown up with the idea that porn and masturbation are things you do in the interim when you’re single and don’t have a partner. To the sexually inexperienced this may sound very romantic, but it in all actuality it is a red flag. The idea that one would give up ownership of their sexual pleasure or lay the sole responsibility in another person’s lap was problematic to me.

I told him I masturbated pretty frequently, especially when he wasn’t around. He took this personally and even went so far as to say “I must not be doing my job then if you feel the need to do that.” I realized the entire conversation had turned from a safe space to share and bond over kinks to an insular bubble filled with ego. At this point, things escalated and he asked that I give up my pleasure chest. I refused.

We were together for a few more years after that. Sex together was great, but I never stopped pleasuring myself in between. We just never talked about it anymore, but it was one of the larger sized pink elephants in the room that was our relationship.

Perhaps I have a more evolved view of myself as it pertains to sexual relationships, especially the one I have with myself, because I am a big supporter of self-pleasure. I believe that it is one of the many ways to learn about the things you like and dislike in order to have a have fulfilling experiences with a future lover or life partner. Dare I say, it’s also another way to bond with your partner? I’d encourage adults to have open and honest conversations about sexual habits and kinks. Not only does it provide more open spaces for safe communication with one another but it also removes the stigma of “indecency” around the topic of self-pleasure. Afterall, how can I teach you what I do’nt know about myself?

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