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WE ASKED 8 WOMEN ABOUT THEIR MASTURBATION HABITS IN LOCKDOWN

Did it take coronavirus to encourage them to do it more?

20.01.2021

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Little in life remains unaffected by the COVID-19 pandemic, but there’s one thing that may have changed for the better under its influence: women’s masturbation habits. Wanking, if you want to be uncouth about it. As considerably more time is spent at home and boredom prevails, it’s hardly surprising. At least for childless women who haven’t been tasked with even more domestic responsibilities than usual. But what has it ultimately meant for the women who are doing it more? And – where heterosexual relations are concerned – how do men fit into it?

THE FACTS AND FIGURES

“Many women [are] quarantined alone, without access to sexual partners (long-term or casual), yet still with a strong sex drive”, says Laurie Mintz, author of Becoming Cliterate, a 2019 book that helps women reach their orgasm objectives. “This is a stressful time and masturbation is a great stress reliever”, she says of the surge in self-pleasure. While stress relief is a key short-term benefit of masturbation, there is another with perhaps more longevity: “women will get to know more [about] what they like and need for orgasm,” says Mintz. “In fact, in sex therapy for women learning to orgasm, sending them home with instructions to masturbate is always the first step. Telling their partners how to pleasure them based on what they learned from masturbation is the next step.”

It’s not just conjecture that attests to the fact that women are masturbating more, however – the numbers confirm it. Back in March – at the start of lockdown – searches for ‘sexual wellness’ on Cult Beauty increased by 850%. In the same period, LELO reported a 56% rise in sales revenue. As its brand manager, Stuart Nugent, asserts, “it’s beyond doubt that demand for sex toys, and, by extension, the frequency of masturbation, has surged in these calamitous times.”

Cécile Gasnault, head of marketing at Smile Makers, has ‘We bring female sexuality OUT IN THE OPEN’ in her email signature. For her, “female masturbation has always existed, but the media coverage about increase of sales of vibrators” has allowed the topic to flourish and – with any luck – the taboo to wane. “The real topic here is how this increase shows the role our sexual wellbeing plays in our overall wellbeing,” she says. Masturbation is “not only a very pleasurable way to spend some me-time, but it's a time when we're completely in the present moment, a moment where we can explore ourselves and get to know ourselves better.”

So how have women experienced masturbation during lockdown? And why weren’t they doing it beforehand?

IRIS, THE DJ

Iris was formerly “too busy to think about” masturbating. In the first lockdown, however, she “masturbated for five hours” in one sitting while her boyfriend was at work. "I didn't think I still had it in me," she says. 

YASMIN, THE SENIOR ASSOCIATE

Working in the finance industry, Yasmin also found time “elusive” prior to the pandemic – it was the gym that was her priority. When these closed, early mornings that would have been spent in them before work were now spent masturbating. Will this be something she continues post-lockdown? "Not really, I'm only doing it at the moment because I can't usually buy this time for myself," she admits.

KITTY, THE PHD STUDENT

Yet it’s not a panacea. For Kitty, a PhD student, masturbating throughout the pandemic hasn’t been an inherently positive act: “the quick fix of masturbation pre-isolation has gone – I can’t just wank off some bad feelings and get on with my day; I might have had an orgasm but I’m still stuck in my flat with those feelings,” she states. “I’ve become more mindful about what I actually want to achieve through masturbation,” she adds. “Wanking can be great, but it can be disappointing” and, ultimately, “you can only push [it] so far,” she finishes.

PALOMA, THE ART DIRECTOR

Loneliness is, of course, a recurring theme of lockdown. Paloma, an art director, has actually found herself “masturbating less and fantasizing more” since the first one was announced. “I think I’m missing intimacy a lot. The last time I [masturbated] I cried after, so I just don’t want to resurface all those feelings,” she explains.

EMILY, THE WRITER

Emily has always "had a healthy attitude towards masturbation," but “had absolutely no desire to touch [herself]” when she was freshly single and living with her parents at the beginning of the pandemic. “I had lost my drive for the first time,” she says. It took meeting her new partner for this to change: “I knew that I liked him because I had the desire to masturbate again,” she shares.

JANE, THE ARTIST

But being in an intimate relationship doesn’t necessarily solve everything in the midst of a global pandemic – especially when it comes to sexual satisfaction. And while single women might be seen as having a monopoly on masturbation, those in relationships have been doing it more too (or at least wanting to). The increased frequency with which Jane has been masturbating is largely a matter of convenient timing: the vibrator she had ordered arrived as soon as the first lockdown started “and it kind of opened up the possibilities of pleasure for me a bit more, so I’ve continued to pursue that throughout,” she says. Although it was initially something that her and her boyfriend explored together, she has since “been using it on the sly when [her] boyfriend is napping because self-isolation sex has not been a thing for [them] at all.” He “has not been shaving, and his moustache and beard don’t make for a pleasant kissing experience,” she explains. Like many things, this is related to coronavirus: “his work has died down because of it and he therefore doesn’t have any meetings for which he ‘needs’ to shave. I sometimes ask him to, but in a weird way it can feel akin to a man asking me to shave my pussy when I don’t want to.”

LARA, THE TEACHER

Lara, a teacher, had been keen for her boyfriend to move in with her so that she wasn’t alone during lockdown. But, as someone who struggles to reach orgasm with a partner, the presures of sudden and inescapable cohabitation are felt sexually: “I feel like I can’t whip my vibrator out every time we have sex,” she says. “I have been trying to get him to go out more so I can do it on the sly, but then the pressure often stops me from orgasming anyway.” She believes that “it would have been great to have this time to just masturbate all the time,” but doesn’t for fear “it will offend him.”

BELLA, THE SECURITY ANALYST

Then again, women in homosexual relationships are experiencing this hindrance too. For Bella, “lockdown makes it harder [to masturbate] as [her] girlfriend is always in.” Like Lara, she fears it will "offend" her.

SO WHAT NOW?

Indeed, it is unfortunate that we live in a society where women feel they cannot masturbate for any reason. But the fear of offending male partners is particularly problematic. After all, openness about masturbation could close the orgasm gap and lead to more fulfilling sex for heterosexual couples. Culturally, in spite of the fact that the majority of women do not “reliably orgasm from penetration alone,” men are given “the message that their partner’s pleasure depends on their thrusting hard and lasting long,” reveals Mintz. As a result, many women “fake orgasm to protect their partner’s egos, leaving their own needs unmet,” she says. Somewhat predictably in this instance, “research shows that a man’s acceptance of his partner’s vibrator use is highly correlated with her sexual satisfaction,” she continues. Evidently, we are not quite there yet. And so the sexual revolution must trundle on. But if there's been one advantage to the impact of coronavirus on women’s masturbation habits, it’s the space it’s afforded them to think about it more – to think ‘when’ and ‘how’ and ‘why’ and ‘why not’. At least it’s a start.

All names have been changed.

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