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Femininity: why we need to stop stigmatising periods, sex and female masturbation

Written by Megan Rigby

Design by Amelia Field

When was the last term you overheard a girl bragging about how many men she’d slept with last weekend? Or openly chatting with her bestie about the dildo she bought? Or even freely talking about the bloody mess that was last month’s period?

The chances are you’ve rarely, if ever, caught a woman publicly speaking about any of these topics. We keep our mouths shut and eyes averted if we do, because it’s viewed as improper, dirty and vulgar; but, the question we should ask ourselves is why keep quiet, when these occurrences are so natural to women.

A man sleeping with multiple women is often christened a legend; a woman with the same body count is stamped as a slut, a whore, or ‘easy’.

Why are men often rewarded rather than described in the same way as women?

Somehow, women are portrayed as objects of sexual desire (don’t even get me started on this), whilst being shamed for actually having sex; they are often expected to play some sort of game and be ‘hard to get’, setting up a double standard where women can seemingly do nothing right.

What’s more, those who are turned down by women often assume, or tease, that they are just hard to please; just because women don’t necessarily enjoy the incessant thrusting male between their legs does not mean they’re hard to please.

There are other ways, but, yet again, they’re brushed under the rug, never to be spoken about as that sort of conversation should be ‘private’. We’re brought up to believe that there’s one way to have sex and that without penetration, it doesn’t count, isn’t worth it or won’t feel good. But that’s a myth.

Women, in fact, don’t even require a partner to find pleasure with their own bodies. All we need is ourselves and, for some, a little toy; up to 91% of women masturbate, yet I’d guess as few as 9% would be willing to talk about it openly.

When sex with someone else leaves so much to be desired, is it any wonder we turn to our own skills to find that sexual gratification? For some, masturbation is self care, others stress relief and some use it as a chance to explore what they get a thrill out of. There is no wrong reason, just as there’s no wrong way of doing it, as long as it makes you feel good.

Despite the fact that so many women find masturbation an enjoyable or helpful practice, we are reluctant to discuss it over coffee like we would other coping techniques, such as exercising or socialising. However, if we started chatting openly, women would realise that it’s normal, they won’t walk around with the associated guilt and they might even learn a few tips along the way. Keeping secrets and believing you’re the only one is so detrimental to our wellbeing, so breaking down these taboos is crucial.

On the topic of taboos, don’t get me started on the apparent social awkwardness and inability for anybody to talk about periods; a phenomenon which occurs to people across the world every single month (or thereabouts – we all know how spontaneous a uterus can be).

Periods are incredible. Not only do they allow us to have children, but they can be a tell-tale sign of problems with mental and physical health, the result of such an intricate balance of hormones and timings.

We have somehow succumbed, however, to hundreds of colloquialisms we’d prefer to use rather than actually saying the words period or menstruation. And, still, we feel the need to hide our pads and tampons when we go to the toilet.

The average age for girls to start their periods is 12-13. The shame, though, that I felt then still creeps up on me now at the age of 24.

Maybe part of that is because I never learnt what was ‘normal’, I was split off from the boys in my class to learn about it. That subconsciously stayed with me, reminding me that this was not something to be shared or open about, especially with men.

Even buying tampons was a struggle, my cheeks would burn as the cashier scanned them, as if I thought it was something embarrassing or indecent! I’ve even spoken to girls where this mortification is so intense, they’ve put off buying sanitary products for so long they’ve had to resort to using tissue paper or socks.

Why is that preferable to buying a simple hygiene product? There is toilet roll in every toilet you enter, why can’t we also add sanitary products? It would both help with the normalisation of menstruation, but also be a huge aid in the fight against period poverty (a topic for another day).

The stigmas surrounding femininity can be dangerous.

The lack of open and honest conversations about natural female health means that women are hesitant or afraid to seek help for gynaecological symptoms, or sexual experiences that have made them feel uncomfortable. Furthermore, they can begin to assume it’s the norm when it’s anything but.

If young women grow up learning that these things are natural and okay to speak up about, then perhaps there is an offer for mental health to improve.

Maybe women will be more accepting of their bodies; maybe they’ll begin to love themselves and respect their bodies not only for what they look like but what they can do; maybe they’ll realise that their pleasure is just as important as anyone else’s.

The more we talk, the more we allow these issues to be raised and dealt with. It’s vital that we don’t let something as useless as shame and awkwardness prevent the care of women.

#Femininity #stigmas #Masturbation #Periods #Sex

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