In school, masturbation was never spoken about during sex education classes (Picture: Sumaiya Ahmed)
My first ever experience of masturbation was an accident at the age of about 12 years old.
It wasn’t until I read an article in Cosmopolitan magazine about a year later that I actually realised it was an orgasm.
At the time, I enjoyed the feeling but almost immediately after, I felt so ashamed as if I had done something dirty.
This was brought on by the fact I didn’t know what exactly I had done and I didn’t know what it meant. I also felt like I wasn’t able to talk about it, which cemented the feeling of shame for years to come.
As a South Asian Muslim woman, there is an aura of propensity towards sexual conservatism – from both my culture and religion.
This creates feelings of embarrassment when it comes to solo sex, which can affect self-confidence and intimacy. I’ve personally experienced this, both alone and with my partner.
In school, the topic was never spoken about during sex education classes. We were only taught about sexual reproduction and how to prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs). There was nothing about masturbation, consent or how to deal with the rising feelings of sexual desire once puberty hit.
I was also taught that in Islam, self-pleasure is strictly forbidden and sexual activity is only meant to happen between married couples. The latter is something that was reinforced in a family conversation I had when I was 10 years old.
I was told never – under any circumstances – have sex with anyone who isn’t my husband otherwise I’d go to hell, it would ruin my father’s izzat – meaning honour or reputation – and it would prevent me from ever getting married because I was no longer ‘pure’.
Even though I was embracing self-pleasure, I still felt ashamed (Picture: Sumaiya Ahmed)
I felt confused at the time but even more so as I got older. Over time, I found myself wondering if I couldn’t have sex with anyone before marriage then how was I meant to deal with feeling horny?
I didn’t even know what masturbation was until halfway through secondary school when it was briefly mentioned in Islamic class. The teacher had been talking about puberty and what the changes in our bodies meant as we got older because it could lead to sexual desires and zina (which means premarital sex).
Shame feels central to being South Asian. My culture doesn’t speak about women’s pleasure whatsoever. But our honour, and our entire family’s honour, rests on our naked bodies – our vaginas – because to society that is where our worth lies.
Even though I was embracing self-pleasure, I still felt ashamed and the overwhelming guilt of sinning washed over me. I was revelling in a practice that wasn’t hurting a single soul. Other than, apparently, my own.
This feeling continued because of the lack of conversation on the topic; I felt like I was the only one doing it. The inability to have a discussion on masturbation was unnerving and sadly due to cultural influences.
At the age of 18, I hesitantly admitted to my friends that I did it. I finally felt at ease and comforted because we were all talking about it so openly. I wasn’t alone in it and I certainly wasn’t the only one feeling the guilt from doing it.
Talking about it so freely felt amazing.
As I continued to use social media, I saw a lot more positivity on orgasms, which was great to see. I also read tips on experimentation and how to stay safe.
Masturbation can be a fun, exciting activity that can boost mental health and understanding of your body. A 2015 study showed that the practice results in better sexual satisfaction and body confidence but it’s also great because orgasms release endorphins, which make us happy.
Masturbation isn’t something evil (Picture: Sumaiya Ahmed)
The only way we are going to challenge the idea of it being a sin is by changing the narrative. That comes about through openly talking about masturbation and unlearning these harmful views that it’s forbidden.
It’s not a conversation just for South Asian Muslim women, too. Western culture still has a long way to go when it comes to fully embracing the idea that women – of all races and religions – should be free to practice self-stimulation.
Only up until a few years ago have I managed to put aside these religious and cultural influences and thought ‘I’ll do me’. Since it’s not hurting anyone and it’s something that makes me feel good, both physically and mentally, why not?
It helps to relieve any physical pain, stress or worries I have and it helps me to learn more about my body.
Masturbation isn’t something evil and it took me way too long to realise the harm from associating it with being a sin.
I’ve now got to a point where I can have open and honest conversations with my friends about the ways we enjoy solo sex, including sex toys and experimentation. But it’s through having these conversations and writing about our own experiences that we’ll see any tangible changes.
This sex positivity could be strengthened even further if we implement proper sex education into schools, including issues of consent and pleasure. Only then will we be able to move away from the stigma attached to masturbation.
I no longer feel ashamed or guilty for engaging in the occasional solo sex. If anything, it makes me feel pretty great – not to mention sleepy on those nights when I just can’t seem to dive into dreamland.
It’s helped me to embrace myself more and enjoy sex, not just with myself but with my partner too.