Rachel had enjoyed masturbating since she was a teenager. In her book excerpt, she shared how the curiosity to discover the meaning of the word orgasm led her to the front of a large mirror, her legs spread-eagled on the floor, her clitoris looking like the big nose of an old man, and her fingers moving slowly at first, rubbing, massaging until, in five minutes, she found the meaning of the big O. And yes, it was a big deal.
Ours is a more conservative society, so as I read through each sentence of her essay, I found myself admiring how she talked about her masturbation so brazenly – like it is a very normal thing, like eating ice cream.
It is normal. It is cool. But it is less often talked about here. Except you are among your geng, you do not throw the word masturbation anyhow if you do not want people staring at you, brows furrowed, mouth twitching, or calling Jesus to intervene in your matter.
After reading the excerpt, I rushed to my Friends Forever WhatsApp group, which had died a natural death, and asked, “Guys, do you masturbate?” At first, everywhere was silent. Then Jane (note that all names here are pseudonyms) said, “I tried it twice, it didn’t make sense and I felt stupid afterward.” Then she said she has a bestie who masturbates very regularly because her husband is not in Nigeria. When I asked her to link me up so I could have a chat with this bestie, she said, “Ah no o, it is too private.”
Unlike Rachel, Jane made masturbation sound like a big deal. Like something you only say to special people. When she said, “The person and I had a deep discussion that led to this revelation,” I imagined the lady telling her she masturbates in whispers and her eyes bulging, like someone who had discovered something grand.
As Jane and I talked, Tade said, “I never tried it when I was single.” Then I asked, “Now nko?” Before she replied, Jane chipped in, “Why will she try it now when her husband dey gidigba?”
It is clear that Jane does not think much of masturbation. For her, masturbation is something women do – or should do – when there’s an unavailability of a man’s penis. Masturbation should be a last resort, something that should be done when you are desperately in need of sex and your husband is not available. I do not think it has ever struck her that some women – like Tade, who live and have sex with their husbands – derive more pleasure when they touch themselves and explore their own bodies.
Jane is also a Christain who is, to a large extent, still bound by religious views when it comes to issues like marriage, sex, and masturbation. So when Tade tells us she masturbates and at first, masturbation felt weird and she got no sensation from it, until her friend taught her how to go about it, Jane says, “should I talk about the spiritual side of it?” I say, “No, for the sake of this discussion, keep your spirikoko to yourself. We’re talking about sexual pleasures only.”
In the excerpt, what started as mere curiosity for Rachel metamorphosed into something better – sexual pleasure. When Tade talks about her masturbation in the group chat, I see the similarities between her and Rachel. Like Rachel, Tade was curious and bored. Like Rachel, she discovered pleasure like never before. Like Rachel, she could function well without a man’s private part, and like Rachel, she masturbated more while she was pregnant.
This discussion led us down a deeper rabbit hole. Although I know it isn’t in all cases, still, I have always thought that most married couples have lots of sex. Marriage is like a free pass to each other’s bodies (of course with consent), yea? But this isn’t so.
Not having sex in marriages seems to be more common than I thought and masturbation is, in fact, normal for a lot of married women. Tade and her husband hardly have sex. He comes home so tired and sometimes, they do not get intimate for many weeks. Besides, penetration, for her, is a painful experience, except if, of course, it’s her fingers doing the job. So what is a woman gonna do? In the group chat, she is not the only one who blurts out, “I don’t like sex.” For them, sex is a chore and we find ourselves asking one another how we can boost libidos. Still, there is an undertone that I do not miss. Perhaps, like Tade, the issue with others is not that they do not like sex, it could be that they do not enjoy sex with their husbands and would be better off doing things themselves. Their own way. But I do not say this.
When it comes to sex, religion plays a role, even for married women, and masturbators are often placed in a very tricky situation. To do or not to do. Azanat’s husband promised to ‘teach her different styles’ but it’s already four years and she is yet to experience the “different styles.” Still, she cannot masturbate as much as she’d love to because she is a Muslim and it makes her feel unclean. But sometimes she cheats, and her fingers find their way into her anytime she sees her big bum in the mirror and realises that it surely needs to be attended to. But after that, she is consumed by guilt and then vows not to do it again. When I suggest watching porn with her husband to put them both in the mood, she says she doesn’t want to lose the trust he has in her and suggesting it might make him see her in a different light. So what to do? Live without sexual pleasure? Unimaginable.
Once, on Twitter, someone described the women who talked about masturbation as “ndi woke.” Rachel has come to terms with pleasure and that is a beautiful thing. But what is more beautiful is that the way she has chosen to derive pleasure does not weigh her down with guilt and the way she writes about it breaks all the hugely erected walls that shield that word. She is unabashed about it and as my friends and I glide through other sex-related topics, talking about BDSM and pegging, we are not shamefaced, we do not whisper and I am glad that between us, there are no walls. Perhaps, we are all “ndi woke.”
Science says the clitoris exists for only one purpose: to give women pleasure. And if your fingers can do that well, what’s then the big deal about flicking the bean?