Female masturbation: do we talk about it?

The present study revealed that masturbation is not a prerogative of single women: 13% of women in pairs and 15% of single women masturbate once a week, with a peak in young couples.


Advertising message For a long time, the practice of female masturbation was considered taboo; although, to date, there is greater access by women to online pornographic material or sexual objects, such as sex toys, masturbation is still far from becoming a habitual component of the female sexual repertoire, like men .

The present survey was conducted through an online questionnaire, with a sample of 913 French women aged between 18 and 69 years. Its objectives were to describe and explain the growing spread of masturbation among French women, and to provide an update on the question of the acceptability of this practice among the female population, in an era in which the cultural norms on the subject seem have evolved. Specifically, the new data, collected through the IFOP (French Institute of Public Opinion), were compared with those dating back to previous investigations on sexuality, conducted in France.

Results show that female masturbation behavior is much closer to that of men than it was before. In fact, it seems to be a very fast growing activity. According to the data, in 2017, three out of four women (74%) admit to having masturbated during their life, against 60% in 2006 (CSF), 42% in 1992 (ACSF) and just 19% in 1970 (Simon report). However, it is still a more widespread practice among men (95%), as well as being a much more occasional practice for women: only 14% of women said they masturbate at least once a week, against 50% of men.

The aforementioned surveys have highlighted the difficulties of women in accepting this form of pleasure, purely individual, since it does not fall within the socially acceptable context of the couple relationship. In this regard, Alfred Spira highlighted the almost impossibility for the women of the time to accept the existence of a form of sexuality in which pleasure is obtained alone (Spira & Bajos, 1993). Also Béjin (1993) saw, on the one hand, traces of a residue of the traditional feminine modesty, on the other the reflection of a practice still associated with the idea of ​​solitude. Therefore, by not requiring attachment to a partner, masturbating meant confirming the theory of not being attractive. More recently, the effects of an excessive “romanticization” of female sexuality have been highlighted, which would prevent women from spontaneously associating pleasure and sexuality, as well as considering their pleasure independently of the partner (Legouge, 2016). However, the increase in this trend, according to Bozon (2008), is due to the fact that masturbation has become a “socially more legitimate” practice. This would reflect a change in the perception of masturbation within a female population that until now saw it as a “sad substitute” for sexual intercourse as a couple, and that at the same time saw the partner “the only custodian of one’s pleasure” ( Legouge, 2008). The aforementioned changes are also reflected in the media and music sphere, for example artists like Miley Cyrus (Adore You), Lady Gaga (Sexxx Dreams), Hailee Steinfeld (Love Myself) claim this practice in their songs from a feminist perspective, while film productions, such as “Black Swan” (2011) , “The To – Do List” (2013), or American TV series such as “Orange is the New Black”, have multiplied the scenes related to female masturbation, promoting its “normalization”. Furthermore, the number of women who access pornographic websites has also significantly increased, from 4% in 2006 (CSF) to 43% in 2015 (IFOP Survey –Porngig / November 2015), and who read books on auto-eroticism, from 57 % of women in 2012 to 67% in January 2015 (IFOP survey – Femme Actuelle, 2015). Finally, in 2017 almost one in two French women (49%) admitted to having used a sex toy,

Advertising message The present study also revealed that masturbation is not a prerogative of single women: 13% of women in pairs and 15% of single women masturbate once a week, with a peak in young couples. Usually women involved in a love relationship who tend to masturbate have a specific profile: they are more affluent, have a higher level of education, hold job positions that require more responsibility. A possible explanation could be due to the fact that they are enterprising women, capable of taking control in their professional life as well as in their private and sexual life. On one side, the fact that among single women who resort to masturbation there is a higher percentage in those who have an unsatisfactory sex life (19%) than in those who are very satisfied (10%), may suggest that masturbating is a typical practice of who has a failed sexual life. On the other hand, however, the fact that there are 18% of women paired with an intense sex life (at least 3 times a week) who resort to masturbation suggests that there are additional reasons behind it, including inadequacy and lack of effectiveness of marital relationships, or more generally when there is little satisfaction with regard to quality or frequency. This underlines that masturbation is absolutely not free from an abundant sex life in a couple.

Finally, masturbation seems to be more acceptable, from a social point of view, if it is single women; otherwise, it would be interpreted as the manifestation of problems. In fact, for 45% of women involved in a relationship, masturbation remains taboo because they fear that this behavior will be interpreted as a sign of their partner’s inability to meet their needs.

We can conclude that, although female masturbation is, to date, more widely accepted and recognized, we are still far from its inclusion in a woman’s typical sexual repertoire, or at least easy to admit with her partners. Therefore, the mention of this form of individual pleasure continues to be an obstacle, especially within a relationship, in which what is not said weighs down the meaning of this practice.