We asked sex educators and porn performers how masturbation can be a route to explore your queer identity, and how to subvert society's expectations around how to do it.
From the umami blast of sizzling ramen noodles to the presence of a silicone cock, many of my most erotic experiences have occurred with my mouth full. While I don’t remember initially recognising the sex appeal of tsukemen, I certainly can name the first time I looked at my trusty mauve dildo and thought why not.
It was a cool winter night a while back when I turned out the lights, dipped my shoulders beneath the covers, and slowly guided the toy to my lips. In the dark, the dildo recalled a wireless microphone, though I had no intention to sing. Instead, I nearly laughed while sheepishly opening wide. Soon I had slipped into the sounds of the femme person in the porn I was watching, and suddenly I sensed a new presence rising from within. It was another femme person, one blossoming within me. There, in the anarchy of that moment, I felt my gender to be less some immovable aspect of who I was, a box checked by a doctor decades ago, and more something I felt and did.
I’m not going to say that blowjob made me realise I was nonbinary, but it did constitute a moment when I saw the boundaries between masculinity and femininity for what they are: porous, mutable, queerable. Are dicks masculine? For some, perhaps, though mine certainly isn’t. Is sucking them feminine? Generally speaking, who cares? But in that moment, in a messy, non-queer-theory-proof way, sucking that dildo did affirm some latent femme part of me. It helped me understand nothing was fixed, nothing was neat. Neither was I.
What I did that night goes by many names. Some call it solo-sex. Our more technical friends might call it masturbation, or onanism. Others may prefer dotting the “i,” ménage á moi, or double-clicking. And in Bushwick, they just call it DIY. Yet for a community with so many ways to describe minding the gap (my personal favourite), we hardly talk about it. And that’s, to use a slightly loaded phrase, a shame.
From reducing stress to releasing sexual tension, aiding with sleep, and even relieving menstrual cramps, masturbation carries a slew of benefits for the body. For the mind, masturbating can improve our self-esteem as well as our knowledge of what turns us on. It can also be a potent venue for exploring one’s queerness. It certainly was for me.
To learn more about how masturbation intersects with queerness, them. spoke to sex educators Ericka Hart and Zoë Ligon, along with nonbinary porn performer Jiz Lee. By no means a plug for masturbation — which can be scary, uncomfortable, or just plain uninteresting for some members of the LGBTQ+ community — the following conversation seeks to explore how those of us who want to masturbate can gain confidence and comfort by doing so, and why it can be such a useful forum for exploration of the self.
How would you define masturbation?
Jiz Lee: When we talk about sex and give certain actions a name, we have to do so with considered flexibility. “Sex” in and of itself can mean a lot of different things for different people, and so can “sex with oneself,” which is generally how masturbation is referred to or implied. For the record, I think the same of porn, which is notorious for eluding definition. By extension, we could borrow from Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart's colloquial "I know it when I see it" definition, which is to say that the person who is masturbating knows so when they do so.
How can masturbation exist as a space to explore one’s gender and sexuality?
Ericka Hart: First and foremost, you’re learning about your body, learning what feels good for your body. I encourage people to take a mirror and do what they told you in the old school sex education classes: look at your genitals. But also look at the rest of your body, because masturbation doesn't need to just involve genitals. In terms of exploring your gender, it offers a space to explore what feels good for you free from the pressure of being with other people.
For people who identify outside the gender binary, masturbation can be a scary thing. It sometimes involves our interacting with aspects of our anatomy with which we might not be entirely comfortable. For trans and gender-nonconforming folk who want to masturbate, but experience difficulties for these reasons, what strategies would you recommend?
EH: It's good to start slow. Maybe you don't start with touching yourself per se; maybe you're just wearing lingerie or doing like a quick photoshoot with yourself to get acclimated to your body as it is before you touch it. As a breast cancer survivor, like a lot of people who live with chronic illnesses and disabilities, we have to learn our bodies and affirm them through our own eyes as a first step to any sort of sexual expression.
JL: The largest sexual organ is the brain, which is to say, there's a connection between what we're doing to the superficial nerves of our bodies and what's going on in our head. Fortunately, we can be highly imaginative when it comes to desire, and we have lots of tools to help us bridge the physical and the psychological aspects of pleasure. Some physical aids include tools that can act as extensions or help with the sensations surrounding sex. Strap-ons and packers are common examples of this. Then there are devices like pumps that can provide temporary enlargement and alter sensations. Clothing — from lingerie to leather, undergarments to shoes — can be a big mood enhancer, adding both a visual element and sensations through texture, restriction, or posture. One's environment helps affect the mood. Many people love baths, as they are relaxing, clean, and private. Mental aids can be erotica such as books and movies — and there are more trans and queer-created erotica than ever before — to inspire ideas and help to craft fantasies.
It's important to remember that what works for one person may not work for another. It's challenging to say what might work for someone experiencing difficulties, as there is no one-size-fits-all solution, but my go-to advice for virtually any sexual scenario is to drop the need to have a goal and just explore for the sake of trying something out with as few expectations as possible. Don't make orgasm a goal, just observe. Know that things won't work out, and that's often typical for sex. Maybe you can even get silly and ridiculous with it, overshooting your play so that you can laugh at yourself instead of finding it too serious. I believe that if we can remove the pressure from sexuality — and there's a lot of pressure around sexuality, even or sometimes especially when it's only with ourselves — we can help alleviate our insecurities, self-doubts, and negative associations with sex. Sex can be messy and complex and imperfect. We have to forget what we think sex should be and just allow it to be as it comes.
Are there any songs, books, or movies on your personal playlist of best masturbation representation?
EH: “Freak Nasty” by Megan Thee Stallion. Any Megan Thee Stallion song is all about how powerful you are, and that is really consistent with masturbation.
Since so much of what we find attractive is shaped by culture, in what ways can responsible, racially diverse, queer-positive, fat-positive, trans-positive porn serve to counter stigmas against queer and trans bodies, bodies of colour, differently-abled bodies, etc.?
JL: When we as viewers find a video that speaks to us, it can be life-affirming. Seeing ourselves in such intimate scenarios and actualized as adults with agency, deserving and capable of healthy sexuality, can help us come out by discovering truths suppressed by society. This is not only true of viewers but also as creators ourselves. Having worked behind the scenes on sites like CrashPadSeries.com, I'm not alone in stating that our crew have benefited immensely from the demonstrations performers bring to our set.
What might it mean to “queer” masturbation?
Zoë Ligon: One way I try to educate around masturbation is by mentioning how society expects you to masturbate a particular type of way based on how you’ve been socialized and/or what your genital configuration is like. Penises are “stroked” or “jacked” while vulvas are “rubbed” and “flicked” or vibrated and penetrated. Our genitals are all made of the same types of tissue, and the types of stimulation a penis enjoys can be enjoyed by a vulva and vice versa. Many people with penises rub their penis in a way that people stereotypically associate with clits. (I have spoken to people who expressed embarrassment that their masturbation style looks “feminine,” but so many people rub their penis against their palm or their leg to get off. Penises also respond brilliantly to vibration!) Similarly, you can grab the shaft of a clit a bit higher up and “jack” it off in a way that is stereotypically “masculine”. Basically, don’t let the predominant images of gender and masturbation cloud your self-pleasure exploration.
JL: I believe that if people allow themselves an honesty around their fantasies without shame (and it's okay to acknowledge fantasies around power and taboo), then perhaps there is no border between sex that is queer and that which is not. It's kind of like the idea that missionary sex for reproduction is the only type of “heterosexual” sex, but we know sex can be far more varied. Straight couples strap it, too. People of all genders and orientations can enjoy all kinds of sexual sensations. And so “queering” masturbation might simply mean to go with your body's responses as opposed to a cookie-cutter idea of what you think masturbation should be. Sex is unique, or queer if you will, because while some things might be considered “common,” there's really no such thing as “normal.”
Interviews have been condensed and edited for clarity.
This article originally appeared on them.