The relationship I have between pleasure and my body is complicated.
As I grew up, it was pushing up against the corner of chairs, or the way my nipples would feel when I got out of the bathtub, shivering cold. Then, of course, the
guilt set in.
I eventually caught on that what I was doing by putting my hand down into my panties and touching what I found until I felt shivers through my whole body was sex. So I stopped, except for a few times per year when the desire overcame me in small moments alone. Then I’d close my eyes and press onto my jeans, my legs crossed – tense and tight.
Eventually, in the bathtub as a late teen, my fingers found their way to my bare vagina under the water. The first time I got myself wet changed the way I understood my body. The liquid that came out of me was different – lubricating and thicker than water, and warm. I tasted myself on my fingers, sweet and a bit tart, like an almost-ripe plum.
Sometimes, I wonder if it was in my nature all along: an insatiable libido and titillation for that which was forbidden. Or maybe it was some kind of nurture. I remember listening to “Zero” by Yeah Yeah Yeahs when I was 13. Something about hearing Karen O’s breathy, aching voice as she sings “try and hit the spot, get to know it in the dark” was like tasting sugar for the first time.
At that point, I was still thoroughly repressed, and, all of a sudden, I wanted to be Karen O dressed in studded leather.
Being in COVID Code Red sucks, and not even literally, which is the least it could do. I won’t lean into the rhetoric of how important self-love is (lighting candles, investing in sex toys and getting off), even though it is.
What I want to say to all of you is to please pay attention to your bodies right now. Masturbation has become a reclamation for me, a commitment to my bodily autonomy and a tool to become present when my sore mind won’t be quiet.
Tuning into your body can be terrifying. Feeling pleasure from your own touch can be extremely emotional. It can bring up memories that we’d hoped to forget, or make us ache for the hands of someone we wish we got to kiss still.
It can remind us how unfamiliar we actually are with our own skin. It can leave a taste of desperation in our mouths, a feeling of tires spinning and no ground to gain traction on.
The constant throughout all this change, all this pain, is ourselves. I guess this column is about masturbation, but it’s also not. It’s a reminder to be patient with yourself while you’re here, in an unpredictable, unfair, excruciating, gorgeous world.
If it feels okay, or maybe even yummy, go fuck yourself. I love you.
Madeline Rae is a pleasure activist, writer and artist living on Treaty 1. Rae holds a BFA Honours in performative sculpture and is graduating with her BA in psychology in June 2021, while pursuing a career in sex therapy. She is trained in client-centred sex education and harm reduction. She can be found at motherofgoo.com.
Published in Volume 75, Number 11 of The Uniter (November 25, 2020)