Newsflash! In case you didn’t know: Masturbation is as natural as breathing. In fact, it is our first human behavior. Gynecologist and ultrasound technicians are familiar with the site of male fetuses with hands on their erect penises, and it was assumed that female fetuses did this as well. When I was writing The Clitoral Truth, I was thumbing through medical journals and found what appears to be the first detailed report of a female fetus masturbating in her mother’s uterus, observed during an ultrasound by the mother and her Italian obstetricians.
We recently observed a female fetus at 32 weeks’ gestation touching the vulva with fingers of [her] right hand. The caressing her movement was centered primarily on the region of the clitoris. Movement stopped after 30 to 40 seconds, and started again after a few moments. Further these touches were repeated and were associated with sure, rigid movements of the pelvis and legs. After another break, in addition to this behavior, the fetus contracted the muscles of the trunk and limbs, and the climax, clonicotonic movements [rapid muscle contractions] of the body, followed. Finally she relaxed and rested. We observe this behavior for about 20 minutes. (Giorgi, G. and M. Siccardi, “Ultrasonic Observation of the Female Fetus’ Sexual Behavior in Utero,” letter in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 175, Sept. 1996, 753.)
Ways to think about masturbation: Judith Levine, a journalist and critic of sex and gender issues, and a founder of the feminist group No More Nice Girls, astutely observes that many people are queasy about masturbation because it is
not quite homosexual, but even less heterosexual, masturbation is extramarital, non-familial, non-procreative, meaningless, and eminently casual. And it is antisocial.
Think about it!
In his monumental study, Solitary Sex: A Cultural History of Masturbation, the historian Thomas Laqueur sites Rebecca’s work:
[In the past] “much of the literature on female masturbation assumed a social setting, although not necessarily a radical one. More often, masturbation built community; women in groups, small circles of pleasure and support, learned to do it together. It was a project of civil society in America that Tocqueville could not have imagined in his wildest dreams. The Clitoral Truth: The Secret World at your Fingertips by the woman’s health writer and activist Rebecca Chalker, for example is important in this context not only for the political messages it shares with other books on the subject – the claim that masturbation is “a legitimate part of our birthright” and self-pleasure “an essential means of sexual self-discovery,” or the hope that the male centered heterosexual model of sexuality…is undergoing a dramatic transformation” – but for the extensive social network in which it subsists. It offers its readers the poignant testimonies of women who benefited from communities of masturbation and the long list of organizations that support sexual self-discovery. (The political, liberatory, resonance of this genre is manifest: a New York Times review called Chalker’s earlier A Woman’s Book of Choices “a declaration of independence.”)”