Notes from the back room: Gender, power, and (In)Visibility in women's experiences of masturbation

Breanne Fahs, Elena Frank

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

48 Scopus citations


While popular culture has more frequently depicted women's masturbation in recent years, scholarly attention to women's own meaning making about masturbation remains largely absent. Existing research that emphasizes women's masturbation frequency, health correlates, masturbation as a factor in couples therapy, and masturbation as a substitute for partnered sexual behaviors have dominated the research, largely neglecting social identity correlates and women's subjectivities about masturbation. This study drew upon qualitative interviews with 20 women (mean age = 34, SD = 13.35) from diverse backgrounds to illuminate five themes in women's experiences with masturbation: a) assumptions that most women self-penetrate during masturbation even when primarily using clitoral stimulation; b) masturbation as sexual labor; c) masturbation as a threat to male dominance; d) masturbation as routine tension release; and e) masturbation as a source of joy, fun, and pleasure. Because women revealed such a diverse set of experiences, we explored the advantages and disadvantages of the invisibility of women's masturbation. As a result of the internalization of stereotypically masculine scripts about sexuality-including an imagined penetrative focus, goal-oriented drive toward orgasm, sex as labor, and masturbation as nonemotional-women's masturbation experiences, regardless of sexual orientation, revealed the power imbalances often present in partnered (hetero)sexual dynamics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)241-252
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Sex Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - Apr 1 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Gender Studies
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Psychology(all)
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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