Jerking off. Spanking it. Whacking off. Choking the chicken. There are a lot of phrases out there to describe masturbating with a penis. But when it comes to masturbating with a vulva and vagina? Not so much. The only term that’s regularly used is masturbation, which is inherently clinical. When you compare that to the florid, engorged, erect language used to describe people with penises masturbating, it becomes very clear that society thinks and feels differently about male and female masturbation. And that’s implicit in the way people talk about it.
"In our phallocentric culture, it is unsurprising that we have far more well-known, mainstream slang terms referencing penis masturbation (jerk off, jack off, beat off, choke the chicken, jerk the johnson, beat the meat, painting the ceiling, etc.) than we do for vulvas," Amanda Montell, writer, linguist, and author of Wordslut: A Feminist Guide to Taking Back the English Language, tells Bustle. "Google ‘masturbation slang,’ and you will find hundreds of chuckle-worthy phrases people have come up with, most of which I’ve never heard of (from spanking the money to nerking your throbber), but the most recognizable ones primarily allude to dicks."
I started masturbating when I was really young, but I never talked about it with my friends. (Minus that one time during my freshman year of high school when my mom offered to buy me and my best friend vibrators. But I’m pretty sure I blacked out from embarrassment, so that doesn’t count.) Even when my best friend and I went to buy vibrators together when we were old enough to do it ourselves, we didn’t talk about what they would be used for. When asked why she thought that might be, my BFF told me, "It was just less of a topic of open discussion 20 years ago."
On the flip side, I grew up in a house with five brothers — and all of their friends. As a result, teenage me knew way more about the particulars of how, why, where, and when boys masturbate. I knew the terms, the preferred tools, even what they thought about when they were doing it. Kind of gross? Sure. But also educational and informative in ways that I never experienced with my female friends.
Even though I’m sure most of my friends were experimenting with masturbating, the fact that we never talked about it amongst ourselves meant that we never developed the colloquial terminology. And the fact that we didn’t have a good term for it meant that we didn’t talk about it. See the chicken and egg problem here? Without a casual, fun, feminist term for masturbating with a vulva and vagina, it’s impossible to start a discourse about masturbating in a fun, casual, feminist way.
So, here’s what I’m proposing: Let’s pick one phrase to use from here on out. And that phrase is actually one that’s already in use: Rub one out. In fact, Montell says that it was "originally a penis-referencing term," that may have been "derived from the terms ‘rubbing a nut’ or ‘rubbing the rod."
"You can see evidence of that in this Wordreference forum from 2009, where someone wrote that they had come across the phrase in an article, didn’t know what it meant and wanted the internet’s help," Montell says. "Commenters answered that ‘rub one out’ was a new slang term for masturbation but that they were ‘unaware if it can also refer to women.’"
Honestly, it’s hard to imagine why this isn’t already part of the common nomenclature. The only reason I can think of is that when people think about masturbating with a vagina, they often think it involves penetration. Dr. Carol Queen, Ph.D., staff sexologist at Good Vibrations and sex-positive activist, tells Bustle that one reason for this is that "sex is commonly represented as intercourse."
"For most people, that’s what ‘having sex’ means," Dr. Queen says. "And people often think of masturbation as having sex, but alone (or with yourself). Because the primary definition of ‘sex’ for a person with a clitoris is generally not ‘stimulate the clitoris,’ the term masturbation doesn’t evoke it."
And while masturbation certainly can involve penetration — some people like a combination of penetration and direct clitoral stimulation, some like vaginal penetration alone, and still others get their butts involved — many people with vaginas don’t actually penetrate themselves when masturbating. Dr. Queen says that’s because some people just don’t know about the potential of their clitoris.
"Many beginning masturbators will assume that they should be using a dildo or insertable vibrator during masturbation," Dr. Queen says. "I can tell I have one of this type of person visiting Good Vibrations because they look so surprised when they see the Magic Wand. Like, ‘Where is that supposed to go?’ Answer: ‘On or around the clitoris.’"
So, people are getting off in lots of different ways. But the majority of the time? Most of us are rubbing one out.
I’m not the first person to suggest that we come up with some new, better terminology for masturbation with a vulva and a vagina. In fact, Dr. Queen started Masturbation May 25 years ago but putting a call out for masturbation euphemisms! But while we in the sex-positive feminist space have been talking about this for a while, it hasn’t broken through to mainstream vernacular. Dr. Queen suggests that this could be because "masturbation isn’t the sole province of feminists," which means it’s important that a term can appeal to people who "don’t have identical values."
And that’s why I think "rub one out" could be a winner. (Doesn’t “I just rubbed one out” or “I was so turned on after watching Normal People that I had to rub one out” sound more fun than “I just masturbated”?) It’s quippy, casual, fun — and gender-neutral! Even though it’s a term that was originally used by and for people with penises, we can expand it to include all bodies, genders, and sexualities.
So, pass it on. Make some memes. Get crafty and create a poster and give one to all of your friends. Get your favorite influencer involved and shout it from the rooftops. It’s the 21st Century. It’s way past time for all of us to be (talking about) rubbing one out.
Amanda Montell, linguist and author, Wordslut: A Feminist Guide to Taking Back the English Language
Dr. Carol Queen, PhD, Good Vibrations staff sexologist
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