book excerpt

My History With Pleasure

I am proud to say that I learned how to masturbate from a book.

Photo: Robyn Von Swank
Photo: Robyn Von Swank
Photo: Robyn Von Swank

I was born with an urge to seek out pleasure. I’m italicizing pleasure because if you could hear the way I say it, it just feels italicized. I once read an article about a sex toy maker in France who said that while sex is not taboo in American culture, pleasure is. Indeed, female pleasure is scary to some because you don’t necessarily need a dick for it and the thought of a dick not being necessary at all times drives some folks cuckoo bananas. Although I don’t claim to be the patriarchy’s worst nightmare (straight lady married at twenty-seven and pregnant at thirty-two, super basic bitch), I am very proud to say that I valued sexual education and empowerment at such a young age that I actually learned how to masturbate from a book.

I had heard the word “orgasm” a few times throughout my childhood but had no idea what it meant. I only knew that it was a naughty word because every time it was uttered around me (usually in a TV show), my mother would gasp, look in my direction, and then quickly change the channel. I repeatedly asked my parents what it meant, but they refused to tell me. When I was nine years old, we were at dinner with a family friend and, in talking about my parents’ various rules that frustrated me, I blurted out, “AND they won’t tell me what the ‘o’ word means!” The family friend looked at her confused husband and I saw her clarify by whispering, “Orgasm.”

“Yes! That! What is it?” I demanded.

Off of my parents’ “be my guest and take on this uncomfortable conversation” body language, their friend said, “It’s…it’s a feeling you get… after sex.”

What? That’s what the “o” word meant? What the fuck was the big deal?

It wasn’t until I was reading a puberty book that I understood what the fuck was the big deal. What’s Happening to Me? told me a lot of things about my body I didn’t know, but the part that blew my mind was the section about masturbation. It said that, to masturbate, boys will rub their penis and girls will “massage” their “clitoris,” and the whole thing ends in an orgasm. I decided to try it out. You know, for science.

I’d never heard of this thing called a “clitoris” so I was happy that I found it instantly when spread-eagled on the floor looking into my bedroom’s full-length mirror. Huh. Never noticed that before. It looked like the big nose of an old man.

It was time to get to work. Again, for science. I sat in my closet with the door closed. That way, in case anyone came in the room, I could say that I was “cleaning my closet” (which is actually a great masturbation euphemism). Not knowing what to expect, I gently touched myself through my underwear where the book said to. It instantly felt amazing and within five minutes, I understood what an “orgasm” was. My parents’ friend was right: It was a big. Fucking. Deal. And with that, a new pastime rivaled theater for being my favorite thing to do ever.

By eighth grade, masturbating was my equivalent of a martini after work. I’d get home, take a shower, get in bed, flick the bean, fall asleep for three hours, wake up, eat dinner, and then study in front of the TV. Not content with this paltry amount of masturbation in my life, I got the brilliant idea in high school to masturbate WHILE studying. It was surprisingly effective; the night before my AP US history test, I masturbated on and off for three hours straight. On that test, I got a 4 (the second highest score) as well as a lifelong fetish for the Teapot Dome Scandal.

When I started doing below-the-waist stuff with guys in college, I began to second-guess my own pleasure after a few people remarked that it took some “effort” to get me off. I remember one guy going down on me for ten seconds and, when I didn’t instantly cum, saying, “Wow, you’re tricky.” I got self-conscious. The scientific puberty books never told me that having to touch my clit for a long time made me “tricky.” When I challenged guys on this, they’d tell me tales of “other girls” they’d been with who came from just penetration. In my mind, those “other girls” seemed pretty and easy and perfect. I imagined them all being named Stephanie.

I started to worry: Had masturbating at an early age “ruined” my ability to be a Stephanie? Discussing this with other women only made me feel worse because they either didn’t want to talk about their bodies OR they readily bragged about how easily they came from just penetration. These were girls who said they never orgasmed until they were sexually active and, as a result, they hadn’t “trained” themselves to need anything more than just a dick. When I’d reply that I just didn’t think my body was built to cum from penetration, they would say I just needed to “relax,” or maybe I just hadn’t ever “really been in love.” Fuck. Were these Stephanies right?

It took a podcast by a gay man to change the way I felt about my body. When I heard Dan Savage say on The Savage Lovecast that only about a quarter of women can achieve an orgasm through vaginal penetration alone, it validated me. I was RIGHT. Reading was once again my friend in my pleasure pursuit as I sought out every article I could find about the female orgasm. I learned that even vaginal orgasms most likely stem from the nerves of the clitoris, that the clitoris is infinitely more sensitive than the penis, and that an astonishing number of women fake orgasms (some of whom, I imagine, are named Stephanie).

By my late twenties, I was an out-and-proud clitoral cummer. I was proud of the way I achieved pleasure, how open I was at communicating what I needed to achieve pleasure, and how frequently I experienced pleasure.

And then I got pregnant.

Twist! The whole time I’ve been writing this book, I’ve also been gestating a child! I know! #Momspiration #Wombgoalz #Werkqween #Sunday. Despite the nausea and backaches and off-putting vaginal stench, I love being pregnant. I love feeling her kick, I love feeling her hiccup, and I love the fact she’s with me all the time.

Except for when I masturbate.

When I masturbate, I pretend that she’s somehow gone to a place far far away. Maybe to some sort of magical womb tree along with every other fetus whose mom is currently masturbating. They are safe in the tree, guarded by asexual fairies, until their moms cum, after which point the fetuses are free to reenter the womb.

Having a baby inside me just does not compute with pleasure. They are two different and disparate things. Yet, I don’t feel this cognitive dissonance regarding sex during pregnancy. Sex, after all, is what makes babies in the first place. It’s natural and beautiful and, during pregnancy, it’s the only time in my life I’ve ever been able to stomach the label “making love.” But I don’t extend the same sentimentality to when I’m gettin’ down to a Pornhub video called “Schoolgirl slut sucks cock to get an A.” I know that all the books say that the womb’s rhythmic contractions don’t traumatize the fetus and actually “lull them to sleep.” But I dunno, what if this creates a bad habit? What if, for the rest of her life, my future daughter can only be soothed to sleep by the sound of someone gagging on a dick screaming, “Oh baby yes yes yes I now love science claaaaaaaass!”

So I have spent my life coming to terms with pleasure, but I have still not come to terms with the original caveman reason for it in the first place: reproduction. Of course, sex serves so many purposes beyond that, but I can’t get over that pleasure is essentially Mother Nature’s tricky sleight of hand. Like, what a bitch. And if that weren’t bad enough, the clitoris isn’t even essential to reproduction. We could theoretically still carry on the species without a single woman cumming ever again.

Wait. That means that the clitoris only exists for one reason. And that…is pleasure (pleasure pleasure pleasure just imagine that word echoing as it slowly fades away pleasure pleasure pleasure pleasure pleasure). 

Excerpted from the book I WANT TO BE WHERE THE NORMAL PEOPLE ARE by Rachel Bloom. Copyright © 2020 by Handsome Iguana, Inc. Reprinted with permission of Grand Central Publishing. All rights reserved.

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I don’t remember how this obsession with reading about my sexuality overlapped with my guilty thoughts (see: part 2), but I suspect I didn’t feel as much guilt because my parents knew I had a bunch of puberty books, so it didn’t feel like something I was keeping from them. That was one of my first stand-up jokes. I give it a B-minus. Actually, I still can’t. BARF.
My History With Pleasure