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Sex, Sexuality, Wellbeing, My Body

Masturbation and body disassociation: Zoi’s Story

Zoi, 21, shares her story of how body disassociation has affected her relationship with masturbation and sexual intimacy.

Content warning

This page has discussion of trauma and mental health issues.

Having made it to 21, a now self-realised queer cis woman, I have never masturbated.

I often feel like I am living inside of my head, my body existing outside of who I am much like a foreign entity I can never assume as my own. This feeling which I have now come to know as “body disassociation” has lived with me or as long as I can remember. For each person body disassociation manifests itself differently, for me it’s as if all that able to feel and experience begins and ends with my mental self. My physical form is simply there, like a lamp in a living room; functioning but never regarded. Every month I wait anxiously for my period to come, not in fear of pregnancy but as it is the only reminder that my vagina is sentient and that my body is also capable of feeling. As a young woman, going through puberty, I was taught that my value is concurrent to my body. Consequently, my detachment from my physical self, made me doubt my intrinsic value as a woman, further perpetuating my disassociation. My body was the brutal reminder that I was never deserving or good enough, forcing me to relive my childhood trauma again and again.

For years I have lived in denial of this trauma and my disassociation. I have felt like an absolute fraud, who preached about the normalisation of female self-satisfaction when I could not stand to look myself in the mirror, let alone believe that I was worthy of pleasure or self-derived love.

I felt that I was letting myself down every time I read a post like “pleasure starts with you” or when I was told that I owed it to myself to discover my body otherwise no one else would.

The echo of the phrase “no one will love you until you love yourself” played in the back of my brain. I felt like I was not strong enough to transcend my own disdain, sentencing myself to being unloved and undesired forever.

Going to university exacerbated these thoughts! University is the place where you are meant to discover yourself, experiment and invite pleasure. I found myself pressured; having to align my sexual expression with the expectations of others who were amazed that I was never “curious about how it would feel” or perplexed as to “what I did when I was horny”.

I was at a point of coming to terms with my queerness after years of introspection, yet it was often suggested to me that I was asexual – because how else could you explain my neutrality to self-satisfaction and my reluctance to pursue sexual encounters?!

Most of all, I was ashamed and afraid that I was a bad feminist, who could not escape her internalised misogyny and her need to be accepted and desired by men so much so that I despised myself. Masturbation is a tool of emancipation in the feminist narrative. It is a sign that you have agency over your own body and that your pleasure is not confined in the rigid terms of the patriarchy. However, whenever I pictured my pleasure it was always in the face of a man I longed to please, never mine and never self-induced.

To this day I have never been able to masturbate or feel safe and confident enough to have a sexual/intimate relationship with another person. But I have learnt, with the help of others, that I am worthy of the things I desire.

I have learnt that my desires are valid and that my lack of experience does not erase my sexual expression. I am still in the process of reconciling my trauma, but I have learnt that I am greater than it and that I am worthy of love and pleasure.

To whoever is reading this I want you to know that you are also worthy of such love and desire. You are beautiful and sexy and should not feel pressured to present yourself to the world in way that does not ascribe to who you are. Whether you purposefully clicked on this post in search of answers or whether you curiously found yourself here, I hope that this is the message you take away from this.

As a young woman who is trying to navigate living a life without shame, I have found it difficult to find a narrative that validated my experiences. That did not other or isolate me. I hope that in writing this I have helped you, even slightly, to find the langue of your lived experience and to know that you are not alone in your reality no matter how nuanced.

In the words of one of my favourite people, Janaya Khan aka Future: “We are all worthy of the love we have been denied” and I would personally add the love we deny ourselves.

It’s OK not to be OK

Approximately 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year (NHS England, 2020).

If you are worried about your mental health, or about someone else’s, there are lots of places that can offer you help and support. You don’t have to be diagnosed, you don’t even have to know exactly what’s wrong. Whenever you are ready to talk to someone, you can.


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