by Annabeth Leong
When I first started masturbating, I thought I was supposed to simulate sex. I remember setting my alarm clock for a time early, early in the morning when I thought I wouldn't be discovered, and then going through a long, narrative process that often involved whispering lines of dialogue to my imaginary lover. (Perhaps this was a precursor to what I do now). In the books I'd read, sex was penetration, so that was what I did. This method worked, but it was long and inefficient. It took literally hours.
Then, as I've written before, I discovered The Hite Report and learned the role of the clitoris and how to find it. It's sort of weird to me that I didn't figure this out on my own, but I remember the amazing revelation of touching myself there, no penetration required, and discovering that orgasm had suddenly become effortless. This was an important early lesson for me about the difference between what I thought sex was and what actually felt good to me.
Once I discovered masturbation in earnest, I couldn't stop. I thought everyone masturbated all the time the way I did, and refused to believe people who told me otherwise. I thought girls who claimed they never masturbated were full of shit, just trying to look like "nice girls." I'd given up that image before I ever even had it, so my contempt knew no bounds.
I don't know where I got the idea that masturbation was wrong—my mother tells me she never wanted me to feel that way—but get it I did. I remember resolving to quit as a teenager, but being unable to cut down to less than five times a day. It was too easy to start, and once I started, I felt too compelled to finish.
Then there were the fantasies. For as long as I can remember, what worked best for me to think about was violent, disturbing stuff that sometimes made me feel awful afterward. To be clear, I am not talking about "nice" rape fantasies (like the one described by Sarah in the show Transparent, about a rapist who's going to force you but isn't going to hurt you too much and wants to make you come). I'm talking about blood and torture. This may be part of where I got the idea that doing this was wrong. It was always a disorienting feeling to disturb myself in the process of orgasm.
I never masturbated about specific people. That always seemed wrong to me, violating. Maybe part of it was that I didn't want to taint anyone I knew with the violence I imagined. It also felt wrong to me to use people that way without their consent.
I was always troubled by my fantasies and tried to find ways to think about other things. I remember a therapist telling me to picture people being kind to me instead. Unsurprisingly, whatever that might have done for my self-esteem, it didn't get anywhere close to making me come. It seems obvious to me now that this was a ridiculous suggestion.
Masturbating for hours was always a shameful secret. During my first marriage, I looked forward to the times when my ex-husband worked on days I didn't. That meant I could spend the day on the couch, masturbating over and over, without fear of discovery.
I sometimes masturbated in places I shouldn't have, such as the student lounge for my grad school program or the bathroom at work.
I once masturbated in a motel in Spartanburg, South Carolina, and got caught by some people peering in the window. I heard them crowing about it outside, stopped what I was doing, and hid in the bathroom for the rest of the day and night, sleepless and afraid. When four a.m. came, I snuck into the parking lot, afraid they might still be out there, and checked out hurriedly. I have probably never driven as fast as I did leaving that town.
The revelation of my adult life was meeting a partner to whom masturbation was not shameful. When I told him that story about Spartanburg, South Carolina, he got an erection. I got used to being able to say, "I'm going to go masturbate. Care to join me, or would you just like to overhear it?" I can't overstate how much that affected me. When he asks, "What did you do yesterday?" and I say, "I masturbated for six hours," and that's a good answer to him, it heals so many things I have carried in my soul for so many years.
I have long felt that masturbation is the cornerstone of my sex life, the most important part because it's where I learn everything I know about myself. A few years ago, I started having lots of trouble with what I call "the oil-slick fantasies," the things that leave me sick to my stomach after I've come. I started looking for other things I could think about—aware that a simple reversal of the script was not going to work for me.
I'm not going to lie. Those things have always made me come. And when I do find a really sick, violent piece of porn, it's hard to resist it. But I can't always deal with the fallout afterwards.
Somewhere around then was when I really started having issues with my sexual orientation. Without thinking of the violence, I couldn't feel anything. I didn't know how to keep having a sex life without it. To some degree I could accept it, but to some degree I couldn't. And in the deafening silence left in its wake, I started to notice how much I felt for women, how I could be aroused by them without that darkness.
For a while, I thought I was kinky and twisted in such a way that a sweet kiss would do nothing for me. But then I watched a lesbian movie (I Can't Think Straight) and found myself breathless and wet during the (hot but very vanilla) sex scene.
I started to experiment with masturbating about women. But this was not easy, not even in the privacy of my own mind. No matter what I started out thinking about, my mind would drift to my first girlfriend, to things we said and did together in secret in the small Florida town where we lived, and it would turn me on but it would also make me cry. I still cry when I look at her picture, unable to bear having lost what we found together.
For the first time in my life, I went weeks and months without orgasm. I just couldn't find a place where my mind could land.
I want to conclude this post neatly, with a well-packaged resolution, but the truth is, I don't have it.
There are things I've found. Over recent years, I have nursed a foot and shoe fetish. That is lovely for me. It turns me on, and it's also (at least the way I do it) playful and sweet and fun. It has been a refuge when I feel caught between violence and unresolved feelings. So sometimes I can turn to that. I can summon the memory of the taste of shoe leather, of the feeling of my stomach on the floor, of the moans of the woman above me.
I have also healed a bit from the feelings I have about my first girlfriend. But when I think about women, I find that my emotions affect my masturbation more. If I don't feel good about something in real life, my thoughts drift to my relationship situation rather than the orgasm I'm trying to have.
I have toyed with masturbation that isn't about coming. I obtained a couple of vibrators that definitely won't make me come, and it's fun sometimes to play with them with that expectation removed.
But this is all a work in progress. A while back, I changed my bio to say, "Annabeth Leong is frequently confused about her sexuality, but enjoys looking for answers." That's one of the truest things I know to say about myself.