Daisy Buchanan: It’s cutesy and patronising, but the Happy Playtime app may in a roundabout way teach women there’s no shame in masturbation
Masturbation was my biggest teenage secret. Alongside the other clueless virgins at my all-girls school, I was happy to guess and gossip about the most obscure aspects of sex – as a gang of young women reaching adolescence when the Clinton scandal was in full swing, we had a lot of questions – but we would never, ever, ever admit to touching ourselves. Our interest in sex could be all-consuming, as long as it was dispassionate. We would not allow ourselves to experience desire. A friend confided that she masturbated once, over her clothes, just to see how it felt – but swore me to absolute secrecy (sorry, Helen.) She spend the rest of the afternoon bitching about all the weird girls in our year who “probably did it properly”, and I joined in eagerly and enthusiastically, frightened of giving myself away, pretending I believed the space under my knickers was as smooth, solid and impenetrable as Barbie’s.
Now I’m marginally older and wiser, I am proud to out myself as a wanker. Masturbating should not be a source of shame. It should be done joyfully and regularly by any man or woman who fancies it. I didn’t think I was alone in my alone-time habit – but app designer Tina Gong seems to believe women need some encouragement. She has designed an app called Happy Playtime, to facilitate female masturbation. According to an infographicon Gong’s app, 46.6% of women touch themselves less than once a month. This might seem surprising, but think of the way women’s sexuality is discussed in the media. Rape, objectification and harassment make headlines daily. It’s imperative that we keep talking about issues and instances of inequality, but the news is, to use the technical term, a boner killer. Collectively, we’ve forgotten that sex should be pleasurable, rewarding and joyful for men and women.
The trouble with Gong’s app is that it feels patronising. Any woman gamely negotiating her neglected areas is probably going to be put off by the colour scheme, which features more pink than a Paris Hilton perfume launch. Similarly, there’s something strange and infantilising about the cartoon instructions. There’s a range of reasons why women might choose not to masturbate, from a lack of libido to a lack of time, but they’re probably not avoiding it because they needed some cute graphic design instructions to make it look fun.
In itself, the app might not be the answer to the problem that it sets out to solve – but I hope that it will start the conversations that eventually allow all women to enjoy their sexuality freely and fearlessly. Masturbation gives women agency. It delivers us from the world in which sex is something people perform or are threatened with, and allows us to experience desire and pleasure without becoming vulnerable. Sex is used everywhere from advertising to intimidation – sometimes female sexual pleasure doesn’t even seem to be on the agenda. When we masturbate, we can please ourselves exclusively without hurting anyone.
The record sales for 50 Shades of Grey distressed literary critics worldwide, but they also demonstrated that women everywhere were crying out for fuel for their erotic imaginations. Any feminist reading of the novel would conclude that Christian Grey is not an obvious poster boy for the empowerment of women. And yet, the story prompted millions of women to fantasise and explore their bodies in their own time and in their own terms. Though it might not be recommended reading for the teenage audience who loved the Twilight novels that inspired it.
I hope that the 50 Shades effect, and apps like Happy Playtime, will help future generations of teenage girls to learn that their bodies are meant for their own pleasure, not other people’s gratification – and that they have the right to masturbate without shame.
[Woman in bed (Shutterstock)]