With music dominating much of pop culture discussion, Eva Griffin wonders if more could be done to promote female sexuality in song.
“Oh what an ordinary day; take out the garbage, masturbate.” In what is one of the most understatedly evocative track openers, Annie Clarke admits her practice of masturbation in both a casual and brazen manner. The St. Vincent track, ‘Birth In Reverse’, isn’t a self-love tribute at its core, and this very fact is what makes Clarke’s admission so trailblazing. It’s not so much an admission than a statement; her morning masturbation is as boring and ritualistic as putting the bins out.
Female masturbation has been politicised to the point where pop music has often tiptoed around the subject, while references to heterosexual male sexuality are dropped as often as names. If song-writing is the ultimate form of self-expression, then why is the topic of self-pleasure so taboo? The masturbation ode is one of music’s rarities, often veiled by coyness like in Cyndi Lauper’s 80s hit ‘She Bop’. On first listen, Lauper is musing on the pleasures of a shuffle on the dancefloor, but listen closely and the metaphor is simple, but clear: “I’ve been thinking of a new sensation, I’m picking up good vibration.”
“Female masturbation has been politicised to the point where pop music has often tiptoed around the subject, while references to heterosexual male sexuality are dropped as often as names.”
So, why the shyness? Anatomy-wise, men have it all hanging out in the open, while for women, the nucleus of pleasure is a bit more hidden. It’s not much of a surprise then, that the accessibility of genitalia is mirrored by the availability of male versus female representation when it comes to sexuality. In general, images of sex are a lot neater than the awkward mess that is reality, and the snappiness of pop music doesn’t lend itself to lengthy discussions of the ins and outs of masturbation. However, the shortness of a tune can always be manipulated into a fleeting tribute to the art of masturbation.
Just last year, Beyoncé ditched Jay Z to form a new power couple with Nicki Minaj, and the two released a storming track praising the pleasures of womanhood, with the not so subtle title of ‘Feeling Myself’. In the video for Hailee Steinfeld’s first single, ‘Love Myself’, she wears a black leotard with the words “Self Service” emblazoned on the front, unabashedly stating her plans to “love [herself] so hard that it hurts”. FKA Twigs claims that she can get her ‘Kicks’ without you and Lady Gaga’s ‘So Happy I Could Die’ features lyrics about touching herself “till [she’s] on track”. The days of Lauper dancing around the subject appear to have gone, but full disclosure still brings with it an air of discomfort.
“Women come neatly packaged for sexual consumption, but the notion of a woman taking agency of her own sexuality still straddles the line between normal and taboo.”
While it’s accepted, almost encouraged, to be sexy, the expression of female sexuality still provokes a sense of unease. Reclaiming our bodies is a task suited to all types of representation, with music arguably being the highest platform from which to shout. Women come neatly packaged for sexual consumption, but the notion of a woman taking agency of her own sexuality still straddles the line between normal and taboo. Self-service is public service as far as sharing lived experiences of women’s sexuality is concerned. We need a spectrum of masturbation anthems to reflect the variety of female sexual desire. All women would benefit from a masturbation-themed back catalogue as extensive as the history of male dominated sex tunes, with all their unsavoury lines about licking lollipops, candy lips and bubble-gum tongues.
Most innuendoes in pop music are easily applicable to sex, but very few reject the idea that a sexual partner is always necessary. The topic of masturbation still attracts a surprising level of controversy for a practice that is entirely safe and healthy. Learning to express your sexuality and explore the idea of personal sexual desire is a fundamental part of growing up. If the chosen soundtrack to your adolescence promoted healthy sexual activity, the benefits would be endless. Higher levels of sexual self-esteem, sexual agency and sexual satisfaction are accredited to regular practice of masturbation; the ultimate form of safe sex.
“The unfortunate effect of sexually liberating music videos is that ensuing discussions centre about women’s bodies, therefore overshadowing their body of work.”
Not content to let our hands take all the reigns, Macy Grey made a summer comeback with the song ‘B.O.B’. Accompanied by a video of a cheery cartoon vibrator bopping through a bedroom, the lyrics are a celebration of sex with a different kind of partner. Sex toys are a revolutionary weapon in the fight for sexual agency, and an important tool for women to unearth personal desires. While the song probably won’t be a chart-topper, its very existence is a triumph for feminism.
The unfolding of sex-positive feminism in pop culture has been slow, rising from a celebrity flirtation to a full-blown movement. Miley Cyrus is out and proud about her sexual agency, harnessing her body as a tool to both shock and educate fans and haters alike. In the video for her love song ‘Adore You’, Cyrus seems to be loving herself more than anyone else, as she writhes under sheets before heading to the shower for some more steam. Unfortunately, for all her effort in promoting female sexuality, people decided to focus on her ‘less is more’ approach to clothing. For many, Cyrus wasn’t so much starting a discussion as using her body to pump up the view counter.
Pop music moves in waves, but when a movement eventually crashes, the outcome isn’t always as progressive as we’d hoped. Sometimes female artists choose to express their sexuality more visually, accompanying music videos built on shock value with tamer lyrics. While visual representation is key, the message would come through even stronger if the frames had the words to match. The unfortunate effect of sexually liberating music videos is that ensuing discussions centre about women’s bodies, therefore overshadowing their body of work. If masturbation was as celebrated in song, we could sing along in celebration, instead of being relegated to idle observers of a tradition laden with masculine sexual energy.
In the words of ever revelatory Canadian artist, Peaches: “People talk about big dicks, big ass, but no one talks about a big vagina.”