Whether it’s your terrible job or nightmare ex to blame, most of us are stressed out and could stand to chill out. Dallas-based author Jenny Block has something in mind that she thinks will help, and it's not yoga or meditation or self-help seminars. No, she just wants you to masturbate more often.
Before tackling the somehow still taboo topic of self-pleasure, Block released O Wow, a manifesto and instruction manual of sorts on the ultimate female orgasm, and Open, a guide to navigating non-monogamous relationships. Now, she’s back with The Ultimate Guide to Solo Sex, out this week on Cleis Press. Block’s third book about sex and relationships was born from the research she did while writing O Wow.
“I interviewed about 150 women for that book, and what I was finding, or what I wasn’t sure of, was whether or not women were masturbating,” says Block. “What I was finding was that women weren’t masturbating, weren’t masturbating enough, weren’t masturbating in the best way they could be. Something was amiss.” From there, she took to asking her friends — and their friends.
Block put together an anonymous online survey to poll women about their masturbation habits. “You figure that there’s only three or four degrees of separation from me because I’m distributing it on Facebook and to people I know, so I thought the sample would be hyper-sex positive. It wasn’t,” she says. “That was just further proof that we don’t know the shit people are walking around with and how desperately we all need permission to just be OK with ourselves and our bodies in public, private, with partners or alone.”
She found many women had misconceptions about masturbation. “Women kept asking me how they could have a vaginal orgasm, which makes me want to shoot myself,” she says. “You can’t. Your body doesn’t work like this. It was my moment where I thought, 'Oh shit, I guess we do need to talk about this more.' When I started doing interviews for this book, I realized just how much we needed it.”
But the largest problem Block faced was with the perception that women don’t deserve pleasure, from themselves or anyone else. “Women are really inundated with feeling like they’re selfish, and that’s just bullshit,” she says. “They’re always giving their kids the biggest piece of chicken, taking care of their husbands, and making sure that everyone has the shit they need. We have a right to self-care. You have a responsibility to your body, and luckily, this is really fun maintenance. I’m not asking you to go to the gym, I’m just asking you to get off.”
Long before Block began writing The Ultimate Guide to Solo Sex, she traveled to New York City to attend a masturbation workshop given by sex-positive feminist icon Betty Dodson. In O Wow, Block vividly recalls the experience of being masturbated to orgasm by Dodson, now well into her 80s, calling it one of her most “life altering” experiences. “I want to be Betty Dodson getting off in a room full of women at 87,” she says.
Surprisingly, Block was once prudish about masturbation herself. “It took me forever to actually touch myself when I masturbated,” she says. “I grew up with liberal parents where The Joy of Sex was on the bottom shelf in the family room, and it still took me a while to have control over my own parts.”
She believes the shame surrounding female masturbation is tied to the shame and lack of ownership women feel over their bodies. “There is this population of incredibly intelligent, working, lovely women who still don’t think they’re entitled to their own bodies or pleasure,” she says. “Then the men who are married to them think that their wives are frigid beacuse they don’t have sex, but the truth is that they don’t enjoy sex because the old in-and-out isn’t for them. The clit for me is everything, and we’re not giving it enough attention.”
Much like going to the gym or brushing your teeth, The Ultimate Guide to Solo Sex makes the case that masturbating every day is just basic maintenance of the body. "Sometimes, I don't even want to touch myself," she says. "But when I do it, I'm all the better for it."
Block recommends that women just bite the bullet and make time despite their busy schedules. “I get that there are not enough hours in the day,” says Block. “Trump is running for president, and Jenny Block wants me to touch myself right now? You’re absolutely right, things are a debacle and that’s exactly why you need to touch yourself.
"Road rage, body hatred, disconnects between partners, all of the shit that we’re all dealing with — it helps,” she says. “I’m not suggesting masturbation will save the world, but maybe I am.”
Feeling empowered to masturbate could also have very real implications for young women, especially teenage girls who are battling their hormones and emotions surrounding sex. “There’s the joke that guys should jerk off before a date so they’re not all riled up, but women should absolutely do the same thing so they’re not going home with someone for the wrong reasons,” she says. “You can want to share your sexuality with someone, but you certainly don’t need to.”
Block says teenage girls should be masturbating. “Don’t chase after boys or girls because that’s what your body wants," she says. "You can share it with another person when your mind and soul are ready. In the meantime, get your body off.” The idea of empowering teenage girls in their sexuality may seem radical but Block isn’t the first to suggest it. Back in 2009, Oprah encouraged viewers to talk about masturbation with their daughters. In the same episode, Oprah-approved sexpert Dr. Laura Berman even encouraged moms to buy vibrators for their teenage daughters.
That advice applies equally to grown-ups. Block advises women to masturbate once a day every day for a week, and journal about how they feel before and after. “Just write down two words about how you’re feeling before, and how you feel after. A week later, go back and look at what you found out,” she says. “Woke up, felt tired and grumpy. Masturbated, felt relaxed and more ready to take on the day. It’s not rocket science.”
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Block knows she may have a harder time converting residents of a city that is being sued by Exxxotica, a perfectly legal adult entertainment expo, for refusing to allow it access to the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center. Block hosted seminars at Exxxotica last year, and she’s got plenty of opinions about the city’s likely fruitless attempt to ban the expo.
Of her time there, the only offensive thing Block remembers seeing is the assortment of protesters that assembled in and outside of the Convention Center, one of whom held a sign reading, “God laughs at your rape.”
“I see crazier shit than anything that happened at Exxxotica advertised in the back of the Observer,” she says. “I’m so sad, and I feel really embarrassed. As a taxpayer, I’m fucking pissed off that money is being wasted to protest something that is a right.” Recent estimates place the city of Dallas' costs to fend off the lawsuit at $4,000 per day.
“We’re talking about adult sexuality, and it just feels like a huge distraction. You don’t want me to know that your priests are diddling little boys, so you’re going to single out the pornographers who are following the laws, wearing the condoms and filling out all the forms,” she says. “Those of us who have it out in the open are the most well-behaved. I’m much more scared of the people who are pointing at us. It’s a false morality, a fake prudism. Check their computers is all I’m saying.”