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I was speaking with my friend, Priya[1], about her health issues. She is fifty, unhappily married with an uninspiring sex life and has a constant string of health issues. Uterine fibroids, heavy bleeding, painful periods, polyps in her cervix, and most recently, jaundice. You think it, she has it. She is still dreaming of Prince Charming, who will magically appear some day soon and speak sweet nothings into her ears, take her on coffee dates and will make amazing love to her. When I begged her to try masturbation and self-love, her answer? “Chhee, that is so dirty, never!”

And that is sadly the case with so many women. Speak of exercise and nutrition as a path to wellbeing and self-care, sure. They will read Prevention and Health type of magazines, employ a personal trainer, go to a yoga class, or follow a dietician’s advice. But speak to them of yoni eggs, masturbation and self-pleasure, and you are suddenly not speaking a language they understand!

Is the concept of certain parts of our bodies being dirty related to shame? To what we are taught as children? Why don’t we celebrate our bodies for the miracle they truly are? Ancient Hindu meditations talk of pleasure. We name the sex organs, the nipples, the tongue, and other body parts as the meditation continues. The body is designed to house you happily, well, and keep you content for life. By denying the existence of each part’s need is like saying “shut up” to the parts which are begging attention. And when we say “Shut up” often enough, that is how disease or dis-ease develops. Or perhaps, to come back to Hinduism, priests kept these meditations less accessible as they decided to interpret which part of holy texts to propagate. And of course, not to come back to it in every article I write, but perhaps the patriarchy rears its head again and again as it tries to deny female pleasure and the need to control women’s sexuality.

Self-care is vital to health and wellbeing. And self-care cannot ignore sexuality, which it often does. Self-care should include the vital link between denied or repressed sexuality and hysteria. Or thyroid disease. In Victorian times, physicians coined a new term for a malady which plagued women: hysteria. ‘Hysteria’ originates from the Greek word hystera, meaning ‘womb’. Of course, the word ‘hysteria’, as the dictionary states, is exaggerated or uncontrollable emotion or excitement. And indeed, men can be hysterical too. But the physiological origin of hysteria must be looked at. Hippocrates in the 5th century propounded the idea of a restless and migratory uterus caused mainly due to an inadequate sexual life. According to him, the uterus is prone to get sick, especially if it is deprived of the benefits arising from sex and procreation, which, widening a woman’s canals, promote the cleansing of the body. In the Middle Ages, a woman, Trotula[2] was an expert in women’s diseases and disorders. She recognised women as being more vulnerable than men, and how women often, out of shame, did not reveal their troubles to the doctor. Her best known work, De passionibus mulierum ante, in et post partum, deals with female problems, including hysteria. Her advice: abstinence could be a cause of illness. Basically, in a nutshell, since the 5th century (Hippocrates) to the 1930s (Freud), doctors prescribed orgasm. Whether you have a partner or not, masturbation can be the easiest answer (in any case, sadly in India, sex with your partner often does not lead to orgasm, but that’s a whole other article!).

Modern yogis recommend yoni eggs, a jade or stone egg, to be worn inside the vagina, said to balance oestrogen, increase libido, and more. Practitioners of yoga and qi gong regularly practice awareness of their vaginal and anal muscles, strengthening them, increasing the nerve endings in that region, etc. All this is a good thing as we are finally giving importance to “down there”, an area often ignored, considered ugly, and definitely not the area one pampers.

The good news is that several of my younger friends regularly masturbate. As a writer, I am surrounded by a lot of creative people, and true, they have discovered this is the easiest way to unblock their creativity and just keep the mind free and unfettered. As Sunita, aged 23, a friend who has not had partnered sex before, says, “I can’t keep waiting for the perfect boyfriend to satisfy my body. Masturbation is fun, safe and easy!”

Five reasons to touch yourself as a form of self-care

  1. Masturbation is the safest sex you can ever have.
  2. Masturbation gives you a natural high and can help you feel less anxious.
  3. Masturbation helps you to sleep better.
  4. Masturbation will balance your levels of oxytocin, cortisol, and oestrogen
  5. Masturbation makes you self-reliant so you don’t need to look for Prince or Princess Charming.

Lastly, as women, we are programmed to look after everyone else’s needs before our own. If we are a mother and/or wife, we feel guilty if we even indulge in putting up our feet and reading a magazine. Our days are a flurry of activity of child-rearing, cooking, feeding, bathing, teaching, and more. Masturbating does not seem to add well to this list! But it needs to; much like putting on an oxygen mask in an airplane before putting a mask on your child, self-care is essential if we are to be good daughters, mothers, wives, friends, lovers… As my kung fu teacher says, remember, you are the most important, nothing else matters. Yet as desi girls, we are taught to be good daughters, good wives, to have no needs, as it were. Start by dissing those labels. And embrace the power of your own needs.

Our body is home. We exercise, we eat right. We adorn it with jewels and tattoos. We live well and breathe easier if our home (our body) is clean, fed and rested. Come home to yourself. Masturbation is one of the easiest ways home.

Cover image taken from Instagram

[1] Some names are changed.

[2] Trotula de Ruggiero. On women’s health. Palermo: La Luna wise. 1994.

This post was originally published under this month, it is being republished for the anniversary issue.

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