Private Pleasures 

By Lilian Martin

Trigger warning: this piece contains a whole lotta sexual references… 

For as long as I can remember, I knew there was a feeling of pleasure to be gained by grinding, rubbing, or even bouncing my privates against objects. The armrests of chairs and sofas, the wide rim of bathtubs, or – for the one time – even mounted atop a sawhorse one time. Fully clothed, naïve, and giggly, this feeling of pleasure hurt a little but also felt indescribably, intensely good.  

For a short while, I felt like I was the only person in the world who knew about this discreet little joy. It was like a small covet of pleasure that others were too preoccupied with other nonsense to acknowledge.  

But as I grew, I realised that despite how good this pleasure felt, there was a label of hush, hush, top secret attached to it. 

Illustration by Ben Stele

Puberty hit me with its monthly blood, pain, and sadness, but there were also sleepless nights spent deep in my imagination and fantasy, body thrumming with a certain tension I couldn’t quite identify. My body desperately wanted a release of… something I couldn’t name. 

I cannot tell you how old I was when I first used my fingers to pleasure myself – perhaps 14? –  but I remember the instant it happened clearly. I was alone, late one afternoon, laying back on the sofa, fantasizing about a man I saw on television, one who I was fast developing a celebrity crush on. He was gorgeous – smooth dark brown hair, a deep voice, strong brows, a contagious grin. I could feel my neck and face flush, and my body jitter just imagining him. Without realising it, I had unzipped my shorts and pushed them down past my knees. My hand tentatively slid between my fuzzy sheen of pubic hair and my oldest pair of undies – loose, black, and stained reddy-brown with blood from a period long before. My middle finger and my ring finger trailed together along my labia majora, before dipping in. I felt warm and moist, and my fingers glided easily. They found a small bump a bit above my urethra, and like a lightning strike, I felt my entire body jolt. Much more gently, my fingers touched that bump again, and again, and again. Suddenly I cried out in astonishment – and then it was over, much, much too soon. 

I like to think I didn’t learn that this was masturbation until I was at least 16, but looking back over my diaries from this time I definitely had a strong inkling of what it was I was doing. Yet, I can tell from my younger self’s writing that I was ashamed. Reading those diaries now, I am struck by how much I tried to omit and avoid talking about this private pleasure. The few times younger me wrote out the m-word, it was etched with shame. The dreaded m-word. “Masturbate” was written in tiny, messy letters, like an afterthought or some vile swear word between shameful admissions of attraction and desire. To fictional characters. To celebrity men and women. To girls in my classes.  

Yet, I still wondered if masturbation made me a pervert – who other than a sick little freak could derive sexual pleasure from attraction to other girls?  

The thing is, I never knew if anyone who wasn’t messed up, or a very horny teenage boy or sad middle-aged man with internet access, even did it. I wasn’t even a chronic masturbator (if such a thing even exists). I only do it every so often, perhaps two to four times a week depending on where I am in my menstrual cycle. It happens when I’m lying in bed unable to relax and fall asleep, or during my post-exercise shower, sweaty, my blood pumping with energy, or simply when I’m alone in private and having some delightful thoughts about hot older women or 1970s male rock stars with impressively long hair.  

It was something I continued to do, despite my shame. I would tell myself I’d grow out of it, that this time this would be the last time I’d ever do it, so I’d better make it a good one. Spoiler: I did not grow out of it.  

But slowly, some of my female friends gingerly admitted they touched themselves too and we would both share the revelation that, oh, you’re the same? It was a comfort to know I was not alone and was not a freak.  

Masturbation is a private topic, but it should not have to be a taboo one. Afterall, many people do it, more than who care admit to it. It’s good to know how my body works, how it feels, what makes it feel good. I’m an old hand at masturbation now (forgive the pun), and the knowledge it’s given me I can pass along to my partner and can avoid having their fingers flail around cluelessly and jack hammer my clitoris. I can tell them about my favourite motions, just like I can tell them how I like my coffee – vanilla latte is good, but I also like it slightly more flavoursome, with plenty of milk, extra sweet, lightly stirred, and whatever you do, make sure you leave the damn spoon in. 

Becoming comfortable with my sexuality – all aspects of it – has been a complex journey, and one I’m still very much travelling along. At 18, I stopped feeling guilty about masturbation. At 19, I came out to all my friends and most of my family as bisexual. At 20, I began my first serious relationship in years and started tiptoeing into the world of sex and the whole anxiety of the endeavour with my partner. Yes, I am happy and confident in my bisexual identity, but other parts of my sexuality still fill me with anxiety and shame, so I’m very proud to say masturbation is no longer one of those.  


Lilian Martin is a writer, poet and zine-maker based in Meanjin/Brisbane and a recent creative writing graduate from QUT. Their work tends to explore intersectional identities and themes through a humorous lens, and has appeared in #EnbyLife Journal, QUT Glass, ScratchThat, and Vermillion Record’s Groove Garden. When Lilian isn’t writing, they are busy listening to old music, talking about old music or singing along (badly) to old music. Stay up to date with their work here: https://linktr.ee/lilianjmartin.


This piece was a submission for Issue 17: Summer Edition. Check out the rest of the print edition here 😉

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