Illustrations by Bhoomi
I learnt to masturbate at the ripe old age of 20. As a child, I’d naturally discovered that squeezing my legs or humping a surface feels good. But a few times someone had walked in and gently (but visibly uncomfortably) told me not to do it. I got a feeling that maybe what I was doing was illicit or unhealthy, so I stopped.
It was only when I started reading American blogs on feminism at 17, that I realized girls masturbated too! That masturbation itself could be a good thing, desirable even in the world of #SexPositivity. My re-entry into the world of self-pleasure began then. But trust me, if it was as easy as a contestant making a wild card entry back into Masterchef Australia, this story would be shorter.
I had also at that time started realizing I was gay. Questioning my sexuality started making me aware of my own feelings of desire. But becoming confident about your sexual orientation doesn’t necessarily go hand in hand with being confident of your sexual-ness. Aaaaand there was also my perpetually bleeding heart.
When I entered college a freshly-realized lesbian, little did I know the next 4 years would be lined end to end with intense heartbreaks. I fell deeply and serially in love with everyone – the butch girl who was actually straight, my closest friend, my friend’s friend, a senior I never spoke to, an older queer woman, an emotionally unavailable poet on Tinder – my disastrous heart spared neither other people, nor me.
Unrequited love brings feelings of shame with it anyway. And I’d also gone from a world where everything sexual about me was in the shadows (even to myself) to a community where sexuality and sexualness were celebrated to the max. Being confident and sexy felt like social currency and I was clearly broke. Everything from seeing people kiss on stage at queer events to statistics of lesbians having more rocking orgasms than straight women, made me acutely aware of my own inexperience. How could I be sex-positive like all the queers and feminists I wanted to be like, when I had not even given myself an orgasm? Any talk of sex made me want a chullu bhar paani to doobo-fy myself into.
I’d also have very intense feelings of heartbreak every time I liked someone – strong feelings of desire for a person that quickly escalated to intense feelings of despair (because it was all unrequited) complete with midnight crying fits on the balcony over my bad luck in love and cluelessness about sex. These lashings of pain swirled inside all my thoughts about love or desire for the longest time.
My string of heartbreaks led me to the greatest discovery in life (after masturbation of course) – counselling! In the counsellor’s office, I found a place to express my insecurities about my love/sex life. When dealing with heartbreak alone I was always in crisis mode. Now I had somewhere to go when another pyaar ka crisis struck. It left me with more space to understand my own mind. And the self-awareness it brought started extending to my sexualness too.
Earlier I didn’t realize those strong feelings of desire that preceded my crying fits were also sexual feelings. I just thought I was an ‘intense type’: falls in love too quick, too hard. Wanting someone’s attention, my desire for them, feeling attracted to them, fantasizing about them – I named these feelings just “Love and Desire”. But over time, I recognized that these intensely heartbroken days often had a simple starting point, which was *drumroll* “Horniness”.
But without masturbation, I didn’t have a healthy outlet for these sexual feelings. So they’d get mixed with all the other emotions of heartbreak, leading me down a rabbit hole of sadness. Separating love from attraction and arousal isn’t so clear-cut, I know. But this confusion had allowed me to ignore there were hormones involved too.
Looking back, it was difficult to see myself as sexual when no one seemed to desire me (and fantasizing about someone still felt taboo). I did try to masturbate sometimes but these difficult feelings made it hard for me to persist. It would take too long and I’d give up mid-way, and feel worse. I guess feeling undesired also left me feeling shameful for feeling desire. I didn’t know how to feel sexual without feeling like a failure.
I finally learnt to masturbate when I (yet again) fell for a woman I was wildly attracted to. But there’s a twist to this tale – she reciprocated. I felt sexual touch for the first time with her, I made out with her under a tree in a shady garden, I slept with her and ahem got royally dumped a day after my sexual debut.
This heartbreak was particularly bad because it had felt like I finally had a chance and then it ended so abruptly. Yet, it sparked a flame in me. I was so so into her that I was able to recognize my feelings of arousal even through all the heartbreak. The shame of rejection remained, but some of the shame of feeling unsexy had lifted. Having sex had let me recognize myself as a sexual being. The longing combined with the frustration that I’d had sex before knowing what an orgasm felt like, and also finally having the privacy of a single room – gave me the motivation to taste that pleasure again – to really actively try pleasuring myself. Being raging mad at yourself and someone else can sometimes have unintended positive consequences.
I starting exploring myself and these sex-with-self sessions became regular. It was hard to separate my feelings of desire for her, but as I got better and better at feeling pleasure just by myself, it got easier to distance myself from the “I miss her and her body so much” wala feelings and to slip into a different zone (you know the one where you can’t see anything but are also seeing stars at the same time *wink wink*). One fine day, after much exploration in my lovely single room – it finally happened. I was able to focus on my feelings of pleasure and at some point, my body went into auto-pilot mode and boom. But you know what felt better than the pleasure of the orgasm? The sheer relief I felt afterwards. The slow building sexual confidence. That feeling of discovering something new about yourself. I didn’t feel broken anymore. All that shame of feeling not sexual enough and feeling unlovable was suspended in that moment. And of course, it felt like a bit of a fuck you to the girl who broke my heart to be able to give myself an orgasm.
Even though this was my worst heartbreak yet, I had a way to deal with those intense feelings when they came. To cope with my desire for someone who didn’t like me back. Feeling horny didn’t make me spiral anymore. Instead whenever I felt myself going down that path of horniness leading to me feeling hopeless and ashamed for being rejected – I masturbated and felt much better about myself. It prevented many days from becoming bad mental health days. I was heartbroken, yes. But I wasn’t feeling defeated or lost. I never imagined my ‘intense’ days could ever end with me feeling great about myself! The simple pleasure of it was healing and the ability to make myself feel good was therapeutic.
I even began to understand that many days that I’d hit an emotional rock bottom came before my period. As bad days got lesser in general (once again big flying kiss to counselling), the PMS-moodiness connection became more visible and I was able to manage my emotions better. As for good days? I learnt to give in to my ‘intense’ aka horny days when I feel too much and float into fantasies easily. I give in to these visceral calls of pleasure, remind myself that no one’s looking at me and masturbate. I once got obsessed with a queer film for a few days – shedding tears over how romantic it was, low-key wondering why I’m so moved by just a movie trailer with two cute women – and bang, my period started and that brief period of intense feelings for a super-gay film suddenly made sense. It seems even PMS can be fun sometimes.
Drawing these connections between my hormonal periods, my horniness and my mood, and developing a routine around masturbation and my menstrual cycle (yes I have specific days during my cycle when sexy time strikes) – it helped me regulate my mood on a day-to-day basis. It was a big part of my recovery out of that bad phase and helps maintain my mental health even now.
Love and desire (and shame too) might be very much about the mind but I know now that my body with its strange mix of hormones is involved in it too. Like art therapist Neha Bhat said in her IG live with AOI “I don’t see mind as brain only, I see mind as pussy, mind as armpits, mind as taste, as touch”. If the mind, heart and body are one and all influence each other, then knowing what’s coming from where helps a lot.
Counselling gave me the tools to listen to myself and understand what my thoughts do to me. If getting mental health help gave me a language to converse with my mind and understand my desires, then masturbation gave my body a language to express the desire I felt. My mind would never have become a happier place if I hadn’t learnt to say “hi, hello, feeling horny? let’s have fun” to my body without feeling ashamed of what I feel and want. Now I may not know how the phases of the moon are connected to my menstrual cycle, but I do know that within me – pyaar, desire, hormones and my mind are as closely connected as those naked ladies dancing hand-in-hand under the moonlight.
Ms.LesbiPataka is an intensely gay and intensely awkward social-issuey designer in her 20’s. Believes in non-judgmentally talking about sex coz pleasure doesn’t come aise hi for everyone.