What do you call masturbation?
If you're a man, the creative terms for your solo sessions are limitless: jerking off, whacking it, jacking off, rubbing one out, choking the chicken, beating it.
If you're a woman, the vocab gets a bit more confining and clinical. Most of us go with "female masturbation" and, well, that's just about it. Somehow, we don't have any widely-used fun slang to refer to one of the most sexual acts a woman can do.
Case in point? Refinery29 asked women what they really call their alone time in a new video "What Do You Call Masturbation?" Their awkward — and commendably clever — attempts prove just how far we have to go when it comes to talking openly about masturbation for women.
An utter lack of vocab: A guide to masturbation terms posted in 2008 on List of the Day offered 63 terms for male masturbation, while it only collected 13 for women. The idioms for female masturbation are not only few, they often reference food items or the ubiquitous stand-in for vagina, the "cat."
So most women rely on the old, utterly clinical standby "masturbate" to get their point across — that is, if they mention the act at all.
"Part of the reason why there isn't a good slang term for female masturbation is just because it hasn't been made mainstream yet," Alise, one of the women in the video, says.
Indeed it's not, largely because most cultural conversations around sexuality is heavily weighted towards the male experience. A recent analysis by Medium of mainstream media's usage of the words "penis" and "vagina" showed that coverage of male genitalia far outnumbered female at major outlets like the New Yorker, Time and BBC News.
More words means more speaking up: Being comfortable with language around a sexual behavior is connected with being comfortable with the behavior itself. A 2002 Pennsylvania State University study pointed to the fact that women are more likely to talk about every aspect of sexuality than men, with the exception of masturbation.
That squeamishness can trickle down to our private behaviors: When FiveThirtyEight compiled data from the 2009 National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior, 37.2% of women ages 25 to 29 claimed they only masturbated a few times per year, whereas only 14.7% of men that age masturbated so infrequently. It also affects how readily we speak up in bed with partners. When we have the right words to communicate our desires and needs, we're empowered to have the best sex we can.
As the women in the video say, we are overdue for a term for female masturbation to be brought into the zeitgeist — preferably one that isn't diminutive or simply a "feminized" male term like "jilling off."
Let's open up the dictionary: So what should actually say? We could even the field by using what should be gender neutral terms like "rubbing one out," or "jerking off." Or, as Alise offers, "clitting," to represent an important anatomical component of female masturbation in our slang.
Whatever we choose, when more women open up about masturbation, its health benefits and its pleasures, we can start treating female sexuality for what it really is: completely normal human behavior. It all starts with a conversation. We just need the right words to start it.