When I was a little girl, I liked two things: getting naked and touching my vagina.
Nothing wrong with that. Totally normal. Completely natural. Yet, not so appropriate during dinner parties with my parents’ friends milling about the living room eating Brie cheese on water crackers.
I had a knack for unveiling myself at the strangest times, in the most unlikely of places. There’s a photo of me, age 5, standing on top of my tricycle seat, trying hard to keep my balance, wearing nothing but a red bandana on my head. In another shot, I’m chasing our dog around the backyard wearing my baby doll’s dress, which basically comes up to my neck, and no underwear.
You’d think I’d be the type to go to Burning Man, boobs bouncing around a bonfire, but I’m not. I’m actually rather buttoned up, and I’m not sure why, or how I went from being a little girl who relished her birthday suit to a woman who often wears a bra to sleep.
It’s not like my mom tried to rain on my “I hate clothes” parade. She never punished me or scolded me or told me I was going to hell. She had been sexually abused as a child and was determined to make me feel good about my body, to normalize sexuality, to empower me.
When I was 16, she even gave me a “back massager,” and told me to put it “down there.” Her feeling, God bless her, was that if I learned how to give myself pleasure, then I’d be able to tell a man how to pleasure me one day.
She didn’t warn me that no man’s fingers would ever be able to vibrate with the same velocity as a vibrator or that certain men in my life would actually feel threatened by it. My college boyfriend once hid my “back massager” to see how long it would take me to notice it was missing. Two days.
Still, I never stopped masturbating, not for him, not for anyone. To me, it’s always felt sacred, something that’s all mine, something no one can take away from me. I know that sounds super dramatic, but I’m serious. For most of my life, I’ve told myself that I wasn’t smart enough, pretty enough, whatever-the-fuck enough— disgracing Stuart Smalley and all his fine work—so there’s something about making my body feel good that smacks of self-love and basic survival. It’s gotten me through two bad relationships with men who didn’t like to kiss me or go down on me, and it’s helped me last long stretches of no man land.
Recently, I had a relationship, well, relationship is too strong a word, given he didn’t want to call it anything, so I’ll just say, recently, I fell in love with a man who rocked my world sexually. He lives in LA and I live in NY, so we didn’t see each other that much, but, man oh man, when we did, the first thing he would do was tear off my panties and dive down, and then he would stay down and keep going, and I would keep going, and it was amazing. Turns out, I’m multi-orgasmic. Who knew?
When it ended, I cried and cried and cried.
I cried because I missed him, yes, and because I thought we had potential, blah, blah, blah, but more because I didn’t want to give up how he made me feel. When people had asked me about him, I would say, “He makes me laugh and come all the time. What could be better than that?”
Nothing. That was the problem.
When I went back to my “back massager,” it wasn’t the same. Sure, it still vibrated at ungodly speed and with unhuman consistency, but it wasn’t him. It wasn’t warm, even with the heat on. I tried watching porn to get me going, to keep me going, but I got bored. There’s only so much in and out and strings of spit you can watch before getting disgusted.
And then it occurred to me, this whole time, my whole adult life, I thought I had been a good lover to myself, but my vibrator had been doing all the work. I didn’t know how to love myself at all.
When I was in seventh grade, pre-vibrator days, my mother came up with a slogan for me to run for Vice President: “Don’t Dance Around The Issues, Vote Kim Auerbach for Vice President, She Bops!” not knowing “She Bops” is another way of saying “She Masturbates.” When I asked my mother what “masturbate” meant, she said, “Well, Kimmi, you know how when you were a little girl you liked to touch your vagina, well, it’s kind of like that, it’s not polite to do in public, and it’s important to wash your hands after, you don’t want your fingers to smell like vagina, but Kimmi, sweetie, there’s nothing wrong with masturbating.”
Well intentioned, I know, but it set something up. It set up the notion that vaginas smell bad. I’m not blaming my mother for my distant relationship with my vagina or for my addiction to my vibrator or for my tolerance of men who don’t like oral sex, but I am realizing that that kind of message can shut you down and make you self-conscious.
I don’t want to be shut down or self-conscious. I want to get naked and touch my vagina. Pure and simple. So, I’ve put away my “back massager,” and I’m choosing to kick it old school.
After all these years, I’m finally learning how to give myself the pleasure I thought only a machine or man could give me. Granted, I can’t rip off my own panties, and I can’t lick my own pussy, but my fingers, well, let’s just say, they’re doing a fine job, and while I do think it’s a good policy to wash my hands after, I like when my fingers smell like vagina, when they smell like my vagina.
I may never bounce my boobs around a bonfire in the desert or balance naked on a tricycle ever again, but I plan on reclaiming that little girl, on being free again.