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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.

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Kimberlee Auerbach KIMBERLEE AUERBACH is the author of the memoir The Devil, the Lover & Me (Dutton), which is based on her one-woman show. She has performed her comedic monologues throughout New York City, competed in the Moth GrandSLAM Storytelling Championships, and appeared on such radio shows as Sex, Success and Sensibility with Candace Bushnell and Wake-Up with Cosmo. She teaches at Mediabistro, Gotham and the Bank Street College of Education.

6 Responses to “You Don’t Want Your Fingers to Smell Like Vagina”

  1. scarlet says:

    omg i luv back messages also i have ur problem but i will neva drop my baby(mi messager)

  2. loldog says:

    I came here to fap, and went away having read some deep philosophy and insight into human psychology. Well done, Kim!

  3. Katelynn says:

    My little “story” is somewhat similar to yours, Kim. When I was a little girl, I was raped by a boy who was seven years older than me. He gave me my first orgasm and it excited me. It drew me into an addiction of sexual euphoria after that.

    At the age of 12, I saw a back massager that I wanted. It had my favorite colors on it and my first thought after turning it on and feeling how fast it vibrated was that it would be perfect to experience an orgasm with. I told my mom my back had been hurting and she saw two others that she bought for herself and for my grandmother.

    I have never used my back massager for it’s true purpose. Masturbating does give me a self-empowering feeling and am not ashamed of it. My back massager, has helped me through years of no non-sexual relationships, no man land, and is still helping now. Although I have an amazing partner who, lets just say… has the magic tough, I am always sexually frustrated for the fact that I don’t have sex. I love the idea of it, and what happened in the past has nothing to do with why I don’t do it. I’m not financially stable, in no way shape or form to be a mother, and I also have my education to think of first.

    For a while now, I have always thought of the smelling of my fingers after I touch myself to be weird and just disgusting. However, the more I research, the more I am finding it is rather normal. I still don’t know why I smell them after I masturbate [before I wash my hands], but I just find the smell different and intriguing for some reason.

    Thank you for sharing this with us readers, it has helped to understand more about my sexual life.

  4. al says:

    you got a really cool mom. the living water feels better than sex, what is it? ask Jesus about it alone before sleeping for a week, its the feeling of bliss in you from heaven, never going away :)

    yes Im serious this is me talking about it. — God loves you all and there are feeling you never thought possible from heaven to come to you here.

    (type www(DOT)youtube(DOT)/watch?v=b6FTS8G6ZAE

  5. Isaac says:

    The vagina is a beautiful thing full of everything good. It is not a bad thing. A well kept vagina is sweet and delicious, a woman that likes her vagina is super sexy, I don’t know what it is, but when I watch my wife use her vibrator it is sooooo sexy.

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