Diddling, jilling off, double-clicking the mouse — “Whatever You Wanna Call It, We’re Gonna Talk About It.” That’s the mantra of the latest workshop coming to Garfield Artworks: a session on female masturbation hosted by local business Girls’ Night In.
“It’s going to be a guided discussion,” said owner and co-founder of Girls’ Night In, Karen Derzic. “We’re not going to pull people out of their chairs and ask them to tell their stories, but if somebody wants to do that we’re not going to say no.” Established in 2003, Girls’ Night In is both an informational resource and a vendor of sexual merchandise. “The basis of the business was always about education at the forefront,” said Derzic.
Fully titled “Whatever You Wanna Call It, We’re Gonna Talk About It… Women’s Masturbation,” the workshop’s goal is to provide a forum for women to discuss masturbation and other aspects of sexuality in an open environment. “That title actually came about because we’ve learned that people call it so many different things and don’t often just say ‘masturbation,’” said Derzic.
From she-bopping to buttering the muffin, there’s certainly humor associated with the various euphemisms for female masturbation. Of course, the equivalent male pastime is not without its own set of colloquialisms (greasing the flagpole, choking the chicken), but the problem with female masturbation is that it’s almost never discussed in candid terms — and when people don’t talk about it, they don’t understand it. “There’s a lot of misconception that the only way to have an orgasm is if something’s in the vagina,” Derzic said. For some, restriction to vaginal intercourse could only guarantee a dissatisfying sex life. Many women cannot have an orgasm that way, Derzic explained.
There are plenty of other ways for women to satisfy themselves sexually. “It may come from clitoral stimulation; it may come from stimulation of the breasts; it may come from a mental picture that you have,” Derzic said. “There are women around the world who can orgasm just through mind-play.”
In the realm of sexuality, there are no standards. “One of the things I talk about is [that you have to] just explore your own body. You’re your own best judge to find out what you like and what you don’t like,” Derzic said. “It’s just amazing that women’s bodies are so unique,” she said, explaining the need for self-exploration. But such individuality can breed insecurity, doubt, and even shame.
The ins and outs
“We don’t really talk about female genetalia,” said Brenda Lee Green, the vice-president for education at Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania. Children are exposed to the discrepancy between male and female anatomies at an early age. “Little boys have ‘publics,’ little girls have ‘privates,’” Green explained, referencing an insight originally coined by sexologist Jessie Potter.
The evidence practically speaks for itself. Most of the slang for female genitalia is derogatory in nature, and a lot of it doubles as ways to refer to women themselves. Conversely, male genital regions are often referred to with pet names: Wee Wee, Johnson, Mr. Happy. These words make the penis seem cute, friendly. They distance the penis from its owner and endow it with a personality. “It’s this unspoken message about female anatomy,” Green said.
The very structure of a woman’s body promotes the notion that female sex organs are private, not public. “In a men’s public bathroom or locker room, you can see some things,” said Derzic. “Even in a women’s locker room you’re not going see much because it’s all hidden away.”
The effort to bring the truth about womens’ bodies — and their sexuality — into the forefront began in the ’70s. Much of Derzic’s work, particularly her plans for the upcoming workshop, is influenced by author and sexual educator Betty Dodson. In 1974, Dodson published Sex For One, the first book to frankly discuss the topic of female masturbation. “At that point it was really thought of as a man’s thing,” Derzic said. In the text, Dodson included her own sexual experiences.
But the most enlightening components of Sex For One are the 16 drawings of female genitalia, each created by Dodson, who holds a degree in fine arts. Sex For One showcases the variety in the female body. The 16 drawings are surprisingly dissimilar. “You can see that you’re normal,” Derzic said. “You’re not wrong; you’re not weird; you’re not broken — you’re just you.”
While Dodson was attempting to educate the masses, sex in the ’70s left the men in control. “There was this rationale in women’s minds that only bad girls get birth control,” said Green. “So-called ‘good girls’ get pregnant.” But to what extent has society become sexually enlightened? According to Derzic, sexual education based in abstinence has left many young adults ignorant of contraceptive methods, not to mention their anatomy. “You’re really coming up in a time where ignorance is bliss,” she said. “In reality, there’s college kids who are like, ‘What’s going on with my body?’”
Green agreed that many sexually active adults and teenagers still have some growing up to do. “If you can’t talk about it, you really shouldn’t be doing it,” she said. Planned Parenthood receives anonymous calls every day from clients who can barely explain their situations. Often, callers are unable to discuss the parts of the bodies involved in sex because they simply don’t know about them. “There’s this misconception that the goal of sexual education is to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases,” Green said. But what’s just as important in any school program is that it should leave its students feeling comfortable and informed about their bodies.
Jamie McElroy, a buyer for South Side retail store Slacker, complained about Pittsburgh in particular. Located on East Carson Street, Slacker offers sex toys in addition to a host of other merchandise including jewelry, home accessories, and alternative literature — in McElroy’s words, “Everything from mild to not so mild.”
“We tend to keep it a little tame,” said McElroy, citing the store’s location in an area frequented by tourists. “I get so many girls that come in giggling,” she said. “All in all, Pittsburgh is kind of buttoned-up.”
The new Tupperware
It’s just that kind of buttoned-up atmosphere that allows businesses like Girls’ Night In to thrive. Derzic makes some of her sales online, but what really sets Girls’ Night In apart is its parties. Derzic leads about one or two a month, each basically a sexually charged version of a Tupperware sit-down. “The way that those were brought up is it was an easy way for women to get together and have a social function as well as purchase something nice for their homes,” said Derzic.
But the similarity ends there. Derzic doesn’t cater to pastel-colored housewives. The burp-proof lids, the microwave demonstrations — these things have been replaced by dildos, lubricants, and so on. Like Dodson in Sex For One, Derzic employs diagrams of male and female genitalia to help inform her clientele. “People walk away with some understanding of their bodies,” Derzic said. “I love walking away from those parties where I’m exhausted because I’ve talked to everybody, and everybody’s happy.”
Derzic offers her services to women of all ages, even men. “The parties start out with bringing a group of friends together,” Derzic explained. Her clients range from coworkers to relatives to members of nearby sororities and fraternities. Hardly any other businesses similar to Girls’ Night In host parties open to both genders. “I firmly believe that you have to talk to everybody involved in the situation,” said Derzic.
In addition to educating her clients, Derzic helps them feel comfortable discussing their bodies and sexual needs. “People walk away with not only, ‘This is a vibrator, this is where I put it,’” she said, “They walk away with, ‘This is where I put it, this is how I use it, this is how it’s going to get me off, and this is how I can tell my husband of 10 years that this is how I can get an orgasm.’”
Such knowledge is critical when it comes to maintaining a relationship. “It’s sometimes awkward to say, ‘Over here,’ ‘A little to the left,’ ‘Not so fast,’ whatever,” said Derzic. “But the only way to make sure that you’re going to have a good, long-lasting, loving relationship is to communicate with your partner about everything, sex especially.”
I’ll have what she’s having
For Derzic, the upcoming workshop on masturbation shares the same ideals as the Girls’ Night In parties. Unfortunately, many women in the area who would benefit most from such an event may not even feel comfortable enough to attend. “I’m well aware that we’re probably not going to get everyone we’re hoping to target at the event,” said Derzic, who may plan workshops in the future catering to a more uptight clientele.
Until then, one attractive alternative to parties and workshops is the wealth of reading material in print and on the Web. Dodson has written multiple books on the subject of sexuality, but the list goes on. Additionally, the Girls’ Night In website includes a list of links to educational websites. “Everything is not going to work for everyone else,” said Green. “I always say your comfort level is like a rubber band. If you stretch it too far, it’ll break.”
“The important thing is to empower people about their own sexuality so that they can be happy,” Derzic said. The workshop will provide a forum for women to help each other — and to help themselves. “There’s plenty of people who have taken the exact same steps before you, who have kind of paved the way,” Derzic said. “Hopefully this workshop will bring out at least a little bit of that.”