Even though female masturbation is a perfectly natural part of sexuality and can actually help women have better sex, it’s remained largely taboo until very recently.
Since the unreliable sex education in the United States rarely covers pleasure, it’s often up to TV and movies to help push society forward and help normalize all aspects of female sexuality. While depictions of men pleasuring themselves have been commonplace for decades, we’ve only recently seen female pleasure that was not designed for the male gaze.
Below are some of the top TV moments that are helping to turn the tide.
1. Sex and the City, S1E9 ‘Turtle and the Hare’
Although Sex & the City might not have aged well, its lasting legacy has always been its frank discussions of female sexuality. In “Turtle and the Hare”, Miranda introduces buttoned-up Charlotte to the Rabbit and sends her down the path to sexual discovery. The episode turned the Rabbit into a household name and helped push the sex toy’s sales up 700%. We’ve since seen a similar effect with dragon toys (like these silicone dildos), which became extremely popular in the wake of the TV show Game of Thrones.
2. Broad City, S4E6 ‘Witches’
Illana is typically a masturbation queen, happily pleasuring herself whenever the mood strikes. But after Trump’s election, she can’t get off. So, she heads to sex therapy.
The storyline is a perfect way to explore sexual dysfunction, which is rarely spoken about, especially within women. But Ilana sought help because she knew her pleasure was important and it helped normalize the idea of sex therapy.
In the end, it was ultimately the thought of badass women that helped her get over her Trump-dysfunction.
3. The Girlfriend Experience, S1E13 ‘Christine: Separation’
In the first season of The Girlfriend Experience, Christine slowly finds empowerment as she goes deeper and deeper into sex work. The culmination of her power is the very last scene of the season, where we see her masturbate.
After a sexual encounter where she’s totally in control but left unsatisfied, Christine takes care of herself. Unlike other depictions, this scene is important not because it’s the most relatable moment, but because it’s aspirational. Masturbation should be linked to a sense of empowerment without one ounce of shame.
4. Fleabag, S1E1 ‘Episode 1’
Perhaps the most endearing moment in the pilot of Fleabag is when she finds herself oddly attracted to President Barack Obama while watching his speech and casually decides to rub one out. Then, her boyfriend wakes up.
The scene is perfect because it casually illustrates how random desire can be and makes a joke without making her desire seem unnatural.
5. Dear White People, S2E1 ‘Chapter 1’
Female sexuality is too often a topic dominated by white women, as the bodies of women of color are usually already sexualized. That’s why Sam’s masturbation scene is so powerful. We get to see her sexual fantasy and then it lands on Sam in a ratty t-shirt, using a vibrator in her dorm room. The scene is so striking because of how normal she looks — just a regular college girl, fantasizing about an ex.
6. Big Mouth, S3E6 ‘How to Have an Orgasm’
Although we have been getting better about depicting grown women’s desires, Big Mouth was one of the first shows to really tackle female puberty.
In “How to Have an Orgasm”, Jessi perfectly personifies the way we have to stumble into our sexuality. She feels desire but is still unsure of her body. She experiments and we are treated to a history of the female orgasm and a clever critique of bad porn. And we all feel accomplished when she gets there.