Jack off. Choke the chicken. Beat the meat. Spank the monkey. The rich vocabulary to describe male masturbation is directly related to our acceptance and even celebration of it. Women’s masturbation is less accepted, so the terminology used to describe it suffers as a result. If you asked a random person on the street to name euphemisms for female masturbation, they’d probably fail to name even one. I’ve read that Jill off is a female-specific term, but I’ve never actually heard anybody use it. Since I spend a large portion of my life writing and speaking about female masturbation, I am routinely frustrated by the dearth of terms to describe it. (As you’ll note from this paragraph, I’ve always resorted to using the cumbersome phrase female masturbation).
Before we investigate alternative terms for female masturbation, it’s instructive to delve into masturbate itself. Masturbate most likely derives from the Latin manus (hand) and stupare (to defile), according to the OED. Its origins reveal that it once was a pejorative term, as many terms for masturbation are today. Etymology aside, masturbate is simply too cumbersome and unwieldy to form the basis of the go-to term for female self-pleasuring. Masturbate doesn’t so much as roll off the tongue as it does tumble in a cascade of inelegant syllables.
Not surprisingly, the Ancient Greeks had a few terms for female masturbation, one of which was clitorize, according to Rod L. Evans’ Sex-i-con. Evans says that clitorize derives from the Greek kleitoris, whose etymology is uncertain but the OED says that it may derive from a Greek word meaning to shut. First-century Greek physician Rufus of Ephesus defined clitorize as “the lascivious touching” of the clitoris. In Latin there was maritate, meaning “to manipulate one’s vulva by hand; of females, to masturbate.” It was derived from “maritus (husband), with the suggestion that one’s hand is acting as a husband,” according to Evans. Although I love the idea of having a hand husband, but I can’t imagine myself employing the word maritate in my daily life.
Rejecting clitorize and maritate, I turned to Google to find contemporary terminology and was bombarded with lists full of cloying and cumbersome phrases like dialing “O” on the little pink telephone and rowing the little man in the boat. Many of these phrases are not only self-consciously clever, but they are also pejorative, implying that the vagina is a smelly cesspool, the penis’s pungent counterpart: get a stinky pinky, slapping the mackerel, eating a kipper pie, go for sushi, licking anchovy. The less elaborate terms are remarkably literal: vibrate the vag, rub the clit, labial titillation. It was when I came upon the euphemism Chow down on Georgia O’Keefe’s that I officially gave up.
So what should we call female masturbation? We need a euphemism that’s not a pale imitation of a male masturbation term. It needs to be a nod to the circular rubbing common to most female masturbatory practices. It needs to celebrate the clitoris for what it is: a powerful, yet tiny organ (I’m only referring to the visible portion here; the actual organ is large and powerful, encircling the vagina like a vise) that frequently brings women to full-bodied orgasm. It needs to incorporate the female masturbator’s significant skill in corralling the devious clitoris that’s always roaming around, darting into hidden corners, hiding under a hood, daring the finger or vibrator to find it, to pin it down, to order it to sit still and absorb the manual lesson it’s learning. Even though I’m certain what characteristics the term should possess, I am still no closer to an actual term than I was when I started. So I’m hoping that the readers of this blog will help me in my quest for a suitable female masturbation term. Because the more inviting a term we have to describe women’s masturbation, the more likely we are to discuss it. And it is this discussion that will lessen the stigma surrounding one of the female sex’s most enjoyable and widely practiced hobbies.