• The poster for ‘Les Branleuses’, the French title of documentary, ‘Lady Wankers’. (SBS)Source: SBS
Director Frédérique Barraja’s documentary was inspired by her photographic exhibition of women masturbating.
Tanya Modini

3 Dec 2018 - 3:57 PM  UPDATED 3 Dec 2018 - 3:57 PM

With all the sexualisation and pressure around sex that we are subjected to every day, everyone is pretty silent on the subject of female masturbation.

In the wise words of Taylor Swift, “I’ve never heard silence quite this loud.”

The pleasure no one will talk about

Lady Wankers is directed by French photographer Frédérique Barraja whose controversial 2010 photographic collection of women masturbating, Les Branleuses, inspired the documentary and is featured throughout.

Barraja says she was so surprised by the conversations she had with the models for Les Branleuses during the shoot, about things that she could not show in photographs, that she decided to extend the subject into a film. “The idea was to do research about why we have all these sex toys, and we talk about sex a lot but we don’t talk about masturbating. It’s about self-discovery…”, said Barraja.

Barraja rounds up a group of her female friends over a nice rosé in Nice to discuss how, where and when they masturbate. After a shaky, nervous start they open up about their fears, secrets, phobias, fantasies and pleasures around masturbation.

Revelations abound, some women in the group had not masturbated until the age of 35 and 40, some have never had an orgasm with a sexual partner, some are averse to even looking at their own genitals. These are not 13-year-old girls — these are mature women of varying ages who are clearly reluctant, almost scared to talk about masturbation. But why is this such a taboo and poorly understood activity? 

The pleasure gap

As Barraja is driving through the countryside of France with a male companion, he tells her that men “talk about male masturbation as if you were going for a beer”.

Maybe it’s a culturally accepted topic for men to discuss and to do because studies have shown that almost 100% of men masturbate. But that doesn’t hold up when those studies also show that around 82% of women masturbate.

But women don’t talk about female masturbation as if they were going for a glass of wine or beer. Instead, most women pretend it doesn’t exist.

Women lose out in many areas of society that are commonly recognised – the pay gap, the leadership gap, the school-based gap in STEM – but women are also losing out in attaining sexual pleasure when compared to men. The pleasure gap is contributing to far fewer women than men attaining orgasm – either alone or with a sexual partner.

Lots of reasons for this are offered up throughout Lady Wankers from women being taught that their sexuality only exists for other people, to the female body as a political object that is deliberately repressed.

Benefits of masturbation

Even though the clitoris is the only organ that is purely designed for pleasure, one in 10 women has never had an orgasm and 30% of college-aged women can’t identify where their clitoris is!

Gynaecologist Marie-Claude Benattar laments that women are afraid to look at and explore their bodies, which is adversely impacting on their overall sexual enjoyment.

She identifies the myth that some women think it is their partner who should be the one to provide them with pleasure. Benattar explains that only when women are able to explore and understand their own bodies better, will they then fully know and understand what they like when they have sex with another person.

Benattar is joined by a love coach, a relaxation therapist, a sex toy designer and a sex advocate who resoundingly agree that there should be no shame in masturbation and that it is good for physical and mental wellbeing.

They discuss g-spots and present a variety of sex toys. These can assist women to embark upon masturbation and attain all the health benefits that go along with it including the “release of endorphins, the neurotransmitters associated with happy feelings that can improve overall mood and fight off depression”.

Masturbation produces oxytocin, a chemical which works as a natural pain reliever and can reduce headaches and muscle aches. It can assist with relaxation by reducing stress and tension, and also help induce sleep. Masturbation can also improve the immune system, help the symptoms of Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) and relieve period pain.

So what are you waiting for? Lady Wankers sends the emphatic message that female masturbation is normal.

Lady Wankers airs on Friday, 7 December at 9:30pm on SBS VICELAND. 


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