by Siobhán Barrett-Donlon 

— 

I come from an Irish-catholic background. Between the ages of 4 and 12, I attended a Roman Catholic school. Although I am no longer a practising catholic, I still have a weird relationship with Catholicism - for example, when someone dies, I feel the urge to go to church and light a candle. God, religion or anything of the like was rarely discussed at home and my exposure to Catholicism was almost solely at school and at church. 

When I do think about God (which is rarely) he is either a white-washed, Jesus lookalike, or a faceless entity that is unquestionably male. Although I have tried to think of God as a genderless being to fall in line with my feminist principles, I find it incredibly difficult. That being said, I am working on it, so let she who has not sinned cast the first hate comment. 

I’ve been in the reconciliation room just twice in my life and I can confirm that neither turned out like that episode of Fleabag. However, what I am going to confess will certainly open your eyes to the power of a male religious figure.

"Just as the sensations began, God made his entrance like the holy spirit to the disciples and swiftly filled the room with his presence. I distinctly remember feeling like his formless face was up above me..."


When I try to picture Him appearing for the first time, my mind conjures up an image of me tangled up in the bed sheets of my second-year bedroom, happily masturbating the day away. Little did I know, the thought of whoever I was fantasising about at the time would quickly be replaced by the thought of God. Yes, God. And no, not in an ‘holy shit that was so good I swear I saw god’ kind of way, I mean, the biblical ‘thy shall not touch thyself’ kind of God. 

I read somewhere that the bringer of peace has impeccable timing, and he did not disappoint. Just as the sensations began, God made his entrance like the holy spirit to the disciples and swiftly filled the room with his presence. I distinctly remember feeling like his formless face was up above me, at the height of the ceiling but slightly to the right-hand side (coincidence? I think not). He then became what all misbehaving children fear the most: the ‘I’m not angry, just disappointed’ God. And it scared the shit out of me. 

Over the last three years, there’s a question I’ve often asked myself: what kind of feminist lets a guy get in the way of a good wank? Sadly (though not for lack of trying) I have been unable to shift him from my mind. 

So that vision, combined with getting into a long-term relationship shortly after, meant the frequency of my masturbating plummeted; half out of lack of necessity and half out of sheer terror. When I would seldom indulge in the act, as the ecstasy washed over me, there He would appear; not too dissimilarly from the Angel Gabriel to Joseph (one would imagine). But rather than making the trip down to offer me some words of comfort, I got something far more hellish. 

Now, it is up for debate as to whether the words said next are:
  1. The words of God 
  2. My own, to myself 
  3. Society judgements 

...after some thought, I have come to conclude that it was most likely a combination of all three and despite the words coming from a variety of sources, the overarching theme of the slander was consistent: “you are disgusting”, “you are dirty” and “you should be ashamed of yourself”

"What messages had I swallowed and left to rot in the bottom of my stomach like chewing gum, that had made me feel so horrendously ashamed of myself?"


Although I’m not opposed to some dirty talk, that’s hardly what I had in mind. On multiple occasions I was left in tears, unable to shake off the feeling of utter disgust for myself. I wince when I picture the position I would find myself in: alone, stifling sobs and wanting to vomit. 

And then I got angry. Cain-like angry. What messages had I swallowed and left to rot in the bottom of my stomach like chewing gum, that had made me feel so horrendously ashamed of myself? That being said, I wasn’t ever sat down and directly told “if you masturbate you’ll go to hell” but as with many of the sources of women’s shame, they are seldom so explicit. 

Similarly, it was never a topic of conversation growing up; I stumbled upon masturbating as a 12 or 13 year-old from a combination of some dishy blonde on Disney Channel and having my legs crossed the right way. Perhaps the lack of discussion about it made me feel like I was doing something I shouldn’t be doing. Either way, some internalised shame had risen, like Jesus on the third day, and when I ended my relationship I had to face my demons. 

"Girls are lucky if they even get told what the clitoris is, let alone how to experience any kind of pleasure from it. And ultimately, I think that’s what it comes down to: women’s pleasure is a taboo subject and the silence is inflicting severe damage."


Post-relationship life was my time to rummage through the dusty boxes at the back of my brain and try to uncover why I felt so ashamed about masturbation. This consisted of therapy, journaling and using my vibrator. Despite only being out of my relationship for two months and in therapy for one, I’m pleased to say I’ve made some significant progress. Taking a deeper look into why I felt the way I did about self-pleasure and finding out where those subliminal messages had come from has been vital to my growth. 

As teenagers, we understand that masturbating is just something boys do; almost as if they would fucking implode if they didn’t. Girls on the other hand are lucky if they even get told what the clitoris is, let alone how to experience any kind of pleasure from it.

Ultimately, I think that’s what it comes down to: women’s pleasure is a taboo subject and the silence is inflicting severe damage. If my sex education had even just mentioned it once, I might have felt less guilty. I don’t want other young girls to miss out on the joy of masturbating just because they think that it’s a dirty thing to do. It isn’t dirty and, if God does exist, he wouldn’t have given you the ability to come if he didn’t want you to. 

I now know the damage a combination of religion and taboo can do to a young girl is thankfully not irreversible. Given that we are currently in isolation, my masturbating game has stepped up and I frequently indulge myself. It takes some strength and determination but God very rarely joins me in my euphoria anymore and now if he shows up, I fucking high-five him.