Finally, TV Dares To Represent Women Who Wank On Their Bellies

Belly masturbators, back jackers, pillow humpers and blow-dryer fetishists: Netflix's “Sex Education” sees you all.
Aimee Lou Wood as Aimee Gibbs in "Sex Education."
Aimee Lou Wood as Aimee Gibbs in "Sex Education."
Jon Hall/Netflix

“2019 will be remembered,” future history books will undoubtedly read, “as the year pop culture finally embraced women who wank on their bellies.”

It’s an artistic triumph that brings tears to my eyes, a true testament to the progress we’ve achieved as a culture when it comes to realistic representations of female sexuality. Funny how something so simple ― a woman, her hand, her stomach ― can mean so much to so many.

(Or, at least, to me.)

For this revolutionary televised moment, we have Netflix UK’s new series “Sex Education” to thank. The show, which premiered Friday, invokes the sacred tradition of high school rom-coms and sex comedies, borrowing a spirit familiar to films like “10 Things I Hate About You” and “American Pie” with amplified realism, feminism, woke-ness and plenty of unrated sex scenes. It combines the perviness of “Big Mouth” with the heart of “Eighth Grade,” topped off with the comforting nostalgia of “Stranger Things.”

“Sex Education” follows Otis Milburn (Asa Butterfield), the only son of a sex therapist, who is exceptionally well-versed in the language of sexual psychology. As one fellow student tells him: “It’s weird. You’re like my age, but wise. You’re like my mum in a little man’s body.” Yet, having been exposed to sex toys and fertility totems at an early age has left Otis physically paralyzed when it comes to his own burgeoning sexuality. At 16, he finds himself a social outcast whom one character describes as a “Victorian ghost.”

The show kicks off when class bad girl Maeve (Emma Mackey) discovers Otis’ preternatural ability to assuage students’ sexual malaises and implores him to capitalize on his gift. Otis soon becomes the school’s trusted confidant, each episode providing a glimpse into a different student’s sexual conundrum.

Asa Butterfield as Otis Milburn in "Sex Education."
Asa Butterfield as Otis Milburn in "Sex Education."
Sam Taylor/Netflix

My favorite is Aimee (Aimee Lou Wood), a spacey popular girl with perfect barrel curls who’s never needed to pleasure herself because she’s always had a boyfriend to do the job for her. Things change, however, when Aimee starts dating Steve, whose mid-coitus request for her to stop performing and “tell me what you want” throws Aimee into a tailspin.

“No one has ever asked me that before!” she tells Otis, who has by this time become the school’s de facto sex therapist. He suggests she figure out what turns her on by taking matters into her own hands.

“So you’re prescribing a wank,” Aimee says, because she’s British. Precisely.

We then see Aimee on her bed, preparing to do the deed while reclining on her back in a pink T-shirt and “Monday” undies. She initially creeps her hand inside them with something like dread, but before long, something clicks, and Aimee goes into hyperdrive.

The glorious sequence that comes next ― of Aimee jacking off in a variety of configurations ― is not the first example of a woman masturbating on television. In “Broad City,” Ilana slurps down an oyster and props up a mirror before touching herself. In “Fleabag,” our protagonist roams around downstairs while watching President Barack Obama give an address. “Unreal,”“Dear White People,” “Girls” and “Big Mouth” are other shows that have depicted the still-taboo ritual of female masturbation.

But, unlike many women before her, Aimee eventually flops onto her belly like a randy sea lion and finishes the deed on her stomach.

I’ve been lamenting this Hollywood blindspot to anyone who will listen ― mostly my editor, who has no choice ― for years. Sure, we’ve seen a masturbating woman elegantly trace her hand down her stomach and watch it disappear beneath the covers as her back begins to arch on screen. But much less frequently do we see a woman in film or TV, her face in the pillow, hunkered down and quivering as if participating in a nuclear bomb drill during an earthquake. I want to see a woman masturbating like she’s thrown her body atop a basketball to prevent it from falling into the hands of the opposing team. Like she’s mimicking an armadillo during mating season.

It’s a far less flattering angle but just as effective and, I’d argue, a more accurate depiction of the way women masturbate alone.

The scene left me feeling, as the kids say, seen. But I was curious if others felt the same way. So I reached out to my female colleagues, some of whom agreed to participate in an anonymous quiz asking whether they preferred masturbating on their stomachs or backs.

“I genuinely had no idea anyone did it the way I don’t do it!” one of my co-workers said in response to my query. I blame our limited pop culture landscape.

That is, the cultural landscape pre-Aimee, who tries out a whole potpourri of sexual scenarios on her journey to the center of her pleasure. She flips over from her back onto her stomach, blow-dries her neck while jacking off on a desk chair, humps a pillow by the windowsill and eventually comes while riding the sofa. Eventually she collapses onto her bed in a blissed-out haze and mutters to no one, “I want a crumpet.”

Far from the offscreen dalliances of the aughts’ PG-13 teen movies, the sex in “Sex Education” is up close, in your face and often quite hilarious. Aimee’s caveman grunts and yappy dog barks aren’t the pornified moans we’re used to. The show leans into every contorted facial expression, every subhuman sound effect, normalizing the quirks that make teens ― and, hell, adults ― feel like sexual pariahs.

The next day, a bed-headed Aimee thanks Otis for his counsel. “I’ve been wanking all night,” she says with a shit-eating grin. “I ate four packets of crumpets and I think my clit might drop off. But I know exactly what I want.”

While according to my small sample size of horny HuffPosters, stomach wankers are in the minority, that doesn’t make their experience any less valid. And that’s the general lesson of “Sex Education,” which doesn’t only focus on its straight white male protagonist but also explodes its multi-pronged narrative to incorporate stereotype-defying characters from a wide range of backgrounds and sexual persuasions.

Belly wankers, back jackers, pillow humpers and blow-dryer fetishists, “Sex Education” sees you all. And so do I.

How do you masturbate (mostly)
On my belly
On my back
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