Women masturbating on TV and in the movies, ranked

May is National Masturbation Month, and we’re celebrating with Feeling Yourself, a series exploring the finer points of self-pleasure.


For too long, female pleasure was portrayed on-screen through the prism of the male gaze. 

When it came to TV and movies, scenes portraying women masturbating were basically straight out of a male director’s sexual fantasy. More often than not, the woman would writhing around on her back and she’d usually begin moaning the moment her hand came into contact with her vulva. If only it were that easy. 

Truth is: We don’t masturbate like that. We’re not always thrashing about on our back making loud fake orgasm noises. It’s usually pretty mundane and unglamorous. And we can get pretty creative with positions and props depending on how we’re feeling. 

Thankfully, times are changing. TV and movie depictions of self-love sessions are becoming more realistic, more anatomically accurate, and much, much more relatable. 

We’ve ranked some of the most iconic on-screen female masturbation moments for their realism and relatability. 

Samantha’s priest fantasy in ‘Sex And The City’

Sex and the City’s Samantha Jones (Kim Cattrall) did a lot of good in smashing the stigma surrounding female sexuality. But, it needs to be said that some of the orgasm scenes were a tad melodramatic. In “The Agony and The Ex-tacy” Samantha meets a good looking priest who she quickly dubs “Friar Fuck” — only problem is, this friar won’t, uuuh, fulfil her fantasy. Samantha ends up masturbating about him, during which she breaks out into a full-on operatic orgasm. If only masturbating were actually that good.

Marnie’s bathroom break in ‘Girls’ 

In Season One of Girls, Marnie Michaels (Allison Williams) does something many of us have but dreamed of doing. She becomes so aroused after talking to bonafide arty douchebag Booth Jonathan that she has to go masturbate in the bathroom of an event space. “I want you to know, the first time I fuck you it might scare you a little because I’m a man and I know how to do things,” Booth says to Marnie. Soon after, Marnie locks herself in the loo, puts her hand down her tights and cracks one out while standing up. I mean, it’s a great idea in principle, but who among us has ever had great success masturbating in an upright position (not me!). 

Betty Draper and the washing machine 

In Season 1, episode 11 of Mad Men, we witness Betty Draper become overcome with horniness after meeting a good looking door-to-door salesman. After he asks to come inside to measure windows upstairs (we’ve heard that one before), she decides against it and instead asks him to leave. Once he’s left she begins fantasising about him and rubs herself up against the vibrating washing machine. Anyone who’s ever tried this move at home will know that it’s a nice idea in theory, pretty anti-climactic in practice. 

The cry-wank in ‘Mulholland Drive’ 

Naomi Watts’ masturbation scene in Mulholland Drive is not bad. It’s free from all the inauthentic thrashing around that you often see in porn, and all you see is Betty (Naomi Watts) sweaty, pained expression (accurate) as she makes repetitive motions with her hand down her unbuttoned trousers. The only thing we’d change is the fact that she’s aggressively crying. I’m just not one for masturbating when I’m upset.

Naomi Watts in 'Mulholland Drive' in 2001.

Naomi Watts in ‘Mulholland Drive’ in 2001.

Image: Studiocanal/REX/Shutterstock

The giant vibrator in ‘Slums of Beverly Hills’

Back in 1998, long before Russian Doll, Natasha Lyonne was already making quite the impression on screen. In Slums of Beverly Hills, Vivian (Lyonne) decides to try out her cousin Rita’s (Marisa Tomei) massive vibrator. One tip though: Try not to use other people’s sex toys. 

'The Slums Of Beverly Hills.'

Image: Fox Searchlight/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

The bidet in ‘Broad City’ 

When it comes to portrayals of sex and masturbation, Broad City is a damn delight to watch. Free from the male gaze sex scenes of old, Abbi and Ilana have sex and masturbate like you and me. Ilana’s bidet scene was a wild, wet ride — the only note I’d give is that if she’d turned her body around to face the tap, she’d have a better chance of having an orgasm. But, hey, whatever floats your boat (or bidet).

Ilana Glazer told Out magazine what makes Broad City’s portrayals of female desire just so brilliant: “It’s like these girls are horny but not under the male gaze. They’re horny, period. Just starting from the vagina, not starting from some man looking at them.”

The ‘Black Swan’ ‘bating sesh 

All too often, on-screen depictions of female masturbation show women in the same position: lying on her back with her legs spread apart. Newsflash: we don’t all masturbate in the one position. That would be pretty boring. This scene gets bonus points for showing a woman masturbating in the face-down position, which is a pretty popular position that you don’t often see in TV and movies. 

Image: Fox Searchlight/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

Aimee’s first time in ‘Sex Education’

You always remember your first time. The first time you wank, that is. When Sex Education’s Aimee Gibbs admitted that she’d never had to masturbate before, wannabe sex therapist Otis stepped in to offer up some advice. “So you’re prescribing a wank?” she asked him. Correct. 

Aimee’s first time has a familiar feel to it — she tried out a bunch of different positions like she’s on a voyage of orgasm discovery. When she finally comes, she has a sudden pang of post-orgasmic hunger. We’ve all been there, Aimee. 

Aimee discovers the joys of masturbation.

Aimee discovers the joys of masturbation.

The pillow hump in ‘The To Do List’

Aubrey Plaza stars as virginal valedictorian Brandy Klark who decides to draw up a list of sexual escapades to complete before heading off to college. In the film, we see Brandy masturbating by riding a pillow, which frankly you don’t see often enough in movies. 

Aubrey Plaza and Rachel Bilson in  'The To Do List.'

Aubrey Plaza and Rachel Bilson in  ‘The To Do List.’

Image: Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

The dead battery in ‘Insecure’

In Season 1, episode 3 of Insecure, Issa goes to grab her vibrator only for the batteries to die pretty much immediately. Obviously, she doesn’t give up on that dream straight away, so she trawls through her apartment looking for batteries and yelling out “fuck!” when she fails to find one. It’s a highly relatable moment, to say the very least. 

Issa Rae told Glamour about the significance of this moment: “In the [writers’] room we were talking about what it feels like to be thirsty and how we don’t really get to see female characters masturbate. Even in a funny way. Especially black women! So we wanted to portray that, while remaining true to our show and showing sexual frustration.”

The Obama speech in ‘Fleabag’

Anyone who’s ever masturbated with a computer in front of them will be all too familiar with the specific laptop-wobble that comes, uhh, hand in hand with the act of self-love. 

In Series 1 of Fleabag, Phoebe Waller-Bridge brought us a refreshingly honest masturbation scene. Not everyone can attest to having masturbated to Barack Obama delivering a speech about democracy while their boyfriend’s asleep in the bed next to them, but this particular masturbation scene felt mundane and real. There were no writhing around or fake orgasms in this scene, just a woman wearing her pyjamas masturbating noiselessly under her duvet as her laptop moved up and down with her hand. 

Puberty hits in ‘PEN15’ 

Puberty is rough. Especially the rush of extreme horniness that comes with it. Episode 3 of PEN15 features one of the realest depictions of teenage self-exploration ever shown on TV. 

When Maya Ishii-Peters (Maya Erskine) first discovers the wonders of masturbation, she can’t stop herself from doing it all the time (who can blame her, tbh). But, Maya also feels ashamed of what she’s doing — a feeling that many of us can identify with. “I’m a pervert, and I really shouldn’t be doing what I’m doing,” she tells her friend Anna. “I’ve been putting my hands down my pants — my area — down there to feel good.” 

The episode is about learning to masturbate without feeling shame — which is a rite of passage that’s not often talked about, let alone shown on our TV screens.

Happy masturbating! 

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