In praise of fingering

Daisy Buchanan

Everyone assumes we grow out of it, but ‘manual play’ (to give fingering its grown-up name) prioritises female pleasure, reduces STI rates and doesn’t even require batteries. Daisy Buchanan revisits these teenage kicks.



According to the glow in the dark hands of my Forever Friends alarm clock, it’s 4:35am. I can’t sleep. I’m thinking of the deadlines, replaying conversations that went badly and worrying about things that I cant even articulate. I rub my nipple through the tissue-soft cotton of my pyjama T-shirt like it’s a worry bead, using my body as a big stress ball. It begins to work. My heart starts beating more quickly. I lick my fingers and then move my hand from my breast, along my stomach and under the waistband of my pyjama bottoms, where I start to stroke the soft, warm space between my legs. My thumb finds my hardening clitoris, another finger slips inside myself, its wetness finding the growing wetness of me. I stroke and rub, and my heart beats faster and faster until I gasp in the dark, feeling a surge of total, head clearing bliss. Seconds later I fall into a deep, peaceful sleep.

When I was 14, I would have thrown myself into he path of an oncoming car before I admitted that I knew how to make myself come. ‘She fingers herself’ was the worst thing you could possibly say about a classmate. My friend Lara even mocked girls who used non-applicator tampons. ‘They’re for pathetic women who cant get a man to touch them there,’ she smirked. But a couple of years later, when I started going out with my first boyfriend, he asked me to tell him – and show him – what I did. Cheeks aflame, I demonstrated my night-time routine, and discovered that eight minutes of embarrassment was a worthwhile investment in future orgasms. Shortly afterwards, my friends and I started having penetrative sex – and the orgasms dropped off again. My friend Stacey complained: ‘Its like fingering is a GCSE that men don’t have to think about any more, now they’re focusing on serious A levels.’ (Incidentally, ‘A level’ is a slang term for anal sex, which is another story for another day.)

In my twenties, I dated men who believed themselves to be the Oprahs of oral sex. ‘I know what you ladies like!’ they’d twinkle, before swallowing a couple of times and then trying to wear my vulva like a hat. Directions and pleas for clemency fell, literally, on deaf ears, because their heads were so far between my legs. Anecdotally, bad oral sex seemed like some kind of epidemic befalling heterosexual millennial women. A few forays into Red Tube yielded the answer – cunnilingus was now appearing in porn. After years of threesomes and fisting and forcing things into people’s anal cavities, female-focused pleasure was no longer the last taboo. Yet porn still wasn’t necessarily an asset to our sex lives. Sociologist and sex coach Dr Tasmin Pine explains; ‘Porn is, obviously, a visual medium, and there’s a huge difference between what looks good and what feels good. Nearly all of my male clients are really focused on their partner’s pleasure, but they do copy what they see on screen, and they don’t understand why it isn’t effective.’

Dr Pine doesn’t think we’ll see fingering appearing in porn any time soon, but she believes it’s due a comeback in the bedroom. ‘Manual play is overlooked, partly because we rarely see stroking and touching in porn, and partly because people think its something we grow out of. But all my female clients are overwhelmingly positive about it, and sometimes even nostalgic. It brings so many benefits; it really puts women in touch with their own bodies, it helps them bond with their partners because they can be specific about what feels good, and it’s a really effective route to orgasm.’

Nurse and safer-sex educator Alannah Hall says that when she’s leading sex-education classes, she always talks about manual play. ‘Increasingly, its becoming a really important part of the safer sex conversation. In the past we’ve spent so much time focusing on the dangers and risks that come with sex, so its really important t tell young people that you can pleasure your partner and be intimate in a way that limits the chance of pregnancy and infection. Obviously there are still rules to follow – hygiene is very important.’

My friend Nima, 29, reveals that she fell back in love with fingering by accident. ‘Before I’d have said my sex life was good. I have orgasms through penetrative sex, my partner likes oral – basically, and I’ve got no complaints. But a few weeks ago, we were out with some friends in a bar, and he had his hand on my bare knee – I was wearing boots, a midi skirt, no tights. He was absent-mindedly stroking my thigh with his thumb, and it triggered something primal. I gasped, he registered that something was happening and started stroking further up. I don’t remember the last time I felt so horny, and this was just because of the prospect of some fingering. He ordered an Uber with his other hand, and then made me come four times on the way home.’

For Nima, the teenage nostalgia factor is all part of the appeal. ‘We’ve lived together for three years, we have a joint account and probably have sex, in bed, three or four times a week. I’ve always had a vague idea that we should be investing in sex toys or doing something a bit wild – but going back to fingering, which is the most basic, adolescent sexual thing you can do, has turned me into some kind of nymphomaniac! Its made penetrative sex even better, and my boyfriend loves making me come – he says that its even hotter than oral because he can really see and hear me reacting to his touch.’ That’s not to say that all fingering is good fingering – sadly it doesn’t come naturally to everyone with hands. Sarah, 32, reveals: ‘I was seeing this guy, and the only way I can describe his technique is “Whoops! I seem to have dropped my keys behind the radiator, if I jam my arm up it and wave it about I might be able to dislodge them.” I’m sympathetic to a point, - he was trying really hard and he doesn’t have the same sort of body as me, so why should he know how it works? But also, I’m in my thirties! Surely by now I should be meeting men who know how to make me come without too much assistance?’

The feminist, female-pleasure focused aspect of fingering is my favourite part. But what’s in it for the boys – and if they’re not getting anything out of it, why should they bother? My friend Andrew, 30, says that he’s, erm, up for it. ‘of course, men – well, straight men – want to make women come! I watch porn, but I’m pretty sure that my friends and I are grown up enough to tell the difference between sex in screen and flesh and blood women, and its much hotter to bring a hot woman to orgasm than to watch a porn star screaming her head off. If anything has put me off fingering, it’s the idea that it’s a bit old-fashioned and not very sophisticated. It’s hard to admit, but I feel a lot of pressure in the bedroom, especially as a single man. I worry about my oral technique, because my friends and I believe that’s what women want. I’ve never got over that scene in American Pie where one of the guys makes up with Tara Reid by giving her amazing oral. And I know that it’s relatively easy for a man to have an orgasm, but women’s bodies are more complicated in that respect. If fingering is what women really want, I’m going to start practising. And if the next woman I hook up with wanted to give me some tips, I’d be delighted.’

At 30, I still finger myself in order to fix a bout of insomnia. And I don’t think ‘she fingers herself’ is an insult – if you know how to give yourself an orgasm, it’s a sign you’re a smart woman and you’re in touch with your own body. I’m certainly smart enough to have married a man who wants his wife to come first and is happy to be hands on about it. As Hall says, ‘Ultimately, we want to re-educate everyone and show them that “sex” doesn’t just mean the heterosexual, penetrative kind – pleasure and connection come from many different kinds of touch. Hopefully, the next generation won’t ever have to “rediscover” fingering – because safer, fulfilling, female-focused sex isn’t something that should ever get forgotten about.’

@NotRollergirl

Comments

 

Subscribe and get 12 issues of Marie Claire from only £13.99!

Choose how you want to receive Marie Claire – available in print or on your iPad