I am an obsessive list-maker.
If someone steals my phone later today, they will have access through my “Notes” app to the most boring and bizarre recesses of my mind: packing lists, shopping lists, lists of people I owe a phone call, lists of sex positions to try, lists of gift ideas for my friends, lists of gifts I want other people to buy me (yes, I’m serious), and the list goes on and on.
So it’s safe to say that my greatest love affair is with the art of the to-do list. I have two planners (work and personal) full of current and projected to-do lists, not to mention notebooks in which to rewrite the lists when the planners get too cluttered.
By the time you finish reading this, you and I will have very few secrets from each other. In that spirit, here’s a copy of my to-do list for tomorrow:
Take out trash
I started masturbating late. I don’t mean “late” in relation to what might be considered “normal,” because “normal” is a useless concept when it comes to sex. I mean that there is a gap of at least five years between my first memories of sexual feelings that wanted relief, and my first experiences with actually using masturbation to achieve that relief. When I was eleven and twelve and thirteen, I did not know that girls could masturbate, and I certainly did not know how someone might start to try. When I did start to masturbate, at about seventeen, it quickly became an exciting, empowering, relieving routine.
Whether because I started “late,” or because I did not feel secure in my sexuality for a few more years even after that, or maybe simply because I’ve never been taught to prioritize my pleasure, masturbation quickly became a forgettable ritual for which I rarely had the time or privacy. Friends talked to me about hours spent with themselves and/or their favorite porn and/or various sex toys, and I admired and envied their dedication. I could spend time like that with a partner, but for me, masturbation was a means to an end—and that end could be achieved in a minute or two. I rationalized it: I already love my body, I already take good care of myself, and if I’m not remembering to do it, it must not be that important.
But more recently, as I’ve matured into a deeper sense of myself as a sexual person, I’ve stopped accepting my own excuses. There are too many aspects of my sexuality that I have pushed aside because I’ve learned that they aren’t important for me, and I don’t think I “need” them. Just as I once had to get over my discomfort around sexual communication when it conflicted too deeply with my understanding of healthy and positive sex, or as I had learned to take ownership of my own pleasure with partners, I began to feel that I must at least try to cultivate a healthy relationship with masturbation. I know that masturbation can be an important and healthy part of any active sex life—and besides, I couldn’t leave my awesome toy collection to languish in my bedside table.
But still, I kept forgetting to set aside time. And so, enter the to-do list. My listing love affair started around the same time I started having sexual urges (though I don’t think there’s a connection there), and in the intervening decade I have become completely dependent on my lists in a way that I have not with masturbation. I usually can’t remember to do something unless I write it down somewhere; why should masturbation be any different?
So I recently started writing masturbation into my to-do list, and though I won’t tell you I actually prioritize it every time I see it written, or that it’s transformed my life, I like the reminder. Every time I write it down, I feel I am undoing some of the harm that was done when no adult talked to me about exploring my body and no TV show or movie I watched acknowledged that girls touch themselves too. And every time I cross it off the list, I take one step forward in my relationship with my body and my sexuality. Maybe I’ll discover new and exciting things about my body and mind; maybe I won’t. Maybe I’ll learn that I actually don’t need to masturbate all that regularly. Maybe I’ll learn that an hour brings me to places that a minute can’t. Definitely I won’t know until I’ve put in some time and effort.
Too often we forget our own pleasure. These days you hear a lot about self-care, and about who is and is not taught they deserve or can take ownership of being cared for. Sexual care is part of that, for those of us who want it, but the self-care associated with sexual pleasure is even more buried and silenced than other methods. We can’t devalue the pleasure we crave any longer, when the way to access it is literally in our hands (or more accurately, it is our hands). I’m not great at making time to exercise, or say affirmations in the mirror, or take long bubble baths. But every day or two, my fully unsexy, smudged-pencil lists demand that I carve out a little time to make up for lost time with myself. If nothing else, it’s really spiced up my relationship with my planner.